Karl, Frederick R(obert) 1927-2004
KARL, Frederick R(obert) 1927-2004
PERSONAL: Born April 10, 1927, in Brooklyn, NY; died of lung disease, April 30, 2004, in New York, NY; son of Louis and Edith (Sablow) Karl; married Dolores Mary Oristaglio (a banker), June 8, 1951; children: Deborah Laura, Rebecca Elizabeth, Judith Leah. Education: Columbia College, B.A., 1948; Stanford University, M.A., 1949; Columbia University, Ph. D., 1957.
CAREER: City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, member of English department faculty, 1957-82; New York University, New York, NY, professor of English, beginning 1982. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1944-46.
MEMBER: PEN, Modern Language Association of America, Andiron Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright grant in American literature; Guggenheim fellowship, 1966; National Endowment for the Humanities senior research grant, 1978, 1988; New York University research fellow, 1984.
A Reader's Guide to Great Twentieth Century English Novels, Noonday (New York, NY), 1959.
A Reader's Guide to Joseph Conrad, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1960, revised edition, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1997.
The Quest (novel), Heinemann (London, England), 1961.
The Contemporary English Novel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1962, revised edition published as A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2001.
C. P. Snow: The Politics of Conscience, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1963.
(Coeditor) The Existential Imagination, Fawcett (Greenwich, CT), 1963.
(Coeditor) Short Fiction of the Masters, Putnam (New York, NY), 1963.
An Age of Fiction: The Nineteenth Century British Novel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1964.
The Adversary Literature; The English Novel in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Genre, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974, published as A Reader's Guide to the Development of the English Novel in the Eighteenth Century, Thames and Hudson (London, England), 1975.
(Editor) Joseph Conrad: A Collection of Criticism, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1975.
Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (biography), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1979.
American Fictions, 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor, with Laurence Davies) The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), Volumes 1-5, 1983–2002.
Modern and Modernism: The Sovereignty of the Artist, 1885-1925, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
William Faulkner, American Writer: A Biography, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1989.
Franz Kafka: Representative Man, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1991.
American Fictions, 1980-2000: Whose America Is It Anyway?, Xlibris (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.
A Chronicle of Wasted Time: America in the Seventies, Xlibris (Philadelphia, PA), 2002.
Five Decades of Literary, Cultural, and Political Opposition: Essays, Xlibris (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.
Also editor of Biography and Source Studies (six volumes). Contributor of book reviews and articles to literary publications.
SIDELIGHTS: Frederick R. Karl has distinguished himself with his literary analyses and his biographical works of such authors as George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and Franz Kafka. Joseph Conrad is one of Karl's most frequent subjects, and he has edited collections of criticism on the author, written a biography of him, edited Conrad's works, and written a reader's guide to his writings. Reviewing Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Robert Kirsch claimed, "This meticulous and detailed work, based on extensive research and the Conrad letters, … is likely to be the standard biography as to the facts of Conrad's life and it should be indispensable to any future criticism of Conrad's work." Nicholas Guild, writing in the Washington Post Book World, makes the point that Conrad poses many problems for his biographers. He has been proven to be unreliable in his own published recollections and was a very secretive person. Thus, anyone trying to write his life story faces the task of sifting a great deal of fiction from the facts. Guild felt that at times, the assertions in Karl's book were unsupported by evidence. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Joseph Barbato noted that "for Karl, the book represents, quite literally, a lifetime of scholarship in the work and life of Conrad." But Karl admitted that from the start, he wanted to write a "novelistic treatment" of the author's life rather than a straightforward biography. He told Barbato that he tried to make the book "a reading experience rather than a scholarly experience. My aim was to create a full narrative of Conrad's life and, in a sense, to disguise the scholarship and the referential work that went into it."
Karl continued his work in Conrad scholarship as general editor of the author's multiple volumes of collected letters. Reviewing the second volume for the New York Times Book Review, Louis Menand wrote, "One of the advantages of this new collection—besides that of providing accurate texts of unpublished correspondence and of the many letters that have long been available in unreliable editions—is that it enables us to appreciate the extent to which some of Conrad's letters are themselves part of his achievement as a prose writer." In a review of the fifth volume of letters, Notes and Queries critic Allan Hunter commented, "This is an admirable volume. Letters are dated with painstaking care, and reasons are outlined in cases of doubt. Included are full biographical sketches of correspondents, footnotes that are genuinely informative, and a brilliantly lucid introduction. Karl and Davies's work maintains its former level of excellence something for which scholars everywhere will long be grateful."
Karl's American Fictions, 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation provides, as its subtitle indicates, an exploration of American fiction over forty years, during which there have been a number of so-called experimental writers. In the opinion of reviewer Ronald Gottesman in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Karl not only fulfills his subtitle's promise "in startling and gratifying measure" but also "mounts and sustains a serious argument … about the substance, form and linguistic features of American fiction in its rapidly shifting postwar social, economic and aesthetic contexts; about the continuities (and discontinuities) between American fictions past and present; and about the complex inter-relationships between American and European literary cultures in the 20th Century." Karl later continued his study with American Fictions, 1980-2000: Whose America Is It Anyway?, in which he analyzed the work of writers such as Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and many others.
