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Title: Joseph Conrad
Author: Walpole, Hugh, Sir
Language: English
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[Frontispiece: JOSEPH CONRAD]





     I.   Biography
    II.   The Novelist
   III.   The Poet
    IV.   Romance and Realism

   A Short Bibliography
   American Bibliography




To any reader of the books of Joseph Conrad it must be at once plain
that his immediate experiences and impressions 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 personal 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 colour his art has
been placed we have some compulsory connection.

Joseph Conrad (Teodor Josef Konrad Karzeniowski) was born on 6th
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 Vologda. 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
sea. In the month of May, 1878, he first landed on English ground; he
knew at that time no English but learnt rapidly, and in the autumn of
1878 joined the _Duke of Sutherland_ as ordinary seaman. He became a
Master in the English Merchant Service in 1884, in which year he was
naturalised. In 1894 he left the sea, whose servant he had been for
nearly twenty 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 publisher's acceptance of _Almayer's Folly_ the third period
of his life began. Since then his history has been the history of his

Looking for an instant at the dramatic contrast and almost ironical
relationship of these three backgrounds--Poland, the Sea, the inner
security and tradition of an English country-side--one can realise
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 vigour to any poet's 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

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
realise 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, too, an ironic pity for men
who could still live slaves and prisoners to other men when 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 tyrannies that he had known in his childhood.

He found, too, 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 realised 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 realised 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

Then, towards the end of his twenty 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 publishers that every author,
who cares for his creations, will feel to the end of his days. He
has said that if _Almayer's 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, the energy and surprise of his discovery
of the sea must have been declared to the world. _Almayer's 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 Malay 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
Henley 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.


His books, also, find naturally a division into three parts; the first
period, beginning with _Almayer's 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 Hueffer, 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_ (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 "schools," to remain too strong for him, struggles
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. _Almayer's Folly_ and _The Outcast
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 that
Conrad, by the force of his own individual discovery, proclaimed
his find with a new voice and a new vigour. In the character of
Almayer, of Aissa, of Willems, of Babalatchi and Abdulla there was a
new psychology that 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 nakedly, Conrad's difficulties. One study
in this book, _The Return_, with its redundancies and overemphasis,
is the cruelest parody on its author and no single tale in the volume
succeeds. It was, however, as though, with these efforts, Conrad flung
himself free, for ever, 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 souls that she contained, of the approaching shadow of death,
an 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, abandoned. 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 a young Englishman's loss of honour in a moment of
panic and his victorious recovery. The first half of the book is a
finely sustained development of a vividly remembered scene, the second
half has the inevitability of a moral idea pursued to its romantic end
rather than the inevitability of life. Here then in 1900 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, Donkin, 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 evocation
of the East, in _The Heart of Darkness_ and its evocation of the
forests that are beyond civilisation, 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 Monyngham, Decoud, Mrs Gould, old Viola; but they became
stronger than he and, in their completed personalities, owed 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--_T.P.'s 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
Winnie Verloc and her old mother, the two women in _The Secret Agent_,
but he studies them quite dispassionately. That love that clothed Jim
so radiantly, that fierce contempt that in _An Outcast of the Islands_
accompanied Willems to his degraded death, is gone. We have the finer
artist, 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 Verloc and it expresses, to the full,
Conrad's hatred of those rows and rows of bricks and mortar that are
so completely accepted by unimaginative men. In 1911 _Under Western
Eyes_ spoke strongly of a Russian influence. Turgéniev and Dostoievsky
had too markedly their share in the creation of Razumov and the
cosmopolitan circle in Geneva. Moreover, it is a book whose heart is

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 ironically humorous story of the Napoleonic
wars--_The Duel_--a tale 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 marvellous story, marvellous
in its completeness of theme and treatment, marvellous 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


To 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, wilful and completely
anarchistic 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,
_Almayer's Folly_; at the conclusion or, more truly, cessation of _Some
Reminiscences_, that moment is still hanging in mid-air, the writing
of _Almayer_ has not proceeded two lines farther down the stage, the
maid-servant 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 suggests 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

The whole adventure of writing his first book is crowded with incident,
not because he considers it a wonderful book or himself a marvellous
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 Captain B---- of the
_Nonsuch_ 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 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 realised.

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 sceptical, but always eager and driven by a throbbing
impulse of vitality. Partly also through certain deliberate utterances.
He tells us:

"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." (Page 20.)

Or again:

"All claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and anger
from which a philosophical mind should be free." (Page 21.)

Or again:

"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 conceives it, such as one
feels it, can be rendered without shame." (Page 194.)

This simplicity, this fidelity, this hatred of self-assertion and
self-satisfaction, this sobriety--these qualities do give some
implication of the colour of the work that will arise from them; and
when to these qualities we add that before-mentioned zest and vigour we
must have some true conception of the nature of the work that he was to

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 _Landfalls 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 hands 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 deceits, her cruelties, her inhuman disregard of the
lives of men, but, finally, her glory is enough for him. He will write
of her like this:

"The sea--this truth must be confessed--has no generosity. No display
of manly qualities--courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness--has
ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power. The
ocean has the conscienceless 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."

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

_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 humours, 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
B----, 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 B----
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"--"poor P---," with "his
cheery temper, his admiration for the jokes in _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, unsuggestive, empty of
any 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
McWhirr, Captain Lingard, Captain Mitchell and many others. Here we may
fancy that his eye lingers as though in the mere 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, has most to do.

As other men write of the woman they have loved, so does Conrad
write of his ships. He sees them, in this book that is so especially
dedicated to their pride and beauty, coloured with a fine glow of
romance, but nevertheless he realises 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
"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 humour.
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 violences of the ocean and the exacting love of

Her friend stands there on the quay and bids her be of good courage; he
salutes her grace and spirit--he echoes, with all the implied irony of
contrast, his companion's "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 _Tremolino_ and her tragic end (an end
that has in it a suggestion of that later story, _Freya of the Seven
Islands_), in that sinister adventure of Dominic and the vile Cæsar,
he shows us, in miniature, what it is that he intends to do with all
this material. He gives us the soul of the _Tremolino_, 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 it 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.




