Sunday, January 09, 2011

Helen Elsom remembered

Liberal England used to have an unofficial proofreader in the shape of Helen Elsom from Cambridge. She was a regular commenter and also took the time to point out my more egregious typographical errors. See this post on Chris Huhne for an example.

Helen died in the autumn of 2009 and I have recently come across an obituary of her by David Howarth in the Cambridge University staff newsletter at the end of that year.

David wrote:
Dr Helen Elsom, who died on 17 September aged only 52, was a pioneering classical scholar who moved from academia into hi-tech industry while pursuing a parallel career as a music critic.
Dr Elsom came to King’s College from the East End of London. She obtained first class honours in Classics in 1979, completing her PhD on the Roman novelist Apuleius in 1985, having also gained an MA from Princeton University in comparative literature.
From 1984 to 1987 Dr Elsom held a Research Fellowship at Clare College, before embarking again for the United States to take up an assistant professorship in classics at Cornell University.
Dr Elsom was one of a small group of British women classicists who sought in the 1980s and 1990s to bring feminist thinking to bear on classics and put the study of women in antiquity at the centre of the subject.
She also wrote a superb study of the relationship between the New Testament and Greco-Roman literature.
The early 1990s were, however, a very difficult time in academia, especially in the humanities. Undeterred, Dr Elsom defied the supposed gulf between the humanities and the sciences by launching herself into a new career as a technical writer in hi-tech industry, in which role she eventually returned to Cambridge.
Of very wide cultural interests, she wrote extensively on music, taking a particular interest in Handel’s operas. Her reviews - always both sharp and measured - appeared mainly online, where they achieved a wide following.
She was also involved in politics as a staunch Liberal.
Helen will be missed mainly, however, as a loyal friend whose pointed insights into people and events, often expressed with acerbic wit, were tempered by great kindness.


dreamingspire said...

She missed 'scrap ID cuts'. Or perhaps she was too polite.
Such an early departing makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

Helen Elsom is remembered quite well by me, a junior undergraduate Classicist taught at King's when she was in the year or two ahead. I bought quite a few texts from her after she finished Part I of the Tripos before me, and I also remember speaking to her in a friendly way at Cambridge on several occasions, in particular about the (non-)wisdom of specialising in philosophy in Part II (I didn't) with, I think, Prof Owen. Just now, I happened to be looking up old names of contemporaries and remembered Helen and her departure for America in the early 1980s in a train of thought related to English Classicists in America. I was of course shocked and saddened to hear the news of her death. Matthew Brotherton

Will Elsom said...

3 Years Today.

Still fondly remembered, dear sister.

Anonymous said...

I remember Helen well when she was a volunteer (in those days called ‘the library slave’) in the library of the British School at Athens (Athens, Greece). Mid-to late 1970s….