Honoring Professor Biruté Ciplijauskaité
~ by Luís Madureira
Biruté Ciplijauskaité, John Bascom Professor from 1973 to 1997 and a lifetime senior fellow at UW-Madison’s Institute for Research in the Humanities (from 1974 until her retirement in 1997), died peacefully on June 19, 2017. Internationally renowned and with a vast scholarly production betokening a breathtakingly wide-ranging expertise, Professor Ciplijauskaité was undeniably our department’s most distinguished and prolific member.
Professor Ciplijauskaité was born on April 11, 1929 in Kaunas, Lithuania. She attended Kaunas Conservatory (present-day Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre), and fled Lithuania during World War II. She spent part of the war years in Germany, where she would go on to earn her baccalaureate from the Lycée Lithuanien Tübingen in 1947, while working in a factory. She emigrated to Canada on a work visa, where she worked as a domestic servant prior to resuming her university studies and receiving an MA from the University of Montréal in 1956. She earned her PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1960, and in the following year was hired as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Four years later, in 1965, she was promoted to Associate Professor. Her first book, La soledad y la poesía española contemporánea, appeared in 1962. In subsequent years, she sustained a consistently impressive rate of scholarly productivity. Her second book, El poeta y la poesía: del romanticismo a la poesía social, was published in 1966. It was followed by three new books in the 1970s: a monograph on Pío Baroja, one of the major writers from Spain’s so-called Generation of ’98, and two others, including what is to this day upheld as the definitive study on the poet and critic Jorge Guillén, whose extensive correspondence is now housed in the Special Collections of UW-Madison’s Library. In the 1980s, Professor Ciplijauskaité published three additional book-length studies: Los Noventayochistas y la historia (1981), La mujer insatisfecha: el adulterio en la novela realista (1984), and La novela femenina contemporánea 1970-1985: hacia una tipología de la narración en primera persona (1988). Before retiring in 1997, she authored a study of contemporary Lithuanian literature, Literatūros eskizai, [Literary Sketches] (1992), written in Lithuanian and published in Vilnius. Indeed, she remained until her death, a member of the Advisory Board for Lituanus, an English language quarterly journal dedicated to Lithuanian and Baltic languages, linguistics, political science, arts, history, literature, and related topics. Retirement did not by any means signal a lull in Professor Ciplijauskaité’s prolific academic productivity. She published De signos y significaciones I: Juegos con la vanguardia: poetas del 27 (1999) and Carmen Martín Gaite (1925-2000) (2000). Her twelfth book, on the construction of the “feminine I” in literature (La construcción del yo femenino en la literatura), appeared in 2004.
A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for the Humanities in 1968, Professor Ciplijauskaité has penned well over one hundred articles in Spanish, English and Lithuanian, on topics ranging from late nineteenth and early twentieth century Spanish Literature, Spanish women authors, the Spanish Realist master Benito Pérez Galdós, Medieval drama, Baroque poetry, as well as Latin American fiction and Lithuanian poetry and prose. She edited and organized an authoritative critical edition of the complete sonnets of Spanish Baroque poet Luis de Góngora y Argote, contributed extensively to, and occasionally (co-)edited collections of scholarly essays, as well as an anthology of Spanish poetry from the 1980s and several of contemporary Lithuanian poetry. In addition, Professor Ciplijauskaité translated numerous Spanish and Catalan literary works into Lithuanian, and Lithuanian texts into Spanish and French.
Well after her retirement, Professor Ciplijauskaité maintained her active engagement with the university’s intellectual community, most notably in the Institute for Research in the Humanities. It was nevertheless for her untiring volunteer efforts, throughout the nearly two decades after her retirement, to bring international visibility to the valuable archival materials in UW-Madison Libraries Special Collections that she was awarded the Governor’s Archival Advocacy Award in the fall of 2015. She contributed to the archives in three important ways: by donating her own extensive correspondence with prominent Spanish scholars, poets and novelists spanning five decades of notes and letters, and by painstakingly organizing and translating the letters of renowned Spanish poet Jorge Guillén. Second, generously sharing her specialized expertise and her extraordinary proficiency in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian, Professor Ciplijauskaité undertook the massive task of arranging and annotating such crucial archives as the copious Renée Lang papers, the letters of Corrado Puchetti in the Fry Collection on Italian fascism, the Góngora Collection of 17th-century manuscripts, and the Baltic section of the Chester Easum Collection. Third, she worked assiduously to transcribe and translate vital materials from the Collection of invaluable papers donated to the library by UW-Madison’s distinguished professor of modern European history George L. Mosse, containing the fascinating correspondence and unpublished memoir of Professor Mosse’s great-aunt Martha Mosse, a survivor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Without Professor Ciplijauskaité’s transcriptions, translations and detailed notes, amounting to hundreds of pages, a fundamental and little-known component of the history of Nazi-Jewish relations in Germany would likely linger unread and undiscovered in document boxes. The extent and significance that her work holds for future generations is impossible to underestimate.
As a final and indelible measure of her profound generosity and abiding commitment to the study of Spanish poetry, Professor Ciplijauskaité created a permanent endowment to fund a post-doctoral fellowship for research in peninsular Spanish poetry at UW-Madison’s Institute for Research in the Humanities (the Biruté Ciplijauskaité Spanish Poetry Fellowship Endowment Fund), to be awarded to scholars from other than the UW-Madison campus. The creation of this fellowship fund is intimately tied to the vast collection of papers, poetry and other materials related to 20th-century Spanish poetry she donated to Special Collections.
The Department of Spanish and Portuguese considers itself extremely fortunate to have had Biruté Ciplijauskaité among its ranks. Her passing leaves an immense and unfillable void — immense because of the depths and enormous array of her erudition; unfillable because, to borrow Hamlet’s words, we shall not look upon her like again.
Luís Madureira is the Professor and Chair of the UW-Madison Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He is a Professor of African Cultural Studies and Co-editor Luso-Brazilian Review.