Joseph Conrad | Hugh Walpole | *Non-fiction | Sound Book | English | 1/2

biography chapters 1 2 & 3 of Joseph Conrad this is a librivox recording all librivox recordings are in the public domain for more information or to volunteer please visit recording by david whales Joseph Conrad by Hugh Walpole biography chapter one to any reader of the books of Joseph Conrad it must be at once plain that his immediate experience and impression of life have gone very directly to the making of his art it may happen often enough that an author's artistic life is of no importance to the critic and that his dealing with it is merely a pers no impertinence and curiosity but with the life of Joseph Conrad the critic has something to do because again and again this writer deliberately evokes the power of personal reminiscence charging it with the burden of his philosophy and the creation of his characters with the details of his life we cannot in any way be concerned but with the three backgrounds against whose form and color his art has been placed we have some compulsory connection Joseph Conrad tia dar Yosef Conrad car Zinio ski was born on 6 December 1857 and his birthplace was the Ukraine in the south of Poland in 1862 his father who had been concerned in the last polish rebellion was banished to volokh de the boy lived with his mother and father there until his mother died when he was sent back to the Ukraine in 1870 his father died Conrad was then sent to school in Cracow and there he remained until 1874 when following an absolutely compelling impulse he went to see in the month of May 1878 he first landed on English ground he knew at that time no English but learned rapidly and in the autumn of 1878 joined the duke of sutherland as ordinary see man he became a master in the English merchant service in 1884 in which year he was naturalized in 1894 he left the sea whose servant he had been for nearly 20 years he sent the manuscript of a novel that he had been writing at various periods during his sea life to mr. Fisher Unwin with that publishers acceptance of all Myers folly the third period of his life began since then his history has been the history of his books looking for an instant at the dramatic contrast in almost ironical relationship of these three backgrounds poland the sea the inner security and tradition of an english countryside one can realize what they may make of an artist that early polish atmosphere viewed through all the deep light and high shade of a remembered childhood may be enough to give life and vigor to any poets temperament the romantic melancholy born of early years in such an atmosphere might well plant deeply in any soul the ironic contemplation of an impossible freedom growing into youth in a land whose farthest bounds were held by unlawful tyranny Conrad may well have contemplated the sea as the one unlimited monarchy of freedom and even although he were too young to realize what impulses those were that drove him he may have felt that space and size and the force of a power stronger than man were the only conditions of possible Liberty he sought those conditions found them and clung to them he found to an ironic pity for men who could still live slaves and prisoners to other men went to them also such freedom was possible that ironic pity he never afterwards lost and the romance that was in him received a mighty impulse from that contrast that he was always now to contemplate he discovered the sea and paid to her at once his debt of gratitude and obedience he thought it no hard thing to obey her when he might at the same time so honestly admire her and she has remained for him as an artist the only personality that he has been able wholeheartedly to admire he found in her something stronger than man and he must have triumphed in the contemplation of the Dominion that she could exercise if she would over the tyrannous that he had known in his childhood he found to in her service the type of man who most strongly appealed to him he had known a world composed of threats fugitive rebellions wild outbursts of defiance inefficient struggles against tyranny he was in the company now of those who realized so completely the relationship of themselves and their duty to their master and their service that there was simply nothing to be said about it England had perhaps long ago called to him with her promise of freedom and now on an English ship he realized the practice and performance of that freedom indulged in as it was with the fewest possible words moreover with his fund of romantic imagination he must have been pleased by the contrast of his present company men who by sheer lack of imagination ruled and served the most imaginative force in nature the wonders of the sea by day and by night were unnoticed by his companions and he admired their lack of vision too much vision had driven his country under the heel of tyranny had bred in himself a despair of any possible freedom for far-seeing men now he was a citizen of a world where freedom reigned because men could not perceive how it could be otherwise the two sides of the shield were revealed to him then towards the end of his 20 years service of the sea the creative impulse in him demanded an outlet he wrote at stray moments of opportunity during several years a novel wrote it for his pleasure and diversion sent it finally to a publisher with all that lack of confidence in posts and publish ters that every author who cares for his creations will feel to the end of his days he has said that if all Meyers folly had been refused he would never have written again but we may well believe that let the fate of that book be what it might be energy and surprise of his discovery of the sea must have been declared to the world all Myers folly however was not rejected its publication caused the spectator to remark the name of mr. Conrad is new to us but it appears to us as if he might become the Kipling of the melee archipelago he had therefore encouragement of the most dignified kind from the beginning he himself however may have possibly regarded that day in 1897 when Hindley accepted the nigger of the narcissus for the new review as a more important date in his new career that date may serve for the commencement of the third period of his adventure the quiet atmosphere of the England that he had adopted made the final almost inevitable contrast with the earlier periods with such a country behind him it was possible for him to contemplate in peace the whole case of his earlier life it was as a case that he saw it a case that was to produce all those other cases that were his books this has been their history biography chapter to his books also find naturally a division into three parts the first period beginning with all Myers folly in 1895 ended with Lord Jim in 1900 the second contains the two volumes of youth and typhoon the novel romance that he wrote in collaboration with Ford Madox gopher and ends with Nostromo published in 1903 the third period begins after a long pause in 1907 with the secret agent and receives its climax with the remarkable popularity of chance in 1914 and victory in 1915 his first period was a period of struggle struggle with a foreign language struggle with a technique that was always from the point of view of the school's to remain too strong for him struggle with the very force and power of his reminiscences that were urging themselves upon him now at the moment of their contemplated freedom like wild beasts behind iron bars all Myers folly and the outcasts of the islands the first of these is sequel to the second were remarkable in the freshness of their discovery of a new world it was not that their world had not been found before but rather the Conrad by the force of his own individual discovery proclaimed his find with a new voice and the new vigor in the character of all my er avisa of Willams of Babel a chi and Abdullah there was a new