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John Geoffrey Sharps BTh, MA, MEd, MLitt, FRSA (died 6 January 2006)

John Geoffrey Sharps was a specialist in educational psychology, but will be most remembered for his work on Elizabeth Gaskell.  This began at Oxford with his MLitt thesis, later published as Mrs Gaskell's Observation and Invention (1970).  He followed the pioneering Gaskell scholar, A Stanton Whitfield, whose academic gown he had obtained and kept for special occasions.  He also inherited Whitfield's standards of scholarship.

His timing was propitious, coinciding with a revival of interest in Gaskell's work, particularly her social conscience novels, Mary Barton and North and South.  But Observation and Invention had a wider perspective, covering the full range of Gaskell's fiction.  Geoffrey used to claim that his book was a work of reference rather than of original thought.  But it was comprehensive, accurate and accessible, and established itself as a point of departure for all subsequent scholarship.

Born in Cheshire, he went to Sir John Dean's grammar school, Northwich.  He was a graduate of Edinburgh University and held degrees from Queen's University Belfast, Oxford and Hull.  He taught at the North Riding College of Education before taking early retirement in 1987.

Increasingly his efforts were channelled through the Elizabeth Gaskell Society, which he served as President (1993-99).  He and his wife Heather, who he married in Belfast in 1966 and who shared his academic enthusiasms, were familiar figures at its functions.  A 1999 BBC film about Gaskell featured his somewhat portly figure in a pair of vividly patterned shorts reading from the back of a trailer in Morecambe Bay.

Geoffrey was the kindest of men, always slightly surprised at the affection in which he was held.  He is survived by Heather and by his children, Paul and Rosalind.



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