Samuel Hynes, a World War II veteran, as well as the University’s Emeritus Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and emeritus professor of English, passed away at his home in Princeton on Oct. 10 at the age of 95.
Hynes died of congestive heart failure, according to his daughter, Joanna Starr Hynes.
Born in Chicago on Aug. 29, 1924, Samuel Lynn Hynes, Jr., was one of two sons born to his father, Samuel Hynes, Sr., and mother, Barbara Hynes.
Hynes, who lost his mother at the age of five, grew up in a working-class family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and developed a love for aviation early in his life, imitating World War I aces at playgrounds and observing early planes at the local airport.
After earning his high school diploma at the age of 16 in 1942, Hynes began studying at the University of Minnesota, where he learned under the famed novelist Robert Penn Warren. He signed up for the Navy flight program and enlisted in the Marine Air Corps at the age of 18.
“I left Minneapolis for service on a dank, wet, cold, March Minneapolis evening,” said Hynes in an interview in Ken Burns’ 2007 documentary, “The War.” “... and at the far end [of the railroad station platform] there was a navy yeoman with a clipboard and the gathering of young men and boys around him … My father shook my hand … Then he turned around and walked back toward the entrance … and out to the street and was gone. I turned to the yeoman and went up and said, ‘Present,’ when my name came up, and I was in the Navy.”
As a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, Hynes served as part of a torpedo bombing squadron at the Caroline Islands and Okinawa Island. Hynes received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the Pacific theater.
After being discharged at the rank of major, Hynes returned to the United States, turning 21 just two weeks after the end of the war. Hynes completed his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Minnesota under the G.I. Bill in 1947 and then received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University in 1956, after flying in the Korean War.
Hynes would celebrate his birthdays by doing loops and rolls in a biplane until his advanced age prevented him from doing so.
In 1944, Hynes married Elizabeth Ann Igleheart, the sister of a fellow pilot; the two were married for over 60 years, until Elizabeth passed away in 2008.
Hynes taught British literature at Swarthmore College until he moved to Northwestern University in 1968, where he remained until joining the faculty at the University in 1976.
Hynes was named the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature in addition to his appointment in the Department of English; he transferred to emeritus status in 1990.
Among Hynes’s many honors were the University’s Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities in 1990 and the Arts and Letters award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Supervising Committee of the English Institute.
He is the author of many works of history, literary criticism, and memoirs, including “The Edwardian Turn of Mind” (1962), “The Auden Generation” (1977), “Flights of Passage” (1988), and “The Growing Seasons” (2003), among numerous others. As a literary critic, Hynes wrote frequently for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The London Review of Books, and several other publications.
“[Hynes] had a remarkable ability to research his subjects exhaustively, but not be the prisoner of his own research,” said Alex Star, an editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux who edited Hynes’s “The Unsubstantial Air.”
“He fundamentally knew what kind of book he wanted to write, what the message of it was, what the feeling and ambience he was trying to achieve was,” Star said. “He used the skills not just of a scholar but really also of a memoirist and a prose stylist to evoke forgotten but really important realities.”
Alan Thomas ’81, editorial director at the University of Chicago Press who completed a junior paper and senior thesis under Hynes, published Hynes’s final work, “On War and Writing” in 2018. The publication is a collection of Hynes’s previously unpublished personal essays and criticisms of other works on war.
“He grew up in Minnesota and had something of that rural Minnesotan economy to his expression and his emotional make-up,” Thomas said. “It came across on his page, and I’m sure it came across in his teachings.”
Thomas also highlighted the fact that despite being known for his study of British prose literature, Hynes wrote a great deal of criticism of poetry, especially on the works of Thomas Hardy and W. B. Yeats.
Hynes is survived by his two daughters, Miranda and Joanna; three grandchildren, Alex, Sam and Lucy Preston; and three great-grandchildren, Alastair and Aurelia Preston, and Elias Preston Hassan.