On Thursday 10 April, Professor George Hunter, founder of the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, died peacefully at home in Maine after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for some years.
George Kirkpatrick Hunter was born in Glasgow in 1920. After graduating from the University of Glasgow, he joined the Navy, learned Japanese and served in the Allied Pacific Headquarters in Sri Lanka. After the war, he obtained a DPhil in Renaissance English Literature from Oxford, where he met and married Shelagh Hunter. He held lectureships in Hull, Reading and Liverpool before Jack Butterworth appointed him as one of the founding Professors of the University, who spent the year 1964-5 devising courses for the new University before admitting the first students in 1965.
George believed that English literature could only be properly understood within a European context. He devised compulsory courses which studied the connections between the national literatures and their common sources in Greek, Latin and Hebrew: the European Epic (including Gilgamesh, the Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divina Commedia and Milton’s Paradise Lost), the European Novel (including Cervantes, Fielding, Sterne, Goethe, Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal, Dickens, Eliot, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Zola and Mann) and the European Theatre (including Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Jonson, Molière, Racine, Goethe, Schiller, Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht and contemporary British theatre). These three courses, along with others he introduced are still taught in the English department. In the early years the students were all required to learn foreign languages and the first teachers he appointed were selected for their knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian and North American literature in addition to English. He was an inspirational and formidable teacher.
George’s research was focused on sixteenth-century English theatre in relation to renaissance thought and education. His monograph John Lyly: the Humanist as Courtier (London, 1962) remains the oustanding work on Lyly. His best known essays are collected in Dramatic Identities and Cultural Tradition: Studies in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Liverpool, 1979). He edited Marston and Shakespeare, wrote a book on Paradise Lost, and completed his supervisor F. P. Wilson’s volume English Drama 1485-1585 for the Oxford History of English Literature, a series which he himself completed in 1997, with the publication of his English Drama 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare.
In 1975 George left Warwick for Yale, where he became Emily Sanford Professor of English Literature and Chairman of the Renaissance Studies Program. In his later years he was a frequent visitor to Coventry. In 2003 he gave the University Library his collection of early printed books, including a first Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Comedies and Tragedies (London, 1647). His lasting legacy to the University is the Department he founded, his inspiration to colleagues and students and his outstanding example as teacher, scholar and administrator.
He leaves behind Shelagh, to whom he was married for 57 years, his children Mary, Andrew and Ruth and seven grandchildren. There will be a short service for family and friends at St Martin's Church, Finham, on Monday 12 May at 11am. The family has asked that there be no flowers; but any donations can be made to Alzheimer's Research.
An obituary was published by the Guardian on 23 April 2008 and is available online at: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/obituary/0,,2275489,00.html