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Nov 2011 Journal

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A scholar’s autobiography

Professor Edward Timms is well known as the founding Director of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex and as the author of the much-lauded two-volume study Karl Kraus – Apocalyptic Satirist. Now he has published an autobiography, whose title, Taking up the Torch, refers both to Kraus’s journal Die Fackel (The Torch) and to Timms’s resolve to take up the torch of learning in his career and to pass it on to scholars of the next generation. The book’s subtitle, English Institutions, German Dialectics and Multicultural Commitments, aptly describes its author’s wide-ranging concerns. It was published in 2011 by Sussex Academic Press in Brighton.

The book is an absorbing read, especially for those of an academic disposition. It traces Timms’s life from his birth in 1937 through his childhood at a vicarage in Buckfastleigh in Devon, his schooldays at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, his studies in Modern Languages at Caius College, Cambridge, his appointment in 1963 to the position of Assistant Lecturer in German at the gleaming new University of Sussex, his years as a German don at Cambridge, and his return to Sussex, where in the 1990s he founded the Centre for German-Jewish Studies. The Centre has been generously supported by the AJR as well as by individual members, notably the late Max and Hilde Kochmann, and its programme of courses, public lectures and conferences has established it as a leading institution in its field.

Taking up the Torch is a fascinating intellectual odyssey, showing how Timms came to fall under the spell of German literature and culture, and how as a graduate student he decided to research the challenging figure of Karl Kraus. His description of the development of his ideas on Kraus positively crackles with intellectual energy: I could never imagine any supervisor of my doctoral dissertation finding the argument set out in my introduction so gripping that he read it standing up – especially if I had been supervised by as towering a figure as Professor J. P. Stern. Timms’s account of the high intellectual optimism of Sussex in the 1960s and of the ferment that affected Cambridge in the 1970s and 1980s is also absorbing. All in all, a significant addition to the record of British university life over more than four decades.

Anthony Grenville

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