2015/03/30 - 12:34
Malcolm Pasley dead
Sir Malcolm Pasley, 5th Bt, who has died aged 77, was a literary scholar who dedicated himself to the work of Franz Kafka; he was for 28 years tutor in German, and a Fellow, of Magdalen College, Oxford.
In the course of his career, Malcolm Pasley taught and wrote on a number of German authors, including Nietzsche, on whose use of language and metaphor he did some pioneering work.
But it was above all as a Kafka scholar that he was noted, producing numerous articles and a definitive critical edition which remain as enduring testaments to his scrupulous learning and the unostentatious devotion he brought to an author whose background and character were thoroughly unlike his own.
It is not widely known that most of Kafka's surviving manuscripts are held in this country. Kafka died in 1924, having published only scattered pieces and three collections of short stories in his own lifetime. His novels, Der Verschollene (usually rendered in English as Amerika), Der Prozess (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle), were left unfinished.
The first editor of his posthumous works, his friend Max Brod, emigrated to Palestine in 1939, taking Kafka's manuscripts with him. By 1956, most of them had been reclaimed by Kafka's surviving relatives. For a while they were deposited in a bank vault in Zurich.
It was on Pasley's initiative that Kafka's nieces were persuaded to make them available to scholars and to transfer them to the safekeeping of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where (with the exception of the manuscript of Der Prozess, which is in Marbach, Germany) they have been since 1961.
Pasley himself took delivery of the papers in Switzerland and transported them overland to Oxford by car - an adventure that in retrospect made his own hair stand on end at the thought of the accidents that might have happened en route.
John Malcolm Sabine Pasley was born on April 5 1926 at Rajkot, India. He was the direct descendant of Sir Thomas Pasley, a naval officer who distinguished himself in the revolutionary wars against the French and was created a baronet in 1794. He attended school at Sherborne and saw military service in the Royal Navy from 1944 to 1946.
He went up to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1947 and graduated with a First in Modern Languages in 1949. He was Laming Travelling Fellow at Queen's College, Oxford, in 1949-50, and in 1950 began his long teaching career at the University of Oxford when he was appointed Lecturer in German at Brasenose and Magdalen Colleges.
In 1958 he became a Fellow of Magdalen College, which he served as Tutor in German for 28 years, until his early retirement in 1986.
With the re-emergence of the manuscripts, it became clear how unreliable the various editions produced by Brod were. A critical edition of all the works, letters and diaries was begun in 1982, and is now nearing completion.
Malcolm Pasley was one of the three general editors, and himself took charge of the flagship volumes containing the revised texts of Der Prozess and Das Schloss. Only since the publication of these volumes has what Kafka actually wrote been available to scholars and the reading public. New translations into English, including some by Pasley himself, have followed.
A new text presents new challenges to scholarship. A steady stream of articles issued from Pasley's pen as he made new discoveries and saw fresh connections between the works through philological readings which were informed by the most intimate knowledge of the texts.
One article dealt with Kafka's punctuation and gave an object lesson in how revealing even the smallest details can be about a writer's aims and methods. Others unlocked cryptic references in some of Kafka's most puzzling stories. In their light, many of the voguish interpretations of Kafka's works came to seem insubstantial.
German academic grandees were first amused, then impressed by Pasley's lack of pomp and pretension (and support staff). He was unfailingly courteous and kind to colleagues, collaborators and pupils.
Pasley was no reactionary; it was his prompting that led to Oxford at last instituting a qualifying test of oral proficiency for students of modern languages as part of their final degree examination. But he embodied the best traditional English virtues. He was loyal to his school, his college, his university; he loved cricket and snuff.
Pasley received many academic honours, and was elected to the German Academy of Language and Literature in Darmstadt in 1983 and to the British Academy in 1991. He succeeded in the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1982.
Sir Malcolm Pasley is survived by his wife Virginia, whom he married in 1965, and by their two sons, of whom Robert, born in 1965, succeeds in the baronetcy.
The Literary Saloon:
Malcolm Pasley was the doyen of Kafka editors, whose stewardship of the great critical edition of Kafka's works earned him an international reputation. In a distinguished career he laid a new, secure foundation for Kafka studies, explained the writer's practice, and helped to preserve his work for posterity.
Meanwhile, in the Telegraph-obituary readers are reminded:
With the re-emergence of the manuscripts, it became clear how unreliable the various editions produced by Brod were.
The whole Kafka-manuscript debates (and there are a lot of them) always get us in a tizzy. From Max Brod's outrageous betrayal (tempered, vaguely, by the fact that his was an understandable refusal to do as he had been instructed) to Brod's (ab)use of his position as controller of the manuscripts all the way to the current state of affairs poor Franz K. can't be pleased by how things turned out.
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