My husband, Neil Cornwell, who has died aged 77 from Parkinson’s disease, was an internationally known Russian scholar. He was professor of Russian and comparative literature at Bristol University from 1993 until his retirement as emeritus professor in 2007, and was the author of several important works, one of which, The Reference Guide to Russian Literature (1998), co-edited with Nicole Christian, is the standard reference work on Russian writers and their works.
He also published the comparative literature studies The Literary Fantastic (1990) and The Absurd in Literature (2006), and numerous literary translations. In 1980, he founded the journal Irish Slavonic Studies and edited it until 1986. He also served as Russian editor of The Literary Encyclopaedia online.
Neil was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, to Charles Cornwell, a maths teacher, and Laetitia (nee Carter), a hospital sister. The family moved to Norfolk, where Neil was educated at Diss grammar school before going to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, to study Russian and Spanish. Like many of his generation Neil took to the road in an ever expanding Europe of the 60s. Living and working first in Paris and then in Seville, where he taught English, he discovered his interest in languages. Neil and I met in 1972 while he was teaching temporarily at the New University of Ulster, and were married in 1977.
He was appointed a junior lecturer at Queen’s University of Belfast in 1973 and remained there for more than a decade. Our years in Belfast were very busy and happy (our house was known among friends as the “shabby hotel”), and our daughters Katerina and Juliet were born there. The Russian Department at QUB was a buzz of activity and played host to many visiting writers and poets, among them Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky. It was a heady time for ideas and literature.
One of the happiest times for the family was a sabbatical year we spent in Italy in 1986-87. Neil’s Italian colleague and friend Professor Carla de Petris summed him up as mite, which is loosely translated as gentle, a mild man.
Neil and I shared a love of literature and music, latterly enjoying theatre weekends in Bristol with friends. His grandchildren were surprised to learn from old friends that in his early years in Norfolk Neil had been a keen village cricketer and amateur actor. Others have mentioned his lovely, mischievous wit, his beguiling smile, his sustaining kindness, his warmth; always welcoming, he was known for his generosity to other academics and was, said one colleague, “one of the most convivial souls in his field”.
Neil is survived by me, Katerina and Juliet, and his grandchildren, Oscar, Maisie, Leo and Rocco.
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