English and Scottish Literature

In memoriam: Professor Francis O'Gorman

Colleagues reflect on the passing of former colleague, Francis O'Gorman, a passionate and prolific expert on the English literature of the long nineteenth century.

Colleagues in the Department of English and Scottish Literature are deeply saddened to hear of the death, after extended illness, of Professor Francis O’Gorman, who held the Saintsbury Chair of English Literature from 2016 until his early retirement in 2022.

Photo of Francis O'Gorman looking at the camera

Francis was educated at the University of Oxford, gaining a first as an undergraduate and completed his doctorate at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford under the supervision of Dinah Birch. Typically of a man for whom friendship and humanity were central aspects of his life, he remained close friends with Professor Birch thereafter, co-editing essay collections with her and sharing their deep love of Victorian literature. Before coming to Edinburgh, he held a lectureship at Pembroke College Oxford, a senior lectureship at Westminster College Oxford, and then a chair at the University of Leeds where he was an influential and well-remembered Head of School.

Works on the long nineteenth century

Francis was a passionate and prolific reader and editor of the English literature of the long nineteenth century, with a global reputation in the field, having written or edited over twenty-four books, including editions for Oxford University Press of John Ruskin’s Praeterita (2012), Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (2019), Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm (2019), Algernon Charles Swinburne: Selected Writings (2020), and Emily Brontë: Selected Writings (2023). He also edited the Oxford Selected Edition of the prose of Edward Thomas, volume v: Criticism: Swinburne and Pater (Oxford UP, 2017), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture (Cambridge UP, 2010), A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel (Wiley, 2004), and The Victorians and the Eighteenth Century: Reassessing the Tradition, co-edited with Katherine Turner (Ashgate, 2004). He had a particular love for the work of John Ruskin, the subject of his doctoral thesis, and he was an energetic Chair of the Ruskin Society. Francis published, among other books, Ruskin (Sutton Pocket Biographies, The History Press, 1999), Late Ruskin: New Contexts (Routledge, 2001), The Cambridge Companion to John Ruskin (Cambridge UP, 20), and Ruskin and Gender, edited with Dinah Birch (Palgrave, 2002).

Literature, music and reflections on the human condition

Alongside his work on Victorian literature and its legacies, he also enjoyed a global reputation as the author of two books aimed at wider audiences and addressing themes central to the (post)modern human condition: Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History (Bloomsbury, 2015), and Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia (Bloomsbury, 2017). He was also a passionate and talented musician and music critic, playing the church organ and writing with flair and love about organ and choral music, including in Organists’ Review, which he edited. Francis can be heard talking about his love of music, living with incurable cancer, and the consolations of his religious faith in a very moving episode of the US podcast Church and Culture recorded in July 2023.

Listen to Francis' episode of Church and Culture 

Loyal and generous friend

Reflecting both the depth and the breadth of his scholarship and the esteem in which he was held by his peers, Francis was an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, of the Royal Historical Society, and of the English Association, as well as a Companion of the Guild of St George, and an Honorary Professor in the Ruskin Library and Research Centre at the University of Lancaster.

Greg Walker, Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, speaks for our community when he says "Francis will be sorely missed as a scholar, magisterial convenor and leader of scholarly projects, and a loyal and generous friend to many across the academic world and beyond."

Inspiring and kind supervisor

Over the course of his career, Francis supervised many doctoral and masters students. During his time at LLC, these included Céleste Callen, who was awarded her PhD for her thesis on Dickens and Temporality in March this year, and June Laurenson, who is currently completing her doctoral research on Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. 

Céleste remembers him as "an incredibly inspiring, supportive and kind supervisor as I began my journey towards a PhD. It was fascinating to hear him talk about literature and he inspired me more than he will ever know. I am very grateful to have known him."

June reflects "Professor O’Gorman was my second supervisor for the first three years of my part-time PhD programme. He provided thorough and fair feedback to my work and, when I needed to contact him, he was always kind. He was incredibly inspirational and encouraging and I am honoured to have had him contribute to my thesis”.