Lawrence Rainey obituary

Other lives: Academic and author of critical studies on Anglo-American Modernism

My PhD supervisor, Lawrence Rainey, who has died aged 66, was a leading literary critic and an authority on Anglo-American Modernism. He wrote and edited groundbreaking critical studies and editions, and was co-founder and co-editor of Modernism/modernity, the award-winning journal of the Modernist Studies Association.

Born in Chicago, Lawrence was the grandson of Estonian immigrants. He was brought up by his mother, Emma Rainey, who worked full-time as a secretary, doubling up on weekends and on two evenings a week as a shop assistant at the iconic Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago. At school, Lawrence wore a black armband in protest of the Vietnam war, and encouraged others to follow suit, for which he was suspended.

Nevertheless, he went on to take a degree in classical languages at Valparaiso University, Illinois, and a PhD in English at the University of Chicago. In 1987, he was appointed to an assistant professorship at Yale University, where he worked – from 1993 as associate professor – until 1998, when he moved to England as professor of modernist literature at the University of York.

Lawrence’s first monograph, Ezra Pound and the Monument of Culture (1991), built on detailed archival scholarship on Pound’s obsession with the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, Italy, and its larger implications for the poet’s work. It was while undertaking research for the book on a Fulbright-Hays doctoral fellowship in Italy that he met Sonia Marathou, and they married in 1987. Lawrence’s highly influential second book, Institutions of Modernism (1999), argues that modernists reacted to the commodification of mass culture in complex and often contradictory ways, retreating to a form of exclusivity embodied in patronage, the deluxe edition, and little magazines.

His intricately researched third monograph, Revisiting the Waste Land (2005), established an accurate chronology for TS Eliot’s high-modernist masterpiece, while also advancing important new readings; together with his innovative contextual edition of the poem, The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose (2005), the book went on to win the 2006 Robert Motherwell book award and the 2007 Fredson Bowers memorial prize.

At the time of his death, Lawrence was completing a monograph on the emergence and cultural history of the typist, secretary or stenographer in the early decades of the 20th century.

From 2016, Lawrence suffered from ill health. He is survived by Sonia, their son, Evan, and Emma.

Ulrika Maude

The GuardianTramp

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