In Memoriam: Robert Kellogg

Longtime member of the English department and former Dean of the College Robert Kellogg died in 2004. Here is Gordon Braden’s memorial resolution.

By Gordon Braden
This is an image of Robert Kellogg


Bob Kellogg was born in Michigan in 1928. He received an AB from Maryland in 1950, and a PhD from Harvard in 1958; his doctoral dissertation was a concordance of Eddic poetry. By the time he received his doctorate, he was an Instructor at UVa, where he taught for the next 42 years, reaching the rank of Professor in 1967. He was Chair of the English Department from 1974 to 1978, and then, when he had already started on a second term as Chair, he was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and served in that capacity until 1985. After stepping down from that post, he became President of Monroe Hill College until 1988. He retired from UVa in 1999.

His scholarly specializations were in Renaissance and especially medieval literature, and his publications have had a way of being distinguished by a longer than usual shelflife. The edition he did with Oliver Steele of the first two books of the Faerie Queene and other Spenserean poems has proved one of the most useful and durable annotated editions of that material; and the theoretical book that he wrote with Robert Scholes, The Nature of Narrative, was not only a benchmark book on narratology in its time but has also shown itself to have had considerable staying power in the 38 years since it was published; it has been translated into Italian and into Portuguese. The interest that most set him apart, however, was Icelandic literature, mostly medieval but also modern. Bob held a fellowship at the University of Iceland in the 50s, while working on his dissertation; in his later years he came to spend more and more time there, and became an indispensable figure, serving on behalf of the Icelandic Ministry of Education on various faculty promotion committees at the University and, at the time of his retirement here, as a Visiting Professor. He became a good friend of the contemporary Icelandic novelist Agnar Thordarsson and translated one of his novels, Called Home, into English. Over the course of the 80s and 90s he was involved the monumental project of producing the first complete translation into English of the entire corpus of Icelandic sagas and related tales. It is, in view of the quality and reputation of the sagas--they include some of the least read great works of world literature — astonishing that it had never been translated in its entirety before. When the final product was published in 1997, it ran to five volumes; Bob Kellogg provided the general introduction, and translated one of the sagas and one of the tales.

The noble achievement of the saga translations is probably the most public and lasting part of his legacy, but there is another important dimension to it that it is hard to talk about without getting personal and subjective, since a major part of what Bob meant to this institution has to do not with things you can list, but with the kind of person he was and in particular the feel he brought to the administrative roles that occupied so much of his time here. The personal part for me is that one of the things Bob did during his first semester as department chair was to offer me a job; I still remember very clearly the impression he made both in our preliminary meeting up at Yale and later during my visit down here. The academic job market was as bruising and irrational a business then as it is now, full of obtuse, vaguely aggressive questioning and a general sense of being sized up by performing dolls; Bob was from our first words together not just friendly and good humored, but attentive and interested, interesting himself in his response to the things he got me to say, and altogether wise in a way that I remember thinking of at the time (I suppose the beard had something to do with it) as somehow druidical. I only later learned what an achievement this all constituted in the context of an English Department as cranky and fractious and full of itself as this one was; but I don't think I was wrong to think, as I did at the time, that any group that would have him as its head was something I wanted to be a part of. The memory of that experience stays with me in a very specific way in the tasks of the present; he is my touchstone for how you go about embodying on behalf of an institution such a vision of intelligence and seriousness and care snd grace that the people you want to bring into your midst simply cannot imagine wanting to work anywhere else.