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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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... credentials, the titles sound important, the back pages are crammed with appendices, footnotes, bibliographies. Malcolm Bradbury includes a ‘Select Bibliography’ and a ‘List of Major Works’. FrederickKarl 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 ...

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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... as a ham sandwich. The form is as free as the lyric and as rigorously regulated as the haiku, and the greatest anti-novel in English, Tristram Shandy, is a hilarious exploitation of the paradox. When FrederickKarl 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 ...
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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... appeared in the original French. However, it seems that ‘more than a third of Conrad’s extant 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 ...
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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... But a considerable amount of biographical material has emerged since then: the indispensable 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 ...

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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... Joseph Blotner published a biography in two very substantial volumes. Other biographical studies, mercifully slimmer but not necessarily slighter, have followed, until now, with the appearance of FrederickKarl’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 ...

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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... Unpublished’. Why should it be published? The traditional sequence has been Letters then Life. First 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 begins: This is the first ...
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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... that what we shall be looking for in a literary biography is, always, contradictions. Broadly speaking, I think this is the right view; and it goes directly counter to a pronouncement such as that of FrederickKarl, 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 ...
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 ...

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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... East German state now began to exploit a selective version of the Prussian past for its own purposes. 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 ...
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 – ...
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 ...
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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... contract and an ineffective deterrent; only the power of custom perpetuated it. This failed to persuade 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 ...

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 ...

History’s Postman

Tom Nairn: The Jewishness of Karl​ Marx

26 January 2006
Karl​ Marx ou l’esprit du monde 
by Jacques Attali.
Fayard, 549 pp., €23, May 2005, 2 213 62491 7
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... More than a quarter of listeners asked last year in a Radio 4 poll who they thought was the most important philosopher for today’s world replied Karl Marx – he was easily the winner, ahead of Hume, Plato, Karl Popper and others. Asked to comment, Eric Hobsbawm said he thought that the fall of Soviet Communism had at last allowed people to ...

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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... taking place in the Belgian Congo. Who could foresee his own terrible fate during the war as he stood in our drawing room passionately denouncing the cruelties he had seen? Conrad’s biographer FrederickKarl 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 ...

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