Anne Ridler obituary
- Anne Brode directed my attention to this obituary from _The Guardian_:
Poet and librettist whose early work was championed
by Eliot, and who was still translating risqué Mozart for
Channel 4 in the 1980s
Tuesday October 16, 2001
When Anne Ridler, who has died of cancer aged 89, was
awarded an OBE for services to literature last June, she
expressed pleasure but also a little surprise, just as she had
done two years earlier, when Michael Palin hande
d her the
Cholmondeley award for poetry at the Royal Society of Authors.
These tokens of recognition came late in a career the latter part
of which had been devoted to translating librettos, including a
modern interpretation of Mozart's Così fan tutte, as much as
Yet earlier in her life, Ridler had mixed with Lawrence Durrell,
WH Auden and Dylan Thomas, and had worked with TS Eliot at
Faber and Faber, who published many of her books. Her poetry
was in every anthology of the 1940s
The daughter of a housemaster at Rugby, she suffered from
illness during her childhood and education at Downe House
school, near Newbury, Berkshire, though this did mean that she
read a great deal, Walter Scott proving to be an early favourite.
In 1932, she took a diploma in journalism at King's College
London; as she later said, this provided "a way of studying
English literature without the Anglo-Saxon and so on required for
For nine months in 1933, she worked on an anthology f
poet Lascelles Abercrombie, and mixed with writers on the
London scene, particularly Durrell, with whom she used to watch
Marx Brothers films.
She modestly attributed her employment at Fabers to her
literary connections: in 1934, she started working there for
Walter de la Mare's son, Richard; in 1935, she became
assistant to Eliot, helping him with the Criterion, which he was
editing, and reading submitted manuscripts, a task she
continued to perform long after leaving the firm in 1940.
It was her husband Vivian Ridler, a typographer and printer, who
printed her first volume, Poems (1939), for Oxford University
Press, using a small press which he was managing in Bunhill
Row, London EC1. The whole stock was destroyed in a bombing
raid in 1940. Her next publication was a pamphlet
commissioned by Tambimuttu, the exuberant Ceylonese editor
of Poetry London, whose eclectic enthusiasms benefited many
major poets of the 1940s.
Eliot had encouraged Ridler's early writing, and agreed
publish her next substantial volume, A Dream Observed (1941).
Like almost all poets of the period, she was influenced by Eliot,
who, she famously remarked, "first made me despair of being a
poet", adding that it was Auden "who first made me think I saw
how to become one". Her other influences included Sir Thomas
Wyatt and Thomas Traherne, the metaphysicals and Charles
Ridler's poetry displayed an attention to cadence and musicality
in both her formal and her free verse, and managed
to combine a
Christian spirituality and Latinate, Elizabethan elegance with a
more modern, even sceptical, tone. While some poems are
overtly religious - Carol To Be Set To Music and Prayer In A
Pestilent Time - she would more often situate her everyday
subjects in contexts of both faith and doubt.
She was also capable of eroticism and tenderness; for example,
in At Parting, written to Vivian, who joined the RAF during the
second world war: "Since we through war awhile must part/
learn to lose/ Daily use/ Of all that satisfied our
heart:/ Lay up those secrets and those powers/ Wherewith you
pleased and cherished me these two years:/... I have no words
to tell you what you were,/ But when you are sad, think, Heaven
could give no more."
During the war, and for a while afterwards, Ridler was a
fashionable poet. She was awarded the Oscar Blumenthal prize
in 1954, and the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation prize
in 1955. Later - and certainly after Eliot's death in 1965 -
tended to be overlooked. Poems would occasionally appear in
anthologies - generally the same few early poems - but her
subsequent volumes attracted little attention until Michael
Schmidt, the editor of Carcanet, laudably published her
Collected Poems in 1994.
She also turned to verse plays, under the influence (but not at
the suggestion) of Eliot. Eliot's producer, Martin Browne, had
turned his actors into the Pilgrim Players, who toured villages
and towns which would otherwise have been de
during the war. Ridler offered her own work to them, and her first
play, The Shadow Factory: A Nativity Play, was subsequently
performed at the Mercury theatre in 1945, and published in
1946. Half a dozen other verse dramas were performed in Oxford
In 1948, Anne and her family moved to Oxford, where Vivian
worked for Oxford University Press, becoming printer to the
university from 1958-78. She edited a number of texts and
critical studies, wrote more poems and verse play
continued to read for Faber.
In the 1970s, she turned her hand to librettos, in the first
instance to help out a friend, the conductor Jane Glover, then a
postgraduate student, who needed a modern translation of a
baroque opera. She subsequently translated several operas by
Monteverdi (Orfeo, The Return Of Ulysses, The Coronation Of
Poppea), Cavalli (Rosinda, Eritrea, La Calisto) and Mozart (Così
fan tutte, Don Giovanni and The Marriage Of Figaro). Her version
of Così fan tutte, by Opera
Factory, was televised by Channel 4
in 1988; a slightly risqué version, set on a beach. It is a highly
regarded translation, still performed.
Ridler was attractively modest about her achievements, and
admirably stoic about the ebbs and flows of critical attention.
Receiving her OBE, she said simply that she was surprised
because she "hadn't had any particular activity lately", but that it
was "nice to have it".
She is survived by her husband, whom she married in 1938, their
sons Benedict and
Colin, and their daughters Jane and Kate.
Grevel Lindop writes: I first met Anne Ridler in 1994, when I
was sent by the literary magazine PN Review to interview her
about her newly published Collected Poems. I found a small,
vigorous, beautiful woman quite undaunted by my tape recorder,
and more interested in making a new friend than in what the
interview should cover.
She had the clearest and best-balanced poetic intelligence I had
ever met. She was also a fine, understated raconteuse, with a
perfect ear for dialogue and a neat sense of comic
self-deprecation, whether recalling the contorted scrupulousness
of Eliot's response when she dared to show him her earliest
work, or confessing to the illicit delights of translating an opera
libretto ("When you hear it sung, you get this marvellous
delusion that you've written the whole thing yourself!").
Her generosity was spontaneous and profound. She knew that I
was working on a biography of her early mentor, the poet
Charles Williams, and
hoped to record her memories of him.
This July, she telephoned unexpectedly: "I'm just ringing to say
that if we're going to do that recording, we'd better do it soon."
She was 24 hours out of hospital, and had been given only a few
weeks to live.
I saw her five days later and found her crystalline intelligence,
high good humour and vivid memory unchanged. Scrupulously
honest as ever, she insisted that her lifelong Christian faith
made it no easier to face death; but her serenity, and her
plicated delight in every passing moment, suggested
· Anne Barbara Ridler, poet and librettist, born July 30 1912;
died October 15 2001
- In a message dated 1/4/02 10:52:34 AM Central Standard Time,
> In 1932, she took a diploma in journalism at King's CollegeStop your ears, JRRT! :)
> London; as she later said, this provided "a way of studying
> English literature without the Anglo-Saxon and so on required for
> a degree".
- Additional info on Anne Ridler's relationship to Williams, from Alice
Hadfield's book and elsewhere:
She was the niece of Sir Humphrey Milford, the publisher of the OUP and
CW's esteemed employer. CW met her while she was still a schoolgirl, and
encouraged her poetic ambitions. They remained friends for the rest of his
life, and she edited two posthumous collections of his work, plays (Seed of
Adam) and essays (The Image of the City).