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Parker, Alexander Augustine [Alec] (1908–1989), Spanish scholar, was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 28 February 1908, the elder son of Arthur Parker, British consul general in Argentina, and his Uruguayan wife, Laura, née Bustamante. Brought up a Roman Catholic, he was educated in England at the Dominican boarding-schools of Hawkesyard in Staffordshire and Blackfriars in Laxton, Northamptonshire, and in 1927 he went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read modern and medieval languages. He graduated in 1930 with a first in both parts of the tripos. In 1931 he was awarded the Gibson scholarship, and in 1933 he was elected to a junior fellowship in his college.

Apart from a year in Hamburg, Parker remained in Cambridge until 1939, studying the drama of the Spanish golden age, especially the plays of Calderón. He shared Edward Wilson's conviction that these had long been misunderstood, and he was conscious of the lack of reliable editions. His first articles on the drama appeared in 1935. His interests found practical expression too in the performance of plays staged by the Spanish department, and during the early 1930s he acted in a number of productions, including one of La vida es sueño in 1936, in which he played the part of Clotaldo. In the same year he met Miguel de Unamuno in Cambridge, an event he later wrote about perceptively, and in the early months of the Spanish Civil War he travelled to Málaga to take part in the liberation of the poet José Antonio Muñoz Rojas and other captives in the republican zone. In 1938 he published a plain text edition of Calderón's El príncipe constante, and embarked, at Wilson's suggestion, on a study of the playwright's religious autos. The Allegorical Drama of Calderón (1943), which established his reputation, was informed by a view of the critic's task to which he remained faithful in all his subsequent work. Its tenets were those of the new criticism, whose influence he had imbibed in Cambridge, above all through his friendship with the English scholar James Smith, who was loosely attached to the Scrutiny group.

In 1939 Parker accepted the post of lecturer and head of the department of Spanish in Aberdeen. There he met Frances Theresa Ludwig (1915–1992), an artist, and daughter of Charles Frederick Ludwig, shipbroker, of Aberdeen. They married at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Aberdeen, on 4 October 1941 and made their home in the old part of the town, close to the university, where he indulged his love of horticulture and created a pleasant garden. They had two sons and two daughters.

During the Second World War, Parker served in intelligence at Bletchley Park. The department to which he returned was small, and his teaching load therefore demanding, but he relished the opportunity to lecture across the range of golden age literature. Calderón continued to feature in his publications, which included a critical edition of No hay más fortuna que Dios (1949), but now he began to write about other authors too (including Garcilaso, Cervantes, and Quevedo). In 1949 he was promoted reader, but the university was not disposed to create a professorship in a department so small, and in 1953 he moved to King's College, London, to take up the Cervantes chair of Spanish. He inherited a talented department whose reputation he proceeded to consolidate, not least by his own teaching, which became renowned throughout the university, and in the years that followed he produced a stream of articles, some on diverse subjects (Spanish humanism, Don Quixote, Spanish proverbs, St John of the Cross), but most on golden age drama and Calderón. His pamphlet The Approach to the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age (1957, reprinted in 1962, 1964, 1967, and 1971) began as a lecture to schoolteachers who desired an introduction to the comedia, but the analysis it advanced was so magisterial that it became required reading for specialists, and it set the agenda for a prolonged discussion of the subject. His time at King's brought a string of honours: consejero of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (1953), corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Letters of Seville (1958) and of the Hispanic Society of America (1960), and member of the Royal Spanish Academy (1964). His acceptance in 1956 of the award of Commander of the Order of Isabel la Católica, which he received from General Franco in Madrid, led some to conclude that he was favourable to the nationalist cause, but in ‘The roots of the Spanish dilemma’ (published in the Cambridge Journal in 1953) he was critical of the nationalist view of Spanish history, in which he found one source of the civil war. It was, he held, being prolonged, rather than undermined, by the isolation of Spain in Europe, which should be brought to an end.

