Jeffares, Alexander Norman (1920–2005), literary scholar (known in academia as A. Norman Jeffares, to friends as 'Derry ') was born 11 August 1920 at Elmgrove House, Milltown, Co. Dublin, son of Cecil Norman Jeffares, accountant to the NUI, and his wife Agnes (née Fraser); he had a sister. Jeffares descended from an old Wexford family and grew up in the middle-class protestant suburbia of south Dublin. His family were connected with the motor trade, thus laying the foundation for his lifelong love of cars and interest in their mechanisms. (His first published work (1935) was a first-person narrative of a car race in the Phoenix Park as told by one of the cars.) A late book of autobiographical poetry, Brought up in Dublin (1987), published under the name Derry Jeffares (as was the companion volume Brought up to leave (1987)), evokes the suburban scenery of his Milltown youth (including being taunted as a 'dirty protestant' by bigger local boys).
Education Jeffares was educated at The High School on Harcourt Street, Dublin, where he held the Erasmus Smith scholarship, was head boy, and as editor of the school magazine (the Erasmian) in 1937 requested a poem from W. B. Yeats (qv) (a graduate of the school), whom Jeffares occasionally saw being wheeled around the neighbourhood. (The aged Maud Gonne MacBride (qv) was also a presence; she admired the Jeffares family cats.) While Yeats was not up to producing a poem specially for the occasion, he gave Jeffares the recently composed 'What then?' By the time of his own death Jeffares was the last major Yeats scholar to have met the poet personally.
Entering Trinity College Dublin in 1939, Jeffares studied classics, ancient history, and political science, and was elected a scholar of the house (1941). After graduation (1944), he briefly lectured at Trinity in classics while studying for a classics Ph.D. His first book, Trinity College Dublin, founded 1591: thirty-four drawings and descriptions (1944), displayed a talent for line-drawing which found only limited public outlet in his later career. (Though he famously covered agenda papers at learned meetings with likenesses of other participants, he spoke of such amusements as the work of 'Derry', mischievous twin of the respectable academic 'A. Norman'). He became a Trinity honorary fellow in 1978.
Despite his gravitation to the expanding academic discipline of English literature, Jeffares's approach to life and scholarship was deeply influenced by the traditions of late-Victorian TCD classicism, both in terms of standards of textual and linguistic analysis, with the editor as servant and explicator of the text, and in its admiration for a Renaissance humanist ideal of the full man, acknowledging every aspect of human experience, and at ease with the body as well as the mind. (Jeffares was a strong swimmer, and in later life did much of his own building work; he loved good food, wine and conversation.) This world view underlay his lasting admiration for Oliver St John Gogarty (qv), another Trinity classicist; Jeffares published a lecture on Gogarty in pamphlet form (1960; reprinted in his collection The circus animals (1970)), and he edited and annotated The poems and plays of Oliver St John Gogarty (2001). His Anglo-Irish literature (1982) carefully acknowledges Trinity's tradition of protestant and Renaissance-inspired scholarship.
Yeats scholar Jeffares's Trinity classicism underlies his re-creation of Yeats's poetic development as growth towards wholeness and outspokenness. Where the Trinity classical tradition had a strain of elitism, a belief that only an enlightened few could appreciate plain blunt speech and the unvarnished contemplation of reality, Jeffares's career was built around making the fruits of scholarship available to the common reader through clear exposition, which states its basic points with simplicity but will be found on further acquaintance with the subject to hide considerable depths of understanding. (Jonathan Swift (qv), in his evolution from academic wit to rouser of public opinion, was one of Jeffares's principal exemplars.) The principal figure through whom Jeffares addressed his middle-class Irish protestant background, his academic vocation, and his life as a man was, however, Yeats. At the suggestion of a Trinity mentor who suggested that Jeffares should study the poems of Yeats 'and tell us what they mean', he undertook a D.Phil. in English literature at Oriel College, Oxford, working under David Nichol Smith, who had been the first graduate of a university school of English literature in Britain or Ireland. Jeffares interviewed Maud Gonne MacBride and her daughter Iseult (qv), finding that Maud tended to have a 'scripted' vision of her life story, especially when dealing with politics, but that when given follow-up questions on minor points she could often provide revealing details. His impressions of Maud Gonne are recorded in an essay republished in his collection Images of invention (1996), and his fundamental respect for mother and daughter is expressed in his late work as co-editor with Anna MacBride White of their surviving correspondence with Yeats ('Always your friend': The Gonne–Yeats letters 1893–1938 (1993); Letters to W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound by Iseult Gonne: a girl that knew all Dante once (2004)). He also spoke with Yeats's sister Lily (qv) about the family background and ancestry, and interviewed Oxford dons (including E. R. Dodds (qv)) who had encountered the poet.
