I heard today that Sir Frank Kermode, whom I was privileged to call a friend, died yesterday. With his passing, I fear that the pleasing aroma of pipe tobacco has finally vanished from my life.
John Naughton has written an excellent tribute. I too have nothing but good memories of the time spent in Frank’s company.
I remember his surprised embarrassment when I discovered, after dismantling his computer, that the reason he could no longer push a CD into the CD-drive was that on some distant past occasion he had pushed a 5.25″ floppy disk into the same slot.
I remember discussing Tolkien with him after seeing the first Lord of the Rings film, and he said that W.H. Auden had once asked him, “Don’t you think Tolkien is a wonderful writer?” To which he replied that no, he didn’t really think so. “I respect you for saying that”, said Auden, “but I’ll never trust your opinion again.”
Many did trust his opinion, though. Frank was one of the world’s foremost Shakespearean scholars. Yet, as John once remarked, he wore his eminence very lightly. His autobiography, “Not Entitled”, is a delight, and somewhat self-referential: part-way through he drifts off into discussing the whole concept of autobiography, and, if memory serves, doesn’t really come back to his own story much after that, as if to say that we’d probably heard enough about him and the literary concept was probably more interesting anyway; that he wasn’t even really entitled to a full autobiography.
The last time I saw him was when I rounded a corner in Waitrose and our trolleys almost collided. His smile when he saw me lit up my day, as it always did. I shall miss him.
Update: here’s his obituary in the Telegraph