Monday, 26 October 2015

Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), literary critic



Professor Lisa Jardine’s death was announced today. Most of the tributes paid so far describe her variously as a historian with at least one other secondary role: a broadcaster (BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, naturally), a public intellectual (The Guardian and The Independent), a biographer, a Renaissance specialist with a special focus on science; and listed her many achievements in academic and public service (honorary fellowship of the Royal Society, chairperson of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, CBE for services to education, chair of the 2002 Booker Prize jury).  Jardine wrote articles for newspapers and radio programmes, contributing regularly to the BBC’s A Point of View. She appeared on Question Time and other TV debates.  Everyone agrees that she was a polymath. Her academic title was Professor of Renaissance Studies at University College, London, and as the Daily Telegraph noted, the title was perfectly apt; she seems to have excelled at everything she attempted.

While we await the formal obituaries, we may remark that, oddly, none of Monday's tributes mention the fact that she was also a literary critic, although the Telegraph notes her engagement with feminist theory.  Jardine wrote several studies of Shakespeare, most notably Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983), ‘the first book-length study to take a historicist approach to gender on Elizabethan stage’*,  and Reading Shakespeare Historically (London: Routledge, 1996). With Professor Graham Rees, she was a founding editor of the Oxford Francis Bacon Project. Many of her articles combined literary criticism with cultural observation, sometimes contentiously, such as her critique of Philip Larkin (Guardian, 8 December 1992). Why has her role as critic been edited out of the sum of Jardine’s life and work? To be sure, history and historiography were her first commitments. But let us also remember her commitment to literature, and insist that others remember it in their encomiums.

*Review by Coppélia Kahn, Shakespeare Quarterly 34: 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 489-49.

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