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Michael Freeman 1942-2009

11 May 2009

Michael Freeman, Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Bristol, died unexpectedly on 30 April.

Michael Freeman, who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Thursday 30 April, was appointed professor in the French Department at Bristol in 1995 on the basis of an already distinguished record in French Studies, particularly at the University of Leicester where he had lectured since 1968, acquiring a personal chair in 1990.

Beginning with his PhD, presented to Leeds University on Guillaume Coquillart, he accomplished ground-breaking work on late Medieval and Renaissance writers, specialising in French theatre, with editions of Larivey and Jodelle, and the poets Coquillart, of whose works he produced the standard critical edition, and Villon, subject of an important monograph published in 2000, plus a large number of collective volumes and colloquium proceedings.

His tireless work as editor of the journal French Studies, conference organiser and contributor, editorial board member at the Dutch publishing house Rodopi, and external examiner and adviser to other departments, led to the French government awarding him the Palmes Académiques in 1998. His activities merely proliferated, earning him a wealth of administrative experience which proved of great professional benefit to Bristol where, from 2000-03, he chaired the School of Modern Languages with notable success.

As a teacher Michael was quite simply inspirational. His main areas were early modern literature and lyric poetry, though he also maintained an abiding and fruitful interest in Lusophone studies, and his classes flowed with erudition, wit, anecdotes and reminiscences to the vast appreciation of his students who esteemed, revered and befriended him throughout a career that ended only last session. They were seminars in the best sense of the word, sowing seeds which grew richly into the cultural personalities of his pupils, to whom he would regularly offer hospitality both during and at the end of a course. 

His affable generosity brought his colleagues equal profit as we shared a drink or an evening in his company with never a dull moment or a cross word. Who could fail to admire his wide knowledge and range of interests, from gastronomy to football, via Portuguese fado, crime fiction and popular cinema, to name but a few? A fine family man, he surely leaves his widow Manuela and his son Richard with a huge fund of happy memories which we trust compensate to some degree for a tragically early death.