Former colleagues and students celebrated a Ballyvaughan resident with what was described as “the ultimate honour for a professor in America” on Wednesday.
Professor Emeritus Mary Ann Nevins Radzinowicz was presented with a festschrift, which literally translates to ‘feast of writing’, consisting of a volume of written work in her honour contributed by various authors.
Only the most accomplished professors receive a festschrift and Professor Radzinowicz said one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience has been the organisation of “a sort of Irish academic hoolie” to celebrate. She also expressed her delight to be presented with the festschrift by one her former students, Professor Margaret Olofson Thickstun, the Jane Watson Irwin professor of English Literature at Hamilton College, New York State.
“What I like most of all about this is that, because the people who are giving this to me and the woman who edited the book of essays and is presenting it to me is coming a long way, we have invented a sort of academic Irish hoolie.
“We are having 14 people around who will be watching the spectacle and having some champagne and some food and I am looking forward to that,” Professor Radzinowicz told The Clare Champion.
Professor Radzinowicz read English at Radcliffe/Harvard and took her PhD at Columbia University, New York. She was awarded two Fulbright Scholarships to Cambridge University, England. While there she met and married her husband, Leon Radzinowicz, professor of criminology at Cambridge and founder of the Institute of Criminology at the university. Their two children live and work in London.
Professor Radzinowicz was a Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge and lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge. She was headhunted by the faculty of English at the Ivy League Cornell University in up-state New York where she was awarded the Jacob Gould Schurmann Chair of English Literature. Her field of studies was the poet, John Milton and 17th century English literature.
Some of her writing includes Toward Samson Agonistes The Growth of Milton’s Mind (Princeton University Press) and Milton’s Epics and the Book of Psalms (Princeton University Press). She also edited a number of books before her retirement in 1990 when she moved permanently to Ballyvaughan.
“I went as an undergraduate to Harvard and I shifted to Columbia. I already had an interest in 17th century literature but I thought at that time that it would be Shakespeare. At Columbia there were three of the best possible scholars to study with, two in the English department and one in philosophy. They simply taught Milton so beautifully and so well that I wanted to study him. Then I shifted my interest,” Professor Radzinowicz recalled.
“I found him very interesting, not just his work but also the man himself. He believed in divorce and the first essay I wrote was about his divorce tract. He particularly believed, something that was quite revolutionary, that if a marriage was not sexually fulfilling then it should be abandoned at once, by the couple simply agreeing that they were divorced. He believed it should be instant and automatic,” she added.
Professor Radzinowicz’s interest in Milton was intensified through her study of his play, Samson Agonistes.
“Milton wrote a kind of Greek tragedy on a biblical subject, Samson. When Samson was blinded, Milton found blind Samson unable to act, a very appealing figure, and he wrote a marvellous play about him, Samson Agonistes. It created a great controversy too because it ends with a violent smash up where he pulls down the columns of the temple and brings it down on himself and everyone in it. Critics were divided between those who thought it was a betrayal of his Christianity and those who thought it perfectly satisfactory,” she said. The festschrift is a book of essays entitled Rival Hermeneutics.