( A Capricorn birthday!)
I was truly blessed to have Steve as my tutor at Liverpool.
I had handed in a desperately worthy essay for him at beginning of my second year and though, when I got it back, he said it was dull and derivative , he also wrote a marvellous paragraph about reading and writing that I can remember to this day;
He said that writers were like secret agents, that readers were like spies… that the task of criticism was a human one not a technical one. I can remember standing outside the Sydney Jones library and Remember thinking WOW…Steve’s commentary FELT TRULY LIBERATING AND DIFFERENT.
I used to go for Steve’s tutorials EACH WEEK with real sense of excitement and expectation.
It was like being in the company of some literary magician.
Steve had an immense passion for writing and curiosity about writing THAT WAS INFECTIOUS
He was never arrogant or dismissive to students’ attempts to talk and he created an environment of trust in his teaching that allowed students to speak and to dare to say things that sometimes surprised them.
This was a real gift. And very very hard to do.
To borrow from Larkin: Steve had the gift of giving students confidence to feel in their own way.
Years later when I was asking Steve about teaching he wrote this in a letter and I knew he had practised what he preached!
‘’As an optimist I believe that the power for good of education is nearly limitless and that the teacher has to be vigilant for the slightest trace of diamond in dross….for signs that the student’s disturbed enough to take on the burden of thinking for himself. That he has divine and divining matter in him’
Being taught by Steve was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, and getting his letters a real privilege and joy: his kindness to me I shall never forget.
Steve wrote a marvellous book on Dickens called Dickens at Play. This scene with its wonderfully tender and transformative relationship between the Swiveller and The Marchioness is one of my favourite things in fiction, and always reminds me of Steve.
The Woman in Black
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