psychology they gave promise of great things nevertheless these early stories were overcharged with atmosphere were clumsy in their development and conveyed in their style a sense of rhetoric and lack of ease his vision of his background was pulled out beyond its natural intensity and his own desire to make it overwhelming was so obvious as to frighten the creature into a determination to be simply out of malicious perversity anything else these two novels were followed by a volume of short stories tales of unrest that reveal quite naked Lee Conrad's difficulties one study in this book the return with its redundancies and over emphasis is the cruelest parody on its author and no single tail in the volume succeeds it was however as though with these efforts Conrad flung himself free forever from his apprenticeship there appeared in 1898 what remains perhaps still his most perfect work the nigger of the narcissus this was a story entirely of the sea of the voyage of a ship from port to port and of the influence upon that ship and upon the human soul that she contained of the approaching shadow of death and influence ironical melancholy never quite horrible and always tender and humorous Conrad must himself have loved beyond all other vessels the narcissus never again except perhaps in the mirror of the sea was he to be so happily at his ease with any of his subjects the book is a gallery of remarkably distinct and authentic portraits the atmosphere is held in perfect restraint and the overhanging theme is never for an instant abandon it is above all a record of lovingly cherished reminiscence of cherished reminiscence also was the book that closed the first period of his work Lord Jim this was to remain until the publication of chance his most popular novel it is the story of the young Englishman's loss of honor in a moment of panic and his victorious recovery the first half of the book is a finely sustained development of a vividly remembered seen the second half has the inevitability of a moro idea pursued to its romantic end rather than the inevitability of life here then in nineteen hundred Conrad had worked himself free of the underground of the jungle and was able to choose his path his choice was still dictated by the subjects that he remembered most vividly but upon these rewards of observation his creative genius was working James wait Duncan jim marlowe were men whom he had known but men also to whom he had given a new birth there appeared now in youth heart of darkness and typhoon three of the finest short stories in the English language work of reminiscence but glowing at its heart with all the lyrical exultation and flame of a passion that had been the ruling power of a life that was now to be abandoned that salutation of farewell is in youth and its application of the east in the heart of darkness and his application of the forests that are beyond civilization in typhoon and its evocation of the sea he was never after these tales to write again of the sea as though he were still sailing on it from this time he belonged with regret and with some ironic contempt to the land this second period closed with the production of a work that was deliberately created rather than reminiscent Nostromo Conrad may have known dr. Moynihan deku mrs. Gould old viola but they became stronger than he and in their completed personalities oh no man anything for their creation there is much to be said about Nostromo in many ways the greatest of all Conrad's works but for the moment one would only say that its appearance it appeared first of all ironical births in a journal tepees weekly and astonished and bewildered its readers week by week by its determination not to finish and yield place to something simpler caused no comment whatever that its critics did not understand it and its author's own admirers were puzzled by its unlikeness to the earlier sea stories Nostromo was followed by a pause one can easily imagine that its production did for a moment utterly exhaust its creator when however in 1907 appeared the secret agent a new attitude was most plainly visible he was suddenly detached writing now of cases that interested him as an investigator of human life but called from his heart no burning participation of experience he is tender towards win Iver lock and her old mother the two women in the secret agent but he studies them quite dispassionately that love that clothes Jim so radiantly that fierce contempt that in an outcast of the islands accompanied villains to his degraded death is gone we have the finer artists but we have lost something of that earlier compelling interest the secret agent is a tale of secret service in London it contains the wonderfully created figure of air lock and it expresses to the full Conrad's hatred of those rows and rows of brick and mortar that are so completely accepted by unimaginative men in 1911 under Western eyes spoke strongly of a Russian influence jaganathan Dostoevsky had to markedly their share in the creation of Razumov and the cosmopolitan circle in Geneva moreover it is a book whose heart is cold a volume of short stories a set of six illustrating still more emphatically Conrad's new detachment appeared in 1908 and is remarkable chiefly for an ironical II humorous story of the Napoleonic Wars the duel a tail too long perhaps but admirable for its sustained note in 1912 he seemed in another volume twixt land and sea to unite some of his earlier glow with all his later mastery of his method a smile of fortune and the secret sharer are amazing in the beauty of retrospect that they leave behind them in the soul of the reader the sea is once more revealed to us but it is revealed now as something that Conrad has conquered his contact with the land has taken from him something of his earlier intimacy with his old mistress nevertheless the secret sharer is a most marvelous story marvelous in his completeness of theme and treatment marvelous in the contrast between the confined limitations of its stage and the vast implications of its moral idea finally in 1914 appeared chance by no means the finest of his books but catching the attention and admiration of that wider audience who had remained indifferent to the force and beauty of the nigger of the narcissus of Lord Jim of Nostromo with the popular success of chance the first period of his work is closed on the possible results of that popularity their effect on the artist and on the whole world of men one must offer here at any rate no prophecy biography chapter 32 any reader who cares seriously to study the art of Joseph Conrad no better advice could be offered than that he should begin with the reading of the two volumes that have been omitted from the preceding list some reminiscences and the mirror of the sea demand consideration on the threshold of any survey of this author's work because they reveal from a personal willful and completely an artistic angle the individuality that can only be discovered afterwards objectively in the process of creation in both these books Conrad is quite simply himself for anyone who cares to read they are books dictated by no sense of precedent nor form nor fashion they are books of their own kind even more than are the novels some reminiscences has only tristram shandy for its rival in the business of getting everything done without moving a step forward the mirror of the sea has no rival at all we may suppose that the author did really intend to write his reminiscences when he began he found a moment that would make a good starting point a moment in the writing of his first book on Myers folly at the conclusion or more truly cessation of some reminiscences that moment is still hanging in midair the writing of all Meyer has not proceeded two lines further down the stage the maidservant is still standing in the doorway the hands of the clock have covered five minutes of the dial what has occurred is simply that the