TIMES, Oct 20, 2009
Professor Alan Deyermond: Professor of Hispanic Studies
Alan Deyermond was the most prominent scholar of medieval Hispanic
literature of recent decades, not only in Britain but throughout Europe,
Spain included, and the Americas. His abundant written work was known and
keenly read in all these places.
The enormous breadth and depth of Deyermond's research and publications
covered practically all literary aspects of medieval Spanish writing and
culture. This range was already apparent in his 1971 A Literary History of
Spain: The Middle Ages, used by generations of university students and
scholars in its English original and in its Spanish translation (Historia de
la literatura española, I: La Edad Media), now in its 19th edition.
His specialist areas within medieval Spanish studies were La Celestina (the
subject of his Oxford postgraduate thesis, published as The Petrarchan
Sources of "La Celestina" (1961 and, remarkably for such a dissertation,
republished in a second edition in 1971), the epic (Epic Poetry and the
Clergy: Studies on the "Mocedades de Rodrigo", 1969; El "Cantar de Mio Cid"
y la épica medieval española, 1987), the sentimental novel (Tradiciones y
puntos de vista en la ficción sentimental, 1993), lost literature (La
literatura perdida de la Edad Media castellana: catálogo y estudio, I: épica
y romances, 1995), and women's writing.
In addition, Deyermond's three dozen sole-authored and edited books and
almost 200 scholarly articles scrutinise all the major and many of the minor
works that have survived from the Spanish Middle Ages.
Alan David Deyermond was born in 1932 in Cairo. He was educated at Quarry
Bank High School, Liverpool, Victoria College, Jersey, and Pembroke College,
Oxford (BA 1953, BLitt 1957), Deyermond spent his entire academic career in
the same department. He was appointed assistant lecturer at the moment when
the Department of Spanish at Westfield College, University of London, was
founded in 1955, as one of two members of staff (the other was John Varey).
He therefore had to teach half the university syllabus in Spanish, giving
classes in the history of the Spanish language, medieval literature and
Golden Age poetry, as well as practical classes in Spanish.
This teaching load clearly did not restrict his research output, and his
growing string of publications led to a readership in 1966 and to a personal
chair in 1969, at what was then the very early age of 37. For some years he
commuted between Westfield and Princeton, teaching half the year at each,
but he remained fiercely loyal to his home college, and transferred that
loyalty to the new institution (now Queen Mary, University of London) that
arose from the merger of Westfield College with Queen Mary College in 1989.
That commitment did not diminish after retirement in 1997 and he was a
familiar and active figure in the college right up to his death.
Deyermond was not just a prolific researcher and author; he was also an
enormously generous facilitator of other scholars' work, through his
editorial and seminar-organising activities. He founded the Medieval
Hispanic Research Seminar (MHRS) at Westfield in 1968, which since has
attracted scholars from all over the world. Discussion at the
Friday-afternoon sessions was typically continued at a restaurant, because
Deyermond, a staunch vegetarian, believed that food, wine and fellowship
(not to mention mild gossip) were as much part of the academic life as the
study and the library. From MHRS sprang, in 1995, the Publications of the
Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar, a series designed to cater for writing
that was longer than a journal article but shorter than a conventional book.
Most of the volumes, now numbering more than 60, were edited, and typeset,
by Deyermond, an enormous labour of love for his subject and for the
dissemination of work on the Spanish Middle Ages.
This was typical of the man: he never stinted in the academic help that he
gave to colleagues, other scholars and students. One effect of this
unselfishness was the constant flow of scholars and students who spent a
period at Queen Mary, officially or unofficially, and worked under his
guidance. Another aspect of his devotion to the dissemination of knowledge
was the energy he brought to the journals published by his department, in
particular the Hispanic Research Journal.
He was likewise instrumental in the founding of Tamesis Books (now part of
Boydell & Brewer) and of the series Research Bibliographies & Checklists
(Grant & Cutler).
Deyermond was fiercely independent-minded and never willing to adopt any
position in which he did not fully believe. This uncompromising
characteristic, which could lead to astringency, was unsettling for some,
although it was never accompanied by public anger or rudeness. These traits,
with an astonishing memory, made him much loved as a teacher and supervisor.
For many years, he was accompanied to the department by his standard poodle,
Tom. On more than one occasion when Deyermond was lecturing on the Poema de
Mio Cid, the episode in which the hero calmly seizes the escaped lion and
returns him to his cage (thereby enhancing his personal honour) was enacted
by Deyermond with Tom as the lion.
Deyermond received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford,
Valencia and Georgetown. He was a Fellow of the British Academy and this
year became one of the small number of corresponding members of the Real
Academia Española. In 1994 he was awarded the Nebrija Prize, given each year
by the University of Salamanca to the non-Spanish scholar who has
contributed most to the understanding of Spanish culture and the Spanish
A reflection of his standing in the world of Hispanism and medieval studies
was his presidency of the Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas (1992-95;
honorary life president since 1995) and of the International Courtly
Literature Society (1983). In 1985 he was made a socio de honor of the
Asociación Hispánica de Literatura Medieval and, since 1999, an honorary
fellow of Queen Mary, University of London.
A Christian and a life-long Liberal, Deyermond is survived by his wife, Ann,
and their daughter.
Alan Deyermond, Professor of Hispanic Studies, was born on February 24,
1932. He died on September 19, 2009, aged 77
Dept. of French, Spanish and Italian
U of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2