Passings: Elizabeth Sabiston


Elizabeth “Betty” Sabiston – professor emerita in the Department of English in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, former acting master of Stong College and an accomplished author – passed away at 85 on April 29.

Professors Elizabeth "Betty" Sabiston and Hedi Bouraoui seated at a formal dinner in 1982.
Professors Elizabeth Sabiston (right) and Hedi Bouraoui (left) at a formal dinner circa 1982

Sabiston’s career at York began in 1973. Having started as a contract faculty member, she was eventually promoted and earned tenure. She quickly gained the admiration of graduate and undergraduate students alike, as well as the respect of her colleagues at York and abroad. A dedicated, lifelong educator, Sabiston officially retired from the Department of English in 2006 after a remarkable career as scholar and teacher but continued teaching in post-retirement until 2017.

Born in New York state and raised in New Jersey, Sabiston studied at New York University, Indiana University and Cornell University, before coming to York. She was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her Scots ancestry, that is, her mother’s lowland background and especially her father’s Orkney roots. With emotional and intellectual connections on both sides of the Atlantic, it is fitting that she specialized in the study of 19th- and 20th-century literature in the U.S. and U.K., with particular attention to women authors. In that area, in addition to numerous journal articles, she published The Prison of Womanhood: Four Provincial Heroines in 19th Century Fiction (1987) and Private Sphere to World Stage from Austen to Eliot (2008).

Her close relationship and intellectual collaboration with novelist, poet and Department of French Studies Professor Hédi Bouraoui led Sabiston to focus her attention on his works, inspiring her books The Muse Strikes Back: Female Narratology in the Novels of Hédi Bouraoui (2005) and Perspectives Critiques: L’Oeuvre d’Hédi Bouraoui (2007) – the latter co-edited with friend and McMaster University Professor Suzanne Crosta, arising from an international conference they organized on Bouraoui’s work. She also translated two of Bouraoui’s novels into English. Her attention to Bouraoui led her to study the literature of migration, one of Bouraoui’s strengths, producing therefrom the volume Pluri-Culture and Migrant Writings (2014), co-edited with Department of Politics Professor Robert J. Drummond.

After Bouraoui founded the Canada-Mediterranean Centre at York, Sabiston aided in its administration and produced the Centre’s bilingual online journal Revue CMC Review.

Sabiston served as senior tutor from 1983 to 1989, and acting master from 1983 to 1984, at York’s Stong College. In retirement she also served on the executive board of the York University Association of Retired Faculty and Librarians. 

Sabiston will be missed dearly by all who knew her.

Friends are welcome to join family at a graveside ceremony for Sabiston on May 9 at 1 p.m. at Elgin Mills Cemetery, 1591 Elgin Mills Rd. E., Richmond Hill. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Elizabeth Sabiston Prize in English at York University would be appreciated. For more information and online condolences, visit