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Professor Simon Dentith 1952-2014

Professor John Hughes remembers our friend and ex-colleague.

Former colleagues were immensely saddened to hear of the death of Simon Dentith, who was Reader then Professor of English, here from 1994 until he left to take up a Chair at Reading University in 2007. Simon had lived with his finally fatal illness for over a decade. For colleagues who did not know him, it is worth emphasising that Simon’s contribution to the development of this institution was enormous, perhaps even decisive. When he arrived in 1994, the award of University title was conditional on the kind of genuinely vital and extensive research culture that Simon, along with his great friend, Professor Peter Widdowson, rapidly established in English Literature.

Simon was impressively wide-ranging in his interests, and possessed a rare capacity for drawing together material from numerous disciplines and periods – literature, science, history, sociological and political thought, philosophy and literary theory… His reading was simply immense, as was the scope of his publications. However, for Simon intellectual life was not about displaying learning (though his recall was almost comically prodigious), but pre-eminently about employing it in the kind of vigorous and enabling debate in which he excelled. For Simon, each intervention in a seminar, or article or book (or over lunch in the cafeteria), was always part of an open-ended and collective dialogue, a view of intellectual mutuality rooted in the thinkers and writers he most admired. Perhaps above all, colleagues will remember Simon for his vitality: for the force and passion, and the outbursts of humour, and the openness and modesty, he brought to any exchange. With this in mind, if I had to say one thing to remember Simon it would be that he never sought the last word, but always the next one… 

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