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Christopher Heywood obituary

Clyde Binfield
·2-min read

My friend Christopher Heywood, who has died aged 93, spent more than three decades as a lecturer and senior lecturer in English literature at Sheffield University, during which time he spent a couple of years from 1966 lecturing in Nigeria. For a further 10 years from 1988 he taught English at various universities in Japan.

Christopher was born in Banhoek, South Africa, to Arthur Heywood, a fruit farmer, and his wife, Katherine (nee Duminy), who ran a primary school on the family farm. From Stellenbosch boys’ high he went to Stellenbosch University, where he graduated in English and French (1948). A Rhodes scholarship took him to the UK to study English at New College, Oxford.

Following a research fellowship at Birmingham University, in 1956 he took up an appointment at Sheffield University, where, complementing his work on the English novel, especially the Brontës, he also initiated undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in African literature. Serving as professor of English at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in Nigeria reinforced his commitment to African literature, and this was reflected in his role as contributing editor of Perspectives on African Literature (1972) and Aspects of South African Literature (1976).

In 1968 he returned to Sheffield, where, as a talented musician and painter, he was a member of the second violins in the university orchestra and a founder of the its Fine Art Society. During his time in Japan he took up successive appointments as at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Okayama University, and Kobe Women’s University, before retiring in 1998.

There was a quicksilver quality about Christopher. As a lecturer he could be impossible – allusive, elusive, disorganised – yet what seemed so infuriatingly random made him invariably stimulating, and he was an instinctive teacher. It was the same with his conversation. As host or guest, he made meals hilarious, enlarging horizons, if frequently incomprehensible; and his mulled wine (glögg) was beyond compare.

In retirement he returned to Yorkshire to live in a stone cottage in Gargrave, where he collected his numerous research articles and conference papers into two unfinished books and two that were completed, one of which was A History of South African Literature (2005).

He is survived by two children, Katherine and Giles, from his marriage to Annemarie Gaerdes, which ended in divorce.