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This report is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

Tony Tanner: A Memoir and a Tribute Clive Wilmer

Tony Tanner, who has died aged 63, was one of the outstanding literary critics of the post-war era. He was also a dazzling and influential teacher. Throughout his career he was associated with King's College, Cambridge, which he once described with characteristic warmth as 'the most civilised corner of the earth'. The value of King's for him, however, had nothing to do with little-Englandism or the navel-gazing that Oxbridge colleges have sometimes been known to encourage. It was rather the openness of King's to the great world, its liberality, its humanism, its reputation for intellectual honesty and freedom. So, far from dwelling complacently on the Englishness of Cambridge, Tony Tanner made his name as one who had extended the scope of what the University understood as 'English'. He introduced American literature to the English Faculty and, in 1989, his work in that field was rewarded with an ad hominem Chair. He also taught and wrote on a wide range of British subjects, continually touched on European literature and was among the first of those who, in the 1970s, attended to the new ideas then coming from Paris.

I had the great privilege of being taught by Tony in the mid-1960s. He was a diligent, kindly, unstuffy and inspiring teacher, who always seemed as interested in the student's ideas as in his own. And yet he was something more than that suggests. He was one of the truly great teachers of literature. His passionate love of books, his ...


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