In Memoriam: Joseph A. Kestner

Joseph A. Kestner, an important figure in the early years of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, died on 24 August 2015, at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was seventy-one. He was an internationally recognized scholar of Victorian literature and art, adventure and detective fiction, and the interdisciplinary ties among the novel, film, painting, and opera. During his thirty-seven years with the University of Tulsa, where he was McFarlin Professor of English and Professor of Film Studies, he inspired colleagues and students with his learning, wit, and joie de vivre. His remarkable gifts for lecturing and mentoring earned him numerous teaching awards, including Oklahoma Professor of the Year, given by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and the University of Tulsa’s prestigious Outstanding Teacher Award. His unbounded vitality and generosity made him a beloved teacher, colleague, friend, and community leader.

An untiring scholar, Kestner published more than a hundred books, articles, and essays, and he lectured frequently in the United States and abroad. With the rare ability to turn old and new enthusiasms into lasting scholarly contributions, he wrote and spoke prolifically on topics as diverse as Jane Austen, Pre-Raphaelite painting, narrative theory, Italian and German opera, James Joyce, Sherlock Holmes, and the British female detective. He had the unique capacity to teach and delight readers of all kinds; whether appearing in Papers on Language and Literature or in Opera News, his articles brought freshness and insight to his chosen subject. He was invited to lecture at many prestigious international venues, including the City Art Gallery in Leeds and the Tate Gallery in London. At the height of his career as a literary scholar, he decided to pursue his passion for film and film genres and was instrumental in establishing the Film Studies major and department at the University of Tulsa. This endeavor provided him with new outlets for mentoring. In addition to preparing numerous doctoral candidates for careers in literature departments, he devoted himself to helping undergraduates obtain internships and other positions in film and related professions.

Born in Horton, Kansas, and raised in Albany, New York, Kestner earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of New York, Albany, and his Master of Arts and Doctorate from Columbia University, where he devoted equal study to English literature and to classical languages and culture. After appointments at Princeton University and the City University of New York, he came to the University of Tulsa in 1978 and immediately established himself as a dynamic scholar, teacher, and dissertation advisor. His teaching style combined profound learning, irresistible wit and entertainment, and a booming voice with which he captivated audiences numbering in the hundreds as well as small graduate seminars. One could easily audit any of his courses by simply standing outside the closed door of his classroom. He exuded what his students called “Kestnerian energy,” and everyone who knew him profited from that exuberance.

Kestner was as beloved in the Tulsa community as he was at the University of Tulsa. For many years, he served on the Tulsa Opera Board and acted in numerous capacities with that organization, including as Vice-President for Production. He played significant roles in Tulsa’s Cinema Arts Foundation, the Tulsa Public Library, the Oklahoma Arts Institute, the Puccini Society, and other organizations. His immensely popular lectures consistently drew crowds. A noted scholar of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, Kestner was a favorite speaker at events of the Afghanistan Perceivers of Oklahoma, an organization of Holmes enthusiasts. He was scheduled to give a talk before the Baker Street Irregulars, a prestigious international Holmes society, in New York in January 2016. He was married to Anna Norberg, a concert pianist and long-time faculty member in the University of Tulsa’s School of Music.

Kestner was a vital supporter and frequent contributor to two academic journals published by the University of Tulsa—Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature and the James Joyce Quarterly. His role in sustaining Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature from 1986 to 1988, when the journal was between editors, was pivotal. As chair of the Department of English, he encouraged his Columbia graduate school friend Nina Auerbach, a widely acclaimed feminist scholar and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to be a guest editor of the journal during this interim period. Auerbach’s editorship of Volume 6, No. 2, provided exciting opportunities for University of Tulsa graduate editorial interns and underscored the importance of the journal to the academic feminist community. As Holly Laird became editor in 1988, followed by Laura Stevens in 2006 and Jennifer Airey in 2014, Kestner continued to make significant contributions to Tulsa Studies. He wrote insightful and prompt evaluations of many manuscripts and published reviews of notable books, including The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers and The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. However, of his many and varied exceptional contributions, none was greater than his unfailing encouragement of future feminist scholars and of the field of women’s studies in general. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature is deeply indebted to Kestner as a friend and advocate.

Kestner joined the editorial board of the James Joyce Quarterly in 1992 and published five articles, two translations, and several notes and book reviews beginning in 1972 and culminating with his masterly examination of the depiction of Victorian battle art in Ulysses in 2004. His essays were usually accompanied by provocative and informative images, representing his deep interest in art and film; his article “Youth by the Sea: The Ephebe in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses” included twelve artworks by such masters as Frederick Walker, Frederic Leighton, and Thomas Eakins. He was an incisive reader for the journal for many years, and his dynamic personality came across even in written opinions where a large, black “Yes!” would indicate his decided approval. He qualified, in everyone’s opinion, as a deeply respected Joycean.

Kestner was, in Joyce’s word from Ulysses, an “allroundman”—a protean figure and the kind of teacher, mentor, and friend who will always be remembered and deeply missed.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]