Leading authority on the life and work of the war poet Wilfred Owen
Dominic Hibberd, who has died aged 70, was the world's leading authority on the life and work of Wilfred Owen. In 1973 he became the fourth editor of Owen's war poems, following Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden and Cecil Day-Lewis. His critical work Owen the Poet (1986) was a study of what Owen himself had termed his "poethood". It included corrections and re-readings of texts, and revealed a continuity in Owen's poetic voice, establishing that much of the language and imagery of the 1917-18 poems was in place long before Owen experienced the realities of the western front. Wilfred Owen: The Last Year (1992) emphasised the importance of Owen's shell-shock doctor Arthur Brock, and of Sassoon, in suggesting war as a subject for his poetry.
The publication, in 2002, of Hibberd's Wilfred Owen: A New Biography represented the culmination of almost three decades of research and writing on the subject. With the co-operation of members of Owen's family, including his cousin Leslie Gunston and his eldest nephew, Peter Owen, Hibberd corrected innumerable details of fact and chronology and broke important new ground.
Hibberd was well aware that the biographical waters had been muddied at an early stage by Owen's younger brother Harold, who had censored letters, and refused for many years to authorise a proper biography of Wilfred, preferring instead to publish his own, highly subjective and often inaccurate portrait of his brother in three volumes. In particular, Harold had been desperate to shield his brother from any imputations of homosexuality.
With his unparalleled command of the surviving evidence, Hibberd was able to state that Owen was actively homosexual, and that he may have had sexual relationships not only with CK Scott Moncrieff (later the first translator of Proust into English), but also with a number of young men he encountered in England and in France, where Owen was a language teacher at Bordeaux from 1913 until 1915.
Hibberd also tackled the controversy surrounding the allegation that Owen had been sent home from France in 1917, "in a state which hinted at loss of morale under shellfire". He concluded that some kind of insulting accusation was made against Owen, but that it appeared not to have done lasting damage to his army career. In any case, Owen was the recipient of the Military Cross "for conspicuous gallantry".
Hibberd was born in Guildford, Surrey. His father, John, began work at Coutts bank on the Strand, central London, as a cashier, and worked his way up to a directorship, becoming responsible for the Queen's personal account. Dominic was an only child, and his mother, Winifred, was fiercely protective of him. His time as a boarder at preparatory school rescued him from her over-protectiveness (an aspect of his formative years that Hibberd believed he shared with Owen, who had a similarly intense relationship with his mother, Susan).
At Rugby school, Hibberd was bullied, which left a deep and lasting wound. His short-sightedness made most sports impractical, though he was a skilled oarsman and, in later years, an avid walker, completing the Pennine Way and following in Owen's footsteps on the western front.
Graduating from King's College, Cambridge, in 1964, Hibberd taught at Manchester grammar school and subsequently at the universities of Exeter and Keele, and at universities in the US and China. His widespread criticism, together with anthologies such as The Winter of the World (2007), co-edited with John Onions, made him a significant influence on the formation of a canon of first world war poetry. In 2001 he published a biography of the poet and bookshop owner Harold Monro which claimed proper recognition for the man who had probably done more than any other to promote the work of the war poets.
Hibberd was a shy and diffident man, so quietly spoken that one sometimes had to lean forward to catch what he was saying, though he could be an accomplished public speaker. In 2010 he was diagnosed with Pick's disease. The deterioration of his health was swift, though he was proud to attend a ceremony at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an honorary DLitt.
He is survived by his civil partner, the actor and writer Tom Coulthard.
• John William Dominic Hibberd, writer and biographer, born 3 November 1941; died 12 August 2012