‘The poems of T. S. Eliot’ edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue is claiming great critical attention at the moment. It has been claimed that Christopher Ricks is the critic every poet dreams of; and by professor John Carey, as ‘our greatest living critic.’
Both John Carey, and Christopher Ricks were supervised by Helen Gardner, who was my tutor at St. Hilda’s college, 1949-52 , before she became the first female Merton professor in succession to Professor Tolkien , and had to move to Lady Margaret Hall.
Helen Gardner was a pioneer in the critical appreciation of T. S. Eliot, and a critic he knew and trusted; she had a very successful and influential career.
However, I would like to pay tribute to her as an undergraduate teacher, which she managed to combine with a formidable body of research and lecturing. She always emphasised the importance of undergraduate teaching, in order to, as she expressed it, plant the seed corn for future generations.
Is there a danger in pursuing the quest, as Andrew Hamilton put it, quoted in Oxford Today, for Oxford University, to become a twentieth century dynamic research powerhouse; of forgetting the essential need for top class undergraduate teaching?
And is perhaps Oxford Today in beating political drum of ‘gender imbalance’ in danger of forgetting the achievements of women like Helen Gardner, in a time when it was far harder for women to achieve academic and public distinction.
(St. Hilda’s, 1949)