Julia Briggs
  • Julia Briggs

  • Date of birth: December 30, 1943
  • Died: August 16, 2007
  • Born: in London, The United Kingdom.

  • Description: Julia Briggs was a writer and critic of great talents, a gifted scholar and a profoundly generous teacher who pioneered the study of children's literature and of women's writing in universities. Deeply humanist in outlook, she had an abiding belief in the value of literary study and in the power of education to transform lives.

    Julia Ballam grew up in London. Her father, Harry, worked in advertising, but also tried his hand at writing. Her mother, Trudi, had been a commercial artist. Julia attended South Hampstead high school and in 1963 won a scholarship to study English at St Hilda's College, Oxford.

    Beautiful and brilliant, she also became pregnant at the end of her first year and was, she believed, the first female undergraduate not to be instantly expelled. She married the father, Peter Gold, and stayed on to give birth to her son and take a first-class degree. The marriage was short-lived, and in 1969 she married Robin Briggs, historian and fellow of All Souls College, with whom she had two more sons. They were divorced in 1989.

    Julia always followed her literary instincts. At Oxford, while bringing up her family, she wrote a BLitt thesis on the English ghost story - not considered a proper subject for a doctorate - which became Night Visitors (1977), her first book. From 1978 she took up a permanent post as fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. In 1983 she published This Stage Play World: Texts and Contexts 1580-1625, revised in 1997 and still in use by students. She then devoted herself to finishing Donald Crompton's book on William Golding, A View from the Spire (1985), after he died. In 1987 she published a life of the children's writer and Fabian socialist, E Nesbit, A Woman of Passion, which contributed to the emerging study of children's literature, as did Children and Their Books: a Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie (1989), co-edited with Gillian Avery.

    Very active in the Oxford English faculty, which she also chaired, Julia canvassed successfully for courses on women's writing. As general editor of the Penguin paperback re-issue of Virginia Woolf's work, when it came out of copyright in 1991, she oversaw the reprinting of 13 volumes, with introductions by renowned women scholars from Britain and the US, some of whom required delicate handling. She died aged 63 of a brain tumour.