Penn professor and acclaimed historian Paul Fussell died on May 23 at age 88.
A renowned scholar of World War I and II, Fussell joined Penn’s English department in 1983, and taught until his retirement in 1994, after which he and his wife continued to live in Philadelphia for several years prior to moving to Oregon.
Born March 22, 1924, Fussell was a native of Pasadena, Calif. While a student at Pomona College, Fussell enlisted in the United States army in 1943 and fought in France during World War II as a lieutenant in the 103rd Infantry Division. Wounded in battle and ultimately honorably discharged from the army, Fussell received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart awards for his military service.
After completing his Pomona degree and receiving his masters and Ph.D. in 18th-century English literature from Harvard University in 1952, Fussell began to teach at Connecticut College. Fussell also taught at Rutgers University, University of Heidelberg and King’s College London throughout his career.
Fussell received a number of prestigious literary honors throughout his life, including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for his 1975 book The Great War and Modern Memory, which explored the cultural effects of World War I, particularly on literature. He also offered a critical commentary on modern American society in books such as Class: A Guide through the American Status System in 1983 and BAD: or, the Dumbing of America in 1991.
“Paul Fussell is one of the most distinguished scholars to have taught in the Penn English Department. His books were read and deeply admired not only by other scholars, but by a broad reading public interested in topics like war and socioeconomic class,” English Department Chair and professor Nancy Bentley wrote in an email. “At Penn Paul Fussell was recognized by his students and colleagues as a brilliant thinker with a biting wit and a profound commitment to literature and humanistic study.”
English professor emeritus John Richetti described Fussell — his friend and colleague of over 40 years — as “a very witty man” who had a dedicated following among his students. “He was a tough teacher, but to those who appreciated him he was a wonderful teacher,” he said.
Richetti, who worked with Fussell at both Rutgers and Penn, added that plans are in the works to hold a memorial for Fussell at Rutgers in early fall.