Student Memories

Lorna Sage with Angela Carter.jpg

Angela Carter and Lorna Sage delivering a lecture

Some of Lorna’s students have been good enough to share their memories of Lorna here, for which I am very grateful.

Perhaps if you are reading this, and were Lorna’s student during her long career, you would like to contribute to this collection of student memories with a paragraph of your own? If so, please do submit your memories for us to curate via

Lorna’s students were a huge focus of her academic life. My memories of growing up around UEA, which when Lorna first arrived was still taking shape in a land and soundscape of earth moving and clanking machinery, are coloured by their warmth and humour.

It was a much more egalitarian time, when students and lecturers spent time together – there was always a vital hum of conversation at all the many gatherings where Lorna welcomed her students; she was always interested in them, always looking for what are now known as ‘work arounds’ for their problems, at which she was particularly expert and generous.

Doug Bloom – UEA student from 1972 – 1975

‘My main memory is of a young, slim and rather nervous looking person, an image accentuated by a slight trembling in the hand that frequently held a cigarette and even a tendency to stammer slightly when speaking.

Her appearance therefore suggested shyness or even timidity; certainly lack of confidence. This encouraged one supremely confident, entitled, very public school young man to attempt to take control in one of the seminars. He asserted, he blustered, he sounded wholly certain of himself. His first problem, though, was that he had very little knowledge or learning to back up his confidence. His second problem was that there was a vast discrepancy between Lorna’s diffident appearance and the reality of her actual self confidence based on massive learning and knowledge, the polar opposite of the young man. His third problem was that on this occasion she had had enough of entitled young men and having decided that this one needed a lesson, she carefully and ruthlessly dismantled everything he proposed.

In general, however, Lorna was generous in her comments, particularly when students had clearly engaged with the texts and tried to express personal interpretations based on close reading. I remember her being very supportive when I argued against the prevailing view in the group of Austen as an unrealistic romantic, and that though convention dictated that she provide such romantic endings to her novels there were also implied endings depicting the bleak reality that faced women who didn’t meet their Darcy.’

Pam Shweitzer (nee Aubrey) – UEA student from 1964 – 1967

‘I was at UEA from 1964-7 reading English, with a bit of history, philosophy and European Studies thrown in for good measure. We lucky students could more or less shape our own degrees, picking courses which tickled our fancy and which allowed us to go into our chosen authors in considerable depth. In my second year, Lorna Sage arrived as a breath of fresh air, joining a mainly ageing male English faculty hailing from Oxford and Cambridge. We students were absolutely fascinated by Lorna and by her personal story, which somehow had leaked out quite quickly. She was only two or three years older than most of us, but she had already married, had a baby, gained a first class degree from Durham and completed a higher degree. She was beautiful, cool and funny, yet, at the same time, she seemed extremely vulnerable and even nervous. I remember watching mesmerised as she tried again and again, with hopelessly shaky hands, to light a cigarette. Of course we couldn’t concentrate on anything else until she’d managed this. Perhaps it was this sense of her fragility, alongside her obvious brilliance, which won our hearts as well as our minds. Lorna was very democratic, welcoming all contributions to the discussion, so we could try out our spontaneous responses and take risks. I think I was sometimes so over-stimulated by the combination of the literature in question, and Lorna’s original, softly spoken, often ironic insights into it, that I simply couldn’t stop talking and was once threatened by another student: “If Pam Aubrey says another word, I’ll hit her round the face.” It’s probably too late for me to apologise for getting carried away. Over the years since, we have lived in London but kept Lorna on our radar, with a notable contact point when our daughter Dora, reading English at UEA 25 years later, needed Lorna’s very specific help (see Dora’s account of this). I always think of Lorna with warmth and laughter, affection and huge admiration.'

Dora Schweitzer - UEA student from 1989 - 1992

'I already knew quite a lot about Lorna when I arrived at UEA in 1989 to read English, as she had taught my mother on the same course in the 1960s, when she was very young herself. I signed up for the Gothic Novel and Plato, Poetry and Criticism during my first year.

