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Obituary: Edmund Lloyd Epstein, Ph.D.

On Sunday, April 1, 2012, Edmund Lloyd Epstein, Ph.D., who was a leading James Joyce scholar and publisher of Lord of the Flies, and a longtime resident of Port Washington, passed away from complications of multiple myeloma in hospice in Melville. He was 80 years old.

After obtaining a B.A. at Queens College and M.A. at Yale University, Epstein began his teaching career at the University of Buffalo, during which time he founded the James Joyce Review, which was the first scholarly and critical journal devoted entirely to James Joyce. This was later merged with the James Joyce Quarterly.

While studying for his doctorate at Columbia University, he embarked on a successful publishing career, first at G.P. Putnam’s Sons as editor of Capricorn Books, and later at Farrar, Straus, & Giroux as editor-in-chief of Noonday Books. According to The New York Times, he was “so taken by a well-reviewed but not especially popular first novel by a largely unknown British writer that he decided to reprint it in paperback, thus enabling the extravagant American success of Lord of the Flies and its author, the future Nobel Prize winner William Golding.”

Returning to teaching at Southern Illinois University in 1965, he established a second journal, Language and Style: An International Journal, which first appeared in 1968 and is still in print. In 1974, he joined the faculty at Queens College, City University of New York, where he taught courses in modern literature and linguistics and at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he taught a James Joyce seminar each spring.

His academic passions were the study of the English language and the works of James Joyce. In all, he published ten books and eighty major articles and reviews, in addition to over 50 major addresses in the United States and Europe. He is the author of several books on language: Linguistics and English Prosody (with T. F. Hawkes; Studies in Linguistics, 1958), Language and Style (Methuen, 1978), New Accent: Language and Style (Routledge, 2003), and the co-edited The Language of African Literature. A noted Joyce scholar, he authored The Ordeal of Stephen Dedalus: The Conflict of the Generations in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Southern Illinois University Press, 1971). He edited Work in Progress: Joyce Centenary Essays (New World Library, 1983), Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce (New World Library, 1993; 2004), and A Skeleton’s Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking Joyce’s Masterwork (New World Library, 2005). His latest book, A Guide through Finnegans Wake, was published in 2010 and was instantly recognized as a monumental piece of Joycean scholarship.

According to Glen Burger, Ph.D., chair of the English Department at CUNY, Professor Epstein was a “calm, intelligent, and humane presence in the English Department for over 35 years.”

Mario DiGangi, Ph.D., of the CUNY Graduate Center, described him as “an ideal mentor to graduate students, demanding excellent work but always patient, supportive, and kind. His amazing memory made him a formidable critic of Joyce: in teaching Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, he could identify and illuminate countless references to historical events, literary texts, even dance hall songs and operatic melodies, which he would sing in class. He will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.”

According to Moshe Gold, Ph.D., professor of English at Fordham University, “Edmund Epstein quite simply was the consummate educator. His passing marks a wound in academia that will never fully heal. With an astonishing range and depth of scholarship, humor, and voice, Eddie conducted his seminars and lectures as symphonies. We who were Eddie’s students wanted to take his classes not only for his knowledge of linguistics, the Bible, languages, poetry, and Modernism, but also for his camaraderie, intellectual honesty, and genuine curiosity about all things.”

Professor Epstein was born in the Bronx, New York, and was raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents, Alfred Epstein, a pharmacist, and Eva Rosenberg Epstein, a former modern dancer, were both Jewish immigrants to the United States. He and his family moved to Port Washington in 1975, where he lived until his death.

Professor Epstein was actively engaged in the Port Washington literary community and led a literature study group out of his home for over 30 years. Alfred Connable, a writer and group member, stated “Eddie Epstein was a great teacher, but unlike most in that category he was the humblest and kindest of men.” He was a regular lecturer at the Port Washington Public Library, where, according to Elly Shodell, director of the Local History Center, he was a “frequent and favorite guest lecturer, where he could use his powers of brilliance, humor, and melody to educate and pique the interests of the audience.”

Professor Epstein was also an accomplished musician who studied conducting, violin, and piano. A 1947 graduate of LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, he spent several summers studying conducting at Tanglewood Music Festival with Leonard Bernstein. He put his musical passions to use at opportune times. According to Port Washington resident Timothy Christ, “On a typical Christmas Eve, he would begin his mini-residency at the piano, churning steadily along as a crowd of singers grew and grew. After hours of music, the opening chord sequence of Kurt Weill’s “September Song” would mark the end of the evening, a sign to stragglers to find their coats and head off into the night.”

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Tegwen Epstein, of Port Washington; his daughters, Bronwen Epstein of New York City and Lucy Hutner of Brooklyn; his son Matthew Epstein of New Milford, CT; his brothers, Sherwood Epstein of Florham Park, NJ, and Claude Epstein of Wyndmoor, PA; and his three grandchildren, Jenna, Emma, and Simeon.

A memorial service will take place on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Shelter Rock. Memorial contributions may be sent to the Friends of the Library, c/o Port Washington Public Library, One Library Dr., Port Washington, NY 11050.