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Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... Malcolm Bradbury includes a ‘Select Bibliography’ and a ‘List of Major Works’. Frederick Karl offers up columns of elaborate notes. Marshall Walker supplies a ‘chronological table’ that correlates authors and titles with events (Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone the same year that Henry James published Roderick ...

Biogspeak

Terry Eagleton, 21 September 1995

George Eliot: A Biography 
by Frederick Karl.
HarperCollins, 708 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 00 255574 3
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... greatest anti-novel in English, Tristram Shandy, is a hilarious exploitation of the paradox. When Frederick Karl writes that ‘Marion moved unsteadily towards her 33rd birthday. Upon her return to London, Spencer visited and “spent the evening with me”,’ the effect is at once one of utter originality (we have never read this exact sentence ...

Conrad’s Complaint

Frank Kermode, 17 November 1983

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. I: 1861-1897 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 446 pp., £19.50, September 1983, 0 521 24216 9
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... correspondence – close to 1500 letters – has not yet been made available.’ Since Professor Karl, who makes this statement, elsewhere speaks of 3500 known letters, the mathematics seems a bit hazy, though in his biography, published four years ago, he says there are nearly 4000. However, there are certainly lots of unpublished letters, including a ...

Homage to Marginality

Tony Tanner, 7 February 1980

Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives 
by Frederick Karl.
Faber, 1008 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 571 11386 9
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... Conrad’s Polish Background, edited and introduced by Zdzislaw Najder (to which I think Professor Karl is indebted for much of his Polish material); the minute and meticulous tracings of Conrad’s every movement by Norman Sherry, who not only told us when Conrad was in, say, Bangkok, but on which side of which streets he walked along; the more contentious ...

Karl’s Darl

M. Wynn Thomas, 11 January 1990

William Faulkner: American Writer 
by Frederick Karl.
Faber, 1131 pp., £25, July 1989, 9780571149919
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William Faulkner 
by David Dowling.
Macmillan, 183 pp., £6.95, June 1989, 0 333 42855 2
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... mercifully slimmer but not necessarily slighter, have followed, until now, with the appearance of Frederick Karl’s thousand-page blockbuster, Faulkner seems to have ended up with almost as many lives as a cat. Blotner’s benign chronicle amassed an enormous amount of valuable material, but at the expense of any decisive clarity of insight. ...

Doughy

John Sutherland: Conrad’s letters, 4 December 2003

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. VI: 1917-19 
edited by Laurence Davies, Frederick R. Karl and Owen Knowles.
Cambridge, 570 pp., £80, December 2002, 0 521 56195 7
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... assemble and edit the correspondence and then, when everything is in place, write the biography. Frederick R. Karl reversed this sequence. In 1978 he published what is still the biography of first call, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives. It is 1008 pages long. Karl’s foreword ...

In the Golfo Placido

P.N. Furbank, 9 October 1986

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. II: 1898-1902 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 483 pp., £27.50, August 1986, 0 521 25748 4
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... We perhaps do not look with enough curiosity at the dramas and rituals which attend the actual act of ‘writing’, the moments when an author is confronting blank sheets of paper waiting to be filled. A vast assortment of conflicts, including some notable heroisms, lie concealed in the unaccommodating phrase ‘writer’s block’. Reading the anguished letters of Joseph Conrad, who was frequently ‘blocked’ during the fruitful years which produced Youth, Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, you ask yourself why he did not shoot himself, or rather begin to wonder, nervously, whether he may not try to ...

Where did he get it?

P.N. Furbank, 3 May 1984

Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle 
by Zdzislaw Najder, translated by Halina Carroll-Najder.
Cambridge, 647 pp., £19.50, February 1984, 0 521 25947 9
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Conrad under Familial Eyes 
edited by Zdzislaw Najder, translated by Halina Carroll-Najder.
Cambridge, 282 pp., £19.50, February 1984, 9780521250825
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... I think this is the right view; and it goes directly counter to a pronouncement such as that of Frederick Karl, in his Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (1979), who says that Conrad’s work should be seen as ‘part of a curving seamless extension of self and creation’. The truth, on the contrary, is that the seams are all-important; or rather that one ...

Black Legends

David Blackbourn: Prussia, 16 November 2006

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 
by Christopher Clark.
Allen Lane, 777 pp., £30, August 2006, 0 7139 9466 5
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... The acrimony did not go away after the Berlin Wall fell. There was criticism when the remains of Frederick the Great were reinterred at Sans Souci in August 1991; a political spat in 2002 prompted one of Germany’s leading historians to suggest that ‘Prussia poisons us.’ Given the weight attached by critics to the deforming power of Prussian tradition ...

