William Quillian

Monday, March 5, 2012 - 09:50

William H. Quillian
Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

William H. Quillian, Professor of English on the Emma B. Kennedy Foundation, joined the Mount Holyoke College faculty in 1975. He received his doctorate as well as his bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Princeton University and holds an advanced degree from Cambridge University. He is the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship and the Whiting Fellowships in the Humanities. While Bill’s training covers the range from Chaucer, Shakespeare, and medieval secular literature through the Victorian novel to twentieth-century poetics, his passion, better described as his obsession, lies with the high modern: the works and lives of D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and, perhaps most importantly, James Joyce. The title of his 1983 book is telling: Hamlet and the New Poetic: James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. In addition to frequent public lectures on a variety of literary subjects, Bill is a contributing editor to the Ulysses hypermedia project and is continuing to pursue his longtime interest in the fiction and criticism of John Berger.

Bill is a superb teacher (known for returning even the shortest biweekly assignments with a typed page of detailed comments attached) in a department of very strong teachers; an extraordinary director of senior honors theses; and a major voice—and indispensible presence—in all the department‘s administrative activities.

Up until a few years ago, Bill had been responsible for virtually the entire British twentieth century, offering courses in and around his major area of interest. Joyce, of course, is not an easy writer to teach, but Bill has (clearly) found ways to teach him at a very high level, and (in the process) to inspire our own best students, along with graduate students of comparative literature at UMass, as well as members of our faculty, to take on the challenge of understanding this key figure. “Brilliant! But you already know that since he’s been around so long….” writes one student. Another had this to say: “This is my second course taken with Bill Quillian and it has been a dream. He is effortlessly brilliant. I honestly don't know how he can keep all that brilliance in his head. He leads discussion and lectures very well. Without even knowing it I learned so much. I could draw connections without much effort because Quillian had shown me so many ways of looking....”

And yet, how Bill does it remains a bit of a mystery. The superb mastery of the materials, while indispensible, does not quite account for his pedagogical powers. Some have suggested alchemy, others his “Southern flair,” or maybe something about the distinguished ponytail. In fact, according to one eyewitness, it’s quite simple: his enthusiasm transfigures the place of reading, the classroom, into the world read, of the authors and their characters. And then he offers you an invitation you cannot turn down: to join him in the quest. When he starts running around the seminar table with the one edition of Joyce’s Ulysses that has the dot printed on the page below a closing paragraph as it should be, pointing at it and exclaiming, “Le point! Le point!“ you don’t just get the point of it. You understand. To quote a few lines from the great book itself: “How? What moved visibly above the listener’s and the narrator’s invisible thoughts?... In what direction did listener and narrator lie?... In what state of rest or motion?... Womb? Weary?... With?... When?... Where?” And, like all good narratives, you don’t want it to end.

Bill! It has been a pleasure to have you as a colleague and it is a true honor to offer you this award!