Angus Johnston Kennedy (1940-2021)

Angus Kennedy died on October 29, 2021, at his home in Milngavie, Glasgow. He had become renowned as one of what could be dubbed the “Three Great Scots” (along with Kenneth Varty and James C. Laidlaw) admired by all students of Christine de Pizan for their pioneering work in textual editing, translation, criticism and/or bibliography. He also served our profession at the departmental and institutional levels, within the United Kingdom and internationally, in numerous pedagogical, administrative and evaluative roles with unflagging dedication and competence. In all of these capacities, he exacted rigorous precision from himself while demonstrating kindness, generosity and compassion toward others, whether in private conversation, at the conference table or in written assessments. He tended to avoid the limelight, but one of the principal ways in which Christine scholars young and old were able to meet him in person was during the highly successful 2000 International Christine de Pizan Colloquium at Glasgow University, whose every aspect and event he painstakingly organized, culminating in three volumes of papers co-edited by him and other colleagues in commendably timely fashion.

However, many of us are unaware that his Christinian career began after his formal training and established initial career as an Arthurian. He had also already made a significant discovery concerning Mallarmé. Such exploits are best appreciated by going back to his origins. He was born in Port Charlotte, on the isle of Islay, off the West Coast of Scotland, on August 9, 1940, to Mary and James Kennedy. His older brother, Alexander (d. 2005), would become a highly respected attorney in Toronto. Both brothers were proud of their simple, quintessentially Scottish-island origins and the values they instilled. Angus and his family also suffered a near-tragedy when, as a child, he was struck by a passing car, severely and permanently damaging one eye, whose effects—not the most propitious for a future manuscript scholar—he managed to overcome. A top student at Bearsden Academy, near Glasgow, he went on to pursue his undergraduate and MA studies at Glasgow University, during which he taught English at the Lycée Hoche, in Versailles (1960-61) then a term at Freiburg, after which he received his M.A. with First-Class Honours (1963) in French and German. At Glasgow, it was the charismatic but demanding Chrétien de Troyes specialist Zara P. Zaddy who first sparked his interest in medieval French literature, and an abiding respect for the primacy of the text in any literary inquiry. He next went to study at Paris. This included an intriguing side trip to Valvins, prompted by an invitation from former tutor and Mallarmé specialist Carl Paul Barbier (U. Edinburgh), to work on cataloguing the renowned symbolist poet’s library. Here the budding codicology sleuth managed to discover a then-unknown manuscript, containing Mallarmé’s translation of Tennyson’s “Godiva.” As exhilarating as this encounter was, he would nonetheless definitively leave the nineteenth century for the twelfth and thirteenth, as a doctoral student of the revered and highly influential Jean Frappier at the Sorbonne. At Frappier’s suggestion and under his supervision, Angus wrote and defended his doctoral thesis (1969), “The Hermit in French Arthurian Romance 1170-1530.” He had already begun teaching in 1965, returning to Glasgow as a lecturer, eventually to receive the honor of being named Stevenson Professor of French Language and Literature, succeeding his friend and colleague Kenneth Varty, in 1998. Less honorifically and more onerously, he would also chair the Glasgow French Department, one of the largest and most prestigious in the United Kingdom, as had his predecessor. Both men were known for their kindness and collegiality as well as scholarship and teaching. Angus, despite research, teaching and heavy administrative responsibilities performed with utmost competence, always managed to find time to help and advise students and colleagues, which duties he considered an essential part of his job.

Kenneth Varty also helped launch the next phase of Angus’s research by suggesting they collaborate on an edition and translation of a 1429 poem celebrating Joan of Arc, by a certain newly rediscovered polymath poet named Christine de Pizan. Initially captivating because of her gender, she was also daunting, even for many French medievalists, because of her now-prolix, now-cryptic, lexically innovative Middle-French idiom. So their task was not an easy one, but what qualified scholar could pass up the chance to make known the first non-anonymous French literary work composed during Joan’s brief lifetime? And by a woman poet? Their Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (1974, 1977) provided not only a faithful, fully annotated English translation, but also contributed a rare authoritative text from Christine’s oeuvre—the only others at that time being those of the Fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V and Mutacion de Fortune by the chartiste Suzanne Solente (1936-40, 1969), and Varty’s own anthology of Christine’s select lyric poems (1965), complementing Maurice Roy’s three volumes (1886-96).

