The fourth of our midsummer titles is Women, Genre and Circumstance, a volume celebrating the work of Elizabeth Fallaize (1950-2009). She had already been honoured by a memorial lecture and conference, and on Friday, her friends and colleagues gathered once again, this time in a Queen Anne town house attached to St John’s College, Oxford, where Elizabeth was a Professor. St Giles House, built in 1702 “with cellars and rusticated quoins”, made for a sort of indoor garden party, with a chequer-tiled hallway between opened double-doors at either end. Graduate students played croquet on a lushly green lawn just as we arrived; and before we left, a slew of new Legenda book contracts had been signed, rather self-consciously, at a long council table in a room lined with paintings of storms at sea.
Elizabeth’s portrait, a vivacious and beautifully composed 2009 work by Bryan Organ, is a more memorable contribution to the St John’s art collection: we’re very pleased to have it for our book cover. Elizabeth would deserve commemoration simply as a major figure in the field of French studies, most notably on Simone de Beauvoir — the lineup of contributors to this memorial volume speaks for itself. She had also been a mover and a shaker: as Faculty chair, then as PVC — “Pro-Vice Chancellor”, which is a much more elevated station than the deputy-to-a-deputy title might imply. But St John’s has had many learned and influential Fellows since the 16th century. Elizabeth has the distinction of being the first woman to be elected an Official Fellow, in 1989. Considering that St John’s had been founded in 1555, some might think Elizabeth’s arrival none too soon.
This was a high-octane book party, with senior figures gathered from all over the country — among them our four co-editors, Margaret Atack, Diana Holmes, Diana Knight and Judith Still, seen here in a more impromptu portrait: Professors Descending a Staircase. Many of the guests will meet again in a few days at the Society for French Studies conference in Exeter (where Elizabeth was an undergraduate, incidentally); and Legenda will be there, too, as a long-time collaborator of the SFS on our joint Research Monographs in French Studies.
Elizabeth was a social acquaintance rather than a friend of mine, but I liked her, and found her formidable when faced with managerial problems — budgets, careers, and such. She liked taking decisions, in the same way, it seemed to me, that a tennis player likes taking a ball at the volley. She did much to pave the way for Legenda’s future in 2004, negotiating its passage from a private Oxford University project to a nationally-based partnership. Overseeing this was only a tiny part of her career, but it had lasting results.
I must of course conclude by thanking St John’s College for its hospitality, and Elizabeth’s husband, the evolutionary biologist Alan Grafen, a host who was as gracious as our surroundings; which is no small feat.