In discussing the art of any novelist as distinct from the poet or
essayist there are three 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 and the Book_ and _Aurora Leigh_
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
seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century, worried themselves
but slightly. If they considered the matter they chuckled over their
deliberate freedom, as did Sterne and Fielding. Scott considered
story-telling 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-Victorians gloriously
abandoned themselves to the rich independence of shilling numbers, a
fashion which forbade Form as completely as the manners of the time
forbade frankness. A new period began at the end of the fifties; but
no one in 1861 was aware that a novel called _Evan Harrington_ was of
any special importance; it made no more stir than did _Almayer's Folly_
in the early nineties, although the wonderful _Richard Feverel_ 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 nineties 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 æstheticism, 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 form in which Conrad has chosen to develop his narratives is the
question which must always come 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
quarrel 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 here a case for his art
and, wishing to give us the matter with the greatest possible truth
and accuracy, he begins, _oratio recta_, 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, at 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 bibulous 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 surprise 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 doing,"
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 practised 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, in all probability, an 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 _Patna_: "He made me think of a trained baby elephant walking
on hind-legs. He was extravagantly gorgeous too--got up in a soiled
sleeping-suit, 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 chap
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 grey
moustaches, 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 four, in the
same box, condemned for ever by all right-thinking men. That boy in the
same box as those obscene scoundrels! At once the artist has fastened
on to his subject, it bristles with active, vital possibilities and
discoveries. We, the observers, share the artist's thrill. We watch
our author dart upon 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 honour which is his most deeply cherished virtue, prove 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 everyone's disposal, whiskies 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 marvellous journey across the waters, all the world of
the pilgrims, the obscene captain and Jim's fine, chivalrous soul.
Marlowe 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 Brierley. "What! not know
Captain Brierley! 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 visualised scene is the
centre of the episode, so long as the experience hovers round that
inquiry and the Esplanade outside it, we are held, breathless and
believing. We believe even in the eloquent Marlowe. Then the moment
passes. Every possible probe into its heart has been made. We are

There follows then the sequel, and here at once the weakness of the
method is apparent. The author having created his narrator must
continue with him. Marlowe is there, untired, 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 Marlowe--and at the moment when we question 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 perhaps
feels this; he duplicates, he even trebles his narrators and with
each fresh agent raises a fresh crop of facts, contrasts, habits and
histories. That then is the peril of the method. Whilst we believe we
are completely held, but let the authenticity waver 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

_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 Conrad's confidence in the reader's
fore-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 learnt
the main facts of the case comes from his own convinced sense of the
reality of it. This time he has no Marlowe. He was there himself. "Of
course," he says to us, "you know all about that revolution in Sulaco,
that revolution that the Goulds were mixed up with. Well, I happened
to be there myself. I know all the people concerned, and the central
figure was not Gould, nor Mitchell, nor Monyngham--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 all 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 expected 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 Sulaco,
of the silver mine, of Nostromo and Decoud, of Mrs Gould, Antonio, the
Viola girls, of old Viola, Hirsch, Monyngham, Gould, Sotillo, of the
death of Viola's wife, of the expedition at night in the painter, of
Decoud alone on the Isabels, of Hirsch'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 melodrama, 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 visualised 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 Fynes, from the security
of their comfortable home, watch Flora de 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 too villainous for her
and too double-faced for him gives the book's theme, and never in all
the stories that preceded Flora's has Conrad been so eager to afford
us first-hand witnesses. We have, in the first place, the unquenchable
Marlowe sitting, with fine phrases at his lips, in a riverside inn.
To him enter Powell, who once served with Captain Anthony; to these
two add the little Fynes; there surely you have enough to secure your
alliance. But it is precisely the number of witnesses that frightens
us. Marlowe, 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 Flora de Barrel. Both the Knight 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 Marlowe, young Powell and the Fynes.
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 was 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 equivocal situations." We
believe in the horrible governess (a fiercely drawn figure). We believe
in Marlowe's interview with Flora on the pavement outside Anthony's

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 patronising complaisance, the intimacy that we, the
readers, might have seemed. Nevertheless we are so far held, we are

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
Jim's cowardice has 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 pitiably 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_, make 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 _Oratio
Recta_ is nothing less than maddening. Suddenly we do not believe in
Marlowe, in Powell, in the Fynes: 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 ...


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 honour
and of duty, upon them you may loosen all heaven's 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 won. We know better, you and I."

The theme of _Almayer's 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 dishonesties of a world that he
does not understand. _Typhoon_, the very epitome of Conrad's themes,
is the struggle of McWhirr against the storm (here again it is McWhirr
who apparently wins, but we can hear, in the very last line of the
book, the storm's confident chuckle of ultimate victory). In _Heart
of Darkness_ the victory is to the forest. In _The End of the Tether_
Captain Whalley, one of Conrad's finest figures, is beaten by the very
loftiness of his character. The three tales 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_ Winnie
Verloc, another simple character, finds life too much for her and
commits suicide. In _Under Western Eyes_ Razumov, 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 humour, often of a
very fine kind, is always sinister, because his choice of theme forbids

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 introducer's kind offices.
Conrad 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 he would only have touched on the fringe of their real

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 in the novel
of to-day 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, in those of Mr Bennett before
a creeping wilderness of important insignificances, in those of Mr
Galsworthy before the oppression of social inequalities, in 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 author's 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 Tchekov 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" to Gayef or Barbara,
to Masha or Epikhadov; with Conrad's sea captains as with Tchekov's
Russians we see at once that they are entirely independent of the
incidents that we are told about them. This independence springs partly
from the author's eager, almost naïve 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 learn, for instance, about Captain
McWhirr that he wrote long letters home, beginning always with the
words, "My darling Wife," and relating in minute detail each successive
trip of the _Nan-Shan_. Mrs McWhirr, we learn, was "a pretentious
person with a scraggy neck and a disdainful manner, admittedly
lady-like and in the neighbourhood 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 charges of a boarding-house." How conscious we are of
Jim's 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 recognise 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 fishermen, drowned together on the Dogger Bank; sister
married and unfriendly. Quite a lady, married to the leading tailor
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 Donkin for instance. "Donkin entered.
They discussed the account ... Captain Allistoun paid. 'I give you a
bad discharge,' he said quietly. Donkin raised his voice: 'I don't want
your bloomin' discharge--keep it. I'm goin' ter 'ave a job hashore.' He
turned to us. 'No more bloomin' sea 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

In how many novels would Donkin'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 Charley, the boy of the crew--"As I came up I saw
a red-faced, blowzy woman, in a grey shawl, and with dusty, fluffy
hair, fall on Charley's neck. It was his mother. She slobbered over
him:--'Oh, my boy! my boy!'--'Leggo me,' said Charley, 'leggo,
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 shame. I nodded and passed on, but heard him say again,
good-naturedly:--'If you leggo of me this minyt--ye shall 'ave a bob
for a drink out of my pay.'"

