Edwin McClellan, a Yale professor of Japanese literature whose translation of Natsume Soseki’s “Kokoro” helped make its author known in the West, died of lung cancer in Hamden, Conn., on April 27, according to his son. He was 83.
McClellan was born in Kobe in 1925 to a British man, an early representative of Lever Brothers in Japan, and a Japanese woman. His mother and older brother died when he was 2 years old. McClellan and his father were repatriated to Britain in 1942. In London, McClellan taught Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies as part of the war effort. At 18, he joined the Royal Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot, but his fluency in Japanese made him more useful to Allied intelligence. He spent 1944 to 1947 in Washington, analyzing intercepted Japanese communications.
In 1948, he went to the University of St. Andrews, where he earned a degree in British history and met his future wife, Rachel Elizabeth Pott. McClellan’s definitive translation of “Kokoro” was published in 1957.
Awarded his doctorate in 1957, McClellan taught English at the University of Chicago until 1959, when he was asked to create a program in Japanese studies, housed in the university’s celebrated Oriental Institute.
Appointed an assistant professor of Japanese in 1959, he became a full professor and founding chair of the Department of Far Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 1965, and later was made the Carl Darling Buck Professor.
In 1972, he moved to Yale and served as chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature from 1973 to 1982 and again from 1988 to 1991. He was made Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies in 1979, the first chair at a U.S. university to be endowed by a Japanese sponsor. In 1999, McClellan was made Sterling Professor of Japanese Literature.
In 1998 he was honored by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. Other major awards include the Kikuchi Kan Prize for literature in 1994, the Noma Literary Translation Prize in 1995 and the Association for Asian Studies Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies in 2005.
His publications included translations of novels by Soseki ( “Grass on the Wayside” in addition to “Kokoro”) and Shiga Naoya (“A Dark Night’s Passing”); a translation of a memoir by Yoshikawa Eiji; a book of essays, “Two Japanese Novelists: Soseki and Toson”; and a biography of 19th-century “bluestocking” Shibue Io, “Woman in a Crested Kimono.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.