Nicholas Linfield, a longtime summer resident of Chilmark, died at home in Miami, Fla., on Dec. 23 with his wife, artist Susanna Caldwell, at his side. He was 73.
Born in Sanderstead, in the United Kingdom on Feb. 14, 1940, his earliest memories included air raids and being evacuated from London as a toddler. A graduate of Oxford University, Nicholas received his Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Texas, Austin in 1969. He went on to teach at Wellesley, Tufts, and Brandeis. In 1976, Nicholas and Jim Butterfield founded Boston Lunchtime Theater, affectionately known as BLT. Throughout his professional life, Nicholas combined a career teaching literature with theater. In his Boston years, his performances were often noted among the top 10 of the theater season. He was a principal actor in Bernard Uzan’s French Theater in America throughout the 1970s, as well as reader for Joel Cohen’s Boston Camerata, an early music group. (A Medieval Christmas, with its beautiful readings by Nicholas, continues to be one of their best-selling CDs).
From 1983 to 1999 for 16 glorious, adventurous years, he taught, acted and directed throughout the Middle East while based at universities in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan. During his transition back to teaching in the U.S. in 1999, Nicholas taught at Boston University and Babson College. A strong advocate for better teaching of critical thinking and close reading skills at the secondary level, in 2000 he became head of the English department at Miami Country Day School.
Nicholas was an outstanding teacher. In the words of one of his colleagues, Nicholas was “notable for his lively erudition, wonderful articulateness, naturalness and ease. The students would benefit simply by listening to him but he knows how to draw out their best as well.” After courses with Nicholas, “almost every student was overflowing with enthusiasm for both their teacher and the subject.” Voicing a feeling shared by all who ever had the pleasure of discussing poetry with him, one student wrote, “He really enlightened me to how much a poem can yield.” In addition to translations from French and German poetry, Nicholas published articles on the practice and principles of verse translation, and on major writers including Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Baudelaire. Coupled with Nicholas’ gift for language was his extraordinary talent as a graphic artist in command of a beautiful fluid line. He created several exceptional collections of drawings that include Altogether Fool and Schwa Zoo. His visual and verbal wit are clearly in evidence in the numerous drawings done spontaneously during conversations with friends and handed to them on the spot. He conceived his drawings with a compositional brilliance that he delivered flawlessly to the page with unhesitating assurance. It was dazzling and almost magical to watch his drawings unfurl from his pen.
Nicholas had a deep and loving connection with Martha’s Vineyard, where he spent time each year after he was first introduced to the Island by Susanna in 1974 during their courtship.
Surviving Nicholas are his wife Susanna, their two sons David and Daniel; Nicholas’s first wife Eva Linfield, their children Tom and Katja; Nicholas’s two sisters Carole Peters and Sandra Surrey, as well as five grandchildren.
The Linfield/Caldwell family extends their heartfelt thanks to all our many Island friends who make this beautiful Island such a cherished home.
A gathering to celebrate Nicholas will take place in Chilmark in July 2014. Contact the family for details.