Claire Lamont

Born: January 29, 1942;

Died: April 9,2023.

Professor Claire Lamont, who has died aged 81, was a distinguished and recognised authority on the works of Sir Walter Scott. She had a specialised knowledge of both Scottish and English 18th century writers and was a co-editor of the Edinburgh edition of the Waverley novels in 1981. In fact, Lamont was only responsible for one of the 30 volumes - Chronicles of the Canongate – but her detailed knowledge contributed greatly to that edition which was widely praised.

Professor Peter Gartside, a friend, colleague and co-member of the Walter Scott Society, much respected her scholarship. “Claire’s 1981 Oxford edition of Waverley set the hallmark for all subsequent modern editorial work on Scott, which is unlikely to have got off the ground otherwise.

“I guess in some ways this could be extended to the whole phenomenon of Scottish literary textual scholarship, which has been remarkable for its industry and sophistication in recent decades.

“When I visited Claire recently, even after her stroke, I was struck how gentle her demeanour was, this no doubt reflecting a personality which was always remarkably kind and productive during her active years.”

Claire Lamont was born in London the first child of Margery, whose father Sir Edward Appleton was the principal of Edinburgh University (1949-65), and William “Bill” Lamont, a Royal Navy chaplain whose family hailed from the Highlands.

Her father served in the RN during the war and Claire was largely brought up by her mother’s family in Cambridge. At the age of 11 she was sent to Esdaile, the Ministers' Daughters' College in Edinburgh. She proved a bright student and read her first Scott novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, which she could not put down and she admitted, “alarmed my kindly grandparents with my floods of tears”.

Lamont read English at Edinburgh University and after graduating she joined a research team at St Hilda's College Oxford, where she worked on the literary papers of the writings of the 18th century family, the Fraser-Tytlers based at Aldourie Castle in Invernes-shire.

After a period as an antiquarian bookseller in London she was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Somerville College, Oxford, where, under the guidance of the late Mary Lascelles she embarked on an edition of the Waverley novels which was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay prize by the British Academy in 1981. She was appointed to Newcastle University in 1971 and became internationally recognised as an authority on the study of Scott.

Lamont remained at Newcastle University for 36 years where she is fondly remembered as a “lovely lady and a great tutor”. She became head of the English department in 1989. It was her enthusiastic approach to the teaching of the Romantic authors - Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Shelley - that endeared her to so many students.

Her overwhelming desire to research the origins of the novels and poems and what had inspired their authors particularly fascinated Lamont, information which she imparted to generations of her students.

Throughout her career Lamont continually returned to Scott’s original manuscripts and reinstated phrases and spellings that, she argued, were Scott’s way of differentiating between Scottish dialects. She added subtle explanations and footnotes which explained the social, economic and political situation existing at the time of the novel – and how they were essential to the novel’s background and the thrust of its story.

Her book on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was widely admired – the learned introduction, alone, made many scholars reconsider the author’s oeuvre. Her books on the Romantic poets and authors brought her an international renown. It is significant that her last lecture (in her retirement) was on Austen in Göttingen, Germany.

But it was the poetry and novels of Scott to which she so often returned. Her father had introduced her to Scott’s poetry and she had discovered his novels at school. As a family they regularly visited Abbotsford, the author’s grand villa near Kelso. She lapped up the atmosphere with a beguiling enthusiasm. “We knew how to avoid the armour and weapons,” she recalled wistfully, “to glory in the library and its view of the Tweed, and to stand in blissful contemplation of the Coalport china in the dining room.”

Lamont was a much-admired colleague and greatly contributed to university life at Newcastle. She was an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies and was president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club. She was courteous and kindly with much style and presence but a modest and welcoming personality. As Professor Gartside commented, “Claire always struck me as someone who was absolutely incorruptible.”

Alasdair Steven