L. J. WOODWARD was a great and inspiring teacher of literature and a part of the fabric of St Andrews University, where he headed the Spanish Department for 34 years until his retirement in 1982.
He represented university education at its very best in those faraway years when accountability was measured not by bureaucracies but by personal commitment. What could at first be mistaken for endearing eccentricity was in fact a transparent mask for total devotion to the intellectual and personal development of his students, while his teaching was based on a radical reappraisal of the canonical texts of Castilian literature.
Woodward (as he often referred to himself in preference to "I"), was born in Liverpool in 1916, but brought up in the Isle of Man, his mother's home. He considered himself a Manxman. From Oulton School in Liverpool he went to Downing College, Cambridge, which he left in 1939 with a degree in Spanish and the name "Ferdy" by which everyone always knew him. The story is that it linked his striking shock of curly hair with The Tempest - "The King's son, Ferdinand / with hair up-staring", in the words of Ariel.
During the Second World War he married a fellow student, Joan Bradshaw, and served in the Navy, including a period at Bletchley Park, before being demobbed as a Lieutenant-Commander in 1946. After spells of school teaching and study in Spain, he was appointed to a lectureship in Spanish at St Andrews in 1948, the start of a new department. Here he stayed, gaining a Chair in 1964 and retiring in 1982.
In those 34 years, Ferdy Woodward created a unique department. He was soon joined by Douglas Gifford, who also remained till his retirement, the two making a pair who, while others came and went, were the department. They were intellectually and physically very different, and it was hard not to see them as Quixote and Sancho Panza, though each claimed the other was the fantastic knight and he the down-to-earth peasant.
Woodward had studied with Edward Wilson at Cambridge and now he took forward Wilson's new approaches to Spanish Golden Age texts. Up the coast at Aberdeen University, the great Hispanic scholar Alec Parker, another major renewer of understanding of Spanish drama, was in post, and Woodward appointed him his first external examiner. Along with Parker's successor at Aberdeen, Terence May, something like a Scottish East Coast new wave had come into existence.
The group's approach was broadly "New Critical" - Woodward was always a warm admirer of F.R. Leavis, whose books were prominent in the small Spanish Class Library - with close attention to the text and an insistence on moral analysis as an interpretative tool. Holistic analysis, structures, systems of images, these were the keys. The agenda was particularly clear in their reading of the theatre of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Lope de Vega, Caldern, and Tirso de Molina, where they made an earlier and stranger Romantic world of blood and honour into an arena of subtle moral reflection. …