But one passes from these men of the sea--from McWhirr and Baker, from
Lingard and Captain Whalley, from Captain Anthony and Jim, 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 McWhirr and Baker he can tell us nothing that we will
not believe. He has such sympathy and understanding for them that they
will, we are assured, deliver up to him their dearest secrets--those
little details, McWhirr's wife, Mr Baker's proud sister, Charley's
mother, are their dearest secrets. But with the citizens of the other
world--with Stein, Decoud, Gould, Verloc, Kazumov, the sinister Nikita,
the little Fynes, 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, an
_idée fixe_, 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 Decoud or Verloc, feeling
the probing finger, offer up instantly any _idée fixe_ ready to
hand because they wish to be left alone? Decoud himself, for
instance--Decoud, 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 to suggest the truth, but the truth itself eludes
us. With Verloc 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, but because, in these histories,
we have the convictions of the extension of the protagonists' 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

Verloc, for instance, is attached from the first to his _idée
fixe_--namely, that he should be able to retain, at all costs, his
phlegmatic state of self-indulgence and should not be jockeyed out 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 an
_idée fixe_, but he has, nevertheless, we are assured, another life,
other motives, other humours, other terrors. It is perhaps a direct
tribute to the author's reserve power that we feel, at the book's
close, that we should have been told so much more.

Even with the great Nostromo himself we are not satisfied as we are
with Captain Whalley 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 Thackeray's Beatrix--and here I am
not forgetting Captain Silver, David Balfour, Catriona, nor, in our
own immediate time, young Beauchamp or the hero of that amazing and
so unjustly obscure fiction, _The Shadow of a Titan_. As a picture,
Nostromo shines with a flaming colour, 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 hat, a gay
sombrero with a silver cord and tassels. The bright colours 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 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 Capatos
of the Cargadores died without a word or moan 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 Azuera and away to the bright line of the horizon,
overhung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of solid silver,
the genius of the magnificent Capatuz de Cargadores dominated the
dark gulf containing his conquests 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_ 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 basest ingratitude. 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 Verloc 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 Haldins, Nikita, Laspara,
Madame de S----, Peter Ivanovitch, Razumov, at Geneva, or the
highly coloured figures in _Romance_ (a book fine in some places,
astonishingly 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, accept it
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, its mean streets and deep valleys, its country houses, its sordid
hovels, its vast, untamed forests, its deserts and wildernesses.
Although each work, from the vast _Nostromo_ to the minutely perfect
_Secret Sharer_, has its new theme, its form, its separate heart, the
swarming life that he has created knows no boundary. And in this,
surely, creation has accomplished its noblest work.




The poet in Conrad is lyrical as well as philosophic. The lyrical side
is absent in certain of his works, as, for example, _The Secret Agent_,
and _Under Western Eyes_, or such short stories as _The Informer_,
or _Il Conde_, but the philosophic note sounded poetically, as an
instrument of music as well as a philosophy, is never absent.

Three elements in the work of Conrad the poet as distinct from Conrad
the novelist deserve consideration--style, atmosphere and philosophy.
In the matter of style the first point that must strike any constant
reader of the novels is the change that is to be marked between the
earlier works and the later. Here is a descriptive passage from
Conrad's second novel, _An Outcast of the Islands_:

"He followed her step by step till at last they both stopped, facing
each other under the big tree of the enclosure. The solitary exile
of the forests great, motionless and solemn in his abandonment, left
alone by the life of ages that had been pushed away from him by those
pigmies that crept at his foot, towered high and straight above their
leader. He seemed to look on, dispassionate and imposing in his
lonely greatness, spreading his branches wide in a gesture of lofty
protection, as if to hide them in the sombre shelter of innumerable
leaves; as if moved by the disdainful compassion of the strong, by the
scornful pity of an aged giant, to screen this struggle of two human
hearts from the cold scrutiny of glittering stars."

And from his latest novel, _Chance_:

"The very sea, with short flashes of foam bursting out here and there
in the gloomy distances, the unchangeable, safe sea sheltering a man
from all passions, except its own anger, seemed queer to the quick
glance he threw to windward when the already effaced horizon traced
no reassuring limit to the eye. In the expiring diffused twilight,
and before the clouded night dropped its mysterious veil, it was the
immensity of space made visible--almost palpable. Young Powell felt
it. He felt it in the sudden sense of his isolation; the trustworthy,
powerful ship of his first acquaintance reduced to a speck, to
something almost undistinguishable. The mere support for the soles
of his two feet before that unexpected old man becoming so suddenly
articulate in a darkening universe."

It must be remembered that the second of these quotations is the voice
of Marlowe and that therefore it should, in necessity, be the simpler
of the two. Nevertheless, the distinction can very clearly be observed.
The first piece of prose is quite definitely lyrical: it has, it cannot
be denied, something of the "purple patch." We feel that the prose is
too dependent upon sonorous adjectives, that it has the deliberation of
work slightly affected by the author's determination that it shall be
fine. The rhythm in it, however, is as deliberate as the rhythm of any
poem in English, the picture evoked as distinct and clear-cut as though
it were, in actual fact, a poem detached from all context and, finally,
there is the inevitable philosophical implication to give the argument
to the picture. Such passages of descriptive prose may be found again
and again in the earlier novels and tales of Conrad, in _Almayer's
Folly, Tales of Unrest, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Typhoon, Youth,
Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim_--prose piled high with sonorous and
slow-moving adjectives, three adjectives to a noun, prose that sounds
like an Eastern invocation to a deity in whom, nevertheless, the
suppliant does not believe. At its worst, the strain that its sonority
places upon movements and objects of no importance is disastrous. For
instance, in the tale called _The Return_, there is the following

"He saw her shoulder touch the lintel of the door. She swayed as if
dazed. There was less than a second of suspense while they both felt
as if poised on the very edge of moral annihilation, ready to fall
into some devouring nowhere. Then almost simultaneously he shouted,
'Come back,' and she let go the handle of the door. She turned round in
peaceful desperation like one who has deliberately thrown away the last
chance of life; and for a moment the room she faced appeared terrible,
and dark, and safe--like a grave."

The situation here simply will not bear the weight of the words--"moral
annihilation," "devouring nowhere," "peaceful desperation," "last
chance of life," "terrible," "like a grave." That he shouted gives a
final touch of ludicrous exaggeration to the whole passage.

Often, in the earlier books, Conrad's style has the awkward
over-emphasis of a writer who is still acquiring the language that he
is using, like a foreigner who shouts to us because he thinks that
thus we shall understand him more easily. But there is also, in this
earlier style, the marked effect of two influences. One influence is
that of the French language and especially of the author of _Madame
Bovary_. When we recollect that Conrad hesitated at the beginning of
his career as to whether he would write in French or English, we can
understand this French inflection. Flaubert's effect on his style
is quite unmistakable. This is a sentence of Flaubert's: "Toutes
ses velléités de dénigrement l'envanouissaient sous la poésie du
rôle qui l'envahissait; et entrainée vers l'homme par l'illusion du
personnage elle tâcha de se figurer sa vie, cette vie retentissante,
extraordinaire, splendide ..." and this a sentence of Conrad's: "Her
hands slipped slowly off Lingard's shoulders and her arms fell by her
side, listless, discouraged, as if to her--to her, the savage, violent
and ignorant creature--had been revealed clearly in that moment the
tremendous fact of our isolation, of the loneliness, impenetrable and
transparent, elusive and everlasting."

