Deaths: Brian Higgins, English

Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins, professor emeritus of English.

Brian Higgins, 71, professor emeritus of English, died April 28 in Wilmette.

Higgins, a native of Leicester, England, was a scholar of 19th-century and early 20th-century American literature and a leading authority on the writing of American author Herman Melville.

His career at UIC began in 1972 as an assistant professor. He became associate professor in 1978 and full professor in 1992.

As a longtime editorial associate to the Northwestern/Newberry Library Melville edition, Higgins is known for his work revising the definitive editions of several important texts and volumes of critical essays on Melville.

He teamed with famed scholar and 1997 Pulitzer finalist Hershel Parker to co-author noted essays on Stephen Crane’s Maggie and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Colleague Christian Messenger, professor emeritus of English, described Higgins as a “meticulous textual scholar.”

“Brian was the department’s authority on Edith Wharton and Henry James, whose works he taught to generations of students,” Messenger said.

According to his widow, Christine Harmon, Higgins’ lifelong love of water inspired much of his scholarly and personal interests.

“Sailing and reading about sailing were his passions,” she said.

During his time at UIC, Higgins served on 20 master’s committees and 15 doctoral committees and numerous departmental and campus committees. He served as associate department head and acting associate head.

He retired as professor emeritus in 2003 but continued to teach through 2013, including Honors College courses.

Harmon said UIC’s mission as an urban university was important to her husband.

“He enjoyed equally teaching students who were already interested in 19th-century literature and students to whom he could introduce those works for the first time,” she said.

“Nothing pleased him more than conducting a class where the students did most of the talking, because he was genuinely intrigued by what they had to say.”

Higgins was a beloved teacher who was especially popular with undergraduates, said Nancy Cirillo, professor emerita of English.

“He was a fine man and will be hugely missed,” she said.

Higgins received his bachelor’s degree from the King’s College London in 1965, a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1969 and his Ph.D. from USC in 1972.

A memorial service is planned.

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