Milton Ehre, Russian literature expert, 1933-2009
Milton Ehre, an authority on 19th-century Russian drama and Professor Emeritus in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, died Tuesday, June 30 at Rush Oak Park Hospital. Ehre, 76, was a resident of River Forest.
Ehre joined the Chicago faculty in 1967 and was a celebrated teacher as well as a researcher and translator of Russian literature. In 1999 he received a Quantrell Award, which the University gives annually to faculty for exceptional work with undergraduates.Ehre was particularly interested in teaching undergraduates and devoted to teaching in the humanities core curriculum.
"The role of the teacher is to make himself superfluous," Ehre said at the time. "The less they need you, the better the teacher you are. It's like being a parent."
He said he chose his profession based on the examples of those who came before him. "The teachers I had in high school seemed to be happy people," said Ehre, who as a teenager decided he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
After earning a bachelor's degree in English from The City College of New York in 1955, he taught junior high and high school in the New York public school system.
He began studying Russian as a hobby.In 1970, he earned his doctorate in Russian from Columbia University, after he had already been teaching at the University of Chicago for three years.
"Milt was a wise teacher and colleague to us all. His literary sensibility was impeccable, and his books (including his translations) were invaluable contributions to our knowledge of nineteenth-century Russian literature. We have lost a scholar and man of enormous stature," said Robert Bird, Chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University.
In 1973 Ehre published his first book, Oblomov and His Creator: The Life and Art of Ivan Goncharov, for which V.S. Pritchett (writing in the New York Review of Books) praised Ehre's "close knowledge of Russian critical writing and his observation of the detail of Goncharov's impulses and methods as a novelist."
His second book, Isaac Babel, was published in 1986. In addition to these books and a score of major essays, Ehre was also an accomplished translator, publishing many translations of Russian poetry, as well as his 1980 book, The Theater of Nikolay Gogol (co-translated with Fruma Gottschalk), and the 1992 volume, Chekhov for the Stage.
He prepared a new translation of the Chekov classic "Uncle Vanya" for a 1986 performance at the University's Court Theatre. He said the demands on a translator are different for the spoken as compared to the written word.
"Sometimes the most lexically correct translation will sound wrong on the stage," he explained of his work. "That's when I look for something else, less precise perhaps, but more believable."
His translations of Gogol and Chekhov plays were also performed on the BBC, at the Goodman Theater, at the Pearl Theater in New York and theaters around the country.
In 2005 Ehre worked with his daughter Julieanne Ehre, an artistic director, on a production of Gogol's play, "The Nose," for a performance in Chicago.
In 1999, as a guest of the Academy of Science of Russia, he was a member of a commission for the creation of the history of Russian literature in the 20th century.
Ehre held two Fulbright-Hays Fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Philosophical Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was a member of the editorial board of the Slavic and East European Journal. He retired in 1992, but continued teaching.
Services will be held at noon Friday, July 3 at Oak Park Temple at 1235 N. Harlem Ave., Oak Park.
Ehre is survived by his wife Roberta, his daughters Joelle and Julieanne, their husbands Peter Henderson and Hans Detweiler, and his grandchildren Milo Henderson and Esther and Avi Detweiler.
Milton Ehre Photo
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