My pal and colleague Alain Viala, who has died aged 73 of a coronary heart assault, was emeritus professor of French literature at Oxford College. Alain was celebrated for his work on early fashionable France and his 20 books, 150 articles and 7 CD audio field units spanning his nation’s literary historical past.
Alain was born in Saint-Affrique within the Aveyron area of south-western France right into a household of restricted means. His dad and mom, Marie (nee Maurel) and Ernest Viala, had been smallholders. Alain excelled at his state boarding faculty, the Lycée Ferdinand Foch in Rodez, which had working water and offered common meals. Later in life, sitting earlier than the stays of a plentiful meal in his Oxford faculty, he would quietly aver that “nothing ought to be wasted”.
An undergraduate in French literature on the Sorbonne Nouvelle College in Paris, Alain grew to become an assistant lecturer in French literature there within the Seventies and wrote (underneath the pseudonym A Ranvier) for Le Peuple Français, a politically impartial journal viewing historical past from a working-class perspective.
In 1985, he was appointed professor of French on the Sorbonne Nouvelle. He grew to become considering pedagogy and was requested in 1999 by the French authorities to reform literature educating in secondary faculties. After being initially adopted, his proposals had been overturned by what the ministry of schooling referred to as “significantly backward-looking components” inside the literary institution.
Alain moved to the UK in 1997, to a submit at Wadham School, Oxford, and in 2003 he was appointed to the chair of French literature on the college. His inaugural lecture was typical of the best way he confronted the truths and deceptions of literature. It was a Letter to Rousseau, addressing and chastising the writer with tact and understanding for denying the ethical operate of theatre. He retired in 2017.
Alain had many various readers. For some, he was the specialist of maybe the best French playwright, Jean Racine, and editor of the usual works. For others, he was the author of La France Galante, a socio-literary research that punctures sure French nationwide myths. Or he was the generalist who put his erudition on the service of the final reader. His youngest readers know him from variations of Walt Disney tales.
Alain is survived by his companion Kate Tunstall, his son Frédéric, from a earlier relationship, and his grandson, Maxime.