Colleagues Remember English Professor
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Category: News > Obituaries
UC Berkeley English professor emeritus Janet Adelman, known for her riveting interpretations of Shakespeare through a psychoanalytic and feminist lens, succumbed to cancer April 6. She was 69.
During her four decades on campus, colleagues and former students said Adelman offered fresh insight into 16th-century English literature. She served as chair of the campus English department from 1998 to 2002, where she fostered a sense of inclusion shared among students and faculty.
"As a Shakespeare scholar, as a feminist, as a psychoanalytic reader, her work is courageous and pioneering," said Steven Goldsmith, an associate professor of English and a colleague of 23 years, in an e-mail. "In addition, she understood how to draw out people's talents and how to get even the least likely of people to work well together."
Adelman won the 1986 campus Distinguished Teaching Award, as well the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs in 2006.
Her emphasis on the psychology of characters such as Shylock from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of
Venice" brought nuance to gender and religious relations. In her book "Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in 'The Merchant of Venice,'" she challenged prior interpretations of the play, which stringently separated religious identities.
"She worked on this project for a long time, slowly, patiently, deeply-it was both personally and intellectually absorbing to her-at a very late stage I read it in manuscript," said Goldsmith. "The experience was thrilling."
In addition to "Blood Relations," other works of Adelman's include "Twentieth-Century Interpretations of 'King Lear,'" "The Common Liar: An Essay on 'Antony and Cleopatra'" and "Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare, 'Hamlet' to 'The Tempest.'"
A funeral service for Adelman was held Friday at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont. Details on a department memorial service have not yet been finalized.
Reflecting on her tenure as department chair, faculty said she accommodated her colleagues on multiple levels.
"When she became chair, her explicit goal was to integrate more fully into department life those who felt marginalized or undervalued," said associate professor of English Celeste Langan in an e-mail. "I would sometimes wish to grumble about the number and length of the meetings we had, (but) what struck me most was Janet's genuine commitment to building consensus and community."
In the classroom her ability to engage different personality types fostered a strong rapport with students.
"She was a phenomenally gifted teacher, somehow able to keep classes of 125 or more students riveted, listening to her voice," said Kevis Goodman, a colleague of 13 years and associate professor of English, in an e-mail. "Her students often reported that they felt individually addressed, even amidst such large groups, as if she had located exactly what mattered ... to their inmost selves."
Adelman is survived by her husband Robert Osserman of Berkeley and two sons, Brian Osserman of Woodland, Calif., and Stephen Osserman of Portland, Ore.
"She always wanted to treat her children as people, as individuals, and not just tell them what to do," Brian Osserman said. "She wasn't trying to make them into her own image but trying to bring out the best in them."
Contact Leah Moskovic and Kaori Zinke at [email protected]
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