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University community remembers Victorian literature scholar Hal Orel

Thursday, August 17, 2017

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas community is remembering Harold “Hal” Orel, distinguished professor emeritus of English. He died July 31 in Lawrence.

“We are saddened to learn of the death of Professor Orel, and, on behalf of the entire university, I offer my sympathies to his colleagues, friends and family,” said KU Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “He was a great scholar and became known far beyond our university for his exemplary work in the field of Victorian literature.”

Orel was an active faculty member from 1957 to 1997, when his interests included Irish fiction, poetry and drama. He was one of the co-founders of the American Committee on Irish Studies.

He published 30 books, most of which centered on writers during the Victorian period and the first half of last century, including William Wordsworth, the Brontes, Gilbert and Sullivan, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and Rebecca West. 

In a 2016 annual report for the Council of Distinguished Professors, Orel wrote that his book on Charles Darwin “has evoked kind words from scientists who know their field better than I can ever hope to do.”

He mentored many students during his career, and Dorice Elliott, chair of the Department of English, remembers him as a kind and generous man to all, including new junior colleagues such as she was at the time of his retirement.

“I will never forget meeting with the four senior faculty in my field at his home when I first came to KU to discuss a little-known Victorian book that they had urged me to choose, and I was terrified, but it turned out to be a fun and enlightening evening,” Elliott said. “Hal treated me with respect and courtesy. Every time I drive by the home he shared with his lovely wife, Charlyn, I think of them and how cordial and encouraging they both were to me.”

She said Orel retired much respected and admired by thousands of colleagues, students and friends at KU and throughout the world.

A memorial service will be held later at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lawrence.