OBITUARY: Annie Barnes ; Dynamic Teacher and Pascal Scholar

By Robinson, Antonia | The Independent (London, England), February 13, 2003 | Go to article overview
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OBITUARY: Annie Barnes ; Dynamic Teacher and Pascal Scholar


Robinson, Antonia, The Independent (London, England)


ANNIE BARNES was a scholar of international renown: her research on Pascal earned her standing ovations at Pascalian conferences in Paris, while her wider studies of Jansenism and the Port-Royal brought further acclaim.

Although much of her work centred on 17th-century French writers, Goethe, Proust and other later masters came under her scrutiny and publications followed. After her retirement as a professorial fellow at St Anne's College, Oxford, in 1970, the award of a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship allowed her to continue work on Pascal. Well into her eighties, she continued to present research on the late 19th-century religious writer Charles Peguy at the colloques given in his name.

She was born Annie Sessely of Swiss Protestant parents in Geneva in 1903, and educated there and in Berne. Her doctoral thesis for Berne University, "L'Influence de Shakespeare sur Alfred de Vigny", became, in 1928, the first of a substantial body of published work throughout her life.

Within a few years of receiving her doctorate in 1927, she was to make crucial decisions: her marriage in 1929 to H.G. ("Roger") Barnes, an English visiting lecturer (docent) at Berne, and her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Annie apparently initiated the idea of the marriage herself, but it was Roger who started them both on the road to a profound Catholic faith. This did not prevent them from having a wide circle of friends with diverse interests and beliefs, among them musicians and composers, such as Jean Langlais, whose Virgo Maria was played at her funeral. Asked later in life why she had not become a nun, she replied: "Men . . . I liked men too much."

After Berne the Barnes' work in different European universities in the 1930s made for a peripatetic life: moving between Oxford and Tubingen, Annie first studied at Somerville, then spent two years as a Senior Scholar at Lady Margaret Hall with some teaching of French, while Roger lectured at Tubingen University and prepared his doctoral thesis on Byron in Germany. Roger's appointment as lecturer in German at Swansea brought them back to Britain, where Annie completed her Oxford doctorate on "Jean Leclerc, 1657-1736, et la Republique des Lettres" in 1935. This work on the controversial theologian, follower of Jacobus Arminius, was published in 1938.

She spent the years of the Second World War teaching at Lady Margaret Hall while Roger, now university lecturer at Oxford (later Fellow at St Edmund Hall), worked some of the time at the BBC and they gave a home to two boys evacuated for the duration.

In 1947 Annie Barnes was appointed Tutor in French at St Anne's Society and, on its becoming St Anne's College in 1952, one of the new college's first Fellows. One of a group of strong and charismatic intellects teaching at St Anne's in the 1950s (among them Iris Murdoch, Jennifer Hart and Peter Ady), Barnes demanded - and got - the best efforts her pupils were capable of: she combined her prodigious Pascalian researches with dynamic teaching, and without any sign of the tension and fatigue that can mar a don's working life and a pupil's amour propre.

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