In Memoriam: Norman Blake (1934-2012), ESSE Secretary 1996-1999

By Caie, Graham | European English Messenger, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Norman Blake (1934-2012), ESSE Secretary 1996-1999


Caie, Graham, European English Messenger


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It is with the greatest regret that we report the death of one of ESSE's greatest friends and supporters, Norman Blake, who served as Secretary of ESSE from 1996-99. He suffered a major stroke in 2004 which left him severely handicapped and he died on 29 July this year. These final years were extremely frustrating for a man with such energy, enthusiasm and with so much more to contribute to the scholarly world. He was one of the most prominent and influential scholars of Middle English literature and language, in particular Chaucerian scholarship.

I had the privilege of following Norman as Secretary of ESSE and he was a major source of help and support to me in that role. In addition to working with

him in the field of Chaucerian studies, I got to know him well as a fellow assessor of English departments in the UK and in Denmark (he spoke Danish well) and Finland. In these assessment visits he gained the name of Stormin' Norman, which he relished, but his bark was much fiercer than his bite! I also assessed Sheffield's English Department when he was Head of Department and was most impressed both by his large personal workload, as he refused to lessen his teaching commitments while Head, and by the respect in which his colleagues and the Vice Chancellor held him.

In these assessment visits Norman would tell me about his childhood. He was born in 1934 in Ceara, Brazil, as his English father was in the banking world there and his mother was half-Brazilian and half-German. The young Norman was sent to boarding school in England when four-years old, and, as war intervened and travel was difficult, he rarely saw his parents until 1946, spending summer holidays with relations in England. In 1944 he attended Magdalene College School and thence Magdalene College, Oxford, in 1953. At Oxford he was taught by famous scholars such as C.S. Lewis, J.A.W Bennett and Turville-Petre, who inspired his interest in Old Norse. After his first degree he completed a BLitt at Oxford by editing an Icelandic saga and his knowledge of Danish came from many visits to Copenhagen where he studied Old Icelandic manuscripts at the Arnamagnaean Institute and from where he toured much of Scandinavia.

Norman's first full-time academic appointment was at the University of Liverpool at the age of twenty-five. He met Valerie in Liverpool and they were married in 1965 and their daughter, Dorinda, joined the family in 1973. …

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