Professor Louise Richardson, Principal of the University

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Testimonies, Orbituaries and Links

to which we have knowledge

Professor Louise Richardson, Principal of the University

Dear Colleagues

I am so sorry to have to inform you that Professor Nigel Dennis, Professor of Spanish in our School of Modern Languages, has died at the age of 63.
Nigel died peacefully at home last week with his family by his side after a long illness. His death is a profound loss to all who knew him and particularly our colleagues in Modern Languages.
Nigel was appointed to the Spanish Department at St Andrews in 1996 and played a major part in teaching, research and administration here, including periods as Acting Head of Department and Acting Head of School, RAE coordinator and Director of Research. He played a key role in the promotion of postgraduate studies in the Department and supervised a number of doctoral students to completion.

He was established as an international authority on the work of José Bergamín in particular and more generally on the poets and prose writers of the Spanish Generation of 1927 and the Spanish Civil War, including Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, Ramón Gómez de la Serna and some lesser-known figures, which he helped to re-evaluate, like José Díaz Fernández and Ernesto Giménez Caballero.

He was also instrumental in building the international status of the artist and writer Ramón Gaya, whom, like other writers of his generation, he knew personally as a friend. More recently he also worked on Spanish exile literature, especially from Mexico, where he had contacts and many friends, and on the Basque children who were evacuated to Britain during the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, his pioneering work on J.B. Trend, first Professor of Spanish at Cambridge, has led to a recent reassessment of this forgotten figure, with a book and a conference out in 2013.

As a teacher he was rated extremely highly by his students, and on occasions such as the Semester Cena of the Department he regularly treated an appreciative audience to his version of the “St Andrews Student Blues” on his electric guitar.

For his collegiate qualities, his personal and intellectual generosity, his good humour, wit and happy anecdotes, his commitment to the institution and to international Hispanism, he will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues and students.

His death will leave a void in our academic and collegiate life in St Andrews, and much further afield. The Spanish newspaper El Pais has already carried an affectionate obituary and tribute to Nigel. I am extremely grateful to his colleagues Gustavo San Román and Bernard Bentley for bringing this to my attention and for their help and considerable input to the preparation of this message.

I know you will all join me in extending our most heartfelt sympathies to Nigel’s family, his wife Birgitta and twin sons, and his close friends and colleagues in the School of Modern Languages.

Louise Richardson

Principal and Vice Chancellor

to the Students of Modern Languages at StAndrews University 17 April 2013

Dear All,
Some of you may have suspected that Nigel, Professor Dennis, was not well this year as we did our best to cover his courses whilst hoping for his recovery. He was looking forward to present us with his paper on Friday afternoon at the seminar, not to mention his regular performance at the Spanish Dinner.
We have just learnt that he passed away last night, albeit at home and peacefully, and we as his colleagues are saddened and grieve with his family, we have lost a great friend and generous colleague.
The family needs time to face their loss, and we should respect their privacy, but it is hoped that in a few months we may be able to hold a memorial service and celebrate and full life well spent.
On your behalf and that of the whole Department, we are passing on our regrets to the family, puesto que la acompanamos en el sentimiento.

Andrés Trapiello, El País 18 April 2013

Andrés Trapiello, Hemeroflexia 19 April 2013

The Canadian Association of Hispanists

Les Hispanistes de France

The Página José Bergamín, with many other links

The Ramón Gaya blog

La verdad. Crónica de la actualidad

La Gerenación del 27” 27 July 2012 on Youtube

Professor Nigel Dennis in Scotland

Nigel’s Local Newspaper, The Citizen

Nigel Dennis (13 October 1949 – 16 April 2013)

Nigel Robert Dennis, Professor of Spanish at the University, passed away peacefully at home, his spouse and two sons present. He had been receiving medical care since last summer and all were expecting him to be back at his desk, so that his death came as an unexpected to family and all his friends. He was 63.

