Graham Little – Sad news


Canberra, where Les and Graham met


"Graham Little was a little more than a schoolteacher," reports Ross Hosking, of Broulee, Queensland (Column 8, Saturday). "He was largely responsible for the 1972 English syllabus, and was a school inspector. I remember him inspecting one of my lessons, about which I was very nervous. Graham noted old chip papers and the like shoved under the pupils’ desks. I’m sure he also noted my nervousness for, at lesson’s end, he drew me aside to give me his learned remarks. ‘I found the juxtaposition of rubbish and fine literature somewhat surrealistic,’ he grinned. I was put at ease."

But Little can still make grown men quake in their boots: "Your mention of meeting Graham Little brings back memories of his English teaching at Sydney Boys High. He was at the time one of the most inspirational and pivotal English teachers in NSW. His book Approaches To Literature is still a gem. Actually, I think I still owe him some homework. I hope he doesn’t read this!" The letter is signed "Michael (Fischer – please don’t use my surname!)" Sorry, Michael, you’re busted. You’d better get that essay in right away.

Sydney Morning Herald

Column 8

May 27, 2008

A great friend for over twenty years, and before that a great inspirer, and before that a legendary inspector of schools of whom I was in awe. Many a conference, many a party, many a phone conversation, and many a drink or meal have I shared with Graham, and with Graham and Les. M and my circle of friend too have known him in latter years.

Most important, a great man, a great humanist – fantastic public speaker, razor sharp mind.

I will miss him.

Graham passed away today in Canterbury Hospital after a long illness.

My condolences to his amazing partner Les, and to all Graham’s family.

It’s strange, but I woke up this morning very early – hence the previous post – and it must have been coincident with the time Les tells me G passed away. Last week (4 May) I visited Graham in Prince Alfred Hospital, where he then was. I am very glad I did, as he was at that stage able to register, even enjoy, my visit. I had heard a day or two before from friends and former colleagues Dick Stratford and Ken Watson about his being very low. Strange again, but as I said in reply to Dick and Ken: “Funny but I dreamed about Graham the past two nights.”

In Ninglun’s Specials I wrote:

G and L are the iconic gay couple, together for over twenty years and as perfect a union as you could possibly imagine. G was my superior (very much so!) in 1970, went on to academic fame in our field, and remains active in retirement. L is a physicist, mathematician, computer whiz and thoroughly nice guy. Considerably younger than G, evidence that age difference does not have quite the same force in gay relationships as in heterosexual ones. It is hard to imagine two people so equally balanced. (Yes, I do envy them ;-) but I am so glad they exist.)

Here is just a small sample from something Graham wrote many years ago. Generations of English students have been brought up on this.

Terminology for studying Shakespeare

fatal flaw: a hero is undone by a tragic flaw (Aristotle’s term) in his character. The hero suffers either moral weakness, error or ignorance or even virtue.

He then has an awareness, and his recognition minimises the pain, enlarges our pity or fear, and brings catharsis (purgation, a cleansing of the emotions through their expression and resolution) of the emotions of the spectators in the audience; it drains pent-up emotions, thus drama and tragedy is socially useful.

tragedy: the spectacle of a man not absolutely or eminently good or wise who is brought to disaster not by sheer depravity but by some error or frailty. It needs to be a highly renowned or prosperous personage. He must engage our sympathy – be a man like us.

"The tragedy must be irreversible. The tragic personage is broken by forces which can neither be fully understood nor overcome by rational prudence. This is crucial. Where the causes of disaster are temporary, where the conflict can be resolved through technical or social means, we may have serious drama but not tragedy." George Steiner The Death of Tragedy London: Faber 1961 p. 8.

When the bad bleed, the tragedy is good.

Aristotle: The best tragedy concerns a man who does a deed of horror in ignorance: Macbeth knowingly kills Duncan his king but Oedipus unknowingly kills his father, Othello kills Desdemona, Lear banishes his only loving daughter Cordelia.

comic relief : humorous episodes designed to alleviate, lighten up or relieve the tragic effect, e.g., the entrance of the drunken porter to urinate in Macbeth. Comic scenes enlarge the canvas of tragedy. Sometimes in fact, the comic scenes deepen the tragic effect.

soliloquy: a speech most often in drama when a character speaks his thoughts aloud while alone. An aside is a sharing with the audience but supposedly not to be heard by the other characters on stage. These are two important conventions in Elizabethan drama revived in the 20th century.

dramatic irony: refers to a state of affairs which is the tragic reverse of what the participants think, e.g., Eve eats the fruit of happiness but it leads to sorrow, Macbeth kills Duncan and so loses all that makes life worth living. This device contrasts what the character says and thinks and the true circumstances known only to the audience; it is not an irony between what he says and means. Adapted from Barnet, Berman and Burto A Dictionary of Literary Terms pp. 82-3.

drama is literature (read privately) or theatre (performed openly). It involves a theme (conflict and its outcome) in a plot with conflict, climax and resolution. Dramatic plots are economical so they ‘flow’. Characters shown in dialogue, action and appearance. Settings and atmosphere are presented in sound, costume and decor. Staging crafts what the audience sees and understands. Stage dialogue must bear much of the above and differs from everyday speech in its length, depth and significance.

From Graham Little, Approach to Literature Sydney: Science Press 1978.