Mary Ann Radzinowicz, Milton scholar, dies at 97

Mary Ann Nevins Radzinowicz, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of English Literature Emerita in the College of Arts and Sciences, died March 15 in Ballyvaughan, Ireland. She was 97.

A noted Milton scholar who also worked on modern poetry and American literature, Radzinowicz taught at Cornell starting in 1980, after a 20-year academic career in Great Britain. Colleagues and former students remember her brilliant scholarship, her professional assurance and her passion for the English language.

Mary Ann Nevins Radzinowicz in 1980.

“As a colleague, Mary Ann was known for her kindly but razor-sharp wit, for her spontaneous, deep-throated laughter and for her cheerful devotion to the highest standards of literary scholarship,” said Gordon Teskey, the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of English at Harvard University, who taught at Cornell from 1982 to 2002. “She was a demanding but popular lecturer and a much sought-after supervisor of graduate students.”

Anne Krook, M.A. ’86, Ph.D. ’89, most remembers Radzinowicz’s profound intellectual generosity: “She modeled the kind of teaching I learned to value and, through her, to do; challenging graduate students to be your peers in intellectual pursuits by treating them that way.”

“She was an astonishingly supportive and efficient mentor,” said Margaret Thickstun, M.A. ’83, Ph.D. ’84. “After I handed her a paper one afternoon, she suggested that we meet for coffee the next morning – and she had not only read and commented on the paper but offered useful suggestions about how to revise it for publication and which journals to target. She also had an extraordinary vocabulary.”

“She used to regularly wipe the board with me at Scrabble,” Krook said.

Known for her commitment to criticism within historical context, Radzinowicz received the James Holly Hanford Prize of the Milton Society for her most notable book, “Toward Samson Agonistes: The Growth of Milton’s Mind.”

Radzinowicz received a Guggenheim fellowship for the research on her next book, “Milton’s Epics and the Book of Psalms,” “a pioneering study of Milton’s use of the psalms to lend emotional resonance to the Olympian style of epic poetry,” said Teskey, a Milton scholar himself.

In addition, Radzinowicz edited Book 8 of Paradise Lost for the Cambridge Milton for Schools and Colleges and the anthology “American Colonial Prose: John Smith to Thomas Jefferson” (1984).

In 1987, The Milton Society of America named Radzinowicz an Honored Scholar.

Before taking up her position at Cornell, Radzinowicz taught at Vassar College, at Girton College, Cambridge, and at Cambridge University. She was visiting professor at the University of Virginia and at Yale University. She held the Fannie Hurst Visiting Professorship at Washington University in St. Louis.

Mary Ann Nevins was born in Champaign, Illinois on April 18, 1925. She was the daughter of Ann (Stacy) Nevins and Brigadier General Arthur Seymour Nevins, a career U.S. Army officer who served under – and was a close friend to – General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In her academic work, Radzinowicz conferred lessons about leadership, said Robert Morgan, the Kappa Alpha Professor of English Emeritus (A&S). He remembers interviewing “a seemingly endless list of candidates” at the 1986-87 Modern Language Association conference with Radzinowicz, chair of the appointments committee.

“There were heaps of dossiers, letters and notebooks to be taken back to Ithaca,” Morgan said. “When I lamented the task, Mary Ann observed with her customary aplomb, ‘My father would have delegated all that.’”

Educated at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, and Columbia University, she married Sir Leon Radzinowicz, in 1958. They divorced in 1978.

“She bore the title ‘Lady’ but didn’t use it, although graduate students referred to her affectionately as ‘Lady Rad,’” Teskey said.

Radzinowicz retired to Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland. She is survived by her son, William Francis Henry Radzinowicz, and her daughter, Ann Stacy Radzinowicz and three grandchildren: Jack, Arthur and Perdita.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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