fascination of the subject has been too strong it is of the very essence of Conrad's art that one thing so powerfully suggest to him another that to start him on anything at all is a tragedy because life is so short his reminiscences would be easy enough to command would they only not take on a life of their own and shout at their unfortunate author ah yes I'm interesting of course but don't you remember the whole adventure of writing his first book is crowded with incident not because he considers it a wonderful book or himself a marvelous figure but simply because any incident in the world must in his eyes be crowded about with other incidents there is the pen one wrote the book with that pen that belonged to poor old captained be of the none such who or there is the window just behind the writing table that looked out into the river that river that reminds one of the year 88 when in the course of his thrilling voyage of discovery we are by a kind of most blessed miracle told something of mr. Nicholas B and of the author's own most fascinating uncle we even by an extension of the miracle learn something of Conrad as ship's officer this is the merest glimpse and as a visitor to his uncle's house in Poland so by chance are these miraculous facts and glimpses that we catch at them with eager extended hands praying imploring them to stay indeed those glimpses may seem to us the more wonderful in that they have been by us only partially realized nevertheless in spite of its eager incoherence at the same time both breathless and by the virtue of its author's style solemn we do obtain in addition to our glimpses of Poland and the sea one or two revelations of Conrad himself our revelations come to us partly through our impression of his own zest for life a zest always ironical often skeptical but always eager and driven by a throbbing impulse of vitality partly also through certain deliberate utterances he tells us quote those who read me know my conviction that the world the temporal world rests on a few very simple ideas so simple that they must be as old as the hills it rests notably amongst others on the idea of fidelity at a time when nothing which is not revolutionary in some way or other can expect to attract much attention I have not been revolutionary in my writings end quote or again quote all claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and anger from which a philosophical mind should be free and quote or again quote even before the most seductive reveries I have remained mindful of that sobriety of interior life that asceticism of sentiment in which alone the naked form of truth such as one can seize it such as one feels it can be rendered without shame end quote this simplicity this fidelity this hatred of self-assertion and self-satisfaction this sobriety these qualities do give some implication of the color of the work that will arise from them and when to these qualities we add that before mentioned zest and vigor we must have some true conception of the nature of the work that he was to do it is for this that some reminiscences is valuable to read it as a detached work to expect from it the amiable facetiousness of a book of modern memories or the heavy authoritative coherence of the my autobiography or my life of some eminent scientist or theologian is to be most grievously disappointed if the beginning is bewilderment the end is an impression of crowding disordered life of a tapestry richly dark with figures woven into the very thread of it and yet starting to life with an individuality all their own no book reveals more clearly the reasons both of Conrad's faults and of his merits no book of his is more likely by reason of its honesty and simplicity to win him true friends as a work of art there is almost everything to be said against it except that it has that supreme gift that remains at the end almost all that we ask of any work of art overwhelming vitality but it is formless ragged incoherent inconclusive a fragment of eager vivid turbulent reminiscence poured into a friend's ear in a moment of sudden confidence that may or may not be the best way to conduct reminiscences the book remains a supremely intimate engaging and enlightening introduction to its author with the mirror of the sea we are on very different ground as I have already said this is Conrad's happiest book indeed with the possible exception of the nigger of the narcissus his only happy book he is happy because he is able for a moment to forget his distrust his dread his inherent ironical pessimism he is here permitting himself the whole range of his enthusiasm and admiration and behind that enthusiasm there is a quiet sure confidence that is strangely at variance with the distrust of his later novels the book seems at first sight to be a collection of almost haphazard papers with such titles as land falls and departures overdue and missing rulers of east and west the nursery of the craft no reader however can conclude it without having conveyed to him a strangely binding impression of unity he has been led it will seem to him into the very heart of the company of those who know the sea as she really is he has been made free of a great order the foundation of his intimacy Springs from three sources the majesty power and cruelty of the sea herself the homely reality of the lives of the men who serve her the vibrating beautiful life of the ships that sail upon her this is the trilogy that holds in its hand the whole life and pageant of the sea it is because Conrad holds all three elements in exact and perfect balance that this book has its unique value its power both of realism for this is the life of man and of romance which is the life of the sea Conrad's attitude to the sea herself in this book is one of lyrical and passionate worship he sees with all the vivid accuracy of his realism her deceit her cruel tease her inhuman disregard of the lives of men but finally her glory is enough for him he will write of her like this quote the sea this truth must be confessed has no generosity no display of manly qualities courage hardy hood endurance faithfulness has never been known to touch it's irresponsible consciousness of power the ocean has the consciousness temper of a savage autocrat spoiled by much adulation he cannot Brook the slightest appearance of defiance and has remained the irreconcilable enemy of ships and Men ever since ships and men had the unheard-of audacity to go afloat together in the face of his frown the most amazing wonder of the deep is its unfathomable cruelty end quote nevertheless she holds him her most willing slave and he is that because he believes that she alone in all the world is worthy to indulge this cruelty she positively brings it off this assertion of her right and once he is assured of that he will yield absolute obedience in this worship of the sea and the winds that rouse her he allows himself a lyrical freedom that he was afterwards to check he was never again not even in typhoon and youth to write with such free and spontaneous lyricism as in his famous passage about the west wind the mirror of the sea forms then the best possible introduction to Conrad's work because it attests more magnificently and more confidently than anything else that he has written his faith and his devotion it presents also however in its treatment of the second element of his subject the men on the ships many early sketches of the characters whom he both before and afterwards developed so fully in his novels about these same men there are certain characteristics to be noticed characteristics that must be treated more fully in a later analysis of Conrad's creative power but that nevertheless demand some mention here as witnesses of the emotions the humors the passions that he most naturally observes it is in the first place to be marked that almost all the men upon the sea from poor captain to be who used to suffer from sick