Paul Kirschner obituary

Other lives: Academic and expert on the works of the writer Joseph Conrad

Paul Kirschner, who has died aged 87, was an academic and expert on the works of the writer Joseph Conrad.

Born on the Lower East Side of New York, to a Polish father, Meyer Kirschner, a Western Union telegraph operator, and Russian mother, Ray Groner, who worked in a shirt factory, Paul studied and then taught literature at the City University of New York. Years later, when he was invited to a Danish royal wedding and told, “decorations may be worn”, his Phi Beta Kappa pin was to come in handy.

Curious to see the world, Paul left New York for Paris and later Geneva, where he briefly studied medicine, supporting himself with work as an editor, writer and translator for the World Health Organisation and the United Nations. He met Dorli Stamm in the Swiss city and they married in 1962.

A few years later, they moved to London, where they remained for the rest of Paul’s formal working life, studying, teaching literature as a lecturer at Queen Mary College, University of London (now Queen Mary University of London). He also played an active role in the Joseph Conrad Society.

During this time the couple visited Geneva and beyond many times, tracing the footsteps of Conrad and other writers. Eventually he and Dorli retired to Geneva or, as he put it in his foreword to Penguin’s 1996 edition of Conrad’s Under Western Eyes, which he edited: “Dr Kirschner has left academia to devote himself to literature.”

He published Comparing Conrad: Essays on Joseph Conrad and His Implied Dialogues with Other Writers (2009) and Writers Against the Grain (2018). His generosity led him to donate copies of his essays to university libraries.

Those of us who were his students remember his intellectual curiosity, his conscientiousness as a teacher, the breadth of his reading in American, European and Russian literature and his offbeat sense of humour.

On one occasion, at the annual Geneva Music festival, we found ourselves facing an orchestra of very small children who were bravely and excruciatingly attempting Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. “Umm,” said Paul, “sounds like climate change.”

After the couple settled in Geneva, Paul took Swiss citizenship. Dorli survives him.

Wendy Riley

The GuardianTramp

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