David Musselwhite, 1940-2010

March 11, 2010

A leading literary critic described by an admirer as "a bit of an oddball" who was "not afraid to be an original thinker" has died.

David Musselwhite was born on 3 December 1940 and graduated in English from Queens' College, Cambridge in 1963. He started his career with a focus on Latin American literature and spent four years teaching in Argentina, followed by four years at the University of Essex researching the Argentine writer, Julio Cortazar.

This led to a position as an assistant lecturer in Spanish at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica from 1971 to 1973.

Although Dr Musselwhite continued to publish on Latin American writing, a move to Essex in 1974 to take up the role of professor of literature led to an increasing focus on the English tradition.

In 1976, he established the university's ongoing series of conferences on the sociology of literature, and went on to be awarded a staff doctorate in 1987 and appointed senior lecturer in 2001. He retired in 2009.

His first major publication, Partings Welded Together: Politics and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel (1987), combined literary theory with individual chapters on writers such as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley.

It was acclaimed by a reviewer in the journal Studies in the Novel as "an exuberant, enthusiastic book ... full of welcome challenges to more traditional readings". Dr Musselwhite's second and final book, Social Transformations in Hardy's Tragic Novels: Megamachines and Phantasms (2003), was equally well received.

For Gary Day, principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University, who studied under him as an undergraduate, Dr Musselwhite "was not afraid to be an original thinker - and that is the best tribute anyone can pay to a university teacher".

"Although he was a bit of an oddball - once declaring that he wanted to sleep with my girlfriend - he was a brilliant interpreter of literature whose readings were as marvellous as they were idiosyncratic," he said.

"I've yet to read a better interpretation of Wuthering Heights. For my money, he was the best reader of literature we've had in the past 25 years."

Dr Day added: "When I went back to Essex to give a talk and saw him for the first time in many years, he typically greeted me with 'I thought you'd have gone bald by now!' But he'd also kept an undergraduate essay of mine and made a point of acknowledging me by name when he cited it in a conference paper."

Dr Musselwhite died after surgery on 23 February and is survived by his partner, Sandra Ottley.


Statement from Matthew Reisz

Our obituary of David Musselwhite, published on 11 March, celebrated his achievements as “a leading literary critic”, “an original thinker” and “the best reader of literature we’ve had in the past 25 years”. We have been made aware, however, that a couple of other phrases upset his family and close friends, and particularly the closest surviving relative, his sister Judith King. This was totally unintentional on our part and we apologise for any distress caused.

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