Conrad's sentence reads like a direct translation from the French,
It is probable, however, that his debt to Flaubert and the French
language can be very easily exaggerated, and it does not seem, in
any case, to have driven very deeply into the heart of his form. The
influence is mainly to be detected in the arrangement of words and
sentences as though he had, in the first years of his work, used it as
a crutch before he could walk alone.

The second of the early influences upon his style is of far greater
importance--the influence of the vast, unfettered elements of nature
that he had, for so many years, so directly served. If it were not for
his remarkable creative gift that had been, from the very first, at its
full strength, his early books would stand as purely lyrical evocations
of the sea and the forest. It is the poetry of the Old Testament of
which we think in many pages of _Almayer's Folly_ and _An Outcast of
the Island_, a poetry that has the rhythm and metre of a spontaneous
emotion. He was never again to catch quite the spirit of that first

He was under the influence of these powers also in that, at that time,
they were too strong for him. We feel with him that he is impotent to
express his wonder and praise because he is still so immediately under
their sway. His style, in these earlier books, has the repetitions
and extended phrases of a man who is marking time before the inspired
moment comes to him--often the inspiration does not come because he
cannot detach himself with sufficient pause and balance. But in his
middle period, in the period of _Youth, Typhoon, Heart of Darkness_
and _Nostromo_, this lyrical impulse can be seen at its perfection,
beating, steadily, spontaneously, with the finest freedom and yet
disciplined, as it were, by its own will and desire. Compare, for a
moment, this passage from _Typhoon_ with that earlier one from _The
Outcast of the Islands_ that I quoted above:

"He watched her, battered and solitary, labouring heavily in a wild
scene of mountainous black waters lit by the gleam of distant worlds.
She moved slowly, breathing into the still core of the hurricane the
excess of her strength in a white cloud of steam, and the deep-toned
vibration of the escape was like the defiant trumpeting of a living
creature of the sea impatient for the renewal of the contest. It ceased
suddenly. The still air moaned. Above Jakes' head a few stars shone
into the pit of black vapours. The inky edge of the cloud-disc frowned
upon the ship under the patch of glittering sky. The stars too seemed
to look at her intently, as if for the last time, and the cluster of
their splendour sat like a diadem on a lowering brow."

That is poet's work, and poet's work at its finest. Instead of
impressing us, as the earlier piece of prose, with the fact that the
author has made the very most of a rather thin moment--feels, indeed,
himself that it is thin--we are here under the influence of something
that can have no limits to the splendours that it contains. The work
is thick, as though it had been wrought by the finest workman out of
the heart of the finest material--and yet it remains, through all its
discipline, spontaneous.

These three tales, _Typhoon, Youth_ and _Heart of Darkness_, stand
by themselves as the final expression of Conrad's lyrical gift. We
may remember such characters as McWhirr, Kurtz, Marlowe, but they are
figures as the old seneschal in _The Eve of St Agnes_ or the Ancient
Mariner himself are figures. They are as surely complete poems, wrought
and finished in the true spirit of poetry, as Whitman's _When Lilac
first on the Door-yard bloomed_ or Keats' _Nightingale_. Their author
was never again to succeed so completely in combining the free spirit
of his enthusiasm with the disciplined restraint of the true artist.

The third period of his style shows him cool and clear-headed as to
the things that he intends to do. He is now the slightly ironic artist
whose business is to get things on to paper in the clearest possible
way. He is conscious that in the past he has been at the mercy of
sonorous and high-sounding adjectives. He will use them still, but
only to show them that they are at his mercy. Marlowe, his appointed
minister, is older--he must look back now on the colours of _Youth_
with an indulgent smile. And when Marlowe is absent, in such novels
as _The Secret Agent_ and _Under Western Eyes_, in such a volume of
stories as _A Set of Six_, the lyrical beat in the style is utterly
abandoned--we are led forward by sentences as grave, as assured, and
sometimes as ponderous as a city policeman. Nevertheless, in that
passage from _Chance_ quoted at the beginning of the chapter, although
we may be far from the undisciplined enthusiasm of _An Outcast of
the Islands_, the lyrical impulse still remains. Yes, it is there,
but--"Young Powell felt it." In that magical storm that was _Typhoon_
God alone can share our terror and demand our courage; in the later
experience young Powell is our companion.


The question of style devolves here directly into the question of
atmosphere. There may roughly be said to be four classes of novelists
in the matter of atmosphere. There is the novelist who, intent upon
his daily bread or game of golf, has no desire to be worried by such a
perplexing business. He produces stories that might without loss play
the whole of their action in the waiting-room of an English railway
station. There is the novelist who thinks that atmosphere matters
immensely, who works hard to produce it and _does_ produce it in thick
slabs. There are the novelists whose theme, characters and background
react so admirably that the atmosphere is provided simply by that
reaction--and there, finally, it is left, put into no relation with
other atmospheres, serving no further purpose than the immediate one
of stating the facts. Of this school are the realists and, in our own
day, Mr Arnold Bennett's Brighton background in _Hilda Lessways_ or
Mrs Wharton's New York background in _The House of Mirth_ offer most
successful examples of such realistic work. The fourth class provides
us with the novelists who wish to place their atmosphere in relation
with the rest of life. Our imagination is awakened, insensibly, by
the contemplation of some scene and is thence extended to the whole
vista of life, from birth to death; although the scene may actually be
as remote or as confined as space can make it, its potential limits
are boundless, its progression is extended beyond all possibilities
of definition. Such a moment is the death of Bazarov in _Fathers and
Children_, the searching of Dmitri in _The Brothers Karamazov_, the
scene at the theatre in _The Ring and the Book_, the London meeting
between Beauchamp and René in _Beauchamp's Career_. It is not only that
these scenes are "done" to the full extent of their "doing," it is also
that they have behind them the lyrical impulse that unites them with
all the emotion and beauty in the history of the world; Turgéniev,
Dostoievsky, Browning, Meredith were amongst the greatest of the poets.
Conrad, at his highest moments, is also of that company.

But it is not enough to say that this potential atmosphere is
simply lyrical. Mr Chesterton, in his breathless _Victorian Age in
Literature_, has named this element Glamour.

In writing of the novels by George Eliot he says: "Indeed there is
almost every element of literature, except a certain indescribable
thing called _Glamour_, which was the whole stock-in-trade of the
Brontës, which we feel in Dickens when Quilp clambers amid rotten wood
by the desolate river; and even in Thackeray, when Edmond wanders like
some swarthy crow about the dismal avenues of Castlewood." Now this
matter of _Glamour_ is not all, because Dickens, for instance, is not
at all potential. His pictures of Quilp or the house of the Dedlocks
or Jonas Chuzzlewit's escape after the murder do not put us into touch
with other worlds--but we may say, at any rate, that when, in a novel
atmosphere _is_ potential, it is certain also to have glamour.