Lorna was glamorous - beautifully dressed, sophisticated, and so intelligent you couldn’t help mythologising her a bit. She was constantly puffing away (three brands of cigarettes within a day, although this may have been a chaotic anti-brand-loyalty diversionary tactic) and at the time we students all thought she was definitely smoking sixty a day - maybe she was.

When we were invited into the office, there was also a large bottle of screw-top white wine on the go, which we were sometimes invited to share. She had a liberality and panache that made people pick her seminars, for all the wrong reasons, but they turned out to be brilliant for all the right reasons - her incredible brainpower, wit and precision. All at once, she made literary theory fascinating, cool and funny!

My most significant experience with Lorna occurred right at the end of the degree course, during my final exams in 1992. I had completed one of the five exam papers successfully, but during my second, which was American 20th century literature, for which in retrospect I was woefully ill-prepared (my own fault), I had some kind of crisis of confidence or panic attack. I wrote the first essay, more or less, for the second I wrote a couple of paragraphs, and the third became a rant about how unfair and irrelevant it was to be testing us in such a retrogressive manner after three years of intense learning. I then walked out mid-exam, and avowed I would not go back for the 3 further papers I was due to take.

Everyone was in uproar … I can’t remember much of it - think I must have blanked a lot out immediately, as it was very stressful. My mum telephoned Lorna, without me knowing, and I was invited over to her house that evening. There was a gap of a couple of days before the next paper, and Lorna kidnapped me for those days.

I stayed in her house, eating, drinking (a LOT) and most importantly, talking! It was a beautiful, bohemian house full of art and books, food and wine. We talked for hours. It wasn’t just about literature - there were incredible stories she told of her adventures…But she also talked about literature and theory, and restored my love of the subject, and somehow she buried my fears and anxieties.

After those days, I felt much better about myself, and was able to go back for my final exams, albeit with a monstrous hangover. Astonishingly I did get a first, despite having only scraped a pass in that American Literature paper. I am still so grateful to her, not for the degree result in itself, but for saving me from dropping out and thus forever feeling like a failure, unable to bear up under pressure.

I know that without her intervention I would not have gone back into that exam hall. To inconvenience oneself to that extent, as she did, to help a student in trouble, is another mark of her brilliance.'

Robin Smith - Student at Wellesley, the women’s college in Massachusetts, where in 1981 Lorna was Tucker Visiting Professor.

'A couple of weeks ago, I was half-watching Stanley Tucci's series on CNN, Searching for Italy, and suddenly there it was -- that stunning view of the Duomo that I could see from the little sleeping loft where I had dreamt and read and journaled during my visit to Florence at the tender age of 21.

That loft was part of a beautiful converted monastery overlooking the Duomo where Lorna Sage, once a visiting professor at Wellesley College, spent her vacations and sabbaticals.

I was a student of Lorna’s in 1981 during her brief sojourn at Wellesley. As I recall, Lorna taught a seminar on Women in the 19th Century English Novel. I loved the class and remember her as sort of a "rock star" on campus that fall.

Oddly, most of the professors in the English Department during that era were male. Odd since Wellesley is one of the fabled “Seven Sisters” and arguably the most prestigious women’s college in the US.

Lorna was young, hip and most definitely a woman to be reckoned with. She could be spotted striding across the academic quad during that New England autumn with her long blonde hair, cool boots and leather satchel, often sneaking a smoke and always with a sly smile that made her appear to be someone keeping a tantalizing secret.

I registered for her course on a lark, not realizing that this chick was the real deal – a serious literary figure and scholar in the UK specializing in serious academic analysis of the greatest female voices of the 19th and 20th centuries. I had many excellent professors at Wellesley, but Lorna was the one who introduced me to Doris Lessing, Edith Wharton, George Eliot – the whole pantheon of female authors.

