May 17, 2004 by

Frederick Karl


Categories: Education, Writers/Editors

Frederick Robert Karl, an educator and scholar known for writing weighty biographies of literary icons, died on April 30 of kidney disease. He was 77.
Karl was studying for his doctorate in English at Columbia University when he published his first book, “A Reader’s Guide to Great 20th-Century Novels,” in 1959. A love of Joseph Conrad’s writing inspired Karl to correspond with 2,000 people who knew the author and negotiate publication rights with the Conrad estate. He co-edited a multi-volume collection of Conrad’s letters with Laurence Davies, and published the 1,008-page biography, “Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives,” in 1979.
Karl also wrote or edited more than a dozen weighty biographies, chronicling the lives of William Faulkner (1,131 pages), George Eliot (708 pages) and Franz Kafka (810 pages). He penned reference volumes on modern English and American fiction, and a novel set during World War II.
A dedicated English professor, Karl spent 25 years teaching at City College of New York, and 18 at New York University. He was buried at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in East Hampton, N.Y., beside his close friend, author Joseph Heller.

4 Responses to Frederick Karl

  1. an old student

    Professor Karl was the sharpest and most memorable instructor in the English Dept. He and his wry insights will be sorely missed.

  2. Jamelle Sharpe

    I took my first undergraduate honors seminar with Professor Karl, an experience I will never forget. I learned from him the importance of intellectual honesty, hard work, and clarity of expression. When a man like him passes, we are all diminished.

  3. carrie sheridan

    Professor Karl taught brilliantly and made the ideas relevant to life ~ his class made me LOVE life, for better or worse or even awful…
    without saying as much, i think that is the message he was getting across… that literature, the arts are there to enhance the experience of living, our appreciation of it all, not missing the nuances…
    it was Much More than getting 3 credits toward a degree…
    he taught robustly… i would imagine that he LIVED robustly… and i lived life more keenly in the last 30 years than i would have if i hadn’t taken a summer class with him as a young woman on the leading edge of life…
    now on the trailing edge, all these years later…
    i’m sure that we can’t ask anymore of anyone than they meaningfully share themselves with the rest of us. Professor Karl did exactly that…a Great Man helps make Greater the lives of those around him…

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