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Remembering John Wilders

John Wilders, a dear friend and colleague passed away this week. He was also my teacher for Shakespere’s History Plays at the Bread Loaf School of English, Lincoln College, Oxford.  When John retired from teaching at Middlebury College, my husband wrote the following minute in his honor:

Faculty Minute for John Wilders (5/11/98):

Oscar Wilde divided people thus: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” John Wilders most definitely belongs in the first category, for he and his wife Benedikte, have by their gracious presences, by their many contributions to the community of Middlebury, improved the tone of the place immeasurably.

John Wilders, graduate of Cambridge University, has taught at many colleges and universities: at Bristol, at Oxford for many years, even at such remote corners of the empire where strange versions of the mother tongue are intoned, such as Australia and California, but none where his heart, I know, has so well resided as at Middlebury. John began his association with Middlebury by teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English; shortly thereafter he was appointed professor of humanities at Middlebury college, and has now taught in the English Department for the last several years. During those years, John has been the most helpful and collegial of colleagues. He has made available generously his un-matched knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare to innumerable students and teachers. Colleagues from other departments have sought him out to give lectures on Shakespeare and Religion, Shakespeare and Philosophy–perhaps even Shakespeare and Economics or Shakespeare and Chemistry, for all I know. As a scholar, John is mightily admired far and wide, for his work on Shakespeare: his book on the history plays, The Lost Garden; his best-selling New Prefaces to Shakespeare, a collection of his introductions to each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, which John prepared for the BBC television productions of all Shakespeare’s plays–a monumental project for which John served as literary advisor. Most recently, he has published the prestigious Arden edition of Antony and Cleopatra, and he is currently at work on a book about the Scottish tragedy, but I think when he arrives at the pearly gates, as some of us will also–eventually–the seraphic scribe will welcome him by saying, “Are you the John Wilders who did that splendid edition of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras? Allow me to shake your wing,  sir!” And as a teacher, he is almost too much loved by his students–certainly he makes things awfully hard for the rest of us.

John has in his life played many parts: he has  been a concert announcer on BBC radio, a religion panelist and actor  on BBC television, a member of the board of governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a guest at Buckingham palace, a recruit of her majesty’s navy, and on and on–I cannot list them all here. I have been fortunate enough to have been lunching with John once or twice a week for the time he has been teaching at Middlebury. In fact, we now preface every anecdote with the disclaimer, “I’m sure I’ve told you this before.” Actually, in all these years, he has never repeated a one to me, and I marvel anew during each lunch, at his fund of encounters, literary and theatrical, as he reveals some remarkable experience or other–the time Tom Stoppard painted his staircase for him, or when Joyce Carey, the actress, invited him to what he thought would be a romantic luncheon, or when he saw Richard Burton’s stage debut.

If I may end on a personal note: I knew John Wilders before I knew John Wilders. At the age of 12 or so I bought a recording of Julius Caesar performed by the Marlowe Society of Cambridge University in order to learn Julius Caesar’s speeches from the play properly. Little did I know that the actor reciting Julius Caesar’s lines on that recording–whose every inflection and modulation I taught myself to mimic–would become a dear friend and colleague. One of John’s line readings I best remember is “I am constant as the northern star.” And that has been true of John Wilders, he has been constant as the northern star, constant as a personal friend, constant in his principles, constant as a teacher to his students, constant as a colleague to the faculty, constant as a friend to the community.

Dear John, what we owe you is incalculable. Thank you.

Submitted by: John Bertolini, Ellis Prof. of the Liberal Arts

My summer was marked by several events. First, I spent three weeks working with a faculty group looking at examples of student writing from the class of 2010. To do so, we worked collaboratively to create a rubric to assess college-level writing. The rubric-making process was as enlightening as the information we gleaned from the assessments.  The faculty members came from various disciplines–literature, film, math, foreign language, and political science.  Ironically, my assessments were closest to those of the math professor!  Second, we presented some of our findings at the 22nd International Conference on The First-Year Experience in Montréal (July 23, 2009).

Jane Austen's house in Chawton

Jane Austen's house in Chawton

In June I took a longed-for trip to England with my younger daughter to visit Jane Austen sites.  I hope to write more about this trip later. (In a few weeks, I will be on leave and will be immersed in all Austen all-the-time), but here are a very few of the over 3,000 pics I took on my trip.

This fall, I’ve spent most of my professional time tutoring writing, an experience I have thoroughly enjoyed. I have some thoughts about the process of turning good high school writers into good college writers that I hope to write about once the semester is over. Another thing that has filled my time is Middlebury’s  Web Redo project. With two other colleagues, I’ve been working on the four sites for our offices (Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research; Office of Learning Resources; Writing Program, and First-Year Seminar Program).  I’m not linking here because the old sites will disappear, and the new ones aren’t ready yet.  I’m saving my opinion of Drupal until the process is complete.  I’m guessing when the process is finally  complete, all the work and frustrations will have been well worth the effort.  Stay tuned.

The office next door to me will be unnaturally quiet for a while. The intrepid bg goes on leave at the end of the semester. While some of you have enjoyed reading about bg on her blog or have seen her at conferences, I’ve had the pleasure of working in the same department with her these past twelve years and have had the office right next door for the last three. bgelee.jpg She has pushed me into blogging and developing new courses and pulled me across the country to places and experiences I’d never encountered before. While she sails off to new adventures, countries, continents, I’ll hold down the fort right here, unable to pop around the corner for the face-to-face time that crowns her on-line presence, but grateful that wherever she lands, she’s only a click away.
Fly well, and thank you, bg. Until you return home, I’ll see you on the blog.

TIME.com: Why the Family Meal is Cooking Again — Jun. 12, 2006 — Page 2

Families who make meals a priority also tend to spend more time on reading for pleasure and homework. A whole basket of values and habits, of which a common mealtime is only one, may work together to ground kids. But it’s a bellwether, and baby boomers who won’t listen to their instincts will often listen to the experts: the 2005 casa study found that the number of adolescents eating with their family most nights has increased 23% since 1998.

See my post Across the Kitchen Table. Have I started a trend since my last post?

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.