The St Andrews Scorpions Hockey team will remember when he served as Secretary to the club and as the resounding mega-voice on the touchline that so often made a difference to the results.
Born and brought up in London, he came to St Andrews from the University of Ottawa in Canada, where he had been both vice and acting Dean of Arts. He was appointed to the Spanish Department at the University in 1996 to play a leading part in teaching, research and administration. His students are still sending in tributes and condolences with their personal memories of a caring and inspiring teacher, who had a profound effect on their lives. Colleagues miss his generous companionship, advice, leadership, anecdotes and wry sense of humour.
As messages come in from all the over the world, especially Spain and the Americas (North, South and Central) he is acknowledged for his research and knowledge, although his many publications, including sixteen books and critical editions of texts with more still in press, will continue to lead and inspire scholarship. Drawing a thread between all his research and teaching, his interests lay in the ideological, cultural and literary output of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-39), with which he started his doctoral research at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, whilst the Franco Dictatorship was still in power. He investigated the values that promoted the Republican ideology and its long supressed legacy.
He has been recognised in Spain as an important voice that contributed to revealing and re-evaluating its past. His interest was not only to uncover literary and cultural achievements, but the role of writers and academics who took part in the voluntary literacy programmes during the Republic and the many exiled intellectuals deleted from the official history written by the Franco regime. He was thus an early explorer of “exile literature” as an important area of study, which also led him to become involved with exiled Republicans in Mexico, the former Soviet Union and recently to give a voice to a few of the surviving 4,000 Basque children evacuated from Bilbao to the UK in 1937. His research was a matter of personal and human commitment. He was constantly invited to participate in conferences all over the world, and was sorry to have had to cancel some of the most recent invitations.
Nigel was celebrated in a small and personal family ceremony at the Dundee crematorium on April 16, but a more formal memorial service will be organised for the beginning of the Autumn, to recall his personal qualities, as a father, teacher, mentor, historian, for his generosity, for his good humour, wit and happy anecdotes, for his commitment to his values. He is sorely missed by his family, friends, colleagues, students and international fellow Hispanists all over the world. Our thoughts and emotions go out to his spouse Birgitta, and his two sons Christopher and Michael.
B P E Bentley

