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Professor Peter Brand: 1923-2016 (1941, Modern & Medieval Languages)

Peter Brand, who has died aged 93, was a distinguished scholar and authority on Italian Renaissance literature. Born in Cambridge in 1923 to Dorothy and Frank, a monotype operator then reader for the University Press, he taught himself Spanish from a picaresque novel he bought on a stall in the Cambridge market. He won a major scholarship to Trinity Hall to read French and Spanish, going up in 1941 as one of only a few State school boys there at the time.

His studies were interrupted by War service: as a student he joined the Air Force in 1941 but had to leave owing to airsickness - which could have saved his life. He was called up to the Army instead in 1943 and was assigned to the Intelligence Corps. After crash courses in Italian and motorbike riding he was posted to Mafia-infested Sicily. Here he served in Field Security Section, securing the Allied advance into Italy by detecting spies and saboteurs recruited by Axis command. Commissioned early in 1945, he then served in Naples in counter-espionage. He took the bus to the Opera twice a week, and his war experiences sparked a lifelong love of Italy and the Italians which changed the whole course of his career.

Peter returned to Cambridge to complete his degree, now in Italian, took a First in 1948 and began his academic career. His doctoral thesis was published in 1957 as Italy and the English Romantics; still a major point of reference for inter-disciplinary studies, it was later followed by major works on Tasso and Ariosto. He was appointed to a lectureship in the University of Cambridge in 1952 and became a Fellow of Trinity Hall in 1957.

In 1966 Peter was appointed to the then quite new Chair of Italian in Edinburgh, which he held from 1966 to 1988. He expanded the Italian department considerably and raised the profile of the subject nationally at a time of general retrenchment in the Humanities. He received a knighthood from the Italian Government in 1975; in 1988 he was raised to the rank of Commendatore al Merito. Serving as Dean of the Faculty of Arts in Edinburgh and later as Vice Principal, he reformed University administration, and took an interest in the raising of teaching standards long before this became topical. He was active for many years in the Modern Humanities Research Association, as Senior Editor of its journal Modern Language Review, and in 1994-5 as its President. He continued writing and publishing long after his retirement in 1988: his last book, Overture to the Opera, an edition of Poliziano's Orfeo and Tasso's Aminta with facing translations and essays, was published 3 years ago at the age of 90, in collaboration with Corinna Salvadori and Richard Andrews.

Peter was married for over 60 years to Gunvor Hellgren, the daughter of Inge Hellgren, a colonel in the Swedish army. He took a strong interest in Swedish culture, learning the language and building (with his own hands and his father-in-law's help) a cottage on a Swedish island for family holidays. He had many memories of College life, especially playing cricket and rugby, and of one very cold winter when he flooded the Fellows' Garden with a hosepipe so that it would freeze and create a skating rink for the Fellowship. Those were less safety-obsessed days!

Catharine Jessop (née Brand)
TH 1980

Honours & appointments
Professor of Italian, University of Edinburgh 1966-1988
Visiting Professor, Cornell University 1970
Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Edinburgh
Senior Editor, Modern Language Review
Vice-Principal, University of Edinburgh 1984-1988
Cavaliere Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana 1975; Commendatore al Merito 1988
Fellow of the British Academy 1990
President, Modern Humanities Research Association 1994-95

Major publications
Italy and the English Romantics 1957
Torquato Tasso (1965)
Ludovico Ariosto: a preface to the Orlando Furioso (1974)
Cambridge History of Italian Literature (ed)
Writers of Italy series (EUP) (general editor)

 

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