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In Memoriam: Stanley B. Greenfield (1922-87)


A Remembrance by George H. Brown

After a distinguished career as teacher, scholar, bibliographer, and literary critic, Stanley Brian Greenfield, professor of English at the University of Oregon, one of the founders of Anglo-Saxon England and of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, died on July 30, 1987. Throughout his career, from 1951 to 1987, he wrote primarily on Anglo-Saxon topics, though he was well versed in later English literature as well, particularly poetry. His death is a major loss to OE studies, though his notable contributions form a consoling legacy. Fortunately he was honored while still alive with a festschrift, Modes of Interpretations in Old English Literature, edited by Phyllis Rugg Brown, Georgia Ronan Crampton, and Fred C. Robinson (1986).

Greenfield was renowned for his fierce loyalty to the literary text; he insisted on "the necessity of going back again and again to the text as source for interpretative strength." He carefully noted and deeply explored the OE poetic corpus, pointing out important meanings and qualities that had gone unnoticed. His literary interpretations are marked by their insightful, sane, and sensitive readings; and his writing is notable for clarity, wit, and sureness. Indeed his devotion to the literary work of art, his love of truth, and his forthright honesty sometimes caused him to be sharply critical of interpretations and methodologies that he perceived as straying far from the text. This same fidelity to the text is the reason why he never hesitated to modify or correct his own earlier incomplete understanding and interpretation. He constantly reconsidered Beowulf and the OE elegies so that his later essays build upon and augment the earlier ones. He always found more and deeper treasures in the OE works.

Most students of Anglo-Saxon literature have become acquainted with Greenfield's writing through his widely acclaimed and popular A Critical History of Old English Literature (1965), now superseded by A New Critical History of Old English Literature (1986), co-authored with Daniel G. Calder and with a survey of Anglo-Latin literature by Michael Lapidge. More advanced students know Greenfield's The Interpretation of Old English Poems (1972) and his Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the End of 1972 (1980); and students of Beowulf have a beautiful translation in his A Readable Beowulf (1982). His important writings on OE literature that have not been incorporated in his books have just been published under the title Hero and Exile: The Art of Old English Poetry (1987), edited by George H. Brown.

Greenfield is survived by his wife Thelma and his children Sayre and Tamma.

OEN 21.1 (1987): 14.