Gradually Parker came to tire of London life, despite the attractions of the opera, which he attended regularly, and of his family home in Wimbledon, where he had created another pleasant garden. Oppressed by the weight of administration and university politics, he sought more time for research and writing. In 1960–61 he was seconded to Jamaica as professor of modern languages at the University of the West Indies, and in 1963 he accepted the chair of Spanish in Edinburgh.

In the relative tranquillity of Scotland publications flowed from Parker's pen, including an overview of the golden age (‘An age of gold’), essays on Quevedo, Góngora, and Sor Juana, four major studies of Calderón, and articles on the novels of Galdós and Unamuno. In 1967 he published Literature and the Delinquent, a study of the picaresque genre in Spain and Europe, revealing an interest in comparative literature that found expression also in the Edinburgh Bilingual Library, a series of European literary texts, with commentaries and facing translations, that he devised and directed. In 1969 he was awarded a LittD by the University of Cambridge. During this period he kept in close touch with his golden age colleagues in Aberdeen (T. E. May) and St Andrews (L. J. Woodward), and had his first experience of Hispanism in the United States, where he went as Andrew Mellon visiting professor to the University of Pittsburgh (in 1964, 1968, and 1969). Heartened by the welcome he received, he considered moving to America. The close link in his life between research and teaching made him reluctant to retire at sixty-five, as his Edinburgh post required, and in 1970 he accepted the offer of a chair in the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught happily for eight years. Freed at last from the burden of administration, and stimulated by the graduate students who flocked to his classes, he published a further fourteen articles, six of them on Calderón, and a study of the Polifemo of Góngora (1977). He received honorary doctorates from Durham (1975), St Andrews, and Liverpool (both 1978), honorary fellowships from University College, London (1978), and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1985), and a special award from the University of Texas for his outstanding record as a teacher (1976).

In the late 1970s Parker's eyesight began to fail, and he learned that he would eventually go blind. He retired in 1978 and returned to Edinburgh, where he and his wife had retained their family home. With calm resignation he faced the prospect of never finishing the research projects he had in hand, but with the help of his wife and friends, and the technical expertise of his younger son, he gradually learned a new mode of working, based on listening and dictation. He went on to produce further articles, and, with editorial assistance, two more books, each in its own way a summation of his work: The Philosophy of Love in Spanish Literature (1985) and The Mind and Art of Calderón (1988). He died in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 23 November 1989, survived by his wife and their four children. He was buried at St Peter's Church, Edinburgh, on 1 December.

Among British Hispanists of his generation, Parker was a towering figure, who played a key role in establishing golden age studies as a professional discipline. He had the gift of opening up new lines of enquiry in the various subjects on which he wrote, and though he did not create a school of literary critics he enthused students on both sides of the Atlantic with his interests. His personal manner was kindly and reserved, but he taught and wrote with an authority that prompted dissent as well as acclaim, and without willing it he became involved in controversies with other scholars. In these exchanges he was courteous, but implacable in defending the truth as he perceived it. In 2008 the Bulletin of Spanish Studies marked the centenary of his birth with a special issue devoted to his legacy and its continuing influence.

Terence O'Reilly

Sources  

M. McKendrick, ed., ‘Golden age studies in honour of A. A. Parker’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 61 (1984) [I. Michael, ‘British preface’, 263–4; R. Cardona, ‘American preface’, 265–6; A. L. Mackenzie, ‘Publications of A. A. Parker: a chronological list’, 267–70] · The Independent (27 Nov 1989) · The Times (28 Nov 1989) · The Guardian (2 Dec 1989) · Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 67 (1990), 177–80 · Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, 10/2 (1990), 105–8 · D. W. Cruickshank, ‘Retrato: Alexander A. Parker’, Boletín de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas, 13/6 (2007), 29–32 · T. O'Reilly and J. Robbins, eds., ‘Golden-age essays in commemoration of A. A. Parker’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 85 (2008) · WWW · personal knowledge (2012) · private information (2012) · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Indiana University, Bloomington, Lilly Library, Boxer MSS


Likenesses  

photograph, repro. in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 61 (1984)