headaches in his young days every time he was approaching a coast to the dramatic Dominic from the slow imperturbable gravity of that broad-chested man you would think he had never smiled in his life are silent and thoughtful granted this silence Conrad in his half mournful half humorous survey is instantly attracted by any possible contrast captain be dying in his home with two grave elderly women sitting beside him in the quiet room his eyes resting fondly upon the faces in the room upon the pictures on the wall upon all the familiar objects of that home whose abiding and clear image must have flashed often on his memory in times of stress and anxiety at sea por p with his cheery temper his admiration for the jokes and punch his little oddities like his strange passion for borrowing looking glasses for instance that captain who did everything with an air which put your attention on the alert and raised your expectations but the result somehow was always on stereotyped lines uncen tne lesson that one could lay to heart that other captain in whom through a touch of self-seeking that modest artist of solid merit became untrue to his temperament here are little sketches for those portraits that afterwards we are to know so well Marlowe captain macwhirr Captain lingard captain Mitchell and many others here we may fancy that his eye lingers as though in the mirror enumeration of little oddities and contrasted qualities he sees such themes such subjects such cases that it is hard almost beyond discipline to leave them nevertheless they have to be left he has obtained his broader contrast by his juxtaposition of the curious muddled jumble of the human life against the broad August power of the sea that is all that his present subject demands that is his theme and his picture not all his theme however there remains the third element in it the soul of the ship it is perhaps after all with the life of the ship that the mirror of the sea ultimately as most to do as other men right of the women they have loved so does Conrad right of his ships he sees them in this book that is so especially dedicated to their pride and beauty colored with a fine glow of romance but nevertheless he realizes them with all the accurate detail of a technician who describes his craft you may learn of the raising and letting go of an anchor and he will tell the journalists of their crime in speaking of casting an anchor when the true technicality is a brought up to an anchor understood in the chapter on yachts he provides as much technical detail as any book of instruction need demand and then suddenly there come these sentences the art of handling ships is finer perhaps than the art of handling men a ship is a creature which we have brought into the world as it were on purpose to keep us up to mark indeed it is the ship that gives that final impression of unity of which I have already spoken to the book she grows as it were from her birth in no ordered sequence of events but admitting us ever more closely into her intimacy telling us at first shyly afterwards more boldly little things about herself confiding to us her trials appealing sometimes to our admiration indulging sometimes our humor Conrad is tender to her as he is to nothing human he watches her shy new in the dock her reputation all to make yet in the talk of the seamen who were to share their life with her she looked modest to me I imagined her diffident lying very quiet with her side nestling shyly against the wharf to which she was made fast with very new lines intimidated by the company of her tried and experienced sisters already familiar with all the violence's of the ocean and the exacting love of men her friend stands there on the key and bids her be of good courage he salutes her grace and spirit he echoes with all the implied irony of contrast his companions ships are all right he explains the many kinds of ships that there are the Rogues the wickedly malicious the sly the benevolent the proud the adventurous the staid the decorous for even the worst of these he has indulgences that he would never offer to the soul of man he cannot be severe before such a world of fine spirits finally in the episode of the Tremmel ino and her tragic end and n that has in it a suggestion of that later story Freya of the seven islands in that sinister adventure of dominic and the vile Caesar he shows us in miniature what it is that he intends to do with all this material he gives us the soul of the trauma lino the soul of Dominic the soul of the sea upon which they are voyaging without ever deserting the realism upon which he builds his foundations he raises upon at his house of romance this book remains by far the easiest the kindest the most friendly of all his books he has been troubled here by no questions of form of creation of development whether of character or of incident it is the best of all possible prologues to his more creative work end of the biography chapters 1 2 & 3 the novelist chapters 1 2 & 3 of Joseph Conrad by Hugh Walpole this LibriVox recording is in the public domain the novelist chapter one in discussing the art of any novelist as distinct from the poet or essayist there are 3 special questions that we may ask as to the theme as to the form as to the creation of character it is possible to discuss these three questions in terms that can be applied in no fashion whatever to the poem or the essay although the novel may often more truly belong to the essay or the poem to the novel as for instance the ring in the book and Aurora Lee bear witness all such questions of ultimate classes and divisions are vain but these three divisions of theme form and character do cover many of the questions that are to be asked about any novelist simply in his position as novelist and nothing else that Joseph Conrad is in his art most truly poet as well as novelist no reader of his work will deny I wish in this chapter to consider him simply as a novelist that is as a narrator of the histories of certain human beings with his attitude to those histories concerning the form of the novel the English novelists until the 70s and 80s of the 19th century worried themselves but slightly if they considered the matter they chuckled over there deliberate freedom as did Stern and fielding Scott considered storytelling a jolly business in which one was also happily able to make a fine living but he never contemplated the matter with any respect Jane Austen who had as much form as any modern novelist was quite unaware of her happy possession the mid-victorian gloriously abandoned themselves to the rich independence of shilling numbers a fashion which for bad form as completely as the manners of the time for bad frankness a new period began at the end of the 50s but no one in 1861 was aware that a novel called Harrington was of any special importance it made no more stir than did al Myers folly in the early 90s although the wonderful Richard Peveril had already preceded it with the coming of George Meredith and Thomas Hardy the form of the novel springing straight from the shores of France where Madame Bovary and une vie showed what might be done by taking trouble grew into a question of considerable import Robert Louis Stevenson showed how important it was to say things agreeably even when you had not very much to say Henry James showed that there was so much to say about everything that you could not possibly get to the end of it and Rudyard Kipling showed that the great thing was to see things as they were at the beginning of the 90s everyone was immensely busied over the way that things were done the yellow book sprang into a bright existence flamed and died art for art's sake was slain by the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 mr. wells in addition to fantastic romances wrote stories about shop assistants and knew something about biology the Fabian Society made socialism entertaining mr. Bernard Shaw