Jeffares's principal relationship in his Yeats studies, however, was with the poet's widow, George Yeats (qv), who gave him access to the Yeats archive, shared in his re-creation of her husband's creative processes, and allowed him to quote extensively from published and unpublished work (albeit with some restrictions: he was allowed to mention Yeats's love affairs in relation to his work, but not to publish the names of the women involved). Jeffares retained a close friendship with George, and his concern to do her justice survived her death in 1968. One of the few eruptions of anger in Jeffares's work occurs in the bibliography of the final edition of W. B. Yeats: a new biography (2001), when he comments on George's ghosts (1999) by Brenda Maddox: 'she regards Mrs Yeats's automatic writing as fabrication (very wrongly in my opinion, but then, unlike many recent biographers, I had the privilege of knowing, respecting, admiring and liking Mrs Yeats) and trivialises Yeats's strength of mind and Mrs Yeats's integrity and devotion to his poetry into an expression of feminist sexuality'. Jeffares was always non-committal about the precise origins of Yeats's A vision, but emphasised both that it was a collaborative enterprise driven by both participants, and that – as both Yeatses maintained – its principal importance lay in the poetry it stimulated. It is likely that Jeffares regarded psychic powers as telepathic in origin, which would make A vision a subconscious collaboration in a particularly deep sense, rather than the work of discarnate spirits.
Whereas Richard Ellmann (qv) pursued a predominantly biographical approach toward Yeats and other subjects, Jeffares was predominantly an editor and commentator. His doctoral dissertation formed the basis of his first scholarly book, W. B. Yeats: man and poet (1949; revised editions: 1962, 1996). He produced the standard Commentary on the collected poems of W. B. Yeats (1968; revised as A new commentary on the poems of W. B. Yeats (1984)), and with A. S. Knowland he published A commentary on the collected plays of W. B. Yeats (1975). He also edited the standard four-volume Macmillan selection of Yeats's works, was one of the principal founders and maintainers of the Yeats Summer School in Sligo from 1960, and published many essays on aspects of the poet's life and work.
Academic career While completing his dissertation, Jeffares worked as lector in English at the University of Groningen, Netherlands (1946–8). After lecturing in English at the University of Edinburgh (1948–51), he became Jury professor of English language and literature at the University of Adelaide, South Australia (1951–6). Here he developed an interest in Australian literature, which developed into a love of Commonwealth and post-colonial literature generally, Jeffares's interest in English was not narrowly defined, but extended to language and communications in the broadest definition; he served as vice-president of the Film and Television Council of South Australia, and was secretary of the Australian Humanities Research Council (1954–7). He combined his teaching and administrative duties with editing literary texts (including the novels of Disraeli), compiling an anthology of English poetry, and developing lasting interests in Robert Richard Chute Torrens (qv) and his father Robert Torrens (qv), both significant figures in the early colonisation of South Australia. (He also bought a second-hand Rolls Royce, and founded the Vintage Car Club of Southern Australia.)
Jeffares returned to Britain to become professor of English literature at Leeds University (1957–74). His inaugural lecture, published as Language, literature and science (1959), argued that the development of modern science and modern English prose are linked through the insistence of the late-seventeenth-century Royal Society on conducting its discourses in a plain style, shunning the wilder flourishes of rhetoric, which became established over the succeeding century as the normative English style. This argument can be read both as reflecting Jeffares's wider interest in communication and as a contribution to the contemporary 'two cultures' debate, in which the principals were the technocrat novelist C. P. Snow, who championed scientific modernity, and the literary critic F. R. Leavis, who insisted that the discipline of English was the last outpost of humane values in the face of mechanistic utilitarianism. Jeffares, the classicist, regarded Leavis as 'a provincial puritan' – a description he also applied to the Irish cultural nationalist Daniel Corkery (qv), while acknowledging that both men despite their limitations raised valuable questions.
