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Remembering Tilde Sankovitch, 1935-2022

Tilde Sankovitch

Tilde Sankovitch, professor emerita of French at Northwestern, passed away on February 27, 2022, of metastatic cancer. She was at the home of her daughter, Nina Sankovitch, in Westport, Connecticut. She died in her sleep beside Tola, her husband of almost sixty-five years. For an obituary by Nina, see the link below.

Tilde joined our department in 1968 as a lecturer (now called professor of instruction). She was persuaded to do so by the newly arrived chair, Norman Spector, who became her mentor and a good friend of the Sankovitch family. She had studied Romance Languages at the University of Louvain in her native Belgium, where she met Tola in a philosophy class. After one year at Northwestern as a lecturer, she became a graduate student and TA. She completed the PhD four years later, in 1973, with a dissertation on Renaissance comedy, and was appointed an Assistant Professor. She rose quickly through the ranks, served as chair of the department, and held a named chair as Harold H. and Virginia Anderson Professor of French and Italian. She also served as Director of Women’s Studies from 1994 to 1996. She taught with great success in French, Women’s Studies, and History (in a team-taught course with Robert Lerner). In 1999 she retired. She and Tola moved to New York City, where their three daughters lived.

I who am writing these lines, Bill Paden, remember meeting Tilde one day in 1968-69, when she came to the department with her three daughters, Anne-Marie, Natasha, and Nina. As she introduced them, they stood in the doorway of my office in the basement of Kresge, aged about ten, eight, and six. Now that they were all in school, she was ready to explore opportunities outside the home. Tola was a surgeon, born in Belarus, educated in Poland and Germany, trained as a physician at Louvain, now practicing in the Evanston/Chicago area. When Tilde became a graduate student, I was one of those fortunate enough to teach her. She took my course on the troubadours. She, Patricia Stäblein (now Gillies), and I collaborated on an edition of the troubadour Bertran de Born that occupied us off and on for sixteen years. The three of us would meet in a study in the library to work on the edition. She was unfailingly brilliant in interpreting the language and meaning of the poems. I recall one day when we took a break and I mentioned that I was looking at the medieval German poet Walther von der Vogelweide. She was interested, so I showed her the book. She had never seen a text in Middle High German before, but she read that one right off the page and translated it effortlessly. She was helped by her Flemish, which was her first language, but also by uncommon intelligence.

As a professor Tilde received repeated Distinguished Teaching Awards from the Northwestern Alumnae and the College of Arts and Sciences. She developed a course called Introduction to Theatre, which became Introduction to Comedy, and thrilled her students with a wide range of texts from medieval to contemporary. She also taught the Introduction to French Literature, which she once called her favorite, and the advanced course in great writers of the Renaissance. Her sections were always full. She was one of our many colleagues who convinced me that excellent teaching was the department’s standard. She and I co-taught a graduate course in Medieval Women Writers, such as Christine de Pizan. She prepared meticulous lectures probing what it meant to be a woman and a writer in that time. Later she published French Women Writers and the Book, with chapters on Marie de France in the Middle Ages, the Dames des Roches in the Renaissance, Simone de Beauvoir, and Hélène Cixous. Tilde was instrumental in bringing Hélène Cixous to the department as a Visiting Professor several times and nominated her for an honorary doctorate, which Cixous received in 1996.

Tilde Sankovitch was an extraordinary scholar, a gifted teacher, an invaluable colleague, and an unforgettable friend. She enriched our lives.


Link to obituary by Nina Sankovitch:



“L’Eugène d’Étienne Jodelle: analyse normative et structurale.” Northwestern University, 1973.


Jodelle et la création du masque: étude structurale et normative de l’Eugène. York, S.C.: French Literature Publications Co., 1979.

The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born. Edited by William D. Paden, Tilde Sankovitch, and Patricia H. Stäblein. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986.

French Women Writers and the Book: Myths of Access and Desire. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1988.