UC Berkeley News


Richard Bridgman

23 February 2005

Richard M. Bridgman, an emeritus professor of English and an accomplished author, died of cancer at his Oakland hills home on Jan. 17. He was 77.

Bridgman's most notable books featured unconventional explorations of the styles of such American favorites as Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, and Gertrude Stein. He wrote Colloquial Style in America (1966), Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970), Dark Thoreau (1982), and Traveling in Mark Twain (1987).

During his academic career, Bridgman was named a Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1957-60) and a Guggenheim Fellow (1968-69). He received the English department's top award when he was chosen to deliver the Charles Mills Gayley Lecture in 1977. He earned the campus's highest honor, the Berkeley Citation, upon his retirement in 1989.

Longtime colleague Stephen Booth, professor of English, remembered Bridgman's Gayley Lecture. "Lectures about 18th-century verse normally don't make my hands tremble," Booth said. "But this one did. He gave the best single lecture I've ever heard. Absolutely stunning, just dazzling."

Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1927, Bridgman enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school at the end of World War II. He later joined the Merchant Marine and worked on an oil tanker in South America and the Caribbean before taking up with other young American expatriates in France. It was there, said his son, Roy, that Bridgman began to develop his love of literature, art, and culture.

Bridgman returned to the United States and worked briefly as a reporter at the Toledo Blade, covering the Toledo Mudhens baseball team. Then he moved to New York, where he met and married Denise King. The pair moved to California, where Bridgman attended Berkeley, studying under Henry Nash Smith, a professor of English and for several years editor of the Bancroft Library's Mark Twain Papers. Bridgman earned his B.A. in 1956, his M.A. in 1957, and his Ph.D. in 1960 - all in English. He taught American and English literature at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for two years before returning to teach at Berkeley until 1989.

Bridgman served stints as a visiting scholar at the University of Copenhagen in 1965, and in 1973 was chosen visiting chair at Moscow State University, where he was one of the first Americans to teach during the Cold War. He met his second wife, Elena, in Moscow.

In the mid-1970s, Bridgman was chair of the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library, and served on numerous campus committees advising on topics such as the library, creative arts, and the budget.

His survivors include a daughter, Cynthia Josayma of Berkeley; sons Joel Bridgman of Berkeley and Roy Bridgman of Sonora; as well as two grandchildren.

A memorial service for Bridgman was held on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the Faculty Club.

- Kathleen Maclay