The potential qualities of Conrad's atmosphere are amongst his very
strongest gifts and, if we investigate the matter, we see that it is
his union of Romance and Realism that gives such results. Of almost no
important scene in his novels is it possible to define the boundaries.
In _The Outcast of the Islands_, when Willems is exiled by Captain
Lingard, the terror of that forest has at its heart not only the
actual terror of that immediate scene, minutely and realistically
described--it has also the terror of all our knowledge of loneliness,
desolation, the power of something stronger than ourselves. In _Lord
Jim_ the contrast of Jim with the officers of the _Patna_ is a contrast
not only immediately vital and realised to the very fringe of the
captain's gay and soiled pyjamas, but also potential to the very limits
of our ultimate conception of the eternal contrast between good and
evil, degradation and vigour, ugliness and beauty. In _The Nigger of
the Narcissus_ the death of the negro, James Wait, immediately affects
the lives of a number of very ordinary human beings whose friends and
intimates we have become--but that shadow that traps the feet of the
negro, that alarms the souls of Donkin, of Belfast, of Singleton, of
the boy Charlie, creeps also to our sides and envelops for us far more
than that single voyage of the _Narcissus_.

When Winnie Verloc, her old mother and the boy Stevie take their
journey in the cab it does not seem ludicrous to us that the tears
of "that large female in a dark, dusty wig, and ancient silk dress
festooned with dingy white cotton lace" should move us as though Mrs
Verloc were our nearest friend. That mournful but courageous journey
remains in our mind as an intimate companion of our own mournful
and courageous experiences. Such examples might be multiplied quite

He has always secured his atmosphere by his own eager curiosity
about significant detail, but his detail is significant, not because
he wishes to impress his reader with the realism of his picture,
but rather because he is, like a very small boy in a strange house,
pursuing the most romantic adventures for his own pleasure and
excitement only. We may hear, with many novelists, the click of
satisfaction with which they drive another nail into the framework that
supports their picture. "Now see how firmly it stands," they say. "That
last nail settled it." But Conrad is utterly unconscious as to his
readers' later credulity--he is too completely held by his own amazing
discoveries. Sometimes, as in _The Return_, when no vision is granted
to him, it is as though he were banging on a brass tray with all his
strength so that no one should perceive his own grievous disappointment
at his failure. But, in his real discoveries, how the atmosphere
piles itself up, around and about him, how we follow at his heels,
penetrating the darkness, trusting to his courage, finding ourselves
suddenly blinded by the blaze of Aladdin's cave! If he is tracing the
tragedy of Willems and Almayer, a tragedy that has for its natural
background the gorgeous, heavy splendour of those unending forests, he
sees details that belong to the austerest and most sharply disciplined
realism. We see Lakamba, asleep under the moon, slapping himself in
his dreams to keep off the mosquitoes; a bluebottle comes buzzing into
the verandah above the dirty plates of a half-finished meal and defies
Lingard and Almayer, so that they are like men disheartened by some
tremendous failure; the cards with which Lingard tries to build a house
for Almayer's baby are "a dirty double pack" with which he used to play
Chinese bézique--it bored Almayer but the old seaman delighted in it,
considering it a remarkable product of Chinese genius. The atmosphere
of the terrible final chapters is set against this picture of a room in
which Mrs Willems is waiting for her abominable husband:

"Bits of white stuff; rags yellow, pink, blue; rags limp, brilliant
and soiled, trailed on the floor, lay on the desk amongst the sombre
covers of books soiled, greasy, but stiff-backed in virtue, perhaps, of
their European origin. The biggest set of bookshelves was partly hidden
by a petticoat, the waistband of which was caught upon the back of a
slender book pulled a little out of the row so as to make an improvised
clothes-peg. The folding canvas bedstead stood anyhow, parallel to
no wall, as if it had been, in the process of transportation to some
remote place, dropped casually there by tired bearers. And on the
tumbled blankets that lay in a disordered heap on its edge, Joanna
sat.... Through the half-open shutter a ray of sunlight, a ray
merciless and crude, came into the room, beat in the early morning
upon the safe in the far-off corner, then, travelling against the
sun, cut at midday the big desk in two with its solid and clean-edged
brilliance; with its hot brilliance in which a swarm of flies hovered
in dancing flight over some dirty plate forgotten there amongst yellow
papers for many a day!"

And this room is set in the very heart of the forests--"the forests
unattainable, enigmatical, for ever beyond reach like the stars
of heaven--and as indifferent." Had I space I could multiply from
every novel and tale examples of this creation of atmosphere by the
juxtaposition of the lyrical and the realistic--the lyrical pulse
beating through realistic detail and transforming it. I will, however,
select one book, a supreme example of this effect. What I say about
_Nostromo_ may be proved from any other work of Conrad's.

The theme of _Nostromo_ is the domination of the silver of the Sulaco
mine over the bodies and souls of the human beings who live near it.
The light of the silver shines over the book. It is typified by "the
white head of Higuerota rising majestically upon the blue." Conrad,
then, in choosing his theme, has selected the most romantic possible,
the spirit of silver treasure luring men on desperately to adventure
and to death. His atmosphere, therefore, is, in its highest lights,
romantic, even until that last vision of all of "the bright line of
the horizon, overhung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of
solid silver." Sulaco burns with colour. We can see, as though we had
been there yesterday, those streets with the coaches, "great family
arks swayed on high leathern springs full of pretty powdered faces in
which the eyes looked intensely alive and black," the houses, "in the
early sunshine, delicate primrose, pale pink, pale blue," or, after
dark, from Mrs Gould's balcony "towards the plaza end of the street the
glowing coals in the hazeros of the market women cooking their evening
meal glowed red along the edge of the pavement. A man appeared without
a sound in the light of a street lamp, showing the coloured inverted
triangle of his broidered poncho, square on his shoulders, hanging to
a point below his knees. From the harbour end of the Calle a horseman
walked his soft-stepping mount, gleaming silver-grey abreast each
lamp under the dark shape of the rider." Later there is that sinister
glimpse of the plaza, "where a patrol of cavalry rode round and round
without penetrating into the streets which resounded with shouts and
the strumming of guitars issuing from the open doors of pulperias ...
and above the roofs, next to the perpendicular lines of the cathedral
towers the snowy curve of Higuerota blocked a large space of darkening
blue sky before the windows of the Intendencia." In its final created
beauty Sulaco is as romantic, as coloured as one of those cloud-topped,
many-towered towns under whose gates we watch Grimm's princes and
princesses passing--but the detail of it is built with careful realism
demanded by the "architecture of Manchester or Birmingham." We wonder,
as Sulaco grows familiar to us, as we realise its cathedral, its
squares and streets and houses, its slums, its wharves, its sea, its
hills and forests, why it is that other novelists have not created
towns for us.

