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This report is taken from PN Review 256, Volume 47 Number 2, November - December 2020.

On Elly Miller Gabriel Josipovici
Elly Miller, the last of the great emigré publishers, died on 8 August at the age of ninety-two, leaving behind, apart from a large family, three books she was readying for publication and a host of projects in the offing. The daughter of the legendary Viennese founder of the Phaidon Press, Béla Horovitz, she arrived in this country in 1938 at the age of ten, with not a word of English, but that proved to be no obstacle, and she soon fitted in with the high achievers of Oxford High School for Girls, where she was sent. The story goes that her father, always keen to find books that would be at once popular and learned, asked Ernst Gombrich, a family friend, to write a history of art for Phaidon. When Gombrich handed in the typescript he explained that he had written it to appeal to an intelligent teenager, whereupon Béla promptly turned it over to his sixteen-year-old daughter to read. ‘I loved it,’ she said as she handed the typescript back to him, a sentiment echoed by generations of art lovers ever since. From school she went to Somerville College to read PPE, where her contemporaries included Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher, as well as Ken Tynan, with whom she went out for a while. ‘His friends thought me too bourgeois,’ she told me, ‘which I was. But he was great fun.’ After a year of journalistic apprenticeship in New York she returned to join her father’s firm.

When Béla died suddenly in 1955 she and her husband took on the running of the firm, eventually selling it off and founding their own press, Harvey Miller, specialising in science (he had been a physicist) and, her new passion, scholarly editions of medieval illuminated manuscripts, a radical step indeed, since the whole Viennese ethos of her father and his friends was predicated on the assumption that real art was classical art and its Renaissance revival. At her death, Lucy Sandler, the distinguished medievalist, and onetime pupil of Meyer Schapiro, said: ‘No-one was more important than Elly in making medieval manuscript illumination central to art-historical study after centuries of neglect.’ And, as if this and presiding over an ever-growing family of children and grandchildren, not to speak of cousins in New York, California, Israel, Belgium and Italy was not enough, she found the time to translate into delightful rhymed couplets the sharp and wicked verse of Wilhelm Busch, and to make up hilarious verses which she often sang to her own piano accompaniment at the birthdays of her children and grandchildren and of her composer brother Joseph Horovitz. An extraordinary combination of Vienna and Oxford, yet like no-one else I have ever met. She was special.

This report is taken from PN Review 256, Volume 47 Number 2, November - December 2020.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this report to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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