One moment from her class that is seared into my memory was the revelation that the protagonist in Jane Eyre was speaking in the first person. Can you imagine? How bold, how groundbreaking! And a woman gave that character her voice. Brava, Ms. Bronte! And thank you, Lorna, for impressing upon my young mind the significance of that moment in literary history.

Lorna was more than willing to spend time with her students outside of class, always with a quick wit and a kind word. Knowing that I was on my way to the Sorbonne in January 1982, Lorna was kind enough to invite me to visit her in Florence where she lived with her much younger husband for a good chunk of every year.

I felt like Heidi living in the loft of their apartment in that exquisite monastery, enjoying the most breathtaking view of Florence, and being included in dinners on their terrace where Lorna and her ex-pat friends talked and drank and smoked late into the night.

They seemed so much older and more sophisticated than I, but I realize now they were only in their 20’s and 30’s. Definitely more sophisticated, but not much older! I feel very lucky to have known and learned from Lorna, these many years ago. I only wish I had stayed in touch. It was clear to me, even at 21, that Lorna was an exceptional woman. She had “grit” before it was a thing. And in the face of terrific odds, she made a place for herself in the world with a quick wit and an open heart.' (April 2021)

Stephen Bishop - UEA Student from 1989-1992

As everyone has noted, Lorna had a semi-mythical presence, and was the kind of person that you wanted to be, if only you were clever or daring enough to be it.

My clearest memory was of her as my personal tutor - a kind of matriarch and a bad-influence auntie at the same time.  One day, looking at some piece of EAS enrolment paperwork across the smokey desk, I mentioned "I have a fear of bureaucracy".  She wafted a hand and huskily lilted: "Don't worry, son.  I AM the bureaucracy."

I have taught English since 1993, and Lorna is one of a few who live in the memory and who make it easier to try to still engage and inspire the future lovers of English in ways that some educational fashions have not at all encouraged. What would Lorna do?  Lorna would have done her own thing, and enjoyed it.  A role model.

My wife and I (in the odds-on fogs of memory) first saw each other in a Lorna seminar, and we more recently went to the lecture in her honour pre-Covid at the Forum - Lorna symbolises something precious, and is a spirit and a memory that it is still wonderful to stay connected to. (January, 2022)

Catherine Wyatt - UEA Student 1983 - 1986

3 Blonde Women

Lorna was my personal tutor. It was 1983. I was from a comprehensive in Essex. I felt out of my depth with the confident kids, the well-educated kids. My identity was ‘80s – a little too young for punk. I wore black and listened to New Wave; Blondie, The Jam, Elvis Costello. Lorna reminded me of the 70’s – my childhood. She was Fleetwood Mac and, despite my best intentions, I’d secretly loved them. She was delicately beautiful with her alabaster skin, china doll blue eyes and golden wavy hair but her voice was husky and her laughter loud and her intelligence unabashed. I was awe-stuck by her and embarrassed by my ordinariness.

 I’d never met a woman who’d had a child so young. I’d barely known anybody who was divorced and was amazed that she could be a friend and colleague to her ex-husband. She told me she had studied at Durham because Oxford and Cambridge wouldn’t accept married students. She was friends with Angela Carter. Friends! I was fascinated by her hands. They were so elegant. They trembled; it was scary. Always holding a cigarette. Often a gin and tonic. She wore a thin gold wedding band. Her husband was a mystery. Spanish? I was fascinated. When I chose a wedding band, age 28, I picked the thinnest I could find, to resemble Lorna’s. I’m looking at it now as I type, nearly 30 years later.

But at UEA my confidence grew. I took Lorna’s renaissance poetry class.   I wrote an essay, and she gave me a First. She respected me, she rated me. I was bowled over. At school my blonde-haired Durham-graduate English teacher showed me I was good enough to go to university. This, and the First from Lorna, are the most memorable moments of my education.

When I read Lorna’s autobiography, I wished I’d been more mature, asked more, known her better. I tell my literary friends that Lorna was my personal tutor. I tell my less literary friends that I once showed Debbie Harry the way to the Ladies. Everyone is impressed. And a little bit envious.


Student Memories