Anthony Trollope did, indeed, give us Barchester, but Barchester is
a shadow beside Sulaco. Mr Thomas Hardy's Wessex map is the most
fascinating document in modern fiction, with the possible exception of
Stevenson's chart in _Treasure Island_. Conrad, without any map at all,
gives us a familiarity with a small town on the South American coast
that far excels our knowledge of Barsetshire, Wessex and John Silver's
treasure. If any attentive reader of _Nostromo_ were put down in Sulaco
tomorrow he would feel as though he had returned to his native town.
The detail that provides this final picture is throughout the book
incessant but never intruding. We do not look back, when the novel is
finished, to any especial moment of explanation or introduction. We
have been led, quite unconsciously, forward. We are led, at moments of
the deepest drama, through rooms and passages that are only remembered,
many hours later, in retrospect. There is, for instance, the
Aristocratic Club, that "extended to strangers the large hospitality
of the cool, big rooms of its historic quarters in the front part of
a house, once a residence of a high official of the Holy Office. The
two wings, shut up, crumbled behind the nailed doors, and what may be
described as a grove of young orange-trees grown in the unpaved patio
concealed the utter ruin of the back part facing the gate. You turned
in from the street, as if entering a secluded orchard, where you came
upon the foot of a disjointed staircase, guarded by a moss-stained
effigy of some saintly bishop, mitred and staffed, and bearing the
indignity of a broken nose meekly, with his fine stone hands crossed on
his breast. The chocolate-coloured faces of servants with mops of black
hair peeped at you from above; the click of billiard balls came to your
ears, and, ascending the steps, you would perhaps see in the first
sala, very stiff upon a straight-backed chair, in a good light, Don
Pépé moving his long moustaches as he spelt his way, at arm's-length,
through an old Sta Marta newspaper. His horse--a strong-hearted but
persevering black brute, with a hammer head--you would have seen in the
street dozing motionless under an immense saddle, with its nose almost
touching the curbstone of the side-walk!"

How perfectly recollected is that passage! Can we not hear the
exclamation of some reader: "Yes--those orange-trees! It was just like
that when I was there!" How convinced we are of Conrad's unimpeachable
veracity! How like him are those remembered details, "the nailed
doors," "the fine stone hands," "at arm's-length"!--and can we not
sniff something of the author's impatience to let himself go and tell
us more about that "hammer-headed horse" of whose adventures with Don
Pépé he must remember enough to fill a volume!

He is able, therefore, upon this foundation of a minute and scrupulous
realism to build as fantastic a building as he pleases without fear of
denying Truth. He does not, in _Nostromo_ at any rate, choose to be
fantastic, but he _is_ romantic, and our final impression of the silver
mine and the town under its white shining shadow is of something both
as real and as beautiful as any vision of Keats or Shelley. But with
the colour we remember also the grim tragedy of the life that has been
shown to us. Near to the cathedral and the little tinkering streets of
the guitars were the last awful struggles of the unhappy Hirsch. We
remember Nostromo riding, with his silver buttons, catching the red
flower flung to him out of the crowd, but we remember also his death
and the agony of his defeated pride. Sotillo, the vainest and most
sordid of bandits, is no figure for a fairy story.

Here, then, is the secret of Conrad's atmosphere. He is the poet,
working through realism, to the poetic vision of life. That intention
is at the heart of his work from the first line of _Almayer's Folly_
to the last line of _Victory. Nostromo_ is not simply the history of
certain lives that were concerned in a South American revolution. It
_is_ that history, but it is also a vision, a statement of beauty that
has no country, nor period, and sets no barrier of immediate history or
fable for its interpretation....

When, however, we come finally to the philosophy that lies behind this
creation of character and atmosphere we perceive, beyond question,
certain limitations.


As we have already seen, Conrad is of the firm and resolute conviction
that life is too strong, too clever and too remorseless for the sons of

It is as though, from some high window, looking down, he were able
to watch some shore, from whose security men were for ever launching
little cockle-shell boats upon a limitless and angry sea. He observes
them, as they advance with confidence, with determination, each with
his own sure ambition of nailing victory to his mast; he alone can
see that the horizon is limitless; he can see farther than they--from
his height he can follow their fortunes, their brave struggles, their
fortitude to the very last. He admires that courage, the simplicity of
that faith, but his irony springs from his knowledge of the inevitable

There are, we may thankfully maintain, other possible views of life,
and it is, surely, Conrad's harshest limitation that he should never
be free from this certain obsession of the vanity of human struggle.
So bound is he by this that he is driven to choose characters who will
prove his faith. We can remember many fine and courageous characters
of his creation, we can remember no single one who is not foredoomed
to defeat. Jim wins, indeed, his victory, but at the close: "And
that's the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart,
forgotten, unforgiven, and excessively romantic.... He goes away from a
living woman to celebrate his pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of

Conrad's ironical smile that has watched with tenderness the history of
Jim's endeavours, proclaims, at the last, that that pursuit has been
vain--as vain as Stein's butterflies.

And, for the rest, as Mr Curle in his study of Conrad has admirably
observed, every character is faced with the enemy for whom he is, by
character, least fitted. Nostromo, whose heart's desire it is that his
merits should be acclaimed before men, is devoured by the one dragon to
whom human achievements are nothing--lust of treasure.

McWhirr, the most unimaginative of men, is opposed by the most
tremendous of God's splendid terrors and, although he saves his ship
from the storm, so blind is he to the meaning of the things that he
has witnessed that he might as well have never been born. Captain
Brierley, watching the degradation of a fellow-creature from a security
that nothing, it seems, can threaten, is himself caught by that very
degradation.... The Beast in the Jungle is waiting ever ready to
leap--the victim is always in his power.

It comes from this philosophy of life that the qualities in the
human soul that Conrad most definitely admires are blind courage and
obedience to duty. His men of brain--Marlowe, Decoud, Stein--are
melancholy and ironic: "If you see far enough you must see how hopeless
the struggle is." The only way to be honestly happy is to have no
imagination and, because Conrad is tender at heart and would have his
characters happy, if possible, he chooses men without imagination.
Those are the men of the sea whom he has known and loved. The men of
the land see farther than the men of the sea and must, therefore,
be either fools or knaves. Towards Captain Anthony, towards Captain
Lingard he extends his love and pity. For Verloc, for Ossipon, for
old De Barral he has a disgust that is beyond words. For the Fynes
and their brethren he has contempt. For two women of the land, Winnie
Verloc and Mrs Gould, he reserves his love, and for them alone, but
they have, in their hearts, the simplicity, the honesty of his own sea

This then is quite simply his philosophy. It has no variation or
relief. He will not permit his characters to escape, he will not
himself try to draw the soul of a man who is stronger than Fate. His
ironic melancholy does not, for an instant, hamper his interest--that
is as keen and acute as is the absorption of any collector of
specimens--but at the end of it all, as with his own Stein: "He says of
him that he is 'preparing to leave all this: preparing to leave ...'
while he waves his hand sadly at his butterflies."

