Derek Brewer

I see from today’s Independent that Derek Brewer died a couple of weeks ago, coincidentally on my birthday. He’s praised there for being a Chaucerian, as, of course, he was, pre-eminently, but my memories of him come from the summer term of my first year at Emmanuel, when he was my supervisor for Shakespeare. He had a room in East Court, and once a week I would walk across the gardens with Dick Landy for our supervision, always with the faint trepidation of the essentially unprepared and the hope, soon to be dashed, that the heat of Brewer’s attention would be directed not at me, but at Dick. That term is pretty much a blur for various reasons, but I have a distinct memory of our supervision on Macbeth. Brewer was in an uncharacteristically gloomy mood that day and, to our relief, seemed less interested in our views of the play than in the suicide of the author and TV presenter Kenneth Allsop. He spoke about the hopelessness and vacuity of middle age, suggesting that both Macbeth and Allsop had fallen prey to it in a way which made it fairly clear to us, callow 19-year-olds though we were, that he saw himself, on that day at least, as similarly afflicted. It was an odd, sobering experience to see him open up – not to us who might as well not have been there – to some darkness, some bitter understanding, in himself. He was 49. I was impressed and disturbed at the time. Now, at 55, I know exactly what he meant and I wonder if it might not have been particularly hard for him, as a Christian, to accept that understanding, which is one that faith can’t usefully bolster, and move on.

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