Jim Gaines was at Southeastern Louisiana, teaching. After class, he went back to his office. A grim-faced secretary thrust a piece of paper into his hand: Go to Our Lady of the Lake hospital at once. At the bottom was an even more ominous note: See the chaplain.

“I was in a very disturbed state of mind,” he says, convincingly. “I was trying not to drive so fast that I would get into an accident myself.” Then, as he began to cross the bridge over Jefferson Highway, he saw a car on the other side of the road, horribly mangled. It was Jo’s.

“I tried not to think about what the possibilities were,” he says. “Then I got there and went to the emergency room. The ER doctors were hovering there and pulled me aside.”

Roberts was dead on arrival. She had died from massive injuries there in the car, while her son, dazed and bleeding from his own serious wounds, watched helplessly. John was in the intensive-care ward: but he was expected to survive.

“She took the hit,” says Gaines quietly. “I think she was deliberately trying to protect John. Her whole side of the car was crushed in.”

Jim spent some time alone with the body of his wife, saying goodbye. They had been together for 24 years, since that first class in Williams Hall when they read La Surprise de l’Amour. She would have turned 48 that November.

Finally he pulled himself together and went to see his son, who had a ruptured spleen (fortunately still encapsulated) and multiple lacerations, but was otherwise in stable, if groggy, condition.

“He was able to talk about it,” says Gaines. “He handled it pretty well; he didn’t like to go over it, but he didn’t clam up and internalize it. He stayed there until his spleen was OK, and then he was able to go back after a few days.”

Roberts’ LSU colleagues and church congregation poured out sympathy, food, and general assistance. The English department immediately put up a memorial website (www.english.lsu.edu/dept/fac/mem/jroberts), which listed many of the funds, seminar rooms, dissertation awards, and festschrifts named in her honor. Around the country and beyond, the community of Renaissance scholars mourned.

“I was so horrified I couldn’t even talk about it,” says Suzanne Gossett. “This was a youngish woman in her 40s, driving with a 14-year-old child on what was probably a simple local errand.”

“Josephine’s death was so terrible; nothing can replace her,” says Mary Beth Rose. “She had a husband and son who adored her and whom she adored. She was also a kind and wonderful person. I miss her, and I am still shocked and saddened.”

“The world of Renaissance studies has lost a pioneering scholar and a gentle, loving person,” the memorial page concluded. “She leaves the world an emptier place, yet having been blessed by her gracious presence.”


Life—somehow—went on for Jim and John Gaines. So did Project Urania, as Gossett and Mueller suddenly found themselves in the difficult position of having to finish the Second Part themselves. It would prove to be, in Mueller’s words, “one of the most challenging and solemnly satisfying tasks we have encountered in our professional lives.”

The details are probably best left to the article Gossett wrote titled “The Ethics of Post-Mortem Editing”; suffice it to say that it was a huge job, made more complicated by the fact that Gossett and Mueller occasionally found minor mistakes in Roberts’ interpretations of the text but weren’t sure if a final version of her interpretations existed—somewhere. Wroth’s handwriting, Gossett has noted, is “very difficult,” and certain parts of the manuscript had suffered “extensive bleed-through, making it harder to decipher.” Furthermore, she adds, “Lady Mary’s concept of punctuation is not ours.”

Equally daunting was the fact that Roberts had not yet written the textual introduction or the five-part critical introduction she had planned.

Back in Baton Rouge, Jim Gaines was dealing with the devastating loss of his wife and his son’s mother. But he had promised her that the Urania would be completed, and though it took him nearly a year, eventually he organized and sent boxes of notes, paper files, and a disk copying a series of Urania files from the hard drive of the computer they had used together. Considering what had happened to him, says Gossett, “this was a heroic effort.”

There was one other thing that Roberts had not been able to do before her death: provide a dedication for the Second Part, which was published in 1999. Gossett and Mueller knew what they had to do. The book bears a simple dedication: “For James F. and John Gaines.”

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/29/04

Strange Labyrinth
By Samuel Hughes

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