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Frank Kermode Dead: Respected English Literary Critic And Shakespeare Scholar Dies At 90

RAPHAEL G. SATTER   08/18/10 03:22 PM ET   AP

Shakespeare

LONDON — Respected literary critic and Shakespeare scholar Frank Kermode has died, his publisher said. He was 90.

Regarded by some as Britain's foremost critics, Kermode was instrumental in the creation of the London Review of Books, and his accessibility made him a kind of bridge between the donnish world of academic literature and novels as they were read by everyday people.

"He was one of the great conversationalists of our literature," Alan Samson, Kermode's publisher, told The Associated Press. "His wit and wisdom in speaking about writing is something that I will always remember."

Samson said Kermode was best known for his influential book, "The Sense of an Ending" – a witty meditation on the relationship between fiction and crisis. He was also a respected student of Shakespeare and he would return to the Bard often over the course of his career, which took in everything from the Bible to deconstructionist theory.

Kermode was born on Nov. 29, 1919, in the small town of Douglas on the Isle of Man, between Ireland and Great Britain. Raised in modest circumstances, he would eventually become an establishment figure, writing for The New Statesman and The Guardian as well as judging Britain's prestigious Booker Prize.

His dry and occasionally self-abasing memoir, published in 1995, traced his uncertain path to the top tier of Britain's literary firmament.

The book opens with a line from Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" – "He was a kind of nothing, titleless" – and goes on to describe a disappointing child who grew into a young writer of indifferent talent. Academia, he said, was the only route left open to him.

"My poetry wasn't up to much, so there was nothing left for me except to become a critic, preferably with a paying job in a university," he wrote.

Kermode first spent a stint with the Royal Navy, spending much of his time in a thankless (and ultimately futile) attempt to lay booms around off the Icelandic coast and serving under a series of eccentric commanding officers. Demobilized in 1946, he went on to teach at the University of Durham, in northern England – the first in a series of increasingly prestigious academic posts at University College, London, Cambridge University, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

Kermode at first focused on Renaissance figures such as Shakespeare, but he branched out, making his name in critical circles with the 1955 book "Romantic Image," which opens with a discussion of artists and isolation.

Kermode served as co-editor of Encounter, a British monthly, quitting when he realized the publication was being funded by the CIA. He helped found the London Review of Books, which carries book reviews, essays, political commentary and poetry and for which he wrote more than 200 pieces.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced. The London Review of Books said only that Kermode had died Tuesday in Cambridge.

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Online:

The London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/

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Filed by Sammy Perlmutter  |