In 1972, Dr Zdzisław Najder, the Polish scholar, invited me to attend a conference in Poland. It was a remarkable conference, generously funded by the Polish authorities: the delegates met in Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk and Zakopane, being flown between different parts of the country, and those delegates included Borys Conrad (Joseph Conrad’s elder son, to whom The Shadow-Line was dedicated), René Rapin, Gustav Morf, Mario Curreli and Ian Watt. On greeting us, Dr Najder was an elegant figure, wearing his overcoat loosely from his shoulders in military style. Of course, he was already well known to me as the editor of the important volume, Conrad’s Polish Background: Letters to and from Polish Friends (London: Oxford University Press, 1964). Dr Najder was urbane, subtle, drily ironic, keenly intelligent, and immensely well read. He was also deeply patriotic.
He had studied at Warsaw University and St Antony’s College, Oxford, gaining doctorates in philosophy and Polish literature. He then taught literature at Warsaw University, and was co-editor of the monthly cultural magazine Twórczość. When martial law was declared in Poland on 13 December 1981, Najder was a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University. He chose not to return to Poland, and worked in Germany for Radio Free Europe, becoming head of the Polish section, advocating a time when Poland would be free from Russian domination. Under the Jaruzelski regime, Dr Najder was sentenced to death in absentia as a spy for the west. When democracy prevailed and Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland (1990-95), Dr Najder was appointed to be Wałęsa’s key political adviser, and he also became a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, Jan Olszewski (1991-2). In 2005 it was revealed that from 1958, Najder had worked for the communist secret police. (Lech Wałęsa had allegedly worked as a spy, too.) In 2009 he was awarded the Adam Mickiewicz Prize by the Committee for French-German-Polish Cooperation.
Dr Najder published Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle in 1983, and this account of Conrad’s life received widespread acclaim, though it did not analyse the works of fiction. It was subsequently republished in revised form as Joseph Conrad: A Life (2007). Najder also wrote Conrad in Perspective: Essays on Art and Fidelity (1997) and edited Conrad’s ‘Congo Diary’ and Other Uncollected Pieces (1978). In his later years he taught English Literature at the Polish University of Opole, and dealt with enquiries from Conrad scholars all round the world. He will be greatly missed by the international Conradian community.
Author: Cedric Watts
Cedric Watts is Research Professor of English Literature at the University of Sussex.
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