Werner Huber (1952–2016)

It is with great sadness that we have to report the passing away of Werner Huber, Professor of Irish Studies in the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Vienna on 28th April 2016. He leaves behind his wife, a daughter, and a step-daughter. His great sorrow at, indeed moments of rage and rebellion against, such an untimely death is shared by all who knew him.

Werner Huber, born on July 20, 1952, passed his Abitur in 1971 and then studied English and German at the universities of Mannheim, Amherst College, Mainz, and Trinity College Dublin. In 1980 he received his Ph.D. with a dissertation on James Stephens’s early novels (published in 1982). In 1980 he joined the Department of English at the University of Paderborn. After his Habilitation on Irish autobiographies of the 20th century (1995) he followed calls to Chemnitz and, in 2005, to Vienna.

Werner’s main research interest was Irish literature and culture, but he also published articles, collections of articles and books on a large variety of topics, e.g., English Romanticism (especially Byron and the Romantic novel), auto/biography and biofiction, the Princely Library of Castle Corvey on the Weser, contemporary British/anglophone drama, and recently also Film Studies. His list of publications comprises some 20 monographs and edited collections as well as c. 40 articles.

At Paderborn his position was that of an Assistent to professors Rolf Breuer and Rainer Schöwerling. For the latter, Werner soon became an invaluable collaborator in the so-called „Corvey-Projekt“. Following a hint from Werner, Rainer Schöwerling recognized the great literary-historical importance of the private library of the Duke of Ratibor and Corvey with its 73.000 volumes, among them 2.600 novels in English, dating from what could loosely be called the Romantic era. We believe that we can speak for the late Rainer Schöwerling when we say that without Werner’s support – his erudition, meticulousness, tact, and energy – the project could not have been concluded as it was: with the two volumes of The English Novel 1770-1829: A Bibliographical Survey (OUP, 2000), compiled and edited by Peter Garside, James Raven, and Rainer Schöwerling. Werner’s decisive contribution to the enterprise can be inferred from the collection of essays The Corvey Library and Anglo-German Cultural Exchanges 1770-1837 (2004). And so, over the years, Werner Huber became an expert on English Romanticism – better perhaps, because of his Irish interest, on Romanticism of the British Isles. In this context he took over several positions and functions in the German Gesellschaft für englische Romantik.

Our greatest area of common interest, however, was Ireland, and Samuel Beckett in particular. Werner Huber came to Paderborn with the recommendation of his dissertation on James Stephens, supervised by Klaus Lubbers (Mainz), one of the leading German specialists in the field. No less an authority than Birgit Brambäck ended her review with the expression of her hope of a translation into English, an undertaking which, unfortunately, was never realized.

In his more than fifteen years as a research assistant and then assistant professor in the department at Paderborn, Werner was a benevolent and generous teacher, a respected colleague and, in the course of time, became a very good friend to both of us. We still consider ourselves amateurs – in both senses of the word – in all things Irish, but Werner knew everything, gave countless hints and suggestions, helped with the identification of our half-knowledge, and, beyond all that, he was the most conscientious of proof-readers – a true philologist in the best sense of the word. Both of us personally as well as all our publications with and even without Werner have profited from this love of language of his over many years.

Our most rewarding common interest was Samuel Beckett. Over several years we collected the monographs and articles on Beckett criticism in German, a project that resulted in a volume entitled Critique of Beckett Criticim: A Guide to Research in English, French and German by P.J. Murphy, Werner Huber, Rolf Breuer, and Konrad Schoell (Camden House, 1994). The climax of Werner Huber’s work at Paderborn was his Habilitationsschrift, „I was Ireland“: Eine imagologische Studie zu irischen Autobiographien des 20. Jahrhunderts (1995). It is a well-known fact that a high percentage of Irish poets, writers and play-wrights published autobiographies, e. g., George Moore, William Butler Yeats, Sean O’Casey, James Joyce, Frank O’Connor, Liam O’Flaherty, Patrick Kavanagh or Edna O’Brien. The question, however, why this should be so, has never been coherently examined. This is the point of departure for Werner Huber’s monograph. His analyses of the autobiographies of the authors just listed are not content with a mere stocktaking of the factual side, but approach them with a literary interest, from an “imagological” point of view, examining images of identity and the metaphors and symbols with which the Irish identity defines itself against „the other“, in these cases: the English.

Werner’s status as a world scholar in Irish literature and drama was borne out by various important positions he held: From 2000-2009 he served as a member of the executive board and as Vice Chair for Europe of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL). Werner also was a founding member and an Honorary Board Member of The European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS). Werner was a co-founder of the book series Irish Studies in Europe (ISE), and he also contributed to many advisory boards of such international journals in the field of Irish Studies world-wide as Litteraria Pragensia, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Irish Studies Review, and Irish University Review. His contribution and legacy to Irish studies was immense, and many publications and even whole book series would not have seen the light of day without Werner’s rigorous support and thoughtful guidance. Werner was the convenor of many international conferences, one of the highlights of which certainly was the 2009 international conference on “Ireland in/and Europe. Cross-Currents and Exchanges” in Vienna, which was memorably opened by a keynote lecture of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.

From 2001 to 2010, Werner also served as President of the German Society of Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English, better known under the heading CDE. The society prospered, developed, and grew steadily under his gentle aegis. He co-hosted the 1997 and 2009 conferences of CDE in Paderborn and Vienna and subsequently co-edited the ensuing annual volumes on Anthropological Perspectives (1998) and Staging Interculturality (2010).

In 2012, on the occasion of Werner’s sixtieth birthday, he received a Festschrift, entitled Ireland in Drama, Film, and Culture, co-edited by his esteemed Vienna colleague and friend Margarete Rubik and by Sandra Mayer and Julia Lajta-Novak, both of whom he supervised during their doctoral and post-doctoral work. His great impact on Irish and English Studies is not least documented in the consternation amongst colleagues and friends at his premature death and the innumerable expressions of condolence and sympathy that came from all over the world. The EFACIS conference in Palermo in June 2015 was the last conference Werner was able to attend. A special volume to be called Beyond Ireland: Boundaries, Passages, Transitions will be published in honour of Werner Huber in 2017.

Until the last two weeks of his life, we remained in constant contact, on the telephone, through e-mails, and even via Facebook – and every now and then we would receive notes about, hints at, or even a parcel with, the latest information concerning Beckett studies, paper clippings and other signs of his attachment. We shall sorely miss him, and the same is true of our wives, Cordula and Iris, and our children.

Werner was a scholar and a gentleman, and we are proud to honour his memory, his kindness, his humour, his integrity, and his immense knowledge. Our sadness about his death is equaled only by the pleasure to have known him and to be counted amongst his close friends. Our thoughts are with his family – Edith, Anna, and Katharina.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal,
That he may Rest in Peace.

Rolf Breuer (Paderborn)
Martin Middeke (Augsburg)

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