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Category Archive for 'Remembering'

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

The National Resource Center 21st International Conference on

The First Year Experience

Dublin Ireland

June 23-26, 2008


FYS as a Locus for Faculty Development: Creating Mini Learning Communities



Jane Austen in a horrible new world: “Does our education prepare us for such atrocities?”

As an assignment two days before, I had asked my Middlebury College students to write about the incident in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey they considered the most “horrible.” But the day was September 12, 2001, and their drawn faces, so eager and shining on September 10th, revealed that they weren’t thinking much about Jane Austen.

We took a moment to write quietly before we began class. I needed it as much as any of them. Many students and faculty at Middlebury have friends and family in New York and DC, and we had spent hours on Tuesday dialing phones that would not answer. Most like myself (I had finally reached my daughter in New York) had been spared; others had not.

When we finally put down our pens, we began, haltingly at first, to discuss both of the “horrors” of Northanger Abbey and of the world we had come so suddenly to inhabit. Like Catherine Morland, the novel’s heroine, my students felt they, too, had lost their innocence. Together, we looked particularly at Henry Tilney’s speech to Catherine after she incorrectly suspects his father of murder. “Does our education prepare us for such atrocities?” he asks her.

Nothing, in our education had prepared us for the atrocities we had just experienced. To clinch his argument, Henry urges Catherine to “Remember the country and the age in which we live,” and in the days that have followed, this argument has seemed more compelling. Some of us have remembered our country in ways we had almost forgotten.

On a crisp September morning in Vermont, as we struggled to reconcile the words on the page with the atrocities of our own times, it helped to remember that Jane Austen, herself, wrote in a time of war and revolution. And she demonstrated that the functions of the human heart and the desire to know the truth (what other writers might consider small things) were even more precious in perilous times. Jane Austen begins Northanger Abbey warning us of the insignificance of the subject of her novel: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” Not surprisingly, by the end of the novel the young woman not born to be an heroine has, of course, become one. Perhaps, like Catherine, there will be hope for us too.

Four Years

In four years, almost all of the students who were here that day have gone. On that day, we wrote the names of families we knew were safe on the chalkboard in our office. All day, people came by to check our board and to tell their stories. Someone’s mother usually cleaned in that building, but she had started work uptown that day instead. Another student didn’t hear from her brother, a NYC police officer, until later that day. Four four hours, I didn’t know where my daughter was, but then I did, and she was safe, but could smell the burning even in her apartment in the nineties. Some families never made it to the chalkboard. Later, we assembled under the blue, blue sky to hear Francois Clemmons sing, “His Eyes Are On the Sparrow.” Somehow we made it through the day, the week, the year, and now four years. We went back to our classes and our research and our lives. We will never be the same though, will we?

Thinking about yesterday’s bombings in London, I remember going to teach my first-year seminar, Jane Austen & Film, the day after 911.

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Remembering John Lovas

I only saw him once (presenting at CCCC

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