Edward Timms obituary

Other lives: Professor of German at Sussex University

Edward Timms, who has died aged 81, was a professor of German at Sussex University whose great work was the two-volume study Karl Kraus – Apocalyptic Satirist (1986 and 2005). It explores the Austrian intellectual’s critique of the hypocrisies of Habsburg Vienna, his denunciation of the first world war, and his later exposure of the horrors of nazism. In addition, Edward (with me as the junior partner) established the still surviving yearbook Austrian Studies.

Fascinated by the complex and painful history of Jews in Germany and Austria, Edward founded the university’s Centre for German-Jewish Studies in 1994, which aimed especially to record the recollections of the many surviving refugees driven to Britain by Hitler. Among its numerous archive-based publications are the diary and artworks of Arnold Daghani, who survived a Nazi labour camp, Memories of Mikhailowka, (2000), edited by Edward with the art historian Deborah Schultz.

Born in Sunningdale, Berkshire, the fourth of nine children of John Timms, a vicar, and his wife, Joan (nee Axford), Edward inherited a strong moral seriousness that shows in all his writings. Some very English emotional reserve, instilled by his upbringing, was counterbalanced by his personal warmth and talent for friendship.

After attending Christ’s Hospital school, West Sussex, Edward studied modern languages at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he soon dropped French to concentrate on German. He graduated in 1960, then taught for a year at Nuremberg before returning to Cambridge to begin a PhD on Kraus.

In 1963 he took up an assistant lectureship at Sussex, where he met Saime Göksu, a Turkish theoretical physicist, later a psychoanalyst. They married in 1966, after Edward had, on an impulse, flown to Turkey to propose to Saime and obtain the agreement of her surprised parents.

These romantic circumstances are recounted in his autobiography, Taking Up the Torch (2009). Having adopted two abandoned Turkish babies, Yusuf in 1974 and Daphne in 1976, they then took into their family Sebastian, the orphaned son of friends.

Edward had returned to a fellowship at Cambridge in 1965, where he stayed as a lecturer before taking up his professorship at Sussex in 1992. He was made OBE in 2005.

Saime and Edward collaborated on a biography of the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet, Romantic Communist (1999), based on oral history. Saime interviewed some 35 people in Turkey who had known Hikmet, and Edward digested these and other materials into a narrative.

More recently, with Fred Bridgham, Edward translated two masterpieces by Kraus, a notoriously difficult stylist: his antiwar drama The Last Days of Mankind (2015) and his anti-Nazi polemic Third Walpurgis Night, currently in press. The former was awarded a translation prize by the Modern Language Association of America.

These achievements are the more remarkable since from the late 1990s Edward had to deal with multiple sclerosis. He bore his affliction with fortitude and undiminished enthusiasm for humane ideals.

He is survived by Saime, their three children, and his eight siblings.

Ritchie Robertson

The GuardianTramp

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