Edward Wasiolek, renowned scholar of Russian literature, 1924–2018

Author and editor of works on Dostoevsky remembered for 41 years at UChicago

Edward Wasiolek, Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature and the College. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center

 Sara Patterson

In his 40-plus-year career at the University of Chicago, Prof. Emeritus Edward Wasiolek became a renowned scholar of Slavic and comparative literature, particularly of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Wasiolek edited five volumes devoted to the notebooks for Dostoevsky’s novels, translated and edited volumes on Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and wrote the widely acclaimed Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction (1964). He also wrote Tolstoy’s Major Fiction (1978) and gave a distinguished presentation on Tolstoy to the United Nations in 1988.

Wasiolek, who passed away on May 3 at age 92, taught from 1955 to 1996 at UChicago, where he was the Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature and the College. He also served as the chair of the Comparative Literature program and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

“Ed was instrumental to the resurgence of the Department of Comparative Literature, which exists today because of his dedication and passion,” said Françoise Meltzer, the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Literature. “He was a remarkable colleague, scholar and friend.”

Among his numerous awards, Wasiolek received the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press in 1973, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim Foundation, and the coveted Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1962.

Wasiolek was born April 27, 1924 in Camden, N.J. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1946, Wasiolek earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and his master’s degree from Harvard University. While earning his PhD at Harvard, he served as a research associate at the Harvard Russian Research Center and contributed as an assistant author to one of its early publications.

Wasiolek began his career at Harvard University as a teaching fellow in 1953. Originally hired at UChicago in 1955 in the Department of English Language and Literature, he later joined the newly formed Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Comparative Literature program.

In 1948, Wasiolek married Emma Jones Thomson, and they had three children: Mark Allan, Karen Lee and Eric Wade. Teaching at UChicago “was the best part of his life, besides his family and his beloved summer home in the Northwoods,” Karen Wasiolek said.

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Edward Wasiolek, renowned scholar of Russian literature, 1924–2018
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Edward Wasiolek, renowned scholar of Russian literature, 1924–2018
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In his 40-plus-year career at the University of Chicago, Prof. Emeritus Edward Wasiolek became a renowned scholar of Slavic and comparative literature, particularly of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.