Literatures, Languages & Cultures

In memoriam: Ian Revie

A tribute to the first Head of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

A photo with George Square gardens in the background

The University of Edinburgh flag at Old College is being flown at half-mast today, Friday 12th November 2021, to mark the occasion of the funeral of Dr Ian Revie, Chevalier des Palmes Académiques.

Ian, who became the first Head of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) at the University of Edinburgh in 2002, died peacefully on 24th October, with his partner and fellow member of the French Section in LLC, Dr Katharine (Kath) Swarbrick, at his side.

As well as Kath, Ian is survived by his three sons, Christopher, James and Alasdair, his sister Jenny, and his grandchildren, Chrissy and Ruaridh.

His long-standing friend and colleague, Professor John Renwick, pays tribute to him.

Scholar and poet, with a gift for innovation 

Ian, the scholar, should have been much better known that he was. His appreciation of different types of French literature put him, as a critic, in a class that was well above the level that has to be expected from University teachers whose mission is to educate and to enlighten, not just their students but also their peers.

His first and greatest love was poetry, a love that permeated both his professional and his private life. His own poetry bore testimony to his uncommon sensitivity, to his incomparable wordsmithing, to his wry, acerbic humour….but also to his humanity.

Although, professionally speaking, he was a specialist of Apollinaire, he was nonetheless equally capable of producing illuminating interpretations of Théophile de Viau, Saint-Amant, Tristan L’Hermite or Théophile Gautier. He was instrumental in finding a place in the curriculum for the (then) modern but unexploited phenomenon, Michel Tournier the novelist, who obviously still begged for elucidation.

He guided many different cohorts of final year students along the very demanding path of the nouveau roman. All these, and many other authors, both well-established and emerging (Daniel Pennac, Patrick Modiano, Michel Houellebecq, Amélie Nothomb), were grist to his own critical mill. Faithfully he committed to paper his illuminating interpretations of their work (as he did most memorably with Tournier’s Le Roi des aulnes).

Ian's approaches in literature were constantly novel. But that gift for innovation also came in other domains. His passion for French cinema (on which he also wrote) was instrumental in ensuring that the study of film gradually became part of the undergraduate curriculum, until finally – through his insistent impetus and advocacy – it found a place at the level of postgraduate study, where - as the years went by – it enthused an ever more appreciative public because of the sheer quality of the way in which it was taught.

Mentor and family man, with a clarity of vision

True to his uncommon sense of commitment, which had for some years already guaranteed his faithful support for the ambitious plan, from 1980 onwards, to modernise the French Department, Ian agreed in the 1990s, to steer the Division, and soon to be the School, of European Languages and Cultures into an uncertain future.

It was a move that was to reveal that he had further gifts to get things done: not always understood in his aspirations to create a dynamic entity which would thrive in a highly competitive world, he brought to such a daunting task a clarity of vision and a talent for convincing without which surely less would have been achieved in a longer span of time.

Outside University life, Ian was a knowledgeable afficionado of detective stories in both English and French, the sportsman with a particular love of cricket, the family man who was devoted to his nearest and dearest, the kindly mentor to so many new appointees whom he helped to find their feet and their bearings, the man whose many and varied attributes included his well-established claim to being a gifted cordon-bleu whose dinner-parties were legendary.

Ian Revie was a long-standing member of the French department at Edinburgh, the first Head of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, a truly supportive colleague, and a close friend to many in the University.  Despite knowing him from my first year at Edinburgh, he always retained the ability to surprise – the day after listening to a paper I’d given, for example, I received a poem prompted by his life-reflections on it, not knowing before that moment that Ian was a poet.  Many others have shared such moments, and it is clear that Ian touched the lives of many in the University; his loss is keenly felt.  All our thoughts are with Kath and family.

Professor Jeremy RobbinsCurrent Head of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Related links

French and Francophone Studies at the University of Edinburgh