Professor Rosemary Mitchell (1966-2021)

Members of BAVS and Victorianists around the world will be sorry to hear about the passing of Professor Rosemary Mitchell. Rosemary was a much-loved person who was also a cultural historian of prodigious gifts. Our thoughts are with her many friends and family.

Having worked as a Research Editor for the Victorian sections of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rosemary established herself as a key figure in the Victorian Studies world. She became Professor of Victorian History at Leeds Trinity University and was the director of the Leeds Victorian Studies Centre. She also served for many years on the BAVS executive and on the editorial board of the Journal of Victorian Culture, playing a major role in building up both. She organised the 2015 BAVS conference at Leeds Trinity. The reason why she was so essential to BAVS and JVC was that few people stood for interdisciplinarity as exuberantly as she did. Rosemary could write and talk brilliantly about the statecraft of Disraeli and the novels of Charlotte M. Yonge. She simply radiated a love of all things Victorian which was one of the many reasons why her company was such a pleasure.

The great theme of Rosemary’s scholarship was the presence of the past in Victorian culture. She traced the writing of history in the nineteenth century and the ways it shaped the Victorian mind. But she was never content simply to explore the written word. She also thought deeply about visual culture in all its forms. These qualities are evident in her landmark monograph, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830-1870 (Oxford University Press, 2000). It ranged from school history textbooks to the novels of Harrison Ainsworth. The themes of the gothic and of Romanticism, which ran through the book, then went into the many articles and edited collections that she went on to produce. Everything she wrote was driven by scholarly rigour (she quite simply read everything) but also by real wit. Only Rosemary could write an article about the cult of chivalry in Victorian Manchester and call it ‘Knights on the Town’!

The reason, however, why social media featured such an explosion of tributes in the twenty four hours after her death was that Rosemary was truly beloved. She was a brilliant teacher (her students voted her a teaching award) and a huge support to others. Many will continue to treasure her genuine warmth and interest in other people. There was nothing performative about Rosemary; she was always authentic in everything she did. Postgraduates cite her inspirational qualities whilst others remember how a supportive word from her after a conference paper made all the difference to them. Rosemary represented academia at its best.

Recently, she followed the call of a long-held vocation and was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England. It was a ministry cut tragically short but she would have flourished as an Anglican minister because hers was a life dedicated to living the gospel.

We will continue to treasure her scholarship, her smile and the frequency with which she was convulsed with laughter. Above all, we will remember the way she truly lived for others. We will be learning from her for so many years to come and in so many different ways.

  • Rohan McWilliam (on behalf of the BAVS Executive)