Angus would continue to answer the dire need for authoritative critical editions of Christine’s texts, and then English translations, as her popularity grew. In all, Angus alone contributed four more editions after the Ditié: La Lamentacion sur les maux de France (1980); the Epistre de la prison de vie humaine (1984); the Epistre à la reine (1988); and the Livre du corps de policie (1998).  His final work was an annotated translation, the Book of the Body Politic (2021). In all of these, we sense his signal passion: a certain joyous fastidiousness and scientific probity in collating the manuscripts, selecting the right variant, sleuthing out the author’s sources and the most arcane linguistic or historical reference, all on the way to making yet another difficult work accessible to scholars.

He would later bring the same exactitude to his studies in modern medievalism, such as those examining Christine’s significance for similarly embattled twentieth-century scholars Gustave Cohen (1998), Edith Thomas (with James Steel, 1995) and Helen Waddell (2017, 2019). This last study also included an edition of pertinent sections of Waddell’s unpublished notebooks.

Along with his critical editions of and articles on Christine, Angus’s three volumes of exhaustive, meticulously annotated bibliography (1984, 1994, 2004)—each one necessarily larger than the previous one due to the enormous growth of Christine Studies—allow any scholar interested in Christine, at any institution, to become aware of the aforementioned scholars’ research and that of all others, throughout the centuries and regardless of nationality, on any aspect of her increasingly abundant and diverse posterity. Each volume constituted a Herculean task, but for him a labor of love as well. A seasoned bibliographer of Arthurian materials, he now delighted in tracking down the obscure volume or article in the far more complex, less-charted, domain of Christine and her milieu, summarizing its contents succinctly and clearly, offering a critical judgment if favorable. There followed the final pleasure of adding the item, along with citations of better-known titles, to the erudite, multidisciplinary—and now, even pop-cultural–cornucopia that our first professional woman of letters has inspired. Unlike some scholars, Angus willingly shared information pre-publication, instead of guarding it jealously until the moment of in-print glory. He also scrupulously cited other scholars’ findings, even data gleaned from casual conversation or correspondence. If he could not properly credit the source, he did not incorporate that bit of data, no matter how tantalizing.

His precise, learned, nuts-and-bolts approach to Christine’s works inevitably encouraged more scholars in this vein, so crucial to nurturing the field. His work thus helped her reputation in another way, by saving her from being engulfed by the often flashy but empty, overly presentist claptrap of routine feminist theory. This is not to say that he dismissed all feminist criticism as useless. On the contrary, he always kept an open mind and therefore could appreciate, and even applaud, feminist criticism solidly grounded in history, philology and close reading of the relevant texts. In general, his many thoughtful reviews of other colleagues’ works manage to praise where deserved while spotting errors and inconsistencies with the greatest tact, again balancing intellectual integrity and decency.

On the personal side, Angus was the most devoted and loving of husbands and fathers. He deeply cherished his wife Marjory and two daughters, Marjory-Anne and Fiona, and later his grandchildren Aidan and Rowan, and they him. He never forgot Marjory’s indispensable role in his life, not merely her supreme abilities as mother, homemaker and hostess, but also as soul-mate, in her unfailing insight, support and understanding of him and his work. She accepted his workaholic habits, wryly remarking about his nightly labors on Christine, “you’re off to spend hours with that woman again.” Socially, Angus and Marjory were the most attentive of hosts, efficient yet in the warmest of welcoming ways, offering superb home-made refreshments and fabulous dinners, at their charming house. Even the most timid or brittle academic personality would soon yield to the couple’s easy, natural gift for fostering conviviality and good conversation. He was also a fiercely loyal friend and always ready to do one a favor. Not surprisingly, the Kennedys have many staunch friends.

His wife and daughters, and certain close friends, returned his devotion most memorably during his final months, after he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Marjory and daughters’ unstinting love and care, increasingly round the clock—devoid of outside professional aid—no doubt afforded him greater comfort and extended his ability to function intellectually, enabling him to proofread and finally see his Body Politic translation in print during his final days.

Since Angus, though a Presbyterian, maintained an interest in and respect for other religions as well, I feel moved to invoke a traditional expression from my own faith for when someone dies: in Hebrew, Zichronam l‘vracha = “May his memory be for a blessing.” For his life has certainly been a blessing to all who knew him and his work.*

                                                                                                Nadia Margolis


*See also John Campbell’s biographical sketch in Christine de Pizan 2000, ed. John Campbell and Nadia Margolis. Faux Titre, 196 (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 2000), 15­-19.

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