Carol Clark, 1940-2015

A scholar and translator who broke through glass ceilings at Oxford has died

July 9, 2015
Obituary: Carol Clark, 1940-2015

Carol Clark was born in Glasgow on 25 November 1940 and educated at St Joseph’s Convent in Girvan, Ayrshire. She studied at the University of Glasgow (1957-59) and Somerville College, Oxford (1959-62) before going on to what was then Westfield College, part of the University of London (1966-68), securing a PhD in 1972. By this time, she was already employed as a lecturer in French at Glasgow (1968-73).

In 1973 Dr Clark moved from Glasgow to Balliol College, Oxford, as fellow and tutor in modern languages. She would remain there for the rest of her career, becoming emeritus in 2004. She was both the college’s first fellow in modern languages and the first female fellow at any of the “ancient colleges”. Writing in Women at Balliol: 1979-2009, she described her colleagues as “undemonstratively welcoming” and said she had been forced to disappoint newspaper and radio interviewers, “obviously hoping for tales of ostracism and/or pouncing”, when they asked her: “What was it like with all those men?”

Although Dr Clark lived in Paris for a few years after retirement, often hosting year-abroad students in her flat, she returned to Oxford and taught pre-modern French literature to students at Balliol and other colleges. She was author of The Web of Metaphor: Studies in the Imagery of Montaigne’s Essays (1978) and The Vulgar Rabelais (1983), and she translated the Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire for Penguin Classics (1995) and The Prisoner, published with The Fugitive in 2002 as one volume of the Penguin complete edition of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Yet she was always keen to reach readers beyond scholarly specialists, and probably took the greatest pride in her most recent book, French Literature: A Beginner’s Guide (2012).

“Like all really great dons,” said Sophie Marnette, the current tutorial fellow in French at Balliol, Dr Clark “put her energy and care in teaching students how to think and how to learn”. She was particularly good at keeping them calm and focused in the run-up to exams, and on one occasion happened to “notice that the curtains of one of her first-year students were still drawn while he was supposed to be ready and leaving [for his exams]. She went to wake him up because his alarm clock had not rung!”

Dr Clark died after suffering a stroke on 20 June. She is survived by her son Paul and grandson Gabriel.

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