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Ann Wordsworth obituary


Ann Wordsworth, who has died from a heart attack aged 80, was my tutor at St Hugh's College, Oxford, and a dearly loved friend. A specialist in 19th- and 20th-century literature, she was passionately interested in psychoanalytic and post-structuralist theory, reading that was not mainstream or encouraged during the time of her tenure. She was at St Hugh's from 1970 to 1988 and later at St Catherine's College.

Ann taught in a long wooden shed attached to a house in Crick Road, an environment that seemed steeped in radical thought. She never patronised and always assumed her students were familiar with her world of scholarship. Respected in the faculty, she felt a particular affiliation with her academic peers at Yale, the most notable being Harold Bloom, professor of English at Yale University, who visited Ann after reading an article she had written on his work. On hearing of her death, he wrote of her "extraordinary appreciation for the entire Romantic tradition in British and American poetry" and the "very high quality" of her essays and reviews. He continued: "I always felt that she understood my work better than I did." She was an inspiring teacher and a huge influence on those who studied with her.

She was born Ann Sherratt and brought up in Goathland, North Yorkshire, where her parents owned a farm. An only child, she had a good working knowledge of the land, was down to earth and retained a fierce sense of natural justice.

In 1958 she married the literary scholar Jonathan Wordsworth, the great-great-great nephew of the poet William Wordsworth. Her happiest times were when their children were young and they spent holidays at Grassguards, a cottage Jonathan rented as a base for his work on Wordsworth's manuscripts in nearby Dove Cottage, in the Lake District. Ann and Jonathan divorced in 1984 but remained on close terms.

Ann loved walking her dogs around the beech woods and nearby Ridgeway path in Oxfordshire. She was knowledgable about all flora and fauna and one of her greatest pleasures was hearing the cuckoo. She was an expert gardener, a wonderful cook, and all those lucky enough to spend time in the Old Vicarage, her beautiful home at Warborough, in Oxfordshire, will never forget her conversation, her love of her family and the warmth of her kitchen.

Jonathan died in 2006. Ann is survived by her sons, Thomas, Charlie, Henry and Sam, and her grandchildren, Bells, Dan and Flo, who brought fresh interest to her later years.

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