ROGER BENOIT CHAZAL
ROGER BENOIT CHAZAL: 8th March 1930-4th April 2015
Jean Beetz introduced me to Roger early in Michaelmas 1952; they were both on had Staircase 10 and been there for a year whilst I had just arrived from Mauritius and settled in the Annex which opened on Pembroke Street. We were very soon friends for life, as so many of us in Pembroke however much we live geographically separate lives. Roger was born in Saint-Etienne, Loire in a family which he described as ‘rural’, always insisting on his pastoral origin. He went to primary school at the école communale in the village of Marcilly where his parents lived, went through secondary schools at Roanne and Lyon. His subjects included Latin and more especially English, and he visited England for the first time in 1947 to pick up the language. In 1950 he entered the State Training College, the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and then came to Pembroke where he would stay until 1953, specializing in English which he would teach in France. In the context of the Ecole Normale he wrote a Mémoire de Maitrise about Milton’s political ideas and was admitted summa cum laude
to the Agregation in 1954. He was married to Marguerite Chataing while they were both teaching at Roche-La-Molière, Loire, and then was appointed to a Lycée in Saint-Etienne. After military service he had resumed teaching in the Loire Département when in 1958, he was offered a post at the Faculté de Pédagogie annexed to Saïgon University, South Vietnam. He agreed to go with his wife and two sons and settled in Saïgon at a time when Vietnam was relatively peaceful, which allowed visiting far and wide around Vietnam and Cambodia, to which the family became attached. They came back to France in 1965, Roger having obtained an assignment as English teacher at the University of Bordeaux. Until 1968 it was another period of quiet happiness, the boys growing up and Roger and family teaming up with other teachers. He was concerned with the 1968 tumultuous events in Paris, after which he became Assistant-Master in the new Vincennes University which would evolve into the Saint-Denis-located Université de Paris VIII Vincennes.
Now in his forties, ‘a stage in life’ as Balzac observes, he looked upon the future as full of hope and socially more egalitarian. He divorced in 1971 and his sons remained with their mother in Bordeaux. At that time he was deep in research, publishing such articles as Writings in English by British Missionaries in China, or Imaginary Space Schemes in Orwell.
He met Yvonne André who became a companion, able to adapt her Norman deep-seated ideas to the demanding, iconoclastic and often unconventional attitudes. He settled down to research aimed at his doctoral thesis on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
It took him fourteen years to write the 800 pages which he entitled
Un texte roué , Wuthering Heights, figures et sources (Wuthering Heights, a Cunning Theme, Figures and Sources).Becoming Professor Chazal in the process, he continued teaching, some of his pupils looking upon themselves as his disciples. He retired from the University in 1995 and decided to live in the Forez, his beloved native country. Annexing to his family home at Marcilly another building named in the local jargon l’oupita (the hospital), once a stopping place for pilgrims going to Compostella, he received there his friends from all over the world. He had changed, recovering the Christian faith of his childhood and he would say his retirement was peaceful-douce.
Apart from being a faithful parishioner he continued researching the Celtic origins of place-names or preparing his share in various colloquiums held in Paris or Aliunde. He attended the performance by the Pembroke Choir at the Embassy in Paris; and he took part in the activities of La Diana, a cultural society of Montbrison, of which he was an active member. He had thus fulfilled Du Bellay’s ideal:
Heureux qui,comme Ulysse,a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné,plein d’usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!*
He died at the Montbrison hospital and lies buried in the village cemetery of Marcilly.
Raymond d’Unienville (1952)
*Happy is he who, like Ulysses, has made a fine journey,
Or, like him, who captured the Golden Fleece,
And then returned, full of usage and reason,
To live with his family for the remainder of his years