Derek brewer was the founding figure in the post-war study of Chaucer. Through his eponymous publishing firm, he subsequently went on to contribute more than any other individual to furthering modern study of the early literatures and cultures of these islands. An irrepressibly positive and genial personality, his humanity and kindness as a teacher, scholar and publisher enabled and changed many lives. In a sixty-year career as a critic of medieval English and other literature, Brewer foresaw and pioneered much that has since developed into defining aspects of the field. Far from being a backward-looking memorial volume or Festschrift, the present book celebrates how some of the topics Brewer made central to the study of medieval literature are being taken forward, both because of his influence and beyond it. In so doing, this book aims to build towards an intellectual biography of a very modern medievalist.
Derek Brewer was born into a relatively modest background, the son of a clerk with the General Electric Company. Educated at his local Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, he won a scholarship (‘demyship’) to Magdalen College, Oxford for the year 1941–42. As he later remarked, ‘getting to Oxford to read English had been my heart's desire’, and he wrote in his eighties that Magdalen was still, for him, simply the most beautiful place in the world. But after one short year at Oxford he joined the army and in 1944 was posted to Italy; he taught himself Italian on the troopship with the aid of a Hugo's language course, a characteristic foresight.
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