Professor Richard Peace, 1933-2013
9 January 2014
Richard Peace, Emeritus Professor of Russian at the University of Bristol, died on 5 December 2013. Former colleague Professor Derek Offord offers this tribute.
Richard was born in Burley-in-Wharfedale, near Leeds, and from the age of 11 attended Ilkley Grammar School. He started to teach himself Russian while still at school and, like many British Slavists of his generation, studied the language intensively during his period of National Service. In 1954 he went on to read French and Russian at Keble College Oxford, from which he graduated in 1957.
After a period of postgraduate study in Oxford, culminating in 1962 with the award of a BLitt, he was appointed to the first lectureship in Russian at Bristol, where the subject was being established by the late Professor Henry Gifford under the aegis of the Department of English. Under Richard’s leadership a single honours programme in Russian and various joint degree programmes were introduced. Further momentum was given to the enterprise in 1974 by the relocation of the sub-department, as it still was, in a newly formed School of Modern Languages. In 1975 Richard was appointed to a Chair of Russian at the University of Hull, where he also served from 1982 to 1984 as Dean of the Faculty of Arts. In 1984 he returned to Bristol, to take up the Chair of Russian that had just been created, and here he remained, as Head of Department, until his retirement in 1994.
It was during the first of his two long periods at Bristol that Richard began to produce an important corpus of scholarship in the field of classical Russian literature. His first substantial publication, a dense article on Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time, still seems fresh. There followed a close reading of Dostoevsky’ major novels, published by Cambridge University Press (1971), which remains Richard’s best-known work and secured his international reputation. Then came a book of similar scale on Gogol, also published by Cambridge (1981), and a study of Chekhov’s four best-known plays, published by Yale University Press (1983). Richard also wrote a monograph on Goncharov’s novel Oblomov (1991) and a critical study of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (1993). He remained active throughout his retirement, publishing an edition of Griboedov’s play Woe from Wit (1995), lengthy online studies of Turgenev (2002) and Tolstoy (2010) and numerous articles and invited chapters in books. His standing as a specialist in classical Russian literature was reflected in his appointment in 1995 as a Vice-President of the International Dostoevsky Society.
Richard will be fondly remembered in the field of Slavonic Studies for many things, besides his impressive corpus of scholarship. From 1977-81 he served as President of our national association of Slavists (then BUAS) and defended the subject vigorously against those who at that time were intent on its ‘rationalisation’ in UK universities. He contributed significantly to cultural diplomacy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving for several years as Chair of a committee overseeing the expanding programme of student exchange for which biennial Anglo-Soviet agreements negotiated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and British Council made provision. In this capacity, he visited British undergraduates on placements in Leningrad, Minsk and Voronezh. He also served on boards organised by the British Council to select postgraduates for studentships in the Soviet Union. Nearer to home, he will be remembered as a staunch advocate for his subject, a thoughtful teacher and an amusing companion. He will always be closely associated with the high reputation of the Russian Department at Bristol.
On his retirement Richard returned to his native Yorkshire and bought a house on the River Wharfe a mere three miles downstream from the town in which he grew up. Here he could indulge his passion for angling. However, he maintained a close link with the Department at Bristol, frequently attending its conferences and symposia. It is of some consolation that three weeks before his sudden death Richard and Virginia, his wife of 53 years, attended and greatly enjoyed a large gathering of present and former colleagues, alumni and current students which was organised at the Watershed to mark the 50th anniversary of the department he had helped to found.