Utterly opposed is it from the philosophy of the one English writer
whom, in all other ways, Conrad most obviously resembles--Robert
Browning. As philosophers they have no possible ground of
communication, save in the honesty that is common to both of them. As
artists, both in their subjects and their treatment of their subjects,
they are, in many ways, of an amazing resemblance, although the
thorough investigation of that resemblance would need far more space
than I can give it here. Browning's interest in life was derived,
on the novelist's side of him, from his absorption in the affairs,
spiritual and physical, of men and women; on the poet's side, in the
question again spiritual and physical, that arose from those affairs.
Conrad has not Browning's clear-eyed realisation of the necessity of
discovering the individual philosophy that belongs to every individual
case--he is too immediately enveloped in his one overwhelming
melancholy analysis. But he has exactly that eager, passionate pursuit
of romance, a romance to be seized only through the most accurate and
honest realism.

Browning's realism was born of his excitement at the number and
interest of his discoveries; he chose, for instance, in _Sordello_ the
most romantic of subjects, and, having made his choice, found that
there was such a world of realistic detail in the case that, in his
excitement, he forgot that the rest of the world did not know quite as
much as he did. Is not this exactly what we may say of _Nostromo_? Mr
Chesterton has written of Browning: "He substituted the street with
the green blind for the faded garden of Watteau, and the 'blue spirt
of a lighted match' for the monotony of the evening star." Conrad has
substituted for the lover serenading his mistress' window the passion
of a middle-aged, faded woman for her idiot boy, or the elopement of
the daughter of a fraudulent speculator with an elderly, taciturn sea

The characters upon whom Robert Browning lavished his affection are
precisely Conrad's characters. Is not Waring Conrad's man?

And for the rest, is not Mr Sludge own brother to Verloc and old De
Barrel? Bishop Blougram first cousin to the great Personage in _The
Secret Agent_, Captain Anthony brother to Caponsacchi, Mrs Gould sister
to Pompilia? It is not only that Browning and Conrad both investigate
these characters with the same determination to extract the last word
of truth from the matter, not grimly, but with a thrilling beat of the
heart, it is also that the worlds of these two poets are the same. How
deeply would Nostromo, Decoud, Gould, Monyngham, the Verlocs, Flora
de Barrel, McWhirr, Jim have interested Browning! Surely Conrad has
witnessed the revelation of Caliban, of Childe Roland, of James Lee's
wife, of the figures in the Arezzo tragedy, even of that bishop who
ordered his tomb at St Praxed's Church, with a strange wonder as though
he himself had assisted at these discoveries!

Finally, _The Ring and the Book_, with its multiplied witnesses, its
statement as a "case" of life, its pursuit of beauty through truth, the
simplicity of the characters of Pompilia, Caponsacchi and the Pope, the
last frantic appeal of Guido, the detail, encrusted thick in the walls
of that superb building--here we can see the highest pinnacle of that
temple that has _Chance, Lord Jim, Nostromo_ amongst its other turrets,
buttresses and towers.

Conrad is his own master--he has imitated no one, he has created, as I
have already said, his own planet, but the heights to which Browning
carried Romantic-Realism showed the author of _Almayer's Folly_ the
signs of the road that he was to follow.

If, as has often been said, Browning was as truly novelist as poet,
may we not now say with equal justice that Conrad is as truly poet as




The terms, Romance and Realism, have been used of late years very
largely as a means of escape from this business of the creation
of character. The purely romantic novel may now be said to be, in
England at any rate, absolutely dead. Mr Frank Swinnerton, in his
study of _Robert Louis Stevenson_, said: "Stevenson, reviving the
never-very-prosperous romance of England, created a school which has
brought romance to be the sweepings of an old costume-chest;... if
romance is to be conventional in a double sense, if it spring not
from a personal vision of life, but is only a tedious virtuosity, a
pretence, a conscious toy, romance as an art is dead. The art was jaded
when Reade finished his vociferous carpet-beating; but it was not
dead. And if it is dead, Stevenson killed it!"

We may differ very considerably from Mr Swinnerton with regard to his
estimate of Stevenson's present and future literary value without
denying that the date of the publication of _St Ives_ was also the date
of the death of the purely romantic novel.

But, surely, here, as Mr Swinnerton himself infers, the term "Romantic"
is used in the limited and truncated idea that has formed, lately the
popular idea of Romance. In exactly the same way the term "Realism"
has, recently, been most foolishly and uncritically handicapped.
Romance, in its modern use, covers everything that is removed from
reality: "I like romances," we hear the modern reader say, "because
they take me away from real life, which I desire to forget." In
the same way Realism is defined by its enemies as a photographic
enumeration of unimportant facts by an observant pessimist. "I like
realism," admirers of a certain order of novel exclaim, "because it
is so like life. It tells me just what I myself see every day--I know
where I am."

Nevertheless, impatient though we may be of these utterly false
ideas of Romance and Realism, a definition of those terms that will
satisfy everyone is almost impossible. I cannot hope to achieve so
exclusive an ambition--I can only say that to myself Realism is the
study of life with all the rational faculties of observation, reason
and reminiscence--Romance is the study of life with the faculties
of imagination. I do not mean that Realism may not be emotional,
poetic, even lyrical, but it is based always upon truth perceived and
recorded--it is the essence of observation. In the same way Romance
may be, indeed must be, accurate and defined in its own world, but its
spirit is the spirit of imagination, working often upon observation
and sometimes simply upon inspiration. It is, at any rate, understood
here that the word Romance does not, for a moment, imply a necessary
divorce from reality, nor does Realism imply a detailed and dusty
preference for morbid and unagreeable subjects. It is possible for
Romance to be as honestly and clearly perceptive as Realism, but it
is not so easy for it to be so because imagination is more difficult
of discipline than observation. It is possible for Realism to be
as eloquent and potential as Romance, although it cannot so easily
achieve eloquence because of its fear of deserting truth. Moreover,
with regard to the influence of foreign literature upon the English
novel, it may be suggested that the influence of the French novel,
which was at its strongest between the years of 1885 and 1895, was
towards Realism, and that the influence of the Russian novel, which has
certainly been very strongly marked in England during the last years,
is all towards Romantic-Realism. If we wished to know exactly what is
meant by Romantic-Realism, such a novel as _The Brothers Karamazov_,
such a play as _The Cherry Orchard_ are there before us, as the best
possible examples. We might say, in a word, that _Karamazov_ has, in
the England of 1915, taken the place that was occupied, in 1890, by
_Madame Bovary_....


