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In Memoriam Peter Preston (1944-2011)

Keith Cushman
p. 7-8

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1Peter Preston died in Nottingham on Tuesday, 18 October 2011, after a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer. He died at home surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Barbara, their children Rebecca and Ben and their spouses, and their grandchildren, Anna, Róisín, and Caoimhe.

2Peter was a mainstay – some would say the heart and soul – of the annual D. H. Lawrence conferences at Université Paris Ouest. He attended the first international conference at Nanterre in 1988 and was a regular ever after. His warmth, friendliness, and good humor contributed greatly to making the conferences much more than academic occasions. He could always be counted on for astute, constructive comments from the floor. His observations were helpful to the presenters at the same time they generated further discussion.

3Professor Katz-Roy makes sure that the conference lunches and (especially) the banquet do honor to the French Republic. No one enjoyed the meals more than Peter, and no one was a livelier companion at table. As the annual conference banquet wound down, Peter would rise to toast and thank Ginette. His extemporaneous remarks were always generous, witty, and warmly appreciative. He filled the room with good cheer. These after-dinner remarks communicated Peter’s belief that comradeship, good food and drink, and excellent conversation were as much a part of civilization as intellectual discourse – and furthermore, that civilization is indeed precious.

4Peter was a regular contributor to Etudes Lawrenciennes. Over the years he published thirteen essays on a wide range of topics. The essays are all models of clarity. He had the gift of locating somewhat out-of-the-way topics: Lawrence, Lenin, and the Russian Revolution – Lawrence’s responses to Florence – “Hamlet, ‘Amblet, and Amleto” – Women in Love and Catherine Carswell’s Open the Door! His scholarship was meticulous, his command of Lawrence’s oeuvre astonishing. The essays are unfailingly illuminating.

5Two of Peter’s EL essays concerned Mr Noon, a Peter Preston specialty. Two others were part of his fascinating project titled Lawrence after Lawrence: The Author in British Culture 1930-2010, a project sadly left unfinished at his death. In my opinion his most important EL essay is “‘Beyond the sound of words’: Speech and Silence in Women in Love.” This essay forms an excellent complement to “‘A wave of disruptive force’: Violence in Women in Love.” The violence essay first appeared in Lectures d’une Oeuvre: Women in Love (2001), edited by Professor Katz-Roy. Both essays are significant contributions to our understanding of Lawrence’s complex masterpiece.

6Peter’s EL essays originated in presentations at the Nanterre conferences. His papers were consistently conference highlights. Even in the revised, expanded forms of the essays, Peter’s voice – with its slightly nasal twang - unmistakably comes through. That voice is down-to-earth, confident, assured, and enthusiastic. The essays seek and find common ground with the audience even as they lead the audience to new understanding.

7Although a native Londoner, Peter spent most of his life in Nottingham. He worked for three decades in the School of Adult Education at the University of Nottingham, serving as Acting Head from 2002 to 2004. After his retirement in 2005 he continued to teach in the School of English Studies and to be actively involved in research projects and the public events of the University. Throughout his career he worked to forge links between the University and the wider Midlands community.

8One of Peter Preston’s greatest skills was in bringing people together. He organized the first Lawrence summer school in 1976. In 1985 he served on the organizing committee of the Lawrence Centenary Festival in Eastwood. He co-directed the International Lawrence Conference in Montpellier in 1990, and in 1991 he founded the D. H. Lawrence Research Centre. He organized several conferences at Nottingham and worked tirelessly on behalf of the D. H. Lawrence Society in Eastwood. He traveled widely, carrying the banner of Lawrence studies to such countries as Japan, Italy (including Sardinia), Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

9Peter Preston’s career was capped by two major accomplishments. In 2007 at the international Lawrence conference in Eastwood and Nottingham he received the Harry T. Moore Award for Lifetime Contributions to and Encouragement of D. H. Lawrence Studies. Totally surprised to hear his name called out, he rose to deliver eloquent, generous, gracious remarks by way of saying thank you. In the late summer of 2011 a collection of Peter’s essays – including several first published in EL – appeared under the shrewd title Working with Lawrence: Texts, Places, Contexts. The Critical, Cultural and Communications Press released the book only a few months before Peter’s death. It is a blessing that Peter received the book in time to hold it in his hands and to inscribe copies to family and friends. The Prestons hosted a celebratory occasion to launch the book. Peter described the happy occasion as a book “launchette.”

10People who knew Peter in Nanterre and Paris will remember the great gusto with which he spoke French in his unmistakably English accent. Bonjour, mes amis!” he would exclaim as he entered the lecture hall each morning of the conference. Whenever he came into Professor Katz-Roy’s flat on the way to an evening event, he would greet her husband Roger with an effusive “Bonsoir, mon vieux!” and one of his famous bear hugs. Even now I can hear Peter greeting me at the beginning of another year’s edition of the Nanterre conference with “Hello, pal!” before we sit down together to catch up on any number of things.

11The international D. H. Lawrence community is sadly diminished by the passing of Peter Preston. He contributed so much in so many ways. He brought joy to everything he touched and everyone he knew. No Lawrence scholar was more beloved.

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Keith Cushman, « In Memoriam Peter Preston (1944-2011) », Études Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 7-8.

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Keith Cushman, « In Memoriam Peter Preston (1944-2011) », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2013, consulté le 20 août 2017. URL : http://lawrence.revues.org/79

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Keith Cushman

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Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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