Skip to main content

Reynolds, Barbara, 1914-2015.


Biographical Statement

Born Eva Mary Barbara Reynolds in Bristol in 1914, she was known as Barbara for most of her life. Her father Alfred was a composer, and her mother Barbara was a singer. She lived in Detroit with her mother between the ages of seven and fourteen. Upon returning to England, Barbara studied at St. Paul’s Girls School, and went on to read French and Italian at University College in London. She was a lecturer in Italian at the London School of Economics from 1937-40 and later at the University of Cambridge from 1940-62; she served as Reader in Italian Studies at the University of Nottingham from 1966-1978. In 1939, Barbara married the Arthurian scholar Lewis Thorpe, with whom she had a son Adrian and a daughter Kerstin. After Lewis Thorpe’s death in 1977, Barbara married Kenneth Imeson in 1982; he died in 1994.

Barbara’s most significant academic achievement is arguably her general editorship of the Cambridge Italian Dictionary: Vol. 1 (1962) and Vol. 2 (1981). An internationally recognized Dante scholar, Dr. Reynolds made significant contributions to this field of studies, including completion of Dorothy L. Sayers's translation of Paradiso, the third volume of Dante's Divine Comedy, after Sayers's death in 1957. Dr. Reynolds has also translated Dante's La Vita Nuova, as well as Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, for Penguin Classics. In 2007, she published a provocative and well-reviewed biography, Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man. Her final years were spent researching and writing Petrarch: The Forgotten Genius which was published in 2014.

Barbara Reynolds first met Dorothy L. Sayers in August 1946 when Barbara invited Sayers to give a lecture at a summer school in Cambridge that she helped organize to revive Italian studies after the war. The two became close friends despite the 21 year age gap. When Barbara was baptized in the Anglican Church as an adult, Sayers served as her godmother. Dr. Reynolds went on to write an acclaimed biography of Sayers, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, compiled four volumes of Sayers's letters, edited other of her writings, and also told the intriguing story of Sayers's life-changing engagement with the writings of Dante in The Passionate Intellect.

From 1974 until 2004, Barbara’s life and the work of the Wade Center were closely interwoven, and her friendship with the Wade remained strong until her death in 2015. It was November 1974, when Clyde Kilby, founder of the Wade Center, first wrote to ask for her help in obtaining a photograph of Dorothy L. Sayers. From that initial request grew a great partnership as over the years, Barbara assisted the Wade Center in many and varied ways: as a frequent lecturer, a Visiting Professor, the co-founder of VII and Managing Editor for its first 20 volumes, and above all, as a colleague of great vision, energy, and wisdom. Her valued contribution to Wheaton College and the Wade Center was officially recognized in 1979, when she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the College.

On June 13, 2007 (Barbara’s birth date which she shared in common with Sayers), it was the great pleasure of the Wade Center to present Dr. Barbara Reynolds with the first-ever Clyde S. Kilby Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is given to recognize and honor those rare individuals whose work on one or more of the Wade Center authors is exceptional in quality and has made a lasting and irreplaceable contribution to Wade related scholarship. Without a doubt, Dr. Reynolds' contribution to Wade related studies has been both extensive and invaluable, and has especially prepared the way for the scholarly work on Dorothy Sayers that is being done today.

Barbara Reynolds passed away on April 29, 2015. She was six weeks from her 101st birthday.

This remembrance of Dr. Reynolds appeared in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in Volume 32, 2015.

Author: Marjorie Lamp Mead and Beatrice Schoenrock

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Barbara Reynolds Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-B-10 through B-16

This archive includes professional and personal documents relating to the life and work of Barbara Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is a noted scholar of Dante, Italian studies, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Dates: Created: 1853-2015; Other: Majority of material found in 1950-2000; Other: Date acquired: 03/07/2016