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Randolph William Hughes (1889–1955)

by Gregory Melleuish

This article was published:

Randolph William Hughes (1889-1955), university lecturer and literary critic, was born on 10 August 1889 at Burwood, Sydney, son of William Henry Hughes, a Sydney-born warehouseman, and his wife Affra Castle, née Bell, from Melbourne. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School, Randolph studied classics at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1913; M.A., 1915) where he was fascinated by Christopher Brennan and became a friend of A. R. Chisholm. Hughes taught classics (1913-15) at Bathurst High School. On 29 December 1914 he married a schoolteacher Ina Muriel Stanley Hall (d.1941), sister of Elsie Stanley Hall, at the Congregational Church, Waverley; they were to have twin sons. Awarded a travelling scholarship, he sailed alone to London and thence to Cairo. He was commissioned in the Royal Engineers, served (1916) in Egypt and Sinai, and was retained by the Egyptian government on special duties.

In October 1917 Hughes matriculated at New College, Oxford, where he went on to take first-class honours in medieval and modern languages in 1919 (BA, 1923). From 1920 to 1922 he taught English literature in France, first at the University of Rennes and then at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris. In 1922 he was appointed lecturer in French language and literature at King's College, University of London (D Litt, 1931); he was awarded his doctorate for a thesis on Baudelaire. Following an acrimonious dispute with a colleague, Hughes resigned his post in 1935. For the next twenty years he survived as a freelance writer and by marking examination papers. His health was often poor. He wrote primarily for French and English journals on nineteenth-century literature. His contribution to Australian intellectual life included a major study, C. J. Brennan (Sydney, 1934). On the publication of P. R. Stephensen's The Foundations of Culture in Australia in 1936, Hughes savagely reviewed it in the Nineteenth Century and After, thereby creating considerable controversy in Australia.

Hughes also wrote articles favourable to Hitler and Nazi Germany. Offered a research post at the Humboldt University of Berlin to study the Nazi régime, he declined because of ill health. He remained a man of the far right, strongly anti-Semitic, and developed ties with Action Française. From 1939 his interests became more purely literary and he spent his remaining years preparing editions of the work of Algernon Swinburne and Dante Gabriel Rossetti; he published Swinburne's unfinished novel, Lesbia Brandon (London, 1952).

Highly strung and passionate, Hughes held his beliefs tenaciously, and was a talented scholar and a man of integrity. He called himself both a pagan and a Tory, and was determinedly pro-British and pro-European in outlook. He wore a monocle and gloves, carried a walking-stick and insisted on the proper manners of a gentleman. On 7 August 1942 at the register office, Chelsea, he married a civil servant Dorothy Freda Ayres; he later claimed that she 'basely and dishonourably' deserted him 'at a very critical period' in his life. Survived by one son of his first marriage, he died of coronary thrombosis on 21 March 1955 at Tunbridge Wells and was buried in the local cemetery. His portrait by Edward Wolfe is held by the Dixson Galleries, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • A. R. Chisholm, Men Were My Milestones (Melb, 1958)
  • British Australasian, 20 Aug 1914
  • Australian Quarterly, 27, no 2, June 1955, p 27
  • Times (London), 9 May 1955
  • Teachers' records (New South Wales Department of Education Archives, Sydney)
  • Hughes papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Gregory Melleuish, 'Hughes, Randolph William (1889–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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