From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
8.2 (1988): 251-53.
Copyright © 1988, The Cervantes Society of America
STEPHEN GILMAN (1917-1986)
died on November 23, 1986. It came as a shock to us all. He had not appeared
so relaxed in years as he did that fall; he was obviously enjoying his recent
retirement, traveling, visiting with his grandchildren, lecturing, and writing.
With his sudden death, it seemed as if fortune, about whom he had
written so convincingly, had, with one turn of her wheel, brought him low.
In reality, his heart his large, generous heart gave out.
Stephen Gilman was born in Chicago in 1917. In 1940, he received his A.B.., summa cum laude, from Princeton University, where he studied with his beloved Américo Castro, and in 1943, he earned his PH.D. from the same institution. After spending two years in the army, he returned to Princeton as an Assistant Professor from 1946 to 1948. In 1948, he went to Ohio State University as an Associate Professor and in 1950, was promoted to Professor. He went to Harvard University as an Associate Professor in 1956 and was named Professor in 1957; he remained until his retirement in 1985. In 1984, King Juan Carlos awarded Professor Gilman the Spanish Arts and Letters Prize for his contributions to Hispanism.
Although his range was wide and the works which drew his attention span centuries the Cantar de mio Cid, Lazarillo de Tormes, Lope, and the theater, Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma, and Mark Twain's Huck Finn as a scholar Gilman was, perhaps, best known for his work on the Celestina. With his seminal work of 1956, The Art of La Celestina, he revolutionized Celestina studies and initiated the great debate which still continues. Indeed Gilman, more than any other single critic, may be responsible for canonizing the Celestina. In 1972, he followed with The Spain of Fernando de Rojas, in which he explored the intellectual and social background of the author and his work and attempted to recreate the atmosphere of the times to make us feel, among other things, what student life at Salamanca was like. For
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years, I remember seeing charts on the wall of his office in Widener Library
(appropriately, number 711), as he pondered the relationship between Rojas
and his contemporaries and sought to find all the missing pieces of the
Fortunately for the world of Hispanism, Stephen Gilman's voice will not be stilled by death. His way of working was to plunge into a subject, to immerse himself and to continue with it until he felt that he had said, at least momentarily, everything he wanted to say about it. Therefore, following the publication of his second book on the Celestina, Gilman turned his attention to another moment in the history of Spanish letters; the result, in 1981, was Galdós and the European Novel, in which he detailed the ideas on the development of the nineteenth-century novel which had occupied a decade of his thinking. After finishing the book on Galdós, he then returned to an author whom he had taken up earlier, at the beginning of his career, in Cervantes and Avellaneda (1951). He had thought about and worked on this new book about Cervantes for many years, letting the ideas germinate, trying out bits here and there, as was his custom. Completed just before his death, The Novel According to Cervantes will be published by the University of California Press next year.
The mere detailing of bibliographical data, however, gives little idea of the man. At the memorial service held at Harvard last April, friends a former roommate, colleagues, students, neighbors speaker after speaker spoke of Steve, as if through the sheer accumulation of detail, we could materially resurrect him, as if we could, through some verbal act of creation, make him materialize. When a colleague recalled the way Steve had of shrugging his shoulders, stretching out his hands, palms up, and smiling, laughing, at some new thought or observation or at something that struck him as incongruous, we thought, for just an instant, that we saw him. Warm friend, inspiring teacher, loving husband and father. The man who emerged, the guest not present, was, despite his enormous intellectual gifts, quite modest. Steve's modesty, in fact, was legendary.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to study with him, Steve changed our lives. He taught us to read a text and recapture the excitement we first felt before a book. Few of us will forget the enthusiasm with which Steve engaged each author he looked on every page as fresh, almost as if he had never seen it before. He brought an air of exploration to each work he examined; each undertaking was an adventure, a journey. Yet before class he always doubted if he would be good enough. Now we wonder if he really
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knew how our thoughts took flight with his, how he inspired us. At his retirement
dinner in 1985, students came from far and wide, from Washington, Oregon,
Ohio, and Puerto Rico, for this one evening. We shall also always remember
all those happy times at Grey Gardens West with Steve and Teresa and
Antonio, Isabel, Anita, and, of course, don Jorge for Steve and Teresa
created an extended family to which we all belonged. Steve and Teresa opened
up their house to us and for those who were far from home, it meant the world.
For all of us Grey Gardens West was Camelot. In times of crisis or times
of joy, he could always be counted upon even to the extent of flying
back from Europe, where he was on sabbatical, and interrupting his work to
chair the examining committees of shy and nervous PH.D.
candidates. Mentor and friend, he was always there for us.
Steve Gilman left us unexpectedly and much too soon. For those of us who knew, admired, and loved him, the pain is still raw, for he was a living part of our lives and we had counted on his presence as inspiring teacher and concerned friend for many more years to come. But for as long as we live, his image, his words and his every gesture live on within us as memory. And for the world of Hispanism, Steve lives on forever in every line he wrote.
CONSTANCE H. ROSE
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