ÍNSULA, número 801, septiembre 2013 Nigel Dennis, in memoriam

Nigel Dennis, catedrático de Literatura Española de la Universidad de St Andrews en Escocia, hispanista de renombre internacional, que inspiraba admiración y afecto en todos los que lo conocieron, murió discretamente en su casa en Fife el día 16 de abril de 2013.
Nacido en Londres el 13 de octubre de 1949, Nigel se educó en el Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School, uno de los mejores colegios privados del Reino Unido, con la ayuda de una beca y, en 1968 se fue a la Universidad de Cambridge, donde cursó estudios de español, francés y danés, y donde fue también capitán del equipo de rugby, obteniendo sus “blues”, honor reservado a quienes representan a la Universidad en uno de sus equipos, entre otros logros deportivos, ya que era asimismo excelente jugador de cricket y de fútbol (tocaba, además, la guitarra eléctrica, con la cual, al compás del “St Andrew’s Student Blues”, entretenía a alumnos y colegas de St Andrews durante la cena anual). En 1976 se doctoró por esta universidad con una tesis sobre José Bergamín, y se marchó al Canadá con su mujer danesa Gitta, a quien había conocido en Cambridge. Durante los siguientes veinte años fue catedrático de Español en la Universidad de Ottawa, jefe del Departamento, decano de la Facultad de Letras, Director de la Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos y Presidente de la Asociación Canadiense de Hispanistas. Allí nacieron sus hijos Christopher y Michael. En 1996 volvió al Reino Unido con su familia, donde desempeñó la cátedra en St Andrews hasta el día de su muerte.
Nigel Dennis fue sumo conocedor y gran estudioso de la cultura de la España de anteguerra, guerra civil y posguerra, y, en particular, de la obra de sus escritores y artistas, desarrollando especial interés por los prosistas de la Edad de Plata. Es autor de cientos de trabajos ––libros, artículos, ediciones–– sobre la obra y correspondencia de escritores y artistas de la primera mitad del siglo XX, a algunos de los cuales llegó a tratar (José Bergamín, Ramón Gaya, Federico García Lorca, Luis Cernuda, Rafael Alberti, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Antonio Machado, Manuel Altolaguirre, José Díaz Fernández, Manuel de Falla, César Arconada, Ernesto Giménez Caballero). Entre esos trabajos cabría destacar su atención constante a José Bergamín, a cuya poesía dedicó El aposento en el aire (1983) y cuyos aforismos recogió en Las ideas liebres (1998), entre otros libros sobre el mismo escritor; deben recordarse sus ediciones de epistolarios de éste con Miguel de Unamuno (1993), Manuel de Falla (1995) y María Zambrano (2004), su libro sobre el semanario Diablo Mundo (1983), su rescate de las Visitas literarias de España (1995) de Ernesto Giménez Caballero, su cuidadosa edición de la obra completa de Ramón Gaya, el “pintor que escribe” (2010), y los volúmenes dedicados al teatro de la Guerra Civil (2009, 2010). No sólo rehuía siempre la pedantería y la erudición estéril en sus trabajos, sino que empleaba un castellano límpido y elocuente que para sí quisieran muchos nativos; y aun así, nunca se confiaba y siempre le pasaba sus manuscritos a un hablante nativo para que se los revisara. Regalaba sus libros a sus amigos con elegantes y, a menudo, humorísticas dedicatorias ilustradas con dibujos de su mano que revelan un muy buen ojo y una línea clara en unas imágenes sencillas que tenían ecos de su querido Gaya.
Su interés residía en el hombre, el ser humano y su producción artística, y en sus libros buscaba desentrañar y explicar la obra de escritores o pintores no para lucirse u ondear banderas teóricas o generacionales, ni para sentar cátedra, sino para rescatar artistas, obras o aspectos a menudo olvidados, adentrándose en la obra de lleno a través del contexto vital, social, cultural, político de la persona en sus múltiples facetas.
Nigel fue un hombre excepcional en todo: un catedrático singular en su profesionalidad, colegialidad y sentido de responsabilidad ––en los seminarios de los viernes de la tarde que organizaba en el departamento de St Andrews era quien servía el vino y fregaba los vasos después––, un investigador y viajero infatigable (lo requería medio mundo), una mente lúcida, un padre admirable en todo, un amigo incondicional, con fino sentido del humor y la ironía, un caballero en las formas, siempre correcto pero a la vez caluroso y simpático para con todos, alma noble y generoso de espíritu; era de esos hombres infrecuentes que se erigen, sin quererlo o buscarlo en absoluto ––su modestia y discreción, nunca falsas, no se lo permitiría––, en ejemplares, tanto en su humanidad como en su profesionalidad. Una vez, cuando le pregunté, durante un período especialmente difícil para el departamento, cómo conseguía guardar la calma, la compostura y su humor en cualquier circunstancia, me contestó que hacía como los patos canadienses, deslizándose tranquilamente y sin esfuerzo aparente sobre las aguas, mientras que debajo aleteaba frenéticamente.
Todos los que tuvimos la fortuna de conocerlo y de tratarlo sabíamos el regalo, el privilegio que suponía tenerlo cerca, poder contar con él y con su lucidez, su ironía, su sabiduría infinita y su estoicismo, su afecto, generosidad y tolerancia, sus consejos sapienciales como colega, amigo, mentor, guía, trasunto de padre. En lo único en que se nos fallaba era en su gusto cinematográfico, pero eso nunca se lo tuvimos en cuenta.
Su muerte nos deja huérfanos a muchos.
Alexis Grohmann
University of Edinburgh (Ínsula. Revista de Letras y Ciencias Humanas, "El aforismo español del siglo XX, ed. Eva Martínez, monográfico, número 801, Septiembre 2013

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