13 February 2020, The Tablet

Zara Steiner took it for granted that I could do well – which changed everything


Zara Steiner took it for granted that I could do well – which changed everything
 

Historians, pundits and obituarists have rightly done justice to George Steiner, the great philosopher and cultural historian, who died last week. I had the good fortune to know him through his wife, the excellent historian, Zara Steiner, who was my director of studies at New Hall, Cambridge. Perhaps George might have achieved all he did without her; personally I doubt it. She provided this prickly and mischievous man with the ideal marital and domestic base from which to conduct his sorties into the enemy camps and she softened the impact of his conversational sallies on others. When, during one visit, he observed that Christianity was “a Jewish heresy”, Zara said reproachfully: “George!” I was amused but I was touched, too, that she imagined I might have been offended.

So I was utterly floored when I went to call on her after George’s death and found that she herself is very unwell. Because at its best, the relationship between a tutor/teacher/director of studies and a student at university can be one of the most valuable and enduring of your life. I owe Dr Steiner more than I can say; she admitted me to my college; she supported me in my various curricular and extra-curricular activities; she took it for granted that I could do well – which changed everything; and she was invariably kind. And she sent me to the most remarkable historians in the university for tutorials.

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