It is with great sadness and not a little shock that we report the death of Christopher Carduff, who from 1989 to 1995 was a most valued colleague and friend of the editors at The New Criterion. The sadness flows naturally from his place in our lives, the shock from the young age at which he was taken away.

Chris was the most literary of men. He began his professional life as a bookseller and then as an editor at various publishing houses. At The New Criterion, he started as an overqualified receptionist but was soon editing copy and contributing finely wrought book reviews and essays. Altogether he wrote nearly two dozen pieces for the magazine; his last, a fond recollection of Hilton Kramer, our founding editor, was for a memorial issue in 2012.

After leaving The New Criterion, Chris went on to a number of tony publishing houses—Counterpoint, David R. Godine, the Library of America. His easy manner, quiet good taste, and companionable literary sensibility won him many friends. John Updike singled him out to edit the Library of America edition of his work, a task he continued to carry out after Updike’s death in 2009. For the last several years, Chris labored as the books editor for The Wall Street Journal, one of the most widely read and influential book reviews in the English-speaking world.

Chris’s own writing tended to accentuate the appreciative, and he wrote with marvelous sympathy about Penelope Fitzgerald, The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell, and many others. When the occasion called for it, though, he could be appropriately sharp. That side of his work is on splendid view in one of our favorites of his essays, a long, damning, but scrupulously fair review of Andrew Motion’s hostile, politically correct biography of the poet Philip Larkin. Motion tried to subvert Larkin’s literary achievement by calling attention to various human, all-too-human aspects of his personal life. Larkin was not what we today would call “woke,” and Motion can’t forgive him his foibles and “reactionary” opinions. Chris knew better. “Larkin’s flowers are of a hardy strain,” he wrote, “and they will survive the present miasma in which they must live, the poisonous and obscuring atmosphere” created by hostile critics like Andrew Motion.

Even though we worked in the same city, we had not seen Chris as often as we would have liked in recent years. The busyness of life often imposes such separations. The rupture of sudden death makes us realize how arbitrary and contingent such absences can be. RIP.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 42 Number 1, on page 3
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