Enid Starkie

(1897-1970) – Literary critic

Enid Starkie was born in Dublin and educated by a series of governesses (of whom one was French, sparking Starkie’s profound love of France). Starkie was also a talented pianist, but her father discouraged her from taking up a career in music and, to please him, Starkie came to Somerville in 1916 to study Modern Languages.

After her studies, Starkie worked as an assistant lecturer at Exeter University, returning to Somerville in 1928 when she was appointed the Sarah Smithson Lecturer in French Literature. She was elected a fellow of the college in 1935 and in 1946 she was appointed Reader in French Literature at Oxford. Starkie wrote authoritative critical works on Baudelaire (1957), Rimbaud (1947) and Flaubert (1967) and her other work included studies on Verhaeren, Gide and Peter Borel. She was known for being warm, tough and intelligent, and she could also be eccentric and unpredictable (an article in Time magazine described her as ‘a brilliant Rimbaud scholar who pub-crawls about Oxford in bright red slacks and beret while smoking cigars’). Starkie received a Doctorat of the Sorbonne and the French Academy literary prize and in 1958 she was elected to the Légion d’Honneur. She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1967.

Did you know? Enid Starkie successfully campaigned for the Oxford Chair of Poetry to be held by poets rather than critics. It was also her campaigning which led to W.H. Auden’s election to the Chair in 1956.


Where Next?