Professor Jane Brown Retires

Submitted by Andrew M Bedell on

Jane Brown, Professor of Germanics and Comparative Literature here at the UW since 1988, is retiring at the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, at the zenith of an illustrious career. Having earned a B.A. degree (summa cum laude) from Radcliff College and a Ph.D. from Yale University, Jane’s contributions to research, teaching and in diverse functions of college administration had earned much applause at the academic flagship institutions of New Hampshire, Virginia, and Colorado. Then the University of Washington, in a stroke of good fortune, enticed her and her husband Marshall Brown, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, to come to Seattle. I was delighted. In Jane I would find a Goethe scholar with cogency and depth of reasoning, stimulating and thought-provoking perspectives, and an enormous erudition. What I did not expect but have consistently experienced over the intervening years is that Jane is also one of the most congenial and generous colleagues I have encountered in my life.

Before Jane arrived at the UW, her then recently published monograph on Goethe’s Faust (focusing on its far-reaching intertextuality with European literature) had already caused a stir in academia. The marginalia dating back 25 years in my copy of her first book, entitled Goethe's Cyclical Narratives: The Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, substantiate the impact her analytical approach to the structural peculiarities of these prose texts exerted and continues to exert on subsequent scholarly thought. And after she joined us,  Jane’s scholarly productivity continued unabated, with additional publications on Faust and the Faust tradition as well as with articles on various aspects of Goethe’s life and work, too numerous to list here.

Her many honors and awards, including her election as President of the Goethe Society of North America for 1992-1994, are testimony to her accomplishments and recognition.

It is one of the great pleasures of collegial interaction to share discoveries, discuss appropriate teaching methods and materials as well as methodologies of research. Such interchange is most rewarding with a knowledgeable and trusted friend who does not hesitate to critically evaluate one’s work, as Jane and I have done for each other ever so often. I have always valued the exchange.

A visit to her office unfailingly brought eye-openers: “Have you seen…? Have you heard…? What do you think …?” she would ask, and I learned about another object of art or work of music that had aroused her passionate curiosity. Just recently it was Mozart’s Zauberflöte, which her trademark enthusiasm had long embraced but which now engaged her with renewed fervor. Jane was not only a much admired and successful teacher of “world literature” and related disciplines in both of her departments; she also made broadly international thematics a significant part of her scholarly investigations, as her numerous research publications demonstrate.

When I recently asked Jane how she planned to spend her time after retirement, she mentioned possibly picking up pottery and/or painting as leisure activities. Somehow I doubt that her indefatigable spirit will allow her much actual downtime. Barely five years after her complex and remarkable book, The Persistence of Allegory: Drama and Neoclassicism from Shakespeare to Wagner, appeared, another manuscript entitled “Allegories of Interiority: Goethe's Classicism, Rousseau, and the Modern Subject” is now ready for publication. This new work deals with what Jane calls allegorical reading processes or, as she describes it, “Goethe's role in the development of the language for describing interiorized selfhood, the language that eventually enabled psychoanalysis.” The chapters of this manuscript Jane gave me to read are replete with fascinating, indeed flabbergasting, revelations of newly recognized and surprising textual connections. I am sure that her conclusions will cause more eyes than just mine to become wide open. Such scholarly perspicacity promises (to our joy) that Jane will not really “retire,” hopefully for a long time to come. We all wish her good health and happiness for whatever she will pursue during the upcoming stage in her life.

-Hellmut Ammerlahn

Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature

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