foreshadowed a new period and the Boer War completed an old one of the whole question of Conrad's place in the history of the English novel and his influence upon it I wish to speak in a later chapter I would simply say here that if he was borne in upon the wind of the French influence he was himself in later years one of the chief agents in its destruction but beginning to write in English as he did in the time of the yellow book passing through all the realistic reaction that followed the collapse of asceticism seeing the old period washed away by the storm of the Boer War he had especially prepared for him a new stage upon which to labour the time and the season were ideal for the work that he had to do the novelist chapter 2 the form in which Conrad has chosen to develop his narratives is the question which must always come for first in any consideration of him as a novelist the question of his form is the ground upon which he has been most frequently attacked his difficulties in this matter have all arisen as I have already suggested from his absorbing interest in life let us imagine for an instant an imaginary case he has seen in some foreign port a quarrel between two seamen one has knifed the other and the coral has been watched with complete indifference by a young girl and a bibulous old wastrel who is obviously a relation both of hers and of the stricken seaman the author sees hear a case for his art and wishing to give us the matter with the greatest possible truth and accuracy he begins oritse erecta by the narration of a little barber whose shop is just over the spot where the quarrel took place and whose lodgers the old man and the girl are he describes the little barber and is it once amazed by the interesting facts that he discovers about the man seen standing in his doorway he is the most ordinary little figure but once investigate his case and you find a strange contrast between his melancholy romanticism and the flashing fanaticism of his love for the young girl who lodges with him that leads one back through many years to the moment of his first meeting with the Bibulus old man and for a witness of that we must hunt out a villainous old woman who keeps a drinking saloon in another part of the town this old woman now so drink sodden and degraded had once a history of her own once she was and so the matter continues it is not so much a deliberate evocation of the most difficult of methods this manner of narration as a poignant witness to Conrad's own breathless surprised at his discoveries mr. Henry James speaking of this enforced collection of oratorical witnesses says it places mr. Conrad absolutely alone as a votary of the way to do a thing that shall make it undergo most and his amazement at Conrad's patient pursuit of unneeded difficulties may seem to us the stranger if we consider that in what maisie knew and the awkward age he has practiced almost precisely the same form himself indeed beside the intricate but masterly form of the awkward age the duplicate narration of chance seems child's play mr. Henry James makes the mistake of speaking as though Conrad had quite deliberately chosen the form of narration that was most difficult to him simply for the fun of overcoming the difficulties the truth being that he has chosen the easiest the form of narration brought straight from the sea and the ships that he adored the form of narration used by the ancient mariner and all the seamen before and after him Conrad must have his direct narrator because that is the way in which stories in the past had generally come to him he wishes to deny the effect of that direct and simple honesty that had always seemed so attractive to him he must have it by word of mouth because it is by word of mouth that he himself has always demanded it and if one witness is not enough for the truth of it then must he have two or three consider for a moment the form of three of his most important novels Lord Jim Nostromo and chance it is possible that Lord Jim was conceived originally as a sketch of character derived by the author from one scene that was you know probability and actual reminiscence certainly when the book is finished one scene beyond all others remains with the reader the scene of the inquiry into the loss of the patna or rather the vision of Jim and his appalling companions waiting outside for the inquiry to begin simply in the contemplation of these four men Conrad has his desired contrast the skipper of the Panda he made me think of a trained baby elephant walking on hind legs he was extravagantly gorgeous too got up in a soiled sleeping sue bright green and deep orange vertical stripes with a pair of ragged straw slippers on his bare feet and somebody's cast-off pith hat very dirty and two sizes too small for him tied up with a manilla rope yarn on the top of his big head there are also two other no-account chaps with him a sallow faced mean little chat with his arm in a sling and a long individual in a blue flannel coat as dry as a chip and no stouter than a broomstick with drooping gray mustaches who looked about him with an air of jaunty imbecility and with these three Jim clean-limbed clean faced firm on his feet as promising a boy as the Sun ever shone on here are these for in the same box condemned forever by all right thinking men that boy in the same box as those obscene scoundrels at once the artist has fastened onto his subject it bristles with active vital possibilities and discoveries we the observers share the artists thrill we watch our author dart about a subject with the excitement of adventurers discovering a gold mine how much will it yield how deep will it go we are thrilled with the suspense Conrad having discovered his subject must for the satisfaction of that honor which is his most deeply cherished virtue proved to us his authenticity I was not there myself he tells us but I can show you someone who was he introduces us to a first-hand witness Marlowe or another now tell your story he has at once the atmosphere in which he is happiest and so having his audience clustered about him unlimited time at everybody's disposal whiskey's and cigars without stint he lets himself go he is bothered now by no question but the thorough investigation of his discovery what had Jim done that he should be in such a case we must have the story of the loss of the Patna that marvelous journey across the orders all the world of the pilgrims the obscene captain and Jim's fine chivalrous soul Marlow is inexhaustible he has so much to say and so many fine words in which to say it at present so absorbed are we so successful is he that we are completely held the illusion is perfect we come to the inquiry one of the judges is captain Brierly what not now captain Brierly ah but I must tell you most extraordinary thing the world grows around us a world that can contain the captain of the Patna brierley and Jim at the same time the subject before us seems now so rich that we are expecting to see it burst at any moment in the author's hands but so long as that first visualized scene is the center of the episode so long as the experience hovers around that inquiry and the esplanade outside it we are held breathless and believing we believe even in the eloquent Marlow then the moment passes every possible probe into its heart has been made we are satisfied there follows then the sequel and hear it once the weakness of the method is apparent the author having created his narrator must continue with him marbo is there untie ered eager waiting to begin again but the trouble is that we are no longer assured now of the truth and reality of his story he saw we cannot for an instant doubt it that group on the Esplanade all that he could tell us about that we breathlessly awaited but now we are uncertain whether he is not inventing a romantic sequel he must go on that is the truly terrible thing about Marlo and at the moment when we questioned