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Message on Elsa Nettels

Please note: Given the weather and some problems with travel for one of our speakers, we have postponed the Celebration of Life service for Elsa Nettels until 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 11th in the Wren Chapel.

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community Jan. 4, 2016 - Ed.

Dear colleagues,

I write to share the news that Elsa Nettels, the Mildred and J. B. Hickman Professor of English and Humanities, Emerita, passed away in Williamsburg on Friday, December 30.  Professor Nettels taught at William & Mary for thirty years, and was one of the first women to be tenured in the English Department. During her time here, she mentored dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty colleagues, and forged a formidable career as an internationally known scholar of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and William Dean Howells.  Her publications included three widely acclaimed books — James and Conrad (1977), Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America (1988), and Language and Gender in American Fiction:  Howells, James, Wharton, and Cather (1997) — and well over fifty articles and book chapters in journals including American Literature, Modern Fiction Studies, Modern Language Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, and American Literary Realism.  Her legacy in teaching was equally impressive.  In 1997 she received William & Mary’s Thomas Ashley Graves Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching, and that same year an essay collection titled American Literary Mentors was issued in her honor by the University Press of Florida, thanks to the efforts of colleagues Irene C. Goldman-Price and Melissa McFarland Pennell.  

Professor Nettels received her A. B. from Cornell University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.  She joined the William & Mary faculty in 1967 after teaching at Mt. Holyoke College, helped develop the English Department’s M.A. Program, and directed numerous honors and M.A. theses.  After retirement in 1997 she remained an active member of several literary organizations focusing on Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, William Dean Howells, and Henry James and spent several years writing the authoritative annual bibliographical essay on Wharton and Cather for American Literary Scholarship.  She was a mainstay of the American Literature Association’s annual conference as well as the Edith Wharton and William Dean Howells societies and continued to be an active participant and presenter at national and international conferences well into her retirement.

She will be greatly missed by her friends and colleagues and by generations of grateful students, many of whom followed her lead by pursuing graduate study in literature and careers in university teaching.

We will pass along information we receive on any plans for a memorial service.