I always enjoy reading a well-written obituary. My favourite one from 2019 was published in The Times in June, and concerned a legal professor named Sir Guenter Treitel, QC. He’s a man whom I’d have just loved to meet. Treitel’s life began in Berlin in 1928. He was the son of a lawyer and the family were part of the Jewish intelligentsia in the city. That all changed when Hitler came to power and laws and social attitudes concerning Jews grew harsh. In 1939 the Treitels were able to get their children on a ship to England where they were sponsored by a relative and life for the young boy in a foreign land was very difficult. However, he was bright, won scholarships, got himself to the University of Oxford and became a highly respected lawyer.
My especial interest in this man came from his passion for books. In 1984 he published Jane Austen and the Law. He claimed to read Jane Austen every day “but would tackle the novels in strict rotation, thus avoiding the temptation to reread only Emma” (now you see why I wanted to meet this man!). His writing style was described as being “as clear as a chalk stream”. What fun to sit down with this cultured, intelligent man and discuss Mrs Bennet’s problems with the entail or Jane Austen’s dispute with publisher Richard Crosby over her unpublished Susan (eventually published as Northanger Abbey).
The art of a good obituary is to make the reader feel the essence of the person who has died. I felt that with Guenter Treitel and wish our Australian papers had more obituaries of this quality. If you subscribe to The Times you can read it for yourself here: Professor Sir Guenter Treitel, QC obituary. (paywall)
If you are keen to read other well-penned obituaries, you might like to try The New York Times Book of the Dead which includes many fascinating pieces from the paper commemorating those who have been famous and are now dead.
Have you read The New York Times Book of the Dead? Do you have a favourite obituary to share with me? Let me know in a comment.