his authenticity we are suspicious of his very existence ready to be irritated by his flow of words demanding something more authentic than that voice that is now only dimly heard the author himself caps feels this he duplicates he even troubles his narrators and with each fresh agent Reyes's a fresh crop of facts contrast habits and histories that then is the payroll of the method whilst we believe we are completely held but let the authenticity waiver for a moment and the danger of disaster is more excessive than with any other possible form of narration create your authority and we have at once someone at whom we may throw stones if we are not beguiled Marlowe has certainly been compelled to face at moments in his career an angry irritated audience nostromo is for the reason that we never lose our confidence in the narrator a triumphant vindication of these methods that is not to deny that Nostromo is extremely confused in places but it is a confusion that arises rather from comrades confidence in the readers for knowledge of the facts than in a complication of narrations the narrations are sometimes complicated old captain Mitchell does not always achieve authenticity but on the whole the reader may be said to be puzzled simply because he is told so much about some things and so little about others but this assurance of the author's that we must have already learned the main facts of the case comes from his own convinced sense of the reality of it this time he has no Marlo he was there himself of course he says to us you know all about that revolution in swaco that revolution that the ghouls were mixed up with well I happened to be there myself I know all the people concerned and the central figure was not Gould not Mitchell normanna ham no it was a man about whom no one outside the Republic was told a syllable I knew the man well he and there we are the method is in this case as I have already said completely successful there may be confusions there may be scenes concerning which we may be expect did to be told much and are in truth told nothing at all but these confusions and omissions do in the end only add to our conviction of the veracity of it no one after a faithful perusal of Nostromo can possibly doubt of the existence of swaco of the Silvermine of Nostromo and echo of mrs. Gould Antonio the viola girls of old viola here's Moynihan Gould so Tillie Oh of the death of the oldest wife of the expedition at night and the painter of de coude alone on the isabel's of Hersh's torture of Captain Mitchell's watch here are characters the most romantic in the world scenes that would surely in any other hands be fantastic melodramas and both characters and scenes are absolutely supported on the foundation of realistic truth not for a moment from the first page to the last do we consciously doubt the author's word here the form of narration is vindicated because it is entirely convincing not so with the third example chance here as with Lord Jim we may find one visualized moment that stands for the whole book and as in the earlier work we look back and see the degraded officers of the Patna waiting with Jim on the Esplanade so our glance back over chance reveals to us that moment when the fines from the security of their comfortable home watch Florida barrel flying down the steps of her horrible Brighton house as though the Furies pursued her that desperate flight is the key of the book the moment of the chivalrous captain Anthony's rescue of flora from a world to villainous for her and to double-faced for him gives the books theme and never in all the stories that preceded Flores has Conrad been so eager to afford US firsthand witnesses we have in the first place the unquenchable Marlow sitting with fine phrases at his lips in a Riverside Inn to him enter powell who once served with Captain Anthony to these to add the little finds there surely you have enough to secure your alliance but it is precisely the number of witnesses that frightens us Marlo unaided would have been enough for us more than enough if we are to consider the author himself as a possible narrator but not only does the number frighten us it positively hides from us the figures of captain Anthony and Florida barrel both the night and the maiden as the author names them are retiring souls and our hearts move in sympathy for them as we contemplate their timid hesitancy before the voluble inquisitions of marlow young Powell and the fines moreover the intention of this method that it should secure realistic conviction for the most romantic episodes does not here achieve its purpose as we have seen that it did in the first half of Lord Jim and the whole of Nostromo we believe most emphatically in that first narration of young Powell's about his first chance we believe in the first narration of Marlowe although quite casually he talks like this I do not even think that there is in what he did a conscious and lofty confidence in himself a particularly pronounced sense of power which leads men so often into impossible or equivoca Bowl situations we believe in the horrible governess of fiercely drawn figure we believe in Marlo's interview with flora on the pavement outside Anthony's room we believe in the whole of the first half of the book but even here we are conscious that we would prefer to be closer to the whole thing that it would be pleasant to hear flora and Anthony speak for themselves that we resent a little Marlowe's intimacy which prevents with patronizing complacence the intimacy that we the readers might have seemed nevertheless we are so far held we are captured but when the second half of the book arrives we can be confident no longer here as in Lord Jim it is possible to feel that Conrad having surprised seized upon mastered his original moment did not know how to continue it the true thing in Lord Jim is the affair of the patna the true thing in chance is Captain Anthony's rescue of flora after her disaster but whereas in Lord Jim the sequel to gems cowardice as its own fine qualities of beauty and imagination the sequel to Captain Anthony's rescue of flora seems to one listener at any rate a pity ibly unconvincing climax of huddled melodrama that chapter in chance entitled a moonless night is in the first half of it surely the worst thing that Conrad ever wrote save only that one early short story the return the conclusion of chance and certain tales in his volume within the tides makes one wonder whether that alliance between romance and realism that he has hitherto so wonderfully maintained is not breaking down before the baleful strength of the former of these two qualities it remains only to be said that when credence so entirely fails as it must before the end of chance the form of narration in yahtzee erecta is nothing less than maddening suddenly we do not believe in Marlow in Powell in the fines we do not believe even in Anthony and flora we are the angrier because earlier in the evening we were so completely taken in it is as though we had given our money to a deserving cause and discovered a charlatan I have described at length the form in which the themes of these books are developed because it is the form that here extensively here quite unobtrusively clothes all the novels and tales we are caught and held by the skinny finger of the ancient mariner when he has a true tale to tell us his veritable presence is an added zest to our pleasure but if his presence be not true the novelist chapter three if we turn to the themes that engage Joseph Conrad's attention we shall see that in almost every case his subjects are concerned with unequal combats unequal to his own far-seeing vision but never to the human souls engaged in them and it is this consciousness of the blindness that renders men's honesty and heroism of so little account that gives occasion for his irony he chooses in almost every case the most solid and unimaginative of human beings