In memory of

Jane Millgate

June 8, 1937 -  January 26, 2019

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.


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John Baird (Colleague)

Entered February 8, 2019 from Toronto, ON

As the obituary notice so well conveys, Jane combined personal and professional abilities that reinforced each other over a wide range of activities. I think especially of her unfailing optimism, and her gift for finding the funny side of every difficult situation..These qualities made a real difference for raw young faculty members like myself. Victoria College c. 1970 was an institution under stress, and it could be a dour place at times. Jane was a kind, firm, but always encouraging mentor to her novice colleagues, always reminding us of the positives and suggesting ways to deal with the negatives. Later her warm and generous friendship in many ways shaped my career.I owe her a lot, and will always remember her with gratitude and affection. My heart goes out to Michael.

Cynthia Good (Prof Millgate was my teacher)

Entered February 8, 2019 from Toronto

Back in the 70's I was fortunate to have Prof Millgate as my teacher of Victorian Fiction, which became my passion. I was also her TA. I will never forget how much I learned from her, and how I longed to be like her, as an academic and a woman. There were not many role models in those days. Although my career went in a different direction (I ultimately, and fortunately, became president of Penguin Canada) I retained the approach to texts, and some of the teaching style of Prof Millgate. I send my sympathy to Prof. Michael Millgate (who I also met) and their family.
Cynthia Good

Pat Merrilees (friend)

Entered February 8, 2019 from Toronto

Dear Michael, I was very sorry to hear of Jane's death this morning (in New Zealand, where I am until April). Jane was a remarkable woman, a good and valued friend to Brian, and a source of comfort, with bracing good humour, to me after Brian's death. Her extraordinary mind, her incisive comments, her wry sense of the ridiculous, all made her a delightful lunch companion, which is how I have known her these last few years, and I shall miss our lunches at the window table at Spiga greatly.
It must be something of a comfort to you that you were able to keep Jane at home for the last stage of her life, and you must miss her enormously. My sympathies are with you in this great loss.
Pat Merrilees

Wendy Lawrence (Student of hers, undergraduate & graduate)

Entered February 9, 2019 from Ottawa

I have many fond memories of Jane Millgate, who was my (unfinished) PhD advisor in the 1970s, and with whom I kept in touch over the years. She influenced me probably more than she knew -- intellectually, but also in more personal terms, due to her constant kindness and generosity. She was a rigorous scholar/teacher in the best sense. I would like to think that her legacy with me is seen in a respect for literary approaches that feature historical analysis, precision of thought, and a touch of good humour. And on a more private level, I have benefited from her wise advice, usually offered with a gleam in the eye.
I spoke with her by phone in November, as I was going to Toronto then and hoped to get together -- but that was not to be. The last time I saw her, a few years ago, she showed her typical generosity: we were having coffee in a book store, and she insisted on buying me a copy of Tony Judt's Postwar, which she thought I should read.
May I offer my heartfelt condolences to Michael, and to others reading this who, like me, will miss her very much.

Robert Prichard (Colleague)

Entered February 9, 2019 from Toronto

Jane was an exemplary citizen of the University of Toronto, one of those colleagues who made it the great university it is. Teacher, scholar, leader, mentor and colleague, she did it all at the highest levels of excellence and cared for all around her. Paired with Michael, they ranked with the great university couples of their generation. We are all indebted to Jane and send condolences to Michael who will miss Jane terribly.


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