A tribute to Professor Stephen Prickett (1939-2020)
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Professor Stephen Prickett, but also with great gratitude for the years of his scholarship, friendship, and collegiality. Longtime president of the George MacDonald Society, Stephen's writings are a standard part of the reading and learning of scholars in the field of MacDonald studies, and more broadly Romantic and Victorian Literature. Some have been fortunate to also learn from his brilliant conversations and lectures. Stephen invested deeply in his students, and gave generously of his time to many academics across the globe who sought him out through email. He was a raconteur extraordinaire on almost every topic under the sun... if you shared a table with him you were guaranteed a lively and fascinating evening. As colleagues who sometimes enthusiastically concurred with Stephen, and sometimes vigorously disagreed with him, we valued both his input and his camaraderie.
Members of the George MacDonald Society may mostly know of his work with MacDonald, Inklings, and perhaps Fantasy Literature - and if you had the pleasure, through engaging with his contagious joie de vivre at conferences (assessing fine wines, discussing fine art, punting on the fine Cam). But Stephen's academic and pedagogical gifting was wider and deeper than those spheres.
An honorary Professor of English at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and Regius Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow, his academic honours are too many to name. Stephen was born in Sierra Leone, educated in Canterbury, studied both at Oxford & Cambridge (with CS Lewis as one of his tutors), and taught in Nigeria before completing a Ph.D. in Cambridge in 1968. He continued to teach in universities quite literally around the world in such countries as the U.S., Australia, Singapore, Denmark, Italy, France, Romania, Denmark, and of course England and Scotland (and was a guest lecturer in many many more). He was Chair of English at the Australian National University and Director of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor (in addition to being a professor there). He was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the English Association, Chairman of the U.K. Higher Education Foundation, President of the European Society for the Study of Literature and Theology, and President of the George MacDonald Society.
Stephen's written output also gives testimony to both his energy and his acumen: two novels, multiple monographs and edited volumes (many award-winning), and well over a hundred articles on Romanticism, Victorian Studies, and related topics. Some of his work has been translated into multiple languages; his Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church (1976) remains required reading for some university courses; his Words and the Word: Language, Poetics and Biblical Interpretation (1986) was described by the Inkling Owen Barfield as "a distinguished and original book." Stephen was also editor and consultant for numerous series, most recently The Edinburgh Companion to the Bible and the Arts (2014). The fourteen-language, parallel text, Reader in European Romanticism of which he was general editor was awarded the Jean-Pierre Barricelli Prize for the year's best book in Romanticism Studies. In 2015 Stephen was honoured with the prestigious Christianity & Literature Lifetime Achievement Award.
The seventies and eighties was a period when mainstream English academic studies were heavily secularised and the religious and spiritual dimension in the work of authors in the literary cannon was ignored or explained away. Stephen's magisterial 'Romanticism and Religion' bucked that trend and was a vital book for any student that wanted to defend and explore the theological and spiritual implications of poetry, especially the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge. That book gave students of Malcolm's generation something substantial with which to counter the pervasive hermeneutics of suspicion purveyed by their own professors and kept alive the flame of a torch which has now been passed to a whole new generation of scholars who are exploring the burgeoning field of theology and the arts. Kirstin's discovery of the same text in Canada in the nineties similarly gave her permission to pursue studies of MacDonald in a manner many in the universities there were yet resisting. Thus we are both amongst the scholars who owe Stephen Pricket a great debt. Professor Stephen Prickett will be greatly missed, though his work will continue to inform and challenge us. Our deep sympathy and care goes out to Stephen's wife Patsy (Patricia Erskine-Hill), a talented linguist and delightful lecturer in her own right, and to his other family and friends.
Malcolm Guite & Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson