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E. V. Gordon

Eric Valentine Gordon
Born February 14, 1896
Salmon Arm, British Columbia
Died 1938
Occupation academic, philologist
Nationality Canadian
Subject Philology

Eric Valentine Gordon (1896–1938) was a philologist, known as an editor of medieval Germanic texts and a teacher of medieval Germanic languages at the University of Leeds and the University of Manchester.[1]

Early life

Gordon was born on Valentine's Day, 1896, in Salmon Arm, British Columbia; his mother was a Presbyterian Scot and a teacher.[2]

He was educated at Victoria College, British Columbia and McGill University. In 1915 he was one of the eight Canadian Rhodes Scholars, in his case studying at University College, Oxford. He joined the Canadian Field Artillery in 1916 but was discharged for medical reasons. He worked for the rest of the First World War for the Ministries of National Service and of Food.

Returning to Oxford in 1919, Gordon took a second-class BA in 1920, partly under the tutelage of J. R. R. Tolkien. He began a B Litt degree at Oxford, but abandoned it upon his appointment to the English Department at the University of Leeds in 1922.

University of Leeds

Gordon worked at Leeds from 1922 to 1931, introducing first Old Norse and later modern Icelandic to the curriculum. While at Leeds, he wrote his An Introduction to Old Norse (first published 1927) and collaborated with Tolkien, who worked at Leeds from 1920–25, particularly on their edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (first published 1925). After Gordon arrived at Leeds, Tolkien wrote is his diary "Eric Valentine Gordon has come and got firmly established and is my devoted friend and pal."[3]

Gordon was promoted to a Professorship of English Language in 1926 following Tolkien's departure and oversaw the University Library's acquisition of the library of Bogi Thorarensen Melsteð, establishing the library as one of the world's best Icelandic collections.[citation needed] Accordingly, for his services to Icelandic culture, Gordon was made a Knight of the Royal Icelandic Order of the Falcon in 1930.[4]

With Tolkien, Gordon also began the Viking Club. In this club they would read Old Icelandic sagas (and drink beer) with students and faculty, and invent original Anglo-Saxon songs. A collection of these was privately published as the book Songs for the Philologists. Most of the printed editions were destroyed in a fire and only 14 or so books are said to exist.[5] In 2014, the estate of Gordon's eldest daughter Bridget sold a collection of letters written variously to E. V. Gordon and his wife Ida by J. R. R. Tolkien to the Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds.[6]

Gordon was active in the Yorkshire Dialect Society. On Gordon's departure from Leeds, he was succeeded by Bruce Dickins. Among Gordon's best Leeds students were the scholars Albert Hugh Smith, J.A. Thompson, the translator of Halldór Laxness's classic novel Independent People,[7] and Ida Lilian Pickles,[8] who he married in 1930. Together they had four children (the eldest of whom, Bridget Mackenzie, went on to lecture in Old Norse at Glasgow University).[citation needed]

University of Manchester, and death

In 1931, Gordon was made Smith Professor of English Language and Germanic Philology at the University of Manchester where his research focused on Old and Middle English. Among his students was A. R. Taylor, who later succeeded Gordon at Leeds.[9] He died unexpectedly in 1938 of complications following an operation to remove gallstones. After his death, Gordon's widow Ida took on a number of his teaching duties at Manchester, finishing and posthumously publishing a number of his works, before retiring in 1968.

Select bibliography and archives

See also


  1. Unless otherwise stated, information in this entry derives from Douglas A. Anderson, ' "An Industrious Little Devil": E. V. Gordon as Friend and Collaborator with Tolkien', in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. by Jane Chance, Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture, 3 (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 15-25. ISBN 0-415-28944-0.
  2. For a biography of Gordon's aunt and mother, see Jean Barman, Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).
  3. Carpenter, Humphrey (2000). J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York: Houghton Mifflin, page 111. ISBN 0-618-05702-1.
  4. Douglas A. Anderson, ' "An Industrious Little Devil": E. V. Gordon as Friend and Collaborator with Tolkien', in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. by Jane Chance, Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture, 3 (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 15-25 (at p. 18). ISBN 0-415-28944-0.
  5. - Songs for the Philologists
  6. "Tolkien-Gordon Collection". Leeds University Library. Leeds U. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  7. Halldór Laxness, Independent People, trans. by J.A. Thompson (London: Harvill Press, 1999), p. 1.
  9. C. E. F. [Christine Fell], 'Arnold Rodgers Taylor', Saga-Book, 23 (1990-93), 489-90.

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