James Paul Wesley Hunter

June 29, 1934 - December 4, 2023

James Paul Wesley Hunter (Paul; or professionally, J. Paul Hunter; or to the conference label-makers in France, Jean-Paul) was born 29 June 1934 in Jamestown, New York, to the Rev. Paul W. Hunter and Florence I. Hunter. He died peacefully in his home, with his partner Cynthia Wall and his cat Elspeth, on Monday, 4 December 2023.

Paul’s first entrepreneurial job was selling nightcrawlers to the local fishermen (he was six). He wrote and acted in his high school play. He was a newspaperman and a radio dj in the early days. He attended Indiana Central College and received his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1963, going on to become one of the world’s premier scholars of eighteenth-century British literature. He was an instructor at the University of Florida, then ranged from Williams College to the University of California Riverside to Emory University (Chair of the Department of English 1973-79) to the University of Rochester (Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, 1980-87) to the University of Chicago (Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor, 1987-2001). He was the Director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities from 1996-2001. After he retired from Chicago he came to the University of Virginia where he taught half-time until 2010. Besides his many edited collections, his books include The Reluctant Pilgrim (1966), Occasional Form: Henry Fielding and the Chains of Circumstance (1975), and Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (1990), which won the Louis Gottschalk Prize. Many of his articles became classics: “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader” (1977), “The Insistent I” (1979), “The World as Stage and Closet” (1984), and his later work on the heroic couplet: “Form as Meaning: Pope and the Ideology of the Couplet” (1996), “Couplets and Conversation” (2001), “The Poetry of Occasions” (2005), and “Seven Reasons for Rhyme” (2006), among many many many many others. He was the editor of the Norton Introduction to Literature and the Norton Introduction to Poetry (nine editions). When, sometime in the 1970s, the editor of W. W. Norton approached him about a critical edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), he asked, “Why don’t you do an edition of her daughter Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein instead?” Editor: “. . . .” (Everyone knew the movies, not the book.) Paul’s three Norton Critical Editions of Frankenstein (1996, 2012, 2022) mean that most high school and college students have now read it (often more than once), and his granddaughter Lucy read Grandpa Paul’s edition!!! in her 11th-grade honors Gothic literature class this fall. He scooped up most of the academic prizes out there: a Guggenheim, an NEH, the National Humanities Center. Plus Senior Advisor, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dennis Todd and Cynthia Wall edited Eighteenth-Century Genre and Culture: Serious Reflections on Occasional Forms: Essays in Honor of J. Paul Hunter (2001); there was a plenary session devoted to his work at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in April 2002. As one friend put it, “He was immense, and from first meeting I was gobsmacked by his immensity (his inner variety, his antic range, his mighty appetite for pretty much everything).” And for everyone, that immensity so often “morphed into kindness” – he was as well known and well loved for his generous mentoring as for his radiant prose. Not to mention his turkey curry.

Paul is survived by his partner Cynthia Wall; his sister Patricia Brocker; his children Debra Hunter (Michael Morgan), Lisa Hunter (Aaron Carrel), Paul Hunter (Sallyann Hunter, predeceased), and Anne Hunter (Keith Zwolfer); and his grandchildren: Hunter Morgan, Megan Hunter, Jacob Carrel, Samantha Taylor (Alan Taylor and great-grandson Keniston), Elijah Carrel, Victoria Morgan, Ben Hunter, William Harris-Braun, Anna Hunter, Jess Harris-Braun, Lucy Zwolfer, and Margaret Zwolfer. He was predeceased by his stepdaughter Ellen Harris-Braun (Eric Harris-Braun).

Paul loved food, he loved wine, he learned to love cats. He loved poetry and literature and history and London. He loved the British Library and their flat in Lamb’s Conduit Street. He was not so keen on Nature (“if it’s green, it must be a plant”). He loved the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Cubs. He loved his family; being a father was one of the most important things in the world to him. And he loved Cindy: “We’re a match.”

A memorial service will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, 2024 at Hill & Wood Funeral Home, Charlottesville. The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Service available by zoom link: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/7968208816?pwd=a2pFa1VZUThLTG5sczNLM3VURHFoUT09

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Struthers Parkinson's Clinic (Golden Valley, MN), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, WVTF (Charlottesville), WFMT (Chicago), WBEZ (Chicago), the University of Chicago English Department, or the University of Virginia English Department.

Condolences may be shared with the family on the Tribute Wall.