Tribute to Dudley Young

  • Date

    Thu 18 Nov 21

Raised in Canada, Dudley Young was educated at the universities of Toronto and Cambridge. In 1968, he was recruited into the Department of Literature at the University of Essex by its founding professor, Donald Davie. He remained at Essex until his retirement in 2005.

Favouring a philosophical approach to literature, and devoted to the study of intellectual history and comparative religion, Dudley was an outstanding scholar and intellectual. As well as contributing to the London Review of Books and the PN Review, he produce two major works: Out of Ireland: A Reading of Yeats’s Poetry, first published in 1975 and Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War, published in 1991.

Dudley was an often inspirational lecturer, teacher and colleague. He used his quick wit, his extraordinary range of knowledge as well as his provocative sense of humour to lead his students, and sometimes his peers, along new avenues of thought. He was always ready to challenge accepted dogma and prevailing beliefs, and to go against the intellectual grain when he thought it was appropriate to do so.

A devoted ecologist, he put his principles into practice by running a small farm near Abberton with only a little help from others. There, he raised crops and tended livestock according to beliefs - learned from, among others, the American naturalist Henry David Thoreau - that emphasised the crucial importance of the natural, sustainable and the organic.

What he believed, above all, was that we are part of nature, it is part of us and that we are stewards of the land not its owners.

This tribute was written by Professor Richard Gray.

Dudley’s funeral will take place on Wednesday 1 December, at 11am, at St Andrew's Church in Abberton. 

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Tributes to Dudley Young

I don’t want to let this pass without adding how inspiring it was to know Dudley at Essex in the 60s. He contributed to a seminal experience for me as a student from 1965 to 1969.

Grey Morris

I was shocked to read that Dudley Young had died. It’s that thing about being being the same in your head as when you last saw them, in my case 1977. That’s when I graduated in English and European Lit. I specially requested to be taught by Dudley. I’m not sure why, apart from his short bio and the appealing air of a maverick.

He taught me for two years, along with his PhD student, John Lawton. Dudley was that overused word, inspirational, genuinely. He exuded laid backness; tutorials ( of only two students) which lasted however long we chose with sherry in paper cups and then lunch in the Hex. Alarmingly, he refused to set essay questions, but I soon came to appreciate the freedom that gave to explore what I chose. He humoured my resistance to poetry but also saved my degree bacon by telling me I couldn’t get away with it as exams approached. Sure enough, my exam paper would have been incomplete without his advice.

Out of the two tutees I tended to feel I was the junior who was scraping along. That led to my skipping a tutorial. Dr Young was far less laid back then, found out what flat I was in, rang me up and tore a strip off me for my laziness and rudeness. He said I could be quite good if only I made an effort.

I’m so grateful for his intellect, his laid backness and his anger when needed. He sorted me out and thanks to him I’ve enjoyed a happy and fulfilled academic career.

Thanks Essex, thanks Dudley.

Alison Smith (Formerly Parker. 1974-77)

Dudley Young and I met as undergraduates at Cambridge in 1963, when we were both tutored, and mentored, by the late Raymond Williams, whose Ph.D student I subsequently became. Dudley was (and remains) the most dynamic human being I had ever met. Even though his dynamism spoke out of his eyes, his coiled but sprawling posture, and his words, plucked from a language never previously heard (was this Chicago shorthand? - was it highbrow? - was it street? ), he was the epitome of cool. He was Mercutio. I had been raised in the US until the age of ten, and was perhaps better equipped than some were to take Dudley for potential kin. In early '60s Cambridge he appeared to be an alien. Had he sported bright green skin no one would have been surprised. Happily for our beginnings, I had been a voracious reader since earliest childhood; his own reading spanned the millennia, and his views, as deeply rooted in philosophy as in literature, already encompassed them. At 18, I spoke four languages fluently, which may have helped my eligibility to be a sidekick, but I struggled to keep up with Dudley's repertoire. I had no Hegel; he ate Hegel for breakfast. I had little Freud; he was all over Freud, whom he would refer to as Siggy, much as he would say Charley when citing Marx. This slangy intimacy - was it transatlantic, or was it Dudley? - intimidated me no less than his knowledge base. We became fast friends at Cambridge - he seemed to see something in me (but what?) He gave me Landowska's peerless Scarlatti album and scribbled, 'Dissolve slowly in the mind,' on it. I'm still doing so.

