John Stape (1948-2016).
Born in Ohio, he obtained a BA Honors in English under the tutelage of Bruce Harkness, Conrad scholar and Dean of Arts. He came to the University of British Columbia with a graduate scholarship to work on his MA, also in English literature. I met John when he enrolled in my first graduate seminar on "Conrad, Flaubert, and Dostoevsky" in the fall of 1971. It soon became evident that he was one of the most promising students of an unusually gifted group, several of whom went on to pursue academic careers.
Since John had already started on the Conrad trajectory, he proceeded to write under my supervision a first-class Master's thesis on Conrad. He then took what may have seemed at the time a tangential move. He went to the University of Toronto to write a PhD dissertation under Professor S.P. Rosenbaum on E.M. Forster's fascinating novel Howard's End. Significantly, John's study involved biographical, critical, and textual analysis, and from then on, these three approaches would dominate his work on Conrad. John's publications are very numerous and listing them all would fill several pages of this journal.
John taught, lectured, and gave papers in North America, Europe, and the Far East. He organized various scholarly events, in particular, the extremely successful Vancouver Conrad Conference in August 2002. He was co-general editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad, consulting editor of The Selected Letters of Joseph Conrad, and general editor of Joseph Conrad in Penguin's Classics. Dozens of his articles appeared in The Conradian and at least half a dozen in Conradiana. One could go on and on. In 2007, he published a biography of Conrad titled The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, which was subsequently translated into four languages. Given the extraordinary prolificness of his scholarly production, one is tempted to suspect that John, too, must have had several lives, especially as he found time to cultivate his love of music (opera in particular), literature, and other arts. Moreover, he always found time for friends.
Were I to highlight one quality of John the man as opposed to John the scholar, it would be his capacity and talent for friendship. He knew how to make friends and how to retain them. His friendships were as varied as his personality. In friendship, John was generous and undemanding. He was a wonderful companion. His conversation was witty, full of humor, as well as of delightful acerbic irony. He always had something interesting or entertaining to say. Visiting him in the cancer clinic while he was receiving chemotherapy treatment was paradoxically an enjoyable occasion. We talked about current affairs, discussed and argued about Conradian issues, reminisced, and laughed a lot. The other lethargic and sullen patients must have thought that we were a pair of lunatics. Needless to say, John confronted approaching death with incredible courage and stoicism like one of Conrad's heroes--say, Jim, who walks with measured steps towards old Doramin, clutching at the flintlock pistols on his knees.
As the end approached, with the meticulousness with which he edited Conrad's texts, John prepared everything. He organized his legacy, choosing younger successors to continue the Cambridge Edition project. He even selected the speakers and the music to be played at his memorial.
For several years I was, in some measure, his mentor and teacher, but as time went by I came to learn more and more from John, and in the end he also taught me how to die. His final gesture was to raise his right hand as if in triumph. However, I shall give the last words to Conrad, to whose writing John dedicated his life: "Not in the wildest days of his boyish visions" says Marlow, eulogizing Jim, "could he have seen the alluring shape of such an extraordinary success!"