J. A. W. Bennett

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Jack Arthur Walter Bennett (28 February 1911 – 29 January 1981[1]) a New Zealand-born literary scholar, studied first at Auckland University, where he is described by biographer James McNeish as 'poor and deserving' [2] before going on to Merton College, Oxford, where, still indigent, he survived on a diet of Cornish pasties.

In McNeish's book Dance of the Peacocks, he is noted as a member of what was to be described in British academe as the Oxford 'New Zealand Mafia' (pp. 356–364), a loose-knit group of extraordinarily gifted young men from New Zealand who studied - many were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University - before the Second World War. The link between them was to endure for the rest of their lives. It included John Mulgan, Dan Davin, James Bertram, Paddy Costello, Charles Brasch, Norman Davis and Ian Milner. McNeish describes Bennett as "at an angle, separated by the exuberance of his scholarship, his saintliness, and his forgetfulness ...he considered himself lucky to have got the Scholarship [to Oxford], since he forgot to include any testimonials with his application" (p. 29).

McNeish also mentions Bennett's work with the British Information Service in America during the Second World War: asked to help out for a few weeks, he remained for the duration, returning to Oxford in 1943 and at the end of the war (p. 274).

He became best known as a scholar of Middle English literature. He was editor of the journal Medium Aevum from 1956 to 1980, having earlier assisted his predecessor, C. T. Onions, and was a colleague of C. S. Lewis at Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1964 he succeeded Lewis as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English, Cambridge University. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976.[3] His most substantial work was the volume on Middle English Literature for the 'Oxford History of English Literature', which was completed after his death by Douglas Gray and published in 1986.

He was a member of the informal literary group, The Inklings; The Inklings included two of the most important writers of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the authors of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, respectively.

He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge with his wife, Gwyneth (1916-1980).

Further reading[edit]

  • Piero Boitani & Anna Torti, eds. (1983) Literature in Fourteenth-Century England: The J. A. W. Bennett Memorial Lectures, Perugia, 1981-1982. Tübingen: Narr; Cambridge: Brewer
  • P. L. Heyworth, ed. (1981) Medieval Studies for J. A. W. Bennett: aetatis suae LXX. Oxford: Clarendon Press


  1. ^ BENNETT, Prof. Jack Arthur Walter, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2015; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014
  2. ^ Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in exile in the time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung (Virago 2003) James McNeish
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 

External links[edit]