Ian Fletcher (literary critic)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Ian Fletcher (1920-1988) was a British scholar who specialized in Victorian literature. He edited definitive editions of the works of John Gray and Lionel Johnson, as well as publishing studies on such seminal fin-de-siècle figures as Aubrey Beardsley and Walter Pater. He spent the last six years of his life teaching at Arizona State University. His collected poems were published in 1998, ten years after his death.

Fletcher was born in a Streatham nursing home in 1920, the only child of John Archibald Fletcher (1887?-1968), a farmer and retired army major, and Katherine Margaret Richardson (1888-1979). His parents separated before he was born. He grew up in Catford and Shepher'd Bush and lived with his mother, a woman of forceful character. His family had strong Scottish antecedents and for a while as a young man he spelled his name Iain as a gesture to Scottish nationalism.

Fletcher was educated at Dulwich College. Money was short and Fletcher left school at the age of 15 in order to earn a living. He worked as a librarian in Lewisham Public Library and at the same time he set out to write poetry and read widely. He haunted second hand bookshops and collected a library of works by lesser known and neglected writers of the 1890s. In 1939 he met John Gawsworth, another bibliophile and enthusiast for neglected writers, and remained a loyal friend to him throughout his life.

Fletcher began to study for an external London University degree but the war intervened and he joined the army. He served in the Middle East, and latterly in Cairo, from 1941-1946. Cairo was something of a literary centre at this time and Fletcher came into contact with numerous other poets who also became friends, including Bernard Spencer, G S Fraser and Ruth Speirs. Fletcher always retained an interest in making sure that the work of Second World War poets was not underestimated or forgotten, supporting the Salamander Oasis Trust in their production of anthologies and putting on an exhibition, based on his donated collection, in Reading University Library in 1981.

Back in London after the war Fletcher returned to librarianship and also took an active part in the London literary scene, following up old friendships and making new ones. He helped to edit two short-lived literary magazines, Colonnade and Nine and published his first book of poetry in 1947. He continued to research the last part of the nineteenth century and in 1953 wrote a book on Lionel Johnson. This was brought to the attention of Professor D J Gordon of Reading University who offered Fletcher a lecturership on the strength of it in spite of his lack of a degree.

Fletcher had a distinguished career at Reading, gaining a PhD, his only degree, with a thesis on the history of the little magazine, in 1965 and progressing to a professorship in 1978. He was a generous benefactor of both the library and its fledgling archive, particularly in the areas of his research interests and of contemporary writing. Outside work he found personal happiness through his 1965 marriage and family life and in captaining an amateur cricket team.

Fletcher made frequent trips to America as a visiting lecturer and in 1982, after taking early retirement from Reading, he took up a post at Arizona State University. His last years were clouded by ill-health although he remained mentally alert to the end, dying in hospital in Birmingham in 1988.

He left a wife and two daughters.