With his formidable powers of patronage and influence-broking, Jeffares gave the School of English at Leeds an international reputation. He attracted outside funding to endow chairs in American literature and in contemporary English, a visiting fellowship in Commonwealth literature, the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, and the Bruern fellowship in American literature – this at a time when most British universities were content to rely on the University Grants Council as sole source of funding. He was responsible for establishing (within the School of English at Leeds) the Institute of Bibliography and Textual Criticism, the Institute of Modern English Language Studies, the Institute of Dialectology and Folk Life Studies, the Poetry Room (containing recordings of poets from throughout the world reading their own work, recorded at Leeds during visits organised by him), and the post of administrative officer. He helped to found the University Workshop Theatre, which became one of the university's greatest postgraduate resources. He was an assessor and interviewer for many chairs in English literature in Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere, gave lectures and acted as external examiner throughout the world, and helped to shape many degree courses and academic departments. He was a consultant and adviser to the British Council (incidentally revamping the periodical British Book News), and a member of the Final Selection Board for the Civil Service Commission. He was active in PEN, and a fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
From Leeds, Jeffares edited A Review of English Literature (1960–67). He was founding chairman of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (1966), and the International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature (IASAIL) (1968) – becoming life chairman of the latter – and in 1970 was founding editor of the journal Ariel: A Review of International English Literature. His interest in post-colonial and Commonwealth literature (he encouraged Commonwealth universities to treat local literature as worthy of serious study) derived from his Irish background as well as his Australian experience; he saw Swift as 'the first effective anti-colonial author' (Images, 34), in the sense of speaking in terms of general principles of liberty rather than the privileges of colonists. Jeffares was general editor (1960–73) of the Writers and Critics Series published by Oliver & Boyd, which provided short introductions to selected authors for the growing undergraduate market; of the New Oxford English series, the Irish Novels series, Macmillan Commonwealth Writers, Macmillan New Literature Handbooks, and Macmillan Histories of Literature. He edited numerous texts (with a particular fondness for Restoration comedy as literary editor of the Fountainwell Drama Texts, but including authors as various as Whitman and Scott). He edited Critical Heritage volumes on Yeats and Swift (in a series documenting contemporary critical responses to major authors), and founded the York Notes series.
His last academic appointment was as professor of English studies at the University of Stirling (1974–86). A member of the Scottish Arts Council (1979–84), he was vice-chairman (1980–84), and chaired the council's literature committee. He was president of PEN Scotland (1986–9), chairperson of Book Trust Scotland, and served on the Arts Council of Great Britain (1980–84). From 1978 he was a director of the publishing firm Colin Smythe, which published extensively in the field of Irish studies and for which he edited many collections. He receive honorary doctorates from the universities of Stirling and Lille.
Later career On retirement in 1986, he moved to Fife Ness; he was proud of his Scots ancestry and loved the Scottish countryside. He presented most of his book collection to the Princess Grace Library in Monaco. Despite suffering from intensifying emphysema, he continued to engage in editorial work, produced anthologies on such subjects as Irish love poems and Irish writers' descriptions of childhood, and collected his writings on aspects of Irish and other literatures. A late passion was the vindication of Charles Lever (qv), whom he thought undervalued by critics unfamiliar with his later and deeper work. He similarly believed Charles Robert Maturin (qv) to be underestimated both as an innovator in psychological literature, and as 'one of the earliest distillers of that blend of nationalism and romanticism which was to be so potent in the nineteenth century' (Images, 131). He collaborated with Brendan Kennelly on Joycechoyce (1992), an edition of poems of James Joyce (qv), including lyrical passages from the prose works. In his later writings Jeffares displayed an awareness that through his memories of childhood and youth he had become a link to the Dublin of George Bernard Shaw (qv), Yeats, and Joyce – his native city having changed much more in the second half of the twentieth century than between the Victorian youth of those writers and his own youth.
Jeffares married (1947) Jeanne Agnès Calambert of Brussels, whom he first met at a student debate at Glasgow University in 1942. They were famously close, and she assisted greatly in his work; seeking to accomplish clear exposition for the benefit of the general reader, he submitted all his work to her for reading and approval. They had one daughter, the artist and literary scholar Bo Jeffares. Norman Jeffares died peacefully in his sleep 1 June 2005 at Crall, Fife, having sent an ambulance home, the day after he finished correcting the proofs of an anthology of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish literature.
Assessment Jeffares applied the traditions of classical scholarship to the growth of the discipline of English literature in the wave of concern for cultural self-improvement in the decades immediately following the second world war, and skilfully rode the great wave of university expansion that followed this period; if succeeding generations of academics are awed by the resources available to him, it should be remembered that he was not a passive recipient but co-opted them through his scholarly and bureaucratic skills. The traditional humanist scholar is often denounced as a servant of power imposing a received canon and suppressing the experiences of the subaltern; Jeffares sought to make humanist scholarship available to previously excluded groups and to enable them to use it as a tool to explore their own experiences, as the Anglo-Irish writers and commentators whose cultural heir he was struggled with their own tangential relationship with mainstream English literature. Later generations of students owed him more than they realised. By the humanist standards to which he aspired, he lived a full life.