Heller, Erich, 1911-1990
- Existence: 1911 - 1990
Erich Heller was born in Komotau, Bohemia, Austro-Hungary (currently, Chomutov, in the Czech Republic), on March 27, 1911. Heller was a scholar of German philosophy and literature, teaching at such universities as Cambridge, the London School of Economics and University College of Swansea. He joined Northwestern University's faculty in 1960, where he remained until his retirement in 1979. He died in 1990.
Heller's father was a doctor. A citizen of Austro-Hungary by birth, Heller became a citizen of Czechoslovakia when that country was created. In 1947 he became a naturalized citizen of Great Britain, a status he retained until his death.
In 1935 Heller earned a doctoral degree in law with honors at Charles University in Prague. He escaped from the Nazis and fled to England in 1939. Many of his relatives were sent to concentration camps where they were killed. His brother, Paul, managed to survive and eventually became a Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois.
Heller entered the University of Cambridge in the fall of 1939 as a research student and candidate for the Ph.D. in the German Department. He received his Ph.D. on March 13, 1943, with a thesis entitled “Thomas Mann - A Study of His Work in Relation to the Main Currents of Thought in Nineteenth Century German.”
During Heller's graduate studies, he intermittently took on full-time university teaching positions. From 1943 to 1945, he was Assistant Lecturer in German at the London School of Economics. In 1945 the University of Cambridge appointed Heller Lecturer in German and Director of Studies in Modern Languages at Peterhouse College.
After obtaining his Ph.D., Heller moved to the University College of Swansea, in Wales, as Independent Lecturer and Head of the Department of German. In 1950 he was promoted to Professor. He remained at University College through the fall of 1959.
Heller joined the faculty at Northwestern on January 1, 1960, as Professor of German. In 1967 the University appointed him the first Avalon Professor in the Humanities, a position he held until his retirement in 1979 when he was made emeritus. Even after his formal retirement Heller continued to teach an occasional course at Northwestern. During the 1950s Heller also served as visiting lecturer at several universities in the United States.
Most of Heller's articles and books dealt with German philosophy and literature. He wrote fluently in German and English. His major books include The Disinherited Mind (a collection of essays on modern German literature and thought, 1952 and 1959), which appeared in German as Enterbter Geist in 1954; The Ironic German, a Study of Thomas Mann (1958), translated into German by Heller as Thomas Mann, der ironische Deutsche (1959); Franz Kafka (1974); and The Importance of Nietzsche (1988). Several other collections of Heller's essays were also published: The Artist's Journey into the Interior and Other Essays (1966), translated by Heller as Die Reise der Junst ins Innere (1966); Essays ueber Goethe (1970); The Poet's Self and the Poem (1976); and In the Aqe of Prose (1984).
Heller's reputation as a scholar achieved international recognition. In Europe he received the Gold Medal of the Goethe Institute (1968), the Lord Northcliffe Lectureship (1975), and the Great Cross of Merit, Federal Republic of Germany (1978). In the United States, Heller was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1971) and received a Litt.D. degree from Emory University (1965).
Heller never married. He died in Evanston on November 5, 1990.