E-mail from Chiam Tah Wen:

 

I came across the above-mentioned obituary for our beloved lecturer Prof Dr KJ Fielding in the Guardian newspaper. An authority on Dickens, he lectured on English literature at Kirkby College from 1954-1957. He was my personal tutor too. " Smooth and feline in appearance" and "elegantly suited", Dr Fielding was well-liked and respected by his students and colleagues.
With warm regards.
Chiam Tah Wen

 

 

 

 

Obituary: Professor Kenneth Fielding

A distinguished Dickens scholar, he devoted his time to the study of the author's working papers, turning up newly identified journalism.

By Guardian Newspapers, 5/29/2005

 

 

 

Kenneth Joshua "KJ" Fielding, who has died aged 80, was a main player in that generation of British scholars that laid the foundation for the "Dickens industry". This band of academics, all known to each other, devoted themselves - often selflessly - to long-term, infrastructural ventures.

Their project was defined in the early postwar period by Humphry House's The Dickens World (1941) and John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson's Dickens At Work (1957). House reinserted the novelist into his Victorian setting, asking such questions as: "Why does Dickens so habitually 'antedate' the action of his fiction to the period of his childhood?"

Butt and Tillotson directed attention to Dickens's working papers which his biographer, John Forster, had deposited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Before posterity could presume to judge Dickens critically these materials needed to be analysed and digested.

The practical outcomes were the Clarendon Edition of Charles Dickens's works and the Pilgrim Edition of his letters: both published by Oxford University Press. Fielding (along with fellow scholars such as Philip Collins, Graham Storey, Madeleine House, and Michael Slater) was a leading participant. Happily he, unlike others in the team, survived to witness the completion of these gigantic enterprises.

Fielding was born in Great Yarmouth. He retained an East Anglian accent through life and a particular fondness for David Copperfield among whose coastal settings he grew up. After Great Yarmouth Grammar School he served with the Royal Signals from 1943 to 1946 and then went up to University College Oxford where he came under the wing of Humphry House.

As a graduate he began publishing a string of articles based on new discoveries in Dickens's life and work. Among much else he turned up vast amounts of newly identified Dickens journalism. Fielding was the first thoroughly to investigate Dickens's relationship with the baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts - the banking heiress with whom he set up a Urania Cottage to rescue fallen women.

Such were the prejudices of the time it was difficult for Dickensians to get posts at Oxford or Cambridge universities in the 1950s. After his doctoral study Fielding became William Noble Fellow at Liverpool University from 1951 to 1953. From 1954 until 1957 he lectured at Liverpool's Malayan College of Education in Kirkby, and from 1957 to 1966 he was vice-principal of Liverpool's College of Education, publishing on Dickens all the while.

In 1966, John Butt (regius professor of English literature at Edinburgh University) eased him into the newly created Saintsbury chair. Butt died soon after and Fielding soon found himself head of the department.

Smooth and feline in appearance - and frequently catty in conversation - the elegantly suited, slick-haired Fielding stood out in a community where kaftans and wild tresses were sported by younger colleagues. The 1960s of "we will strangle the last capitalist with the guts of the last bureaucrat" were hard years to be an administrator. Particularly an administrator who looked so much like one.

Fielding coped. He was helped by his wife Jean - a woman whom it was impossible not to like. The death of their only child, Janet, from asthma in 1968 generated a wave of sympathy which helped him through a difficult decade.

 

 

Fielding's range was extended beyond Dickens when he took over the edition of Carlyle's voluminous correspondence which Butt had launched. He was rarely, during the next 30 years, without proofs to mark or facts and transcriptions to check at the National Library of Scotland.

The Carlyle project is one of the hugest ever undertaken by an English literature department. Enterprisingly - and largely sustained by Fielding's efforts - a co-publication arrangement was reached with Duke University in North Carolina - an institution that had the funding to match Edinburgh's possession of the primary materials.

Fielding was never a good lecturer (although he was a superb introducer of other people's lectures). His strength was at the doctoral level where his supervision was shrewd and often cheerfully cynical - he was particularly skilled in arranging sympathetic external examiners. After "early" retirement from Edinburgh, in the mid-1980s, Fielding retained leadership of the Duke-Edinburgh Carlyle project. He apparently devoted his (virtually) fulltime efforts free of charge. He was working in his office in Buccleuch Place until very recently.

Fielding never wrote anything that could be called a "book" - other than an unambitious critical biography of Dickens. His metier was the fact-packed article and painstaking edition - his 1960 collection of Dickens's speeches, for example, will probably never be surpassed. I once came upon him measuring the length of his listed publications in a Dickens bibliography. It came, he proudly discovered, to over a foot. Typically, he also measured the lesser inches of certain fellow-Dickensians.

His wife, Jean, died in 1994. He, in his last years, was afflicted by diabetes. Cheerfully he would say it merely meant whisky instead of beer -which he preferred. In a world where academic stardom is the spur, Fielding's career is a model of scholarly service to his subject and, above all, to the two great writers whom he most admired and has admirably illumined.

Kenneth Joshua Fielding, scholar, born July 19 1924; died May 20 2005