Ian Milner (1911–1991) was a New Zealand Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford, one of a group of five young New Zealand scholars who went to Oxford University in the 1930s and subsequently distinguished themselves in war and revolution. The subject of Richard Hall’s book The Rhodes Scholar Spy (1991), Milner went on to become a political scientist, a civil servant with the Australian Department of External Affairs in Canberra and with the United Nations in New York, and from the early 1950s was a professor of English at Charles University in Prague where he became the friend and translator into English of the Czech poet, Miroslav Holub.

Milner was implicated in the 1954 Petrov Affair and named as a KGB agent by an Australian Royal Commission. Warned during a holiday in Switzerland by his Soviet handlers of a colleague’s interrogation by MI5, Milner defected to Czechoslovakia in July 1950. His memoirs were edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and published in 1993 by Victoria University Press under the title Intersecting Lines.

Ian Milner translated (or co-translated with his wife Jarmila Milner as well as with George Theiner and later Ewald Osers in the case of Holub) several editions of Czech poetry, including Vladimir Holan’s Selected Poems (Penguin Books, 1973) and A Night with Hamlet (Oasis Books, 1980), Miroslav Holub’s The Fly (Bloodaxe Books, 1987) and Poems Before & After (Bloodaxe Books, 1990, 2006), Sylva Fischerová’s The Tremor of Racehorses (Bloodaxe Books, 1990), and Josef Hanzlík’s Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1993).

Books by Ian Milner




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