John Robert Wahl

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John Robert Wahl (19**-1969/70) was an academic and lecturer,

More generally known as J.R. Wahl or Robert Wahl


A descendent of the 1820 Settlers, he was born in **, the son of a well known Cape Town teacher,

He studied at Rhodes University and at Balliol College, Oxford University, on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he completed a D. Phil. thesis called Two pre-Raphaelite Poets in 1954. He also spent time at Harvard University during this period.

Wahl became a lecturer in English at Rhodes University and in 1962 professor and much admired head of the English Department at the University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein, where he and his wife inspired numerous scholars, researchers and authors over the years they spent there. His inaugural lecture, deliver in 1964, was titled "No Idle Singer: The Lovers of Gudrun and Sigurd the Volsung".

Wahl had married Joan Cicely Haworth in the Anglican Cathedral of St Andrew and St May, Grahamstown, on 2 July, 1955. She was the daughter of Professor Peter Haworth, who had been the Professor of English at what was then known as Rhodes University College, Grahamstown in the 1930s, and she too would became an English lecturer initially in Grahamstown and later in Bloemfontein.

Over the years he built up a substantial national reputation with his books on the South African poet and journalist Thomas Pringle and - deriving from his doctoral studies - an international reputation for his many publications on the Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882)[1].

His academic publications include the annotated edition of Rosetti's poem Jan Van Hunks (Issue 3 of Arents Tobacco Collection, 1952), an edited version of The Kelmscott Love Sonnets of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Balkema, 1964) and ultimately the four volume edition of the Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965-67), on which he worked with Oswald Doughty ().

Tragically both Robert Wahl and his wife died by his own hand in Bloemfontein in 1969, after Cecily contracted a virulous form of cancer.

The Robert and Cecily Wahl Scholarship for postgraduate study at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge or London was created to honour their memory.

Contribution to theatre, film, media and performance

Generally referred to respectfully as "Professor Wahl" by students and as Robert Wahl by friends, colleagues and the press, his term in Bloemfontein was short, but remarkably influential. Besides inspiring a number of his students to further study in the English language and literature, among them a number of teachers, academics and authors , he had a particular interest in theatre and not only supported local theatre and the projects of the dramatic society at the University, and was - along with professors Gerhard Beukes an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of establishing a drama department at the university. He thus served as a founding member of the original Drama and Theatre Arts Committee, which had to oversee the activities of the Department when the Belgian director and scholar Jo Gevers was appointed as the first senior lecturer and head of department in 1965.

Wahl was a challenging and inspiring lecturer at all levels, and certainly greatly influenced a number of individuals who would later feature in the broader performing arts industry. Among them are the actor and arts critic Braam Muller, the novelist Maretha Maartens and the theatre researcher, playwright and lecturer Temple Hauptfleisch.


Most widely held works by John Robert Wahl, WorldCat[2]

Michael Green. 2004. Around and about: Memoirs of a South African Newspaperman. New Africa Books, 2004 [3]

"Historical Overview", Department Drama and Theatre Arts, University of the Free State[4]

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