- Nicholas Hewitt (1945–2019)
The death on 1 March 2019 of Nick Hewitt, Editor of the journal French Cultural Studies, came as a shock and a grievous loss to the academic community in French studies. He was a scholar of sharp insight, whose compendious knowledge of French culture in the twentieth century was allied to a passion for its human dimensions. He wrote about major writers as well as neglected groups, and pioneered the study of urban cultures, notably in Montmartre and Marseille. He was an academic animateur at the centre of a wide network of scholars, which he built with the aid of the journal, as well as with well-focused workshops and conferences, and convivial personal meetings. He was an inspiring teacher and was particularly committed to helping and mentoring younger scholars.
Nicholas Hewitt was born on 22 November 1945 in Hertford, and attended St Albans School. He read for his undergraduate degree at the University of Hull, which had a large and vibrant French department. He was stimulated to undertake postgraduate studies there under the supervision of Paul Ginestier, a prominent specialist in the literary and intellectual figures of the mid twentieth century. He completed his doctorate in 1975, on ‘André Malraux and the Concept of Will’, focusing on the ambiguities of this Communist militant of the 1930s who became a Gaullist Minister of Culture in the 1960s.
Nick began his academic career as a lecturer at the University of Southampton, before moving to the University of Warwick, where the innovative Department of French Studies gave him scope to teach and research a wide range of topics in French life and culture. The founding Professor of French at Warwick was Donald Charlton, a former Reader at Hull, who fostered an interdisciplinary environment that brought French together with the study of European literature, philosophy, politics, and history. Nick thrived in this environment and in 1989 was appointed to the Chair of French at the University of Nottingham, where he was an effective advocate for French, modern languages, and cultural studies. He was General Editor of Nottingham French Studies for many years. Alongside his research and teaching, he served in many influential positions, as Head of the French Department, Head of a new Department of Critical Theory and Cultural Studies, and Head of School and Dean of the Faculty of Arts. In these roles, he was a driving force behind the university’s establishment of overseas campuses and the designing of new degrees in International Media and Communications. He was a strong believer in the human dimension of academic communities and played a correspondingly prominent role in the social life of the campus at Nottingham. [End Page 671]
Early in his academic career, Nick wrote articles on major writers such as Céline and Sartre, as well as on less well known figures, such as Victor Margueritte and Henri Troyat, devoting a monograph to the latter (Boston, MA: Twayne, 1984). The connections between many of these writers were shrewdly delineated in his book ‘Les Maladies du siècle’: The Image of Malaise in French Fiction and Thought in the Inter-war Years (Hull: Hull University Press, 1988), based on a series of lectures he gave at the École normale supérieure. This study of a collective obsession with sickness and death was preceded by a fine monograph, The Golden Age of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987), which portrayed Céline as a writer ‘with nothing to look forward to, and no past to which to return’ (p. 12) and simply lashing out at the present. He returned to Céline in a later book, The Life of Céline: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), analysing the writer’s modernism and alienation in more depth and illuminating them with rich historical and biographical detail, in which Nick excelled.
He found a similar malaise in many post-war writers, and explored the work of novelists, artists, musicians, and journalists of the late 1940s and the 1950s, particularly the ‘reactionary bohemians’ of the rive droite and the ‘Hussards’ group of right-wing novelists. His abiding interest in the distinctive culture of Montmartre was nourished by connections...