Georgian eyes are smiling

Frank Kermode, 15 September 1988

Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: The Search for Love, 1856-1898 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 486 pp., £16, September 1988, 0 7011 3332 5
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Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. Vol. IV 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 946 pp., £30, June 1988, 0 370 31130 2
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Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. VIII 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 175 pp., $25, April 1988, 0 271 00613 7
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Shaw’s Sense of History 
by J.L. Wisenthal.
Oxford, 186 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812892 4
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Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. III: 1903-1907 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 532 pp., £35, April 1988, 0 521 32387 8
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Joseph Conrad: ‘Nostromo’ 
by Ian Watt.
Cambridge, 98 pp., £12.50, April 1988, 0 521 32821 7
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... There were already good biographies of Shaw, notably those of Frank Harris and Hesketh Pearson, both of whom knew Shaw and had the benefit of his energetic interventions. Pearson in particular will not be easily supplanted. Nevertheless the archives of the world are full of Shaviana inaccessible before his death, and because there had not been a serious attempt since 1956 – the centenary year – the Shaw Estate sensibly decided that the time had come for a new biography, and invited Mr Holroyd to write it ...

Axeman as Ballroom Dancer

David Blackbourn, 17 July 1997

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987 
by Richard J. Evans.
Oxford, 1014 pp., £55, March 1996, 0 19 821968 7
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... most early German commentators. Kant insisted on the importance of retributive justice; even Karl Ferdinand Hommel, the ‘German Beccaria’, parted from his mentor over the death penalty. But abolitionist sentiment grew in the first half of the 19th century. Capital punishment offended liberal belief in the moral rehabilitation of the offender, and the ...

They were less depressed in the Middle Ages

John Bossy: Suicide, 11 November 1999

Marx on Suicide 
edited by Eric Plaut and Kevin Anderson, translated by Gabrielle Edgcomb.
Northwestern, 152 pp., £11.20, May 1999, 0 8101 1632 4
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Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol I: The Violent Against Themselves 
by Alexander Murray.
Oxford, 510 pp., £30, January 1999, 0 19 820539 2
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A History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Johns Hopkins, 420 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 8018 5919 0
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... In 1846 Karl Marx published a version of a chapter about suicide which had recently appeared in a book by one Jacques Peuchet entitled Mémoires tirées des archives de la police. Peuchet had been an encyclopedist and statistician of some distinction, and is said to have invented the term ‘bureaucracy’. He had survived the Revolution, and under the restored Bourbons had become archivist of the police records of Paris and hence a benefactor of Richard Cobb and readers of his Death in Paris (1978 ...

A Whale of a Time

Colm Tóibín, 2 October 1997

Roger Casement’s Diaries. 1910: The Black and the White 
edited by Roger Sawyer.
Pimlico, 288 pp., £10, October 1997, 9780712673754
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The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement 
edited by Angus Mitchell.
Anaconda, 534 pp., £40, October 1997, 9781901990010
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... in our drawing room passionately denouncing the cruelties he had seen? Conrad’s biographer Frederick Karl is unsure when this visit took place, but if we are to believe Casement’s Black Diary – and Angus Mitchell, who has edited The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, thinks that we should not – it took place on 3 January 1904 and lasted only ...

The Dwarves and the Onion Domes

Ferdinand Mount: Those Pushy Habsburgs, 24 September 2020

The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power 
by Martyn Rady.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £30, May, 978 0 241 33262 7
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... were curiously slow to adopt the name. They finished a millennium later with the last emperor, Karl, having lost Austria, vainly trying to re-establish himself on the throne of Hungary, five hundred miles to the east. At the peak of the family’s territorial control in the 16th century, Charles V led a vagrant life, never establishing a fixed ...

Start thinking

Michael Wood: The aphorisms of Karl Kraus, 7 March 2002

Dicta and Contradicta 
by Karl Kraus, translated by Jonathan McVity.
Illinois, 208 pp., £18.50, May 2001, 0 252 02648 9
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... Karl Kraus had many enemies, but his friends and admirers are something of a liability too. They insist on his unremitting probity and passion for justice, but his justice was all his own – there was no one else on the bench. ‘His vision was never unsteadied by scepticism,’ Erich Heller wrote. Walter Benjamin asserted that ‘Kraus never offered an argument that had not engaged his whole person ...

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