for his heroes and it seems that it is these men alone whom he can admire if a human soul has vision he simply gives the thing up we can hear him say he can see at once that the odds are too strong for him but these simple souls with their consciousness of the job before them and nothing else with their placid sense of honor and of duty upon them you may loosen all heavens bolts and lightnings and they will not quail they command his pity his reverence his tenderness almost his love but at the end with an ironic shrug of his shoulders he says you see I told you so he may even think he has one we know better you and I the theme of all Myers folly is a struggle of a weak man against nature of the nigger of the narcissus the struggle of many simple men against the presence of death of Lord Jim again the struggle of a simple man against nature here the man wins but only we feel at the cost of truth nostromo the conquest of a child of nature by the silver mine which stands over him conscious of its ultimate victory from the very first chance the struggle of an absolutely simple and upright soul against the dishonest ease of a world that he does not understand typhoon the very epitome of Conrad's themes is the struggle of mech were against the storm here again it is Mike were who apparently wins but we can here in the very last line of the book the storms confident chuckle of ultimate victory in heart of darkness the victory is to the forest in the end of the tether captain Whaley one of Conrad's finest figures is beaten by the very loftiness of his character the three tails in twixt land and sea are all themes of this kind the struggle of simple unimaginative men against forces too strong for them in the secret agent when Eve airlock another simple character finds life too much for her and commit suicide in under Western eyes resume off the dreamer is destroyed by a world that laughs at the pains and struggles of insignificant individuals of Conrad's philosophy I must speak in another place here it is enough to say that it is impossible to imagine him choosing as the character of a story jolly independent souls who take life for what it gives them and leave defeat or victory to the stars whatever Conrad's books are or are not it may safely be said that they are never jolly and his most devoted disciple would in all probability resent any suggestion of a lighter hand or a gentler affection his art nevertheless is limited by this persistent brooding over the inequality of life's battle his humor often of a very fine kind is always sinister because his choice of theme forbids lightheartedness Tom Jones and tristram shandy would have found Marlowe Jim and captain Anthony quite impossibly solemn company but I do not deny that they might not have been something the better for a little of it I have already said that his characters are for the most part simple and unimaginative men but that does not mean that they are so simple that there is nothing in them the first thing of which one is sure in meeting a number of Conrad's characters is that they have existences and histories entirely independent of their introducers kind offices has met them has talked to them has come to know them but we are sure not only that there is very much more that he could tell us about them if he had time and space but that even when he had told us all that he knew we would only have touched on the fringe of their real histories one of the distinctions between the modern English novel and the mid-victorian English novel is that modern characters have but little of the robust vitality of their predecessors the figures and the novel of today fade so easily from the page that endeavours to keep them in the novels of mr. Henry James we feel at times that the characters fade before the motives attributed to them in those of mr. wells before an idea a curse or a remedy and those of mr. Bennett before a creeping wilderness of important in significances and those of mr. Goldsworthy before the oppression of social inequalities of those of mrs. Wharton before the shadow of mr. Henry James even in those of mr. Hardy before the omnipotence of an inevitable God whom in spite of his inevitability mr. Hardy himself is arranging in the background it may be claimed for the characters of mr. Conrad that they yield their solidity to no force no power not even to their authors own determination that they are doomed in the end to defeat this is not for a moment to say that Joseph Conrad is a finer novelist than these others but this quality he has beyond his contemporaries namely the assurance that his characters have their lives and adventures both before and after the especial cases that he is describing to us the Russian Chekhov has in his plays this gift supremely so that at the close of the three sisters or the Cherry Orchard we are left speculating deeply upon what happened afterwards too gay for Barbara to masha or epoch odd off with Conrad sea captains as with Chekhov's Russians we see at once that they are entire independent of the incidents that we are told about them this independence Springs partly from the author's eager almost naive curiosity it is impossible for him to introduce us to any officer on his ship without whispering to us in an aside details about his life his wife and family on shore by so doing he forges an extra link in his chain of circumstantial evidence but we do not feel that here he is deliberately serving his art it is only that quality already mentioned his own astonished delight at the things that he is discovering we learned for instance about Captain macwhirr that he wrote long letters home beginning always with the words my darling wife and relating in minute detail each successive trip of the Nanshan mrs. McClure we learned was a pretentious person with a scraggy neck and a disdainful manner admittedly ladylike and in the neighborhood considered as quite superior the only secret of her life was her abject terror of the time when her husband would come home to stay for good also in typhoon there is the second mate who never wrote any letters did not seem to hope for news from anywhere and though he had been heard once to mention West Hartlepool it was with extreme bitterness and only in connection with the extortionate charge of a boarding house how conscious we are of gems English country parsonage of Captain Anthony's loneliness of Marlowe's isolation by this simple thread of connection between the land and the ship the whole character stands human and convincing before us of the sailors on board the narcissus there is not one about whom after his landing we are not curious there is the skipper whose wife comes on board a real lady in a black dress and with a parasol very soon the captain dressed very smartly and in a white shirt went with her over the side we didn't recognize him at all and mr. Baker the chief mate is not this little farewell enough to make us his friends for life no one waited for him ashore mother died father and two brothers Yarmouth fisherman drowned together on the dogger Bank sister married and unfriendly quite a lady married to the leading Taylor of a little town and its leading politician who did not think his sailor brother-in-law quite respectable enough for him quite a lady quite a lady he thought sitting down for a moment's rest on the quarter hatch time enough to go ashore and get a bite and sup and a bed somewhere he didn't like to part with a ship no one to think about then the darkness of a misty evening fell cold and damp upon the deserted deck and mr. Baker SAT smoking thinking of all the successive ships to whom through many long years he had given the best of a seaman's care and never a command in sight not once there are others the abominable Duncan for instance Donkin entered they discussed the account captain alliston paid I give you a bad discharge he said quietly Duncan raises his voice I don't want your