P D James - Obituary

St Hilda’s College, Oxford, is deeply saddened by the passing of P. D. James, Honorary Fellow of the College and a Patron of the College’s Media Network.

We at St Hilda’s are very proud of Baroness James’s association with the College, which began over twenty years ago when she accepted an invitation to speak about women crime writers at the first St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend. She was a devoted supporter of this annual conference, and became a regular speaker, much loved and appreciated by attendees.  Her talks, incisive and well-researched, were always superb.  Her 90th birthday was marked by a celebratory lunch at that year’s conference -- she was given a standing ovation as she entered the Dining Hall, and then Simon Brett, President of the Detection Club, offered words of congratulation and tribute on behalf of the Mystery and Crime Weekend.

In 1996 Baroness James accepted an Honorary Fellowship at St Hilda’s, of which she was very proud.  She attended as many College events and special occasions as possible and took a notable interest in the students.  Just two years ago she was the guest of the St Hilda’s English School (the English Fellows and current and past English undergraduates), giving a talk and answering questions about her latest book ‘Death comes to Pemberley’.  She amazed her audience not only with her openness about her work on the book but with her immense knowledge of Jane Austen’s novels, life and family.

The name of another of Baroness James’s favourite authors was discovered at a meeting of indexers when there was a question about bedside-table books - Barbara Pym.  Pym was a St Hilda’s alumna who read English in the early 1930s, and Baroness James accepted an invitation to become an Honorary Life Member of the Barbara Pym Society, another St Hilda’s initiative.  Her first talk to the Society was unique, her insight into Barbara Pym’s novels and life being wonderfully researched and thought-provoking.  Baroness James became a stalwart of the Society and just last November gave an unforgettable lecture in the Bodleian Library to mark Barbara Pym’s Centenary.  

Baroness James was also a Patron of the St Hilda’s Media Network, and was always accessible with her time and expertise.  When St Hilda’s was allowed its own day at the Oxford Literary Festival she gave a most memorable talk about Barbara Pym to a packed and appreciative marquee.  At a later OLF she repeated this success in a riveting debate with Jill Paton Walsh on the relative merits of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, again to a sell-out audience

We at St Hilda’s will miss P. D. James greatly, as will all those who through St Hilda’s have been fortunate to know her and hear her talks over the last two decades.

2nd December 2014

Eileen Roberts and Jean Harker (St Hilda’s Media Network Committee and the Barbara Pym Society) with Nicolette Jones (Chair of St Hilda’s Media Network Committee and ASM Committee member)

Images from St Hilda’s events can be seen here.

Baroness James’s 90th birthday, filmed by CBS at St Hilda's Mystery and Crime weekend:


Former Principal Lady English pictured with Honorary Fellow, the late P.D. James