George Haley, acclaimed critic of the Golden Age of Spanish Literature, 1927‒2024

George Haley, acclaimed critic of the Golden Age of Spanish Literature, 1927‒2024

UChicago Prof. Emeritus George Haley

The following was published in UChicago News on July 2, 2024.

By Sara Patterson

Prof. Emeritus George Haley, renowned University of Chicago author of many books and articles about Miguel de Cervantes and Vicente Espinel, passed away on June 6 at his home in Chicago. He was 96.

Known for his scholarship on Spanish and Portuguese literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, Haley covered the work of obscure poets to the enigmatic Don Quixote by Cervantes. His famous article “The narrator in ‘Don Quixote’: a discarded voice,” was published in the Modern Language Notes journal in 1965, has been translated in several languages and is still taught in classrooms today. The article was the first one on Spanish literature that embraced the New Criticism of the Chicago School.

“George Haley was a highly respected scholar of Spanish and Luso-Brazilian culture, who reflected on the links between literary texts and their authors’ social and personal backgrounds,” said Thomas Pavel, the Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Romance Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature, Committee on Social Thought, and Fundamentals at UChicago. “His best-known work, Vicente Espinel and Marcos de Obregón. A Life and Its Literary Representation (1959, also available in Spanish translation) offers a detailed biography of the Siglo de Oro poet and prose-writer Vicente Espinel (1550‒1624), emphasizing the similarities and differences between the fictional adventures of the main character of his picaresque novel, Marcos de Obregón, and the author’s actual life.”

Through his decades of researching, writing and teaching, Haley’s work evolved from an emphasis on close reading of the text to consideration of the overall historical context of the work.

“George was a great and engaging teacher, and students loved him for his vast knowledge,” said Paolo A. Cherchi, professor emeritus in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at UChicago. “His scholarly production was unique for its quality: not volcanic but everlasting. He ranked among the world’s foremost authorities on Cervantes’s Don Quixote. After he retired, he kept writing splendid essays and kept abreast of the current trends in literary criticism.”

A kind and generous presence

Haley was born on Oct. 19, 1927, in Lorain, Ohio. After attending Oberlin College and receiving his bachelor’s degree, he moved on to Brown University to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in Romance Languages.

Haley spent most of his career from 1959 to 1996 in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at UChicago. From 1970 to 1973, he was the Chair of the Department.

“George Haley was a scholar of early modern Spanish literature,” said Mario Santana, associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at UChicago. “Throughout his academic career he made important contributions to the study of poetry (He devoted his dissertation and several publications to the life and works of Vicente Espinel.), theater and performance (Lope de Vega, Gaspar de Porras) and fiction (particularly Cervantes’s Don Quixote).

“A lover of music and art, his was always a kind and generous presence in the halls of Wieboldt and in the classroom, where he would challenge students to engage methodically, but also creatively with the texts. His encyclopedic knowledge of the cultural tradition and his wit would stimulate surprisingly rich conversations with colleagues and students.”

"George was not only a scholar of exceptional range and depth, but also an extraordinarily generous colleague known for his kindness and contagious good humor,” said Larry Norman, the Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Romance Languages, and Literatures, Theater and Performance Studies, Fundamentals, and the College at UChicago. “I will be forever grateful for the thoughtful and ever cheerful mentoring he provided junior colleagues like me.”

Among his awards, Haley was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1962 for Spanish and Portuguese literature and received the UChicago Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award in 1995.

“This Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award has special meaning to me since it comes from a section of the University that I have been most concerned with,” he said in a 1995 University of Chicago Chronicle article. “I think students respond to my carefully disciplined way of attacking a text.”

His survivors include his sister Dorothy (Dot) Robbins, his brother William (Bill) Haley, and more than 25 nieces and nephews.


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June 26, 2024