OBITUARY:Professor Keith McWatters

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The Independent Online
Keith McWatters, Professor of French at Liverpool University, was a leading expert on Stendhal, that most readable of French authors, and in his conversation and writings one felt something of the caustic wit, the frankness and the clear-eyed intelligence of the writer to whom he devoted most of his scholarly career.

Born in Maryborough, Queensland, the son and grandson of journalists, McWatters graduated with a First in Modern Languages and Literature from Queensland University in 1952. After lecturing in English for a year in Brisbane and working as a schoolteacher and civil servant, he embarked on research on Stendhal and the English novel, a subject on which he became vastly knowledgeable, often amusing himself and his friends with the arcane pedantries of scholarship, but at the same time deepening his and our awareness of what is really interesting in Stendhal.

His research was mainly carried out in Grenoble, where he held a French government scholarship from 1958 to 1960. Here he became one of the scholars grouped around the journal Stendhal Club but he retained an ironic distance from the excesses of the Stendhal cult. In 1961 he was awarded a doctorate from the University of Grenoble and his thesis was later published under the title Stendhal, lecteur des romanciers anglais.

While in France McWatters made many friends and acquired a wide knowledge of French life: painting and politics, food and wine. He spoke and wrote French with rare perfection, being regularly taken by the French for a compatriot.

In 1964, after lecturing for three years in Brisbane, he came to work in British universities. First at Leicester, then from 1965 to 1974 at Glasgow and finally at Liverpool, where he was appointed Professor of French in 1974 and James Barrow Professor in 1979.

While in Glasgow he married Penny Goodchild, with whom he had two daughters, Harriet and Elspeth. They were a closely knit family and McWatters's friends were struck by the change family life brought about in him. The man who had previously seemed most at home in Paris cafes or late-night literary conversations was now to be found enjoying life in his remote cottage at Catacol-on-Arran which remained for him a treasured place of retreat. It was fitting that his funeral should take place in the little church at Lochranza in a beautiful grey bay half a world away from his native Queensland.

For nearly 20 years McWatters was a valued member of the university community at Liverpool. He was particularly keen to improve democratic communication within the French Department and he worked (among many other things) to promote excellence in language teaching. He served as president of the Association of University Professors of French at a time when the language departments of universities were in a state of transformation. His services to French culture were recognised when he became a Chevalier of the French Ordre du Merite, an honour rarely accorded to foreigners. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts in Liverpool from 1983 to 1986, a particularly difficult time when universities were having to cope with government-imposed cuts which he deeply deplored.

The first edition of his principal scholarly work, Stendhal's Chroniques pour l'Angleterre, was published in 1980. Six other volumes followed. In this work McWatters made available, richly annotated, the great mass of Stendhal's journalism written for periodicals such as the London Magazine in the 1820s. It cast a new and valuable light on the period just before the publication of Stendhal's leading novels and is a mine of information for scholars and also a joy to read, not least because of the sharply written introductions and notes.

Fortunately, Keith McWatters was able to complete his task as editor before his final illness. Reading this work of self- effacing but fascinating scholarship, one regrets that his untimely death robbed us of the wide-ranging study of Romanticism that he was so well equipped to write.

Peter France

Keith Gordon McWatters, teacher and scholar of French literature: born Maryborough, Queensland, Australia 7 September 1931; Lecturer, Leicester University 1964-65; Lecturer, Glasgow University 1965-74; Professor of French, Liverpool University, 1974-79, Barrow Professor 1979-95; married Penny Goodchild (two daughters); died Liverpool 26 April 1995.