bloomin discharge keep it I'm going to have a job ashore he turned to us no more bloomin see for me he said aloud all looked at him he had better clothes had an easy air appeared more at home than any of us he stared with assurance enjoying the effect of his declaration in how many novels would Duncan's life have been limited by the part that he was required to play in the adventures of the narcissus as it is our interest in his progress has been satisfied by a prologue only or there is terribly the boy of the crew as I came up i saw a red-faced lousy woman in a gray shawl and with dusty fluffy air fall on Charlie's neck it was his mother she slobbered over him oh my boy my boy let go me said Charlie Lego mother I was passing him at the time and over the untidy head of the blubbering woman he gave me a humorous smile and a glance ironic courageous and profound that seemed to put all my knowledge of life to chain I nodded and passed on but heard him say again good-naturedly if you let go of me this minute he shall have a bob for a drink out of my pay but one passes from these men of the sea from Mac were and baker from lingard and captained whaley from captain Anthony and gem with a suspicion that the author will not convince us quite so readily with his men of the land and that suspicion is never entirely dismissed about such men as McClure and Baker he can tell us nothing that we will not believe he has such a sympathy and understanding for them that they will we are assured deliver up to him their dearest secrets those little details macquarie mr. Baker's proud sister Charlie's mother or their dearest secrets but with the citizens of the other world with Stein de coude Gould verlag kosimov the sinister Nikita the little finds even the great Nostromo himself we cannot be so confident simply because their Discoverer cannot yield them that same perfect sympathy his theory about these men is that they have all of them and heed a fix that you must search for this patiently honestly unsparingly having found it the soul of the man is revealed to you but is it is it not possible that de coude or their log feeling the probing finger offer up instantly in ee de feex ready to hand because they wish to be left alone de coude himself for instance de coude the imaginative journalist in Nostromo speculating with his ironic mind upon romantic features at his heart apparently cynical and reserved the burning passion for the beautiful antonia he has yielded enough suggest the truth but the truth itself eludes us with ver lock again we have a quite masterly presentation of the man as Conrad sees him that first description of him is wonderful both in its reality and its significance his eyes were naturally heavy he had an air of having wallowed fully dressed all day on an unmade bed with many novelists that would be quite enough that we should see the character as the author sees him not because in these histories we have the convictions of the extension of the protagonist lives beyond the stated episodes it is not enough because they have lives independent of the covers of the book we feel that there can be no end to the things that we should be told about them and they must be true things there lock for instance is attached from the first to his edicts namely that he should be able to retain at all costs his phlegmatic state of self-indulgence and should not be jockey doubt of it at the first sign of threatened change he is terrified to his very soul Conrad never for an instant allows him to leave this ground upon which he has placed him we see the man tied to his rock of any day fix but he has nevertheless we are assured another life other motives other humors other terrors it is perhaps a direct tribute to the author's reserve power that we feel at the books clothes that we should have been told so much more even with the great Nostromo himself we are not satisfied as we are with Captain Whaley or mr. Bates Nostromo is surely as a picture the most romantically satisfying figure in the English novel since Scott with the single exception of factories Beatrix and Here I am not forgetting captain silver David Balfour Catriona nor in our own immediate time young Beecham or the hero of that amazing and so unjustly obscure fiction the shadow of a tight as a picture nostromo shines with a flaming color shines as the whole novel shines with a glow that is flung by the contrasted balance of its romance and realism from that first vision of him as he rides slowly through the crowds in his magnificent dress his hatch a gay son Blair with a silver cord and tassels the bright colors of a Mexican serape twisted on the cantle the enormous silver buttons on the embroidered leather jacket the row of tiny silver buttons down the seam of the trousers the snowy linen a silk sash with embroidered ends the silver plates on headstall and saddle to that last moment when in the dimly lit room a Nostromo rolled his head slowly on the pillow and opened his eyes directing at the weird figure perched by his bedside a glance of enigmatic and mocking scorn then his head rolled back his eyelids fell and the Caputo's of the car codorus died without a word or mon after an hour of immobility broken by short shudders testifying to the most atrocious sufferings we are conscious of his superb figure and after his death we do indeed believe what the last lines of the book assure us in that true cry of love and grief that seemed to ring aloud from Punta mala to Azura and away to the bright line of the horizon / hung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of solid silver the genius of the Magnificent capataz de cargadores dominated the dark Gulf containing his conquest of treasure and love his genius dominates yes but it is the genius of a magnificent picture standing as a frontispiece to the book of his soul and that soul is not given us nostromo proud to the last refuses to surrender it to us why is it that the slender sketch of old singleton in the nigger of the narcissus cissus gives us the very heart of the man so that volumes might tell us more of him indeed but could not surrender him to us more truly and all the fine summoning of Nostromo only leaves him beyond our grasp we believe in Nostromo but we are told about him we have not met him nevertheless at another turn of the road this criticism must seem the basis in gratitude when we look back and survey that crowd so various so distinct whether it be they who are busied before our eyes with the daily life of Sulaco or the verilog family the most poignant scene in the whole of Conrad's art the drive in the cab of old mrs. Verloc Winnie and Stevie compels additionally our gratitude or that strange gathering the Holden's Nikita Espada and Madame de s Piotr Ivanovich Razumov at Geneva or the highly coloured figures in romance a book find in some places astonishing the second rate in others falk or Amy foster jacobus and his daughter Jasper and his lover all these and so many many more what can we do but embrace the world that is offered to us accepted as an axiom of life that of all these figures some will be near to us some more distant it is finally a world that Conrad offers us not a series of novels in whose pages we find the same two or three figures returning to us old friends with new faces and new names but a planet that we know even as we know the meredith planet the hardy planet the james planet looking back we may trace its towns and rivers its continents and seas it's mean streets and deep valleys its country houses is sorted hovels its vast untamed forest it's desert sand wildernesses although each work from the vast Nostromo to the minus T perfect secret sharer has its new theme form its separate heart the swarming life that he has created knows no boundary and in this surely creation has accomplished its noblest work end of the novelist chapters 1 2 & 3

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