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James Jerome Wilhelm (1932-2012)

From: Tenso
Volume 29, Numbers 1-2, Spring-Fall 2014
pp. 219-224 | 10.1353/ten.2014.0005

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James Jerome Wilhelm was born in Youngstown, Ohio on February 2, 1932. He spent most of his adult life on the East Coast and in New York City, but moved back to the Youngstown area in October 2002. He passed away in a nursing home near Youngstown at the age of 80 on December 13, 2012. He was a prolific scholar of Occitan literature, Dante, and Ezra Pound, and as a comparatist, he drew significant connections between medieval and modern literature.

James grew up in Seattle, Washington, graduating from Ste Anne’s High School there. After winning a scholarship to Yale University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1954, graduating summa cum laude and valedictorian of his class, he spent a year at the University of Bologna, studying Latin and Italian. He earned an M.A. in English from Columbia University (1958) and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale in 1961. He taught in the Program in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University for over forty years, retiring emeritus in 1997. He was Graduate Director of Comparative Literature in the early 1980s, and from 1969 to 1996 directed nine dissertations: eight on topics in Italian, French, Welsh, Carolingian, and Medieval Latin poetry, the last on the theme of war in Ezra Pound’s poetry. He was General Editor of three series published in the 1990s by Garland Press: the Garland Library of Medieval Literature, Harvard Dissertations in Comparative Literature, and Outstanding Dissertations in Comparative Literature, the last ranging from Classical Antiquity to the present.

James’s books ranged from medieval to modern European literature. He published his doctoral dissertation in enlarged form under the title The Cruelest Month: Spring, Nature, and Love in Classical and Medieval Lyrics. He was one of the North American scholars who spearheaded a renewed interest in medieval Occitan poetry, publishing Seven Troubadours: The Creators of Modern Verse. His translated and edited volumes The Poetry of Arnaut Daniel and The Poetry of Sordello appeared in the Garland Medieval Texts series. His other works on medieval literature include two anthologies of translations: Medieval Song: An Anthology of Hymns and Lyrics and Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. For Garland he published, with Laila Zamuelis Gross, The Romance of Arthur in which appeared a chapter he wrote with John K. Bollard, “Arthur in the Early Welsh Tradition.” After Gross’s death, Wilhelm alone edited The Romance of Arthur, II and The Romance of Arthur, III: Works from Russia to Spain, Norway to Italy, also published by Garland. The Romance of Arthur, New Expanded Edition: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation appeared in 1994.

The third edition of The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, co-edited with Norris J. Lacy, was published six days after Wilhelm’s death in 2012. Norris reports, “Jim couldn’t collaborate, but he had to be included since this was a new (and altered) edition.” Norris had hoped to change the title to avoid confusion with the earlier editions, but Routledge refused, “because Wilhelm’s name was so closely associated with the previous ones.” His Arthurian legacy will live on.

Among his books in the field of Comparative Literature are: Il Miglior Fabbro: The Cult of the Difficult in Daniel, Dante, and Pound, and Dante and Pound: The Epic of Judgement. Other studies of Ezra Pound include: The Later Cantos of Ezra Pound, The American Roots of Ezra Pound, Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908-1925, and Ezra Pound: The Tragic Years, 1925-1972. In 1995 he published Gay and Lesbian Poetry: An Anthology from Sappho to Michelangelo.

In addition to his anthologies of and book-length studies on medieval Occitan poetry, Dr. Wilhelm’s contributions to the field of Occitan literature include such articles as “The Varying I’s of Troubadour Lyric” and “The Provençal Intertext of Ezra Pound’s Cantos,” this last allowing him to combine his interests in medieval and modern poetry.

James was a devoted and inspiring teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students. His courses at the undergraduate level, Medieval Epic and Romance and Medieval Lyric, regularly enrolled 200-300 students. At the graduate level...

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