Found in the Peter Haining archive, an Independent obituary by Peter Mendez of the fin de siecle scholar Ian Fletcher (1920 – 88). As the obituarist remarks, Fletcher’s vertiginous rise in 1955 from humble book-stamper in Catford Public Library to University teacher was extraordinary and may be unique in the history of modern British academic life. Today, when the possession of a Ph D is obligatory for entry into academia, and when many with this qualification are either unemployed or in low-grade jobs, the idea that someone with no degree at all could be elevated to a lectureship in English Literature would be laughed out of court.
But this was Fletcher’s position in 1955. Not only did he lack a higher degree, but he had never attended a University. However, in compensation he became a prolific contributor to such neo-Romantic post-war magazines as Tambimuttu’s Poetry London, Peter Russell’s Nine and Wrey Gardiner’s Poetry Quarterly. In 1948 Tambimuttu published a volume of his poems entitled, Orisons. He also brought out an edition of Lionel Johnson’s Collected Poems in 1953. Fletcher’s passion for the aesthetic movement and the literature of the eighteen nineties had begun early. His book-hunting excursions in that golden age of the forties and early fifties, when rare titles could be had for under ten shillings, led him to assemble a large collection which became a valuable resource. At the same time his growing reputation as a poet and scholar attracted the attention of Professor D. J. Gordon of Reading University, who saw that the young librarian might be a valuable addition to his staff. And it soon became apparent that Gordon’s trust in him was well placed.
Fletcher’s seminars and lectures at Reading were described by Mendez as ‘ intellectual firework displays –invaluable in helping to disperse the Leavisian fog which then enveloped English Studies’. He was urged to pursue a Ph D, which he undertook with a dissertation on the history of the ‘little magazine ‘. In time he succeeded his mentor, D.J.Gordon, as Professor of English Literature at Reading, but not before he and Gordon had interviewed me for a one year M.A. in English Art and Literature, 1850 – 1930. I seem to recall that at the time this double act had a reputation for hard drinking –or at least Gordon did. However, in this summer of 1974 both appeared sober when interviewing me. I cannot remember a single thing about this encounter, but I must have done well enough to be offered a place on the course, which I politely declined in favour of a similarly formatted one at my own University in Birmingham, which covered an earlier period.
Fletcher took early retirement from Reading, accepted a professorship at Arizona and continued to publish trail-blazing critical works on the period he loved. There were definitive editions of Victor, John Gray and Lionel Johnson, monographs on Swinburne and Pater, books on Yeats and Beardsley and bibliographies of Wilde and Symons. There was also an autobiography, A Stranger and Afraid.
Fletcher died after a long illness on 2 November 1988, aged just 68. [R.M.Healey]