Herbert Foltinek

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our colleague Herbert Foltinek, who passed away peacefully in his sleep on September 18, 2015, at the age of 85.

Herbert Foltinek’s close association with our department had a long history. It began in 1949, when he started out here as a student of English and German. He subsequently, in 1954, completed a PhD on the poetry of T.S.Eliot and, after a year at the Österreichische Kulturinstitut in London, some teaching at the Institute of Translation Studies and two years as a lecturer at Downing College, Cambridge, rejoined the English Department as a post-doc assistant in 1959. He was awarded the Theodor-Körner Prize in 1961, which supported work on his Habilitation-project, a study on the early Victorian novel, which was published in 1968 as Vorstufen zum Viktorianischen Realismus. Der Englische Roman von Jane Austen bis Charles Dickens. In 1969 he was appointed Professor of English and American language and literature, and was immediately initiated into university administration by serving as head of department, not only of the English Department (a role which he was to take on many more times during his working life) but of the Institute of Translation Studies at the same time. Since then, while still active in administration, he continued his research and left his mark on generations of students who he taught in various areas of literary studies, British and American, poetry, prose and drama. Outside the department, he devoted a great deal of time to the Austrian Academy of Sciences (he was made associate member in 1973 and full member in 1980). For many years, he was head of the commission for literature there, and he continued to be co-editor of the periodicalSprachkunst, the forthcoming issue of which bears posthumous testimony to his meticulous editorial skill.

Herbert Foltinek took an active interest in developments in the English-speaking world throughout his life, and was a regular and critical reader of both The Times and The Guardian, frequently commenting on the increasing unreliability of their reporting. His interest in things British and American, however, started even before his student days: in the American sector of occupied Vienna, American libraries would provide him with plenty of reading material that was otherwise difficult to get hold of, and as someone who lived through the Second World War as a child and teenager, Britain always seemed to him to be a shining example of a truly democratic country. He went to Britain straight after leaving school in 1949, and because there was no other affordable way of going, he worked there as a farm labourer for a summer, collecting potatoes and parsnips and making his first British friends, some of whom he managed to keep in touch with until just before his death. As a student, he found more ways of learning about the English-speaking world: for some years, he worked as a travel guide for American tourists in Italy, and he was employed for some time at the Institute of European Studies and as a translator at the Forum Alpbach, where he had the opportunity to meet a host of interesting international students and scholars. Herbert Foltinek had a lifelong fondness for Cambridge University and especially the University library, where he loved to do his research in the summer months. He also made good use of the resources at the British Library in London, though he much preferred the old library in the British Museum to the new building on the Euston Road.

His most consistent literary interest during his career was in Victorian novels, in particular the work of Charles Dickens, and while his earlier research investigated motif, character and historical context, later publications turned to narratological studies of Dickens and, most recently, to the reception of  his fiction in Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. Many years of research and the careful reading and rereading of Dickens’ novels culminated in the publication of the book: Imagination All Compact: How Did Charles Dickens Compose his Novels? (2005) This major scholarly work is the study of how Dickens planned, crafted and developed his novels – a topic that Herbert Foltinek’s own analytical qualities made him particularly well qualified to address. This book, like his other extensive publications – on T.S. Eliot, on George Eliot, on genre in 18th century fiction, on the American novel, on World War I poetry, on comparative literature – is informed by the unusual intellectual exactitude and integrity that is evident in everything Herbert Foltinek did. He went out of his way to read up absolutely anything there was to read on a specific topic, and he applied the same scrupulous diligence to the preparation of his lectures and seminars, and in his editorial work, e.g. Susan Ferrier’s 1818 novel Marriage, which he edited and introduced for Oxford University Press (1971) or collections of theoretical and narratological articles (Tales and „their telling differences“, co-edited with Wolfgang Riehle and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, 1993; Literaturwissenschaft: intermedial – interdisziplinär, co-edited with Christoph Leitgeb, 2002).

Herbert Foltinek was always an entirely dependable colleague with a keen sense of duty who always put students and department first. Unusual for someone of his generation, he was not interested in university politics and was not a member of any party or fraternity, subscribed to no institutionalized religious or political creed. He believed strongly that education and research should be impartial, independent of ideological affiliation. For most of his life, he was as robust in body as he was in mind: he was hardly ever sick and apologised profusely to his students on those rare occasions that he had to cancel a class. He was always generous with his time and his expertise, and many younger colleagues gained greatly from his advice. When he retired in 1998, he was far from inactive. He resumed his routine of coming to the department every day for many years, continued to advise and support colleagues, helped out in supervision and exams, and pursued his work for the Academy of Sciences. Until a short while before his death, his other commitments and his health allowing, he would not miss any social occasions. He was especially fond of carol singing at Christmas, and happily joined any anglophile activities the department would engage in. He was appreciated by his colleagues for his sharp wit, his astounding memory, his kindness and generosity, and his great sense of humour. He continued to be, what he had always been, a familiar, supportive and impressive presence in our departmental life. Now, in his absence, he will be much remembered and greatly missed.