We remained fast friends for 60 years, through events major and minor - books published, amours undertaken, marriages (mine), properties acquired (his) and resold (mine), animals reared (goats in both cases, at my instigation, then sheep - his). He attended my weddings, smiling a non-committal blessing, as befitted a lifelong bachelor who had told me at Cambridge that women were after us for our seed, not our soul; he was my daughter Faith's godfather, a role he had never sought and ignored entirely. But time forms its own bonds: we kept faith with each other's sense of our mysterious yet complementary kinship (born of celebrities, I was the aristo, he the common man, yet I was the Marxist and he the ivory tower-dweller - we took turns, changing places), our friendship blended by some obstinate element of mutual admiration, one that seemingly acknowledged that I was the one who had achieved commercial adequacy, a shallow if undeniable achievement (my need to feed a huge burgeoning family was my excuse), while he remained surely the senior partner as a public intellectual. In his wake, I became a species of Freudian - I wrote Freud's dramatized biography for BBC television. I became a Marxist, indeed a member of the now disbanded Communist Party of Great Britain, which he ignored (shallow again, unworthy of a serious man). More recently, laureated by Berlin's Wissenschaftskolleg and Potsdam's Einstein Forum, in both cases for my novels, I felt I had belatedly entered the lists as a legitimate contender: both institutions represent the acme of public intellect. Yet this had been a long hard climb; Dudley's was a natural eminence, seemingly achieved without sweat; I see him waiting for me at the summit.

Reviewing my account, I feel as if I am writing a shameless Saul Bellow parody, a tale of lonely genius (anachoritic, Dudley would once have said) and its devoted acolytes: we took Humboldt's Gift into our bloodstream, addressing each other as Humboldt and Citrine (he Hum, I Charley C., he crucified by mind, I by women). Quickly joining the elect, a faculty all Oxbridge, my Humboldt enabled my recruitment as his colleague at Essex U. Meantime, Raymond Williams used his fond authority to recommend me to Herbert Marcuse at the University of California's San Diego campus, and Marcuse unhesitatingly offered me a job. (Ah the old days.) I chose Essex. What was I thinking? Was Dudley's unsung star more glorious, to my mind, than any other, that I, a freshman Marxist, would rather congregate with it than with Marcuse himself? Much later on I taught at UCSD (predictably, Bellovianly, enabled by a former girlfriend turned Chair), with Marcuse long gone, and I still Charlie Citrine; but what strikes me now is the magnetism Dudley Young exerted when I chose him over surfing and Marcuse. You have to visualize him: lightly bearded, ineffably handsome in a strangely, unplaceably indigenous way (Native American?), sunburnt as if from birth, loping loose-limbed down the corridors of our Essex U. department, sockless and shoeless - tanned, naked feet in the halls of Comparative Literature!... boasting an easy deshabille that none of us dared even try to match. He had only just got out of bed, it seemed, and won the All-England something-or-other while sketching out a monograph on Nietzsche. This was Beerbohm without tears. Barefoot in cut-offs, he was still Shakespeare's Prince of Cats.

Carey Harrison

Dudley was my 1-to-1 tutor in my final year 69-70. Our tutorials sauntered through European literature, stopping off wherever our curiosity or enthusiasm took us. I recall we stayed a number of weeks with ancient Greek tragedy before expanding into the nature of modern tragedy via Raymond Williams. All very exciting for an ill-read youth who needed a guide, who didn't intimidate or condescend. We seemed to be just a couple of dudes having a relaxed chat. Very occasionally, the session would end with a game of squash. The fact that I sauntered into my finals having revised for Modern Poetry only to discover it was on the Modern Novel was of my making alone! Some years later, having read Ian Hamilton's biog. on Robert Lowell and noticing that Dudley was quoted in the book, I dropped him a line enquiring what it was like to have a personal entry in the index. His reply was full of detail about Lowell's stay with Dudley, of which 'scarey' was the publishable version. So, I send my thanks and respect to a very good, encouraging teacher who was also a very decent human being.

John O'Halloran

I met Dudley in my first year at Essex, 1975. His family were connected with friends from Cambridge where I lived. We would meet up and chat about wild swimming, sailing, Canada, Ireland, old friends, and of course the farm. During my student years I visited Abberton on several occasions and remember being introduced to goats milk. Whilst working at Essex Dudley and I would meet up occasionally and have coffee, reminiscing about the past, discuss politics, old friends and possible adventures in the future. Dudley I will remember you forever.

Dilly Meyer

I recently read Waterlog by Roger Deakin and as I was glancing through the page of acknowledgements at the back, I came across his thanks to a Dudley Young. There was something about Deakin that made me think he might have been friends with the Dudley Young that taught me at Essex in the late 90's. Having looked this up, I was very saddened to read of Dudley's death. He had been an inspirational teacher to me in my final year in the Literature department and such a breath of fresh air. I loved every one of his classes and the books we read that year have forever stayed strong in my mind.

Louise Bush