- Russell P. Sebold (1928–2014)
Ignacio Javier Lopez, Russell P. Sebold, Obituary
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Russell P. Sebold was a preeminent scholar of Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania, and retired in 1998 as Edwin B. and Lenore R. Williams Professor. He passed away in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 2014 following complications from a stroke. He was 86 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and by his two daughters, Mary and Alice.
Russell P. Sebold, who was always “Bud” to friends and colleagues, was born in Dayton, Ohio on August 20, 1928. His interest in the Spanish language began as early as middle school, his initial curiosity growing into a lifelong passion that eventually took him to Princeton to pursue doctoral studies under the direction of Américo Castro. Castro had tried to discourage him from writing a dissertation on an eighteenth-century topic, the area that Bud had chosen. Common wisdom at the time held that the eighteenth century was not a field worthy of serious scholarly attention, and definitely not an area of study that deserved lifelong dedication. However, Bud was a man of convictions, and he was convinced that Castro’s arguments, although well intentioned, were misplaced. He decided to pursue his interest in the Spanish Enlightenment.
Following graduate school and a two-year stint in the military in Washington DC, he held teaching positions at Duke University (1955–1956), the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1956–1964), the University of Maryland (1966–1968), and finally, at the University of Pennsylvania (1968–1998). From the outset his name was tied to scholarship on [End Page 393] the eighteenth century, and by 1968, the year of his arrival at the University of Pennsylvania, his dominance in this field was already well established.
The result of his initial interest was his work on the satirical hero in Father Isla’s Fray Gerundio. It was also the beginning of an extraordinary process of discovery. Sebold loved to pursue the threads of ideas from their early historical beginnings to the moment when these original ideas became movements. Thus, he explored how Romanticism and Romantic attitudes appear in Cadalso, how the fastidio universal predates the nineteenth century, and how the Realist mentality is present in Ayguals and other figures of the 1840s. Needless to say, some of these ideas were controversial, and some critics (myself included) disputed them as he put them forward. He defended his positions with vigor and eloquence. Energiter in re, suaviter in modo was his motto and he never lost his manners. Nor did he lose his passion, especially when it came to defending his convictions.
His scholarship is wide ranging. He published books on Cadalso, the Moratines (father and son), Luzán, Torres Villarroel, Ignacio López de Ayala, Iriarte, Jovellanos, Salas y Quiroga, Ayguals de Izco, Bécquer, and the Count of Fernán Núñez. He completed books on literary history covering all fields of the eighteenth century (some coauthored with David T. Gies and Jesús Pérez-Magallón) as well as Spanish Romanticism, the folletín and the beginnings of the modern novel in Spain. Sebold’s scholarly output is extraordinary by any standards. He wrote incessantly. In his career and later during his years as emeritus he authored thirty-nine books, both monographs and critical editions.
His thirty-year association with Penn is rightfully recognized for its importance and for the legacy that he left behind. He was chair of the Department of Romance Languages while at Maryland, and he moved into the same position at Penn. Here, he built a department that for many years ranked among the best graduate programs in Spanish studies in the US. At one time or another, it included prominent Hispanists like Samuel Armistead, Gonzalo Sobejano, Ciriaco Morón-Arroyo, Germán Gullón, and María Rosa Menocal. While at Penn Bud also published the Hispanic Review, serving as General Editor of the journal for twenty-nine years (1968–1997). It was during these years that the journal became one of the most respected leading venues of international Hispanism.