Jane Millgate, FRSC, FRSE
Professor Emeritus, Victoria College at the University of Toronto
1937 – 2019
On January 26, following a swift decline, Jane Millgate died at home. Having contended for years, quietly and without display or complaint, with a heart damaged by rheumatic fever in her childhood, she chose at last to discontinue medical treatment, and to spend her remaining days together with her beloved and devoted husband, Michael. She faced her death with characteristic bravery, candour, and humour, glad to be done with hospitals and comforted by Michael’s presence by her side, the constant aid of her dear friend Miranda, and the support of a group of devoted caregivers.
Jane’s decision was, typically, clear-eyed and unsentimental. Without self-pity, she always acted as love, affection, and duty dictated, and without illusion, she sought in the broader world to right social wrongs, to support political advances, and to encourage fairness and equality.
Briefly related, the story of her life had two great themes: her long and loving marriage to Michael and her long and distinguished academic career—but it is difficult to separate the two.
A promising student, Miss Barr attracted Michael’s attention by correcting some points in a lecture he had delivered; a promising young faculty member, Mr. Millgate appealed to Jane to make a fourth at a dinner for a departmental visitor. Things were clear at once: a courtship was almost unnecessary, and their marriage followed quickly. Only lightly qualified for a domestic role, Jane, by intuition (and reference to a few reliable books), became a talented hostess and homemaker—an expertise no doubt incidental to her main ambitions, but one that she nevertheless enjoyed (and was willing to share). She and Michael created a comfortable home and a hospitable table where they welcomed their friends, colleagues, and several generations of students.
Throughout their marriage and their partnership, Jane and Michael co-operated closely, either collaborating or supporting one another’s independent efforts. While they shared the credit in either case, each was proudest in praise of the other’s achievements.
Jane’s academic career was indeed praiseworthy and even exemplary. Her promise was evident early, as a scholarship girl at grammar school, and as a student at the University of Leeds and the University of Kent. She began teaching at Victoria College in 1964, and for more than 30 years communicated to her undergraduate and graduate students the satisfactions offered by good books, hard work, and high standards.
Her principal focus was on nineteenth-century English literature, but ranged widely, embracing literary history, modern American literature, and bibliographical and editorial topics. She published numerous books and articles, but her most notable scholarship and publications dealt with Scottish literature and, in particular, Walter Scott and his contemporaries. This work was extensive, foundational, and permanent, comprising critical analysis, historical documentation, and bibliographical, editorial, and archival research, including an essential research tool, the Millgate Union Catalogue of Walter Scott Correspondence. So important was her work that she herself became a topic in Scott studies, at the symposium “Jane Millgate: The Making of Scholarship,” at the Tenth International Walter Scott Conference. A founder of Toronto Centre for the Book at the University of Toronto, she also made lasting contributions to the interdisciplinary study of book history and print culture.
Jane took active roles in many scholarly associations, served on a number of commissions and editorial boards, and took an able and energetic part in college affairs at Victoria College, where she filled a variety of administrative roles. She also discovered a taste and talent for broader university administration, serving for five years as Vice-Dean in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science.
Jane’s observations were apt and amusing, and her statements of fact incontrovertible. Her opinions were precise, decisive and uttered with authority—although there was a kernel of high good humour in those pronouncements, which she enjoyed all the more when one had learned that a certain amount of dispute was allowable before the invariable acquiescence.
Jane was generous in her aid to scholars and researchers, in her help to students and colleagues, in her efforts for her college and university, in her hospitality, and in her charities. She will be mourned by her husband, friends, fellow scholars, college and university colleagues, and research associates, and the uncounted recipients of her aid and encouragement.