Steiner, George

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


STEINER, GEORGE (1929– ), literary critic. Born in Paris, Steiner moved to the United States with his family in 1940 and was educated at American and French universities and at Oxford and Cambridge. From 1961 Steiner lived in England, where he was a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and, later, Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at Oxford. He also held a wide range of visiting positions at universities in America and Europe. His early works include The Death of Tragedy (1961); Anno Domini, three short novels (1964); and Language and Silence, a volume of essays (1964). Steiner was appointed president of the English Association in 1975 and was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His distinguished career was recognized by the universities of East Anglia and Louvain, which both awarded him honorary doctorates.

Steiner's later publications include Extraterritorial: Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution (1971) and In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (1971), which contains his most comprehensive theory of modern antisemitism. After Babel was published in 1975 and he also published Martin Heidegger (1980) and a collection of essays, On Difficulty and Other Essays (1978). His reputation as one of the world's leading literary critics was confirmed with the publication in 1984 of the anthology George Steiner: A Reader.

Steiner's literary criticism, in later years, was complemented by two works of fiction, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. (1979) and Antigones (1984). Both works won critical acclaim and the 1982 stage version of The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. excited a prolonged exchange of letters and articles on the meaning of the Holocaust and modern antisemitism. Steiner exhibited both an astonishing range as a literary critic and incomparable understanding of Central European Jewish culture. His autobiography, Errata: An Examined Life, was published in 1997. He is one of the best-known public intellectuals in contemporary Britain. His wife, Zara Steiner, is also a well-known historian.

[Bryan Cheyette]