Distinguished career of Gordon Turnbull

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  • Post published:September 15, 2014
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The Patron of the Johnson Society of Australia, and our 2014 Fleeman Memorial Lecturer, Australian-born Gordon Turnbull has been since 1997 General Editor of the Yale Boswell Editions.

In this capacity.  he succeeds some of the almost legendary names of eighteenth-century editorial scholarship, among them Frederick Pottle, Frank Brady, and Marshall Waingrow. Continuing their work, he oversees a global editorial team bringing to publication selections of the vast archive of James Boswell’s private papers, most of which had been suppressed by Boswell’s descendants and were rediscovered only in the twentieth century.

Under his direction, seven volumes in the Yale Research Series of Boswell’s papers have appeared, including most recently the third of the projected four volumes of the genetic transcription of the heavily revised manuscripts the Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), edited by Thomas F. Bonnell, and another six are in advanced preparation.

Gordon Turnbull is a first class honours graduate of the Australian National University, and came to Yale for doctoral study as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar after teaching in the English Department of the University of Newcastle, NSW.  He has taught in the Yale English Department and at Smith College, is the author of numerous scholarly and critical essays on Boswell, Johnson, and their circle, and  has taught and lectured widely on these authors.

He is a featured speaker at the Boswell Book Festival, inaugurated in 2011 and held every May at Boswell’s family estate in Auchinleck, Ayrshire, Scotland.  He contributes a regular column, “Yale Boswell Editions Notes,” to the twice-yearly Johnsonian News Letter, and in what he describes as a sure sign of descent into comical over-specialization, contributes to the same publication crossword puzzles based entirely on Johnson’s 1755  Dictionary of the English Language.

His edition of Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763, the first re-editing of this famous diary since Frederick A. Pottle’s worldwide bestseller of 1950, appeared in 2010 from Penguin Classics, and was reprinted in 2013.

Born and raised in Sydney, Turnbull began his professional life as a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald. After “a brief, educational, and modestly lucrative cadetship stint in horse-racing”, he specialised in Industrial Relations, before being sent to join the Parliamentary Press Gallery as a political correspondent in Canberra, where he was at work in the events leading to, and then the aftermath of, the Whitlam government’s dismissal.

He undertook studies at the Australian National University while still working as a press gallery reporter for the Australian Associated Press, and graduated with first class honors in English, a co-winner of the L. H. Allen prize for first place.

After graduation he was appointed tutor in the Department of English at the University of Newcastle, then, after winning a Fulbright Postgraduate Award from the Australian-American Education Foundation, left to undertake doctoral work at Yale University, where he has had the bulk of his career.  He has served as faculty lecturer on several Yale University Alumni tours around the world, including a tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2005.

On his most recent visit to Australia, in August 2013, gave an invited  series of advanced postgraduate and early career researcher seminars in the history of literary biography as it relates to the history of emotion at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotion at the University of Queensland.