Karl's William Faulkner, American Writer: A Biography was an attempt, as the author once explained, to complement rather than supplant the 1974 two-volume biography of Faulkner that was written by Joseph Blotner. Judith L. Sensibar, writing in Tribune Books, took Karl to task for repetition of material that "Blotner and others cover more concisely and accurately," as well as for excessive speculation and a lack of understanding of Faulkner's prejudices. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., presented a different view in his Washington Post Book World review, calling the biography "audacious, relentlessly interpretive, psychologically astute, opinionated, sometimes wrongheaded, and in major respects equal to the complexity of its subject." Though he faulted Karl for his neglect of the social dimensions of Faulkner's work and his "failure to appreciate Faulkner as a comic writer," he concluded, "What Karl has given us is a brilliant portrait—more than 500,000 words of it!—of the inner life of our most illustrious 20th-century American writer as it shapes and figures his fiction."
Franz Kafka, the subject of Karl's third major biography, represents for the author the "everyman of the first half of our century," explained D. M. Thomas in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Thomas declared that, while this idea is not original, "no one has argued the case more exhaustively and persuasively" than Karl. Modris Eksteins, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, describes Franz Kafka: Representative Man as "an important book which will be widely read and much cited." Though he believed Karl fails to portray "how it would be to spend an evening in [Kafka's] company," Thomas conceded that "perhaps Kafka cannot be seen clearly; and in any case this criticism does not outweigh the book's great merits. Karl is immensely learned and offers a marvelously wide-ranging perspective."
Karl took on the challenge of writing the biography of another complex literary figure with his book George Eliot, Voice of a Century. Eliot, born Mary Anne Evans, lived in England during the nineteenth century. She seems to have had a pleasant, uneventful, comfortable upbringing, but her books were dense, complex, and sometimes dark. Karl's book "is the fullest and freshest account we have of the innovative breadth of her fiction and the daring of her self-constructed existence," stated Nina Auerbach in Journal of English and Germanic Philology. It "is superb in its entirety, though sometimes weak in its parts," illustrating the economic and social milieu of Victorian England that so shaped Eliot and her work. Auerbach found that Karl painted Eliot as someone who needed to live on the edge and take risks. She was daring, disliked compromise, and sent "quirky, contradictory messages" to the world. The reviewer concluded that Karl had written a "provocative, sometimes stunning biography" which, despite some flaws, provided readers with "an inspiration to fuller, more capacious accounts of an endlessly astonishing life." Another positive assessment came from Maclean's reviewer John Bemrose, who found Karl "utterly convincing" in his portrait of "a sensitive, tortured and divided woman who had the genius to turn her sufferings into literary gold."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, November-December, 2002, Steven Moore, review of American Fictions, 1980-2000: Whose America Is It Anyway?
American Literature, September, 1997, review of Biography and Source Studies, Volume 2, p. 656.
Booklist, June 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 1718.
Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1985, section 14, p. 37; August 2, 1988.
Chicago Tribune Book World, February 25, 1979.
Choice, June, 1995, review of Biography and Source Studies, p. 1588; December, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 616.
Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. B1.
Economist, November 11, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 3.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 18, 1992, p. C6.
Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April, 1997, Nina Auerbach, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 283.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 535.
Library Journal, June 15, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 70.
London Review of Books, September 21, 1995, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 26.
Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1983, p. 40.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 18, 1979; January 15, 1984, p. 4; August 20, 1989, p. 9; November 17, 1991, p. 1.
Maclean's, September 4, 1995, John Bemrose, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 53.
New Statesman & Society, August 4, 1995, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 36; May 31, 1996, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 37.
New York Review of Books, April 18, 1996, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 54.
New York Times, February 17, 1979; May 26, 1989; June 22, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. C16.
New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1979; January 8, 1984, p. 11; January 25, 1987; May 14, 1989, p. 3; February 23, 1992, p. 16; June 25, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 3; December 3, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 70; November 17, 1996, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 40.
Notes and Queries, September, 1997, Allan Hunter, review of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, Volume 5, p. 418.
Observer, July 30, 1995, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, January 29, 1979; May 1, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 47; September 9, 1996, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 81.
Review of English Studies, February, 1998, John Batchelor, review of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, Volume 5, p. 111.
Spectator, July 29, 1995, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 27.
Times (London, England), October 27, 1983; July 13, 1989.
Times Educational Supplement, June 7, 1996, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 7.
Times Literary Supplement, November 23, 1979; February 24, 1984, p. 185; August 2, 1985, p. 857; September 2, 1988, p. 10; March 6, 1992, p. 7; November 17, 1995, review of George Eliot: A Biography, p. 4.
Tribune Books, May 21, 1989, p. 6.
Voice Literary Supplement, March, 1992, p. 10.
Wall Street Journal, June 15, 1995, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. A12.
Washington Post Book World, February 18, 1979; July 14, 1985, p. 12; May 7, 1989, p. 5.
Women's Review of Books, January, 1996, review of George Eliot, Voice of a Century, p. 11.*