Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Partridge [née McMain], Monica Agnesfree

  • Celia Hawkesworth

Partridge [née McMain], Monica Agnes (1915–2008), Russian and Slavonic scholar, was born on 25 May 1915 at 64 Cedar Road, Northampton, the daughter of John McMain, elementary schoolmaster, and his wife, Florence Emma Marjorie, née Roberts. She grew up in Northampton, attending Northampton School for Girls before reading French, with Latin, at University College, Nottingham, where she graduated in 1936. While there she met Maurice William (Bill) Partridge (1913–1973), a student of chemistry, and they married on 29 June 1940. In the same year she began to expand her knowledge of languages by taking up Russian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. From 1943 to 1947 she pursued postgraduate studies in the department of phonetics at University College, London. In 1947 she won the Laura Soames prize for original research on the phonetics of a language and was appointed part-time assistant lecturer at University College. She had begun to acquire teaching experience by giving lessons in Russian to civil servants visiting the Soviet Union on official business during the war.

In 1947 Partridge was appointed tutorial assistant in the department of Slavonic languages at University College, Nottingham (which the following year became the University of Nottingham). She began work on her doctoral thesis on Alexander Herzen and in 1949 she was appointed to a lectureship in Russian. Her head of department was Janko Lavrin, a Slovene, and he encouraged Partridge to establish links with Slovenia. Later, the contacts she made in both Ljubljana and Zagreb led to a steady flow of Yugoslav postgraduate students to the English department at Nottingham. She received her PhD in 1953.

While she continued to work on Russian topics, publishing articles on Russian phonetics in addition to several on Herzen, Partridge's interest in Serbo-Croat was growing. In 1964 she published the first edition of her Serbo-Croatian: Practical Grammar and Reader. (A second, revised and improved edition was published by Izdavački zavod in Belgrade in 1972, and a third edition, published by Prosveta, appeared there in 1988.) This work filled a conspicuous gap in available works in English for students of the language and proved a valuable tool for learners for many years.

In 1967 Partridge was appointed to the chair of Slavonic studies at Nottingham—the first woman professor to be appointed by the university. Through her contacts with the universities of Zagreb and Ljubljana a series of language teachers in Serbo-Croat and Slovene came to Nottingham from the 1970s onwards. Through the intergovernmental cultural agreement, administered by the British Council, she was also able to use these contacts to place Nottingham students of Serbo-Croat and Slovene in Zagreb and Ljubljana. In the early 1970s she became a member of the British committee of the Association Internationale des Études Sud-Est Européennes.

While her professional career flourished Partridge suffered a severe blow in 1973, when her husband, by then professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and deputy vice-chancellor of Nottingham University, died suddenly of a heart attack. Her reputation for tough-mindedness was borne out by the way she continued to develop her professional life. She played an active part in helping to establish the Dubrovnik International Postgraduate Centre and became a member of the executive committee of its council. In recognition of her work in promoting Yugoslav studies in Britain she was awarded the order of the Yugoslav Flag with a gold star in 1980, the year of her retirement.

Throughout her career, Partridge maintained her interest in Herzen, publishing articles regularly and collecting material for a proposed book, which was intended to revise widely held views of his life and work. In 1983 she had the distinction, possibly unique for a British scholar, of receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Kiev. A short biography of Herzen appeared in 1984 and a collection of her essays on him in 1988 (with a second, revised edition in 1993). In 1990, to mark her seventy-fifth birthday, a group of colleagues and professional associates presented her with a Festschrift, The Bell of Freedom, edited by Peter Herrity. At about this time she was elected an honorary fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, to which she gave a selection of her late husband's paintings. Later she was made a member of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where she endowed an academic travel scholarship, and to which she eventually bequeathed the fine collection of watercolours that she and Bill had assembled during his lifetime.

Monica Partridge had a forceful personality and was not always an easy colleague. But her students remembered her ready support for them with appreciation and fondness, as former colleagues and friends did her sometimes prickly determination. She continued to live in the Nottingham area until her death, at the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, on 19 March 2008. Her will included a substantial endowment to support Slavonic studies in Nottingham. She had no children.


  • The Times (21 April 2008)
  • M. Jones, Slavianskii Mir: the story of Slavonic studies at the University of Nottingham in the twentieth century (2009), 71–96
  • personal knowledge (2012)
  • private information (2012) [M. Jones]
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Wealth at Death

£711,445: probate, 17 June 2008, CGPLA Eng. & Wales