Professor Neil Reeve

Elected: 2017

Area(s): Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

Specialist Subject(s): English Literature

Professor Neil Reeve, who passed away on April 1 at the early age of sixty-four, was a highly distinguished editor of definitive editions of texts by D. H. Lawrence, Henry James and Thomas Hardy. Additionally he was a gifted critic of modern writers, and it was characteristic of his own conspicuous modesty that he particularly favoured unfashionable authors, such as Elizabeth Bowen and Rex Warner, who had been sidelined in contemporary studies.  His subtle, fastidiously discriminating literary intelligence meant that he was exceptionally suited to explicating particularly difficult contemporary texts, such as the poetry of his former tutor J. H. Prynne.

Having trained at Cambridge, where he had enjoyed a stellar undergraduate and postgraduate career, Neil joined the staff of the Department of English at the then University College of Swansea in 1989. A devoted teacher, he was always aware of the privilege of helping others to appreciate how great works of literature could provide unique illuminations of the human condition.

It was his misfortune to have spent the latter years of his career in an HE environment he found increasingly uncongenial, as authentic literary study was progressively devalued and slighted. But despite becoming thoroughly unillusioned he strove never to become wholly disillusioned. And although he had no respect for the educational attitudes, managerial imperatives and political prejudices underlying the Research Assessment Exercise, he oversaw the preparations for the exercise at Swansea with almost obsessive dedication, knowing, as Head of Department, that his colleagues’ very future depended on it.  Accordingly, under his leadership, the English Department at Swansea outperformed every other in Wales in the 2014 exercise, and excelled even those of Oxford and Cambridge. And in the ‘Impact’ category, the Department was one of a mere handful in the whole of the UK to be awarded maximum marks.

Neil was gentle, lovable, courteous, quiet, reserved, highly talented, loyal, sensitive, principled – and exasperating. Exasperating because, in an age where image is all, and self-promotion everything, Neil remained reluctant even to identify with his own best qualities, let alone to draw those to the attention of others. A man of natural dignity and some elegance (as a young man he seemed the academic equivalent of the England cricketer David Gower), and blessed with a quiet wit and wry humour, he was immensely proud of having been elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of his adopted country. We as a fellowship are substantially diminished by his passing.


Prepared by Yr Athro M. Wynn Thomas OBE FEA FLSW FBA