Obituary: Professor Max White

Donald Maxwell White, Italian scholar, born Kenilworth 8 July 1920, Lecturer in Italian Manchester University 1950-64, Senior Lecturer Leeds University 1964-68, Professor of Italian 1968-81, married 1950 Juliet Mussi (one son, one daughter), died Leeds 21 November 1992.

WHEN Max White retired from the Chair of Italian at Leeds University in 1984, the hard-pressed university thought that 'freezing' the chair might be a useful economy measure. Many Italianists and former students pointed out that White had built the department on solid foundations; he and it were held nationally in such high esteem that it could not be diminished, and the post was duly filled.

After leaving school, White worked for the Midland Bank. War and active service in the Royal Artillery took him to Africa and Italy with a radio transmitter on his back and the poems of Leopardi in his pocket. He then went to Downing College, Cambridge, where Part I of the English Tripos gave his literary studies breadth and rigour. He also played and wrote music, ran societies and edited the Griffin with distinction. He graduated with a First in Italian in Part II and committed himself to an academic career.

Perhaps because of his war experiences, Max White loved order, method and continuity. He liked to have a feeling of belonging and being recognised, which is one reason why his career was marked by long periods in only two universities.

He spent 14 years in the department at Manchester, where he was able to make good use of his wide range of interests. Here he wrote his meticulously researched Zaccoria Seriman and the 'Viaggi di Enrico Wanton' (1961). With Kathleen Speight, he founded the Manchester University Press Italian Texts Series, which was an imaginative and widely acclaimed innovation in Italian teaching. His scholarly edition of Verga's Pane Nero and Other Stories (1962) was the first volume in the series and was quickly prescribed for use in the United Kingdom and abroad. He also wrote articles on modern Italian music for the journal The Music Masters which reveal deep insights and often very personal reactions, in interesting contrast to the apparently more detached scholarship of his work on 18th- century literature.

One of the most important features of White's Manchester period was his rapidly developing interest in the graphic arts. He lovingly collected illustrated books and prints. He cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship with the Whitworth Gallery and produced, with Charles Sewter, what may be his most enduring scholarly achievement, I Disegni di GB Piazzetta nella Biblioteca Reale di Torino (1966) and a series of articles on other works by the artist which have been widely cited in recent research.

In 1964, White moved to Leeds as Senior Lecturer in Italian, taking over from Frederick May, who had moved to Sydney.

May was in every way the antithesis of White - eccentric, devoted to the theatre and contemptuous of administration and routine. His departure, and that of another staff member, left a grossly understaffed department in considerable disarray. White methodically introduced his own kind of order with a minimum of fuss. He reformed the syllabus and recruited new staff. He moved the department from a run-down house into the Parkinson Building, near the Brotherton Library. His bibliographical knowledge was enormous, and he devoted much time to developing a balanced Italian collection in the library to provide a sound basis for present and future research. Gaps were made good by the systematic perusal of antiquarian catalogues. Leeds has White to thank for its fine resources for teaching and research in Italian.

In the department, he built up a collection of recordings of music and literature and a photograph collection of art and architecture. White could never teach a text as though it existed in a cultural or even a visual vacuum. Lectures on Dante were illustrated by photographs of medieval Florence, and we all knew when White was teaching Metastasio; the corridors resounded to the music of the Court of Vienna.

White was deservedly promoted to a personal professorship in 1968 and an established chair in 1973. The burden of administration reduced his research output, for he was conscientious and meticulously careful. He expected the same care from colleagues, whom he trusted to learn by a process of osmosis rather than by precept. He preferred to work through consensus rather than by the exercise of authority. His love of tradition and order inevitably made the late 1960s and 1970s, with their sit-ins and confrontations, a painful period for him. His engaging charm and affability masked a sensitive nature which abhorred confrontation.

Colleagues and students who sought Max White's help invariably found it forthcoming. His immediate response to a request would usually be followed up later by a wealth of biographical or bibliographical information. His range was encyclopaedic. His influence on my own development was considerable, and many of the department's former students now teach Italian in schools and other institutions. He is remembered with affection and gratitude.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home