Mary Bryden was born on 9 September 1953 and educated at Eastbourne High School for Girls before going on to a French degree at the University of Reading (1971-75), a final diploma at the Institute of Linguistics (1977) and an MA in modern languages at Salford University (1980-82).
She then taught in tertiary education and served as personal assistant to the vice-chancellor of Aston University, Sir Frederick Crawford, who noted her “loyalty, discretion and dependability”, but also that “she devoted much, if not all, of her leisure time to building the foundations of the distinguished career that was to follow, particularly as a specialist on the writings of Beckett”.
In 1987, therefore, Professor Bryden returned to Reading to pursue a PhD on Beckett, which formed the basis for her book Women in Samuel Beckett’s Prose and Drama: Her Own Other (1993). She was appointed Beckett Research Fellow (and later associate director of the Beckett International Foundation). She became lecturer in French studies in 1995, senior lecturer in 1997 and finally – after an interlude at Cardiff University as professor of European literature (2003-07) – professor of French studies. She was to remain at Reading until ill health forced her to retire and become emeritus in 2012.
A notable and wide-ranging contributor to the study of French literature and philosophy, Professor Bryden was the author of Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God (1998), Deleuze and Religion (2001), Gilles Deleuze: Travels in Literature (2007), Beckett’s Proust/Deleuze’s Proust (with M. Topping, 2009), and the editor of Samuel Beckett and Music (1998) and Beckett and Animals (2013). She was also a regular contributor to radio discussion programmes.
For James Knowlson, emeritus professor of French studies at Reading, Professor Bryden was a woman of “total honesty and integrity…her strong Catholic faith (which never affected her objectivity when she wrote about the work of a profound agnostic like Samuel Beckett) and her musical abilities and activities were central to an understanding of her life”.
“Outside of academic life, she was involved with church groups, mainly as animateur in producing and writing music for small groups of young church musicians. Many of these attributed their later career development as musicians, actors or even priests to their involvement in such groups…In the 40 years I knew her, I never heard her say a single harsh word about anyone.”
Professor Bryden died of cancer on 5 November and is survived by her husband Raymond Loveridge.