Oxford honours academic who fled Nazis and succeeded Tolkien

"Eric modeled the unlimited potential of the imagination in everything he did."

Professor Eric Gerald Stanley, a renowned authority on Medieval Literature and successor to Tolkien, has been honoured across Oxford after his passing aged 94 last month.

Acknowledged by many of his peers as one of the 20th century’s leading scholars in his field, Stanley was a long-time editor of Oxford’s “Notes and Queries” and a prominent contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Andy Orchard, Oxford’s current Rawlinson and Bosworth professor of Anglo-Saxon, descried Stanley’s work as “prodigious in its scope and scale and impact”. Professor Lynda Mugglestone, another colleague,  remembered his encouragement of her own work.

Upon hearing of his passing, one of Stanley’s students said: “Oxford has lost an irreplaceable link to the best of its history, to a time when students earnestly believed in the capacity of ideas to change the world.”

They added: “Eric modelled the unlimited potential of imagination in everything he did.”

Having fled from Nazi Germany with his parents in 1934, Stanley was admitted to University College in 1941. He taught at the University of Birmingham and Yale University before being elected a fellow of Pembroke College in 1977.

At the same time, he was appointed Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of English Literature, a position previously held by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Stanley’s published works include The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism (1975) and In The Foreground: ‘Beowulf’ ( 1994). He also worked extensively for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), though he was never a member of its staff. Stanley first participated in its work in the 1940s, when the dictionary came up for revision in the 1990s he played a key role, eventually coming to inspect all entries of Old or Middle English origin.

A friend and peer of eminent figures like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Harold Bloom, Stanley was well-known for being well-dressed and for making fast friends wherever he would go. He and his wife would take annual trips to Italy by car, a tradition which he continued alone after her death.

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Pembroke College flew their college flags at half-mast on the 21st and 22nd June in his honour.