It is Joseph Conrad whose influence is chiefly responsible for this
development in the English novel. Just as, in the early nineties,
Mr Henry James and Mr Rudyard Kipling, the one potential, the other
kinetic, influenced, beyond all contemporary novelists, the minds of
their younger generation, so to-day, twenty-five years later, do Mr
Joseph Conrad and Mr H. G. Wells, the one potential, the other kinetic,
hold that same position.

Joseph Conrad, from the very first, influenced though he was by the
French novel, showed that Realism alone was not enough for him. That
is to say that, in presenting the case of Almayer, it was not enough
for him merely to state as truthfully as possible the facts. Those
facts, sordid as they are, make the story of Almayer's degradation
sufficiently realistic, when it is merely recorded and perceived by
any observer. But upon these recorded facts Conrad's imagination,
without for a moment deserting the truth, worked, beautifying,
ennobling it, giving it pity and terror, above all putting it into
relation with the whole universe, the whole history of the cycle of
life and death.

As I have said, the Romantic novel, in its simplest form, was used,
very often, by writers who wished to escape from the business of the
creation of character. It had not been used for that purpose by Sir
Walter Scott, who was, indeed, the first English Romantic-Realist, but
it was so used by his successors, who found a little optimism, a little
adventure, a little colour and a little tradition go a long way towards
covering the required ground.

Conrad had, from the first, a poet's--that is to say, a romantic--mind,
and his determination to use that romance realistically was simply his
determination to justify the full play of his romantic mind in the eyes
of all honest men.

In that intention he has absolutely succeeded; he has not abated one
jot of his romance--_Nostromo, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness_ are amongst
the most romantic things in all our literature--but the last charge
that any critic can make against him is falsification, whether of
facts, of inference or of consequences.

The whole history of his development has for its key-stone this
determination to save his romance by his reality, to extend his reality
by his romance. He found in English fiction little that could assist
him in this development; the Russian novelists were to supply him
with his clue. This whole question of Russian influence is difficult
to define, but that Conrad has been influenced by Turgéniev a little
and by Dostoievsky very considerably, cannot be denied. _Crime and
Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, The Brothers Karamazov_ are
romantic realism at the most astonishing heights that this development
of the novel is ever likely to attain. We will never see again heroes
of the Prince Myshkin, Dmitri Karamazov, Nicolas Stavrogin build, men
so real to us that no change of time or place, age or sickness can
take them from us, men so beautifully lit with the romantic passion of
Dostoievsky's love of humanity that they seem to warm the whole world,
as we know it, with the fire of their charity. That power of creating
figures typical as well as individual has been denied to Conrad.
Captain Anthony, Nostromo, Jim do not belong to the whole world, nor do
they escape the limitations and confinements that their presentation
as "cases" involves on them. Moreover, Conrad does not love humanity.
He feels pity, tenderness, admiration, but love, except for certain of
his sea heroes, never, and even with his sea heroes it is love built
on his scorn of the land. Dostoievsky scorned no one and nothing;
as relentless in his pursuit of the truth as Stendhal or Flaubert,
he found humanity, as he investigated it, beautiful because of its
humanity--Conrad finds humanity pitiable because of its humanity.

Nevertheless he has been influenced by the Russian writer continuously
and sometimes obviously. In at least one novel, _Under Western Eyes_,
the influence has led to imitation. For that reason, perhaps, that
novel is the least vital of all his books, and we feel as though
Dostoievsky had given him Razumov to see what he could make of him,
and had remained too overwhelmingly curious an onlooker to allow
independent creation. What, however, Conrad has in common with the
creator of Raskolnikov is his thrilling pursuit of the lives, the
hearts, the minutest details of his characters. Conrad alone of all
English novelists shares this zest with the great Russian. Dostoievsky
found his romance in his love of his fellow-beings, Conrad finds his in
his love of beauty, his poet's cry for colour, but their realism they
find together in the hearts of men--and they find it not as Flaubert,
that they make of it a perfect work of art, not as Turgéniev, that they
may extract from it a flower of poignant beauty, not as Tolstoi, that
they may, from it, found a gospel--simply they pursue their quest
because the breathless interest of the pursuit is stronger than they.
They have, both of them, created characters simply because characters
demanded to be created. We feel that Emma Bovary was dragged,
painfully, arduously, against all the strength of her determination,
out of the shades where she was lurking. Myshkin, the Karamazovs, and,
in their own degree, Nostromo, Almayer, McWhirr, demanded that they
should be flung upon the page.

Instead of seizing upon Romance as a means of avoiding character, he
has triumphantly forced it to aid him in the creation of the lives
that, through him, demand existence. This may be said to be the great
thing that Conrad has done for the English novel--he has brought the
zest of creation back into it; the French novelists used life to
perfect their art--the Russian novelists used art to liberate their
passion for life. That at this moment in Russia the novel has lost that
zest, that the work of Kouprin, Artzybashev, Sologub, Merejkovsky,
Andreiev, shows exhaustion and sterility means nothing; the stream
will soon run full again. Meanwhile we, in England, know once more
what it is to feel, in the novel, the power behind the novelist, to
be ourselves in the grip of a force that is not afraid of romance nor
ashamed of realism, that cares for life as life and not as a means of
proving the necessity for form, the danger of too many adjectives, the
virtues of the divorce laws or the paradise of free love.


Finally, what will be the effect of the work of Joseph Conrad upon the
English novel of the future? Does this Romantic-Realism that he has
provided for us show any signs of influencing that future? I think that
it does. In the work of all of the more interesting younger English
novelists--in the work of Mr E. M. Forster, Mr D. H. Lawrence, Mr J.
D. Beresford, Mr W. L. George, Mr Frank Swinnerton, Mr Gilbert Cannan,
Miss Viola Meynell, Mr Brett Young--this influence is to be detected.
Even with such avowed realists as Mr Beresford, Mr George and Mr
Swinnerton the realism is of a nature very different from the realism
of even ten years ago, as can be seen at once by comparing so recent a
novel as Mr Swinnerton's _On the Staircase_ with Mr Arnold Bennett's
_Sacred and Profane Love_, or Mr Galsworthy's _Man of Property_--and Mr
E. M. Forster is a romantic-realist of most curious originality, whose
_Longest Journey_ and _Howard's End_ may possibly provide the historian
of English literature with dates as important as the publication
of _Almayer's Folly_ in 1895. The answer to this question does not
properly belong to this essay.

It is, at any rate, certain that neither the old romance nor the old
realism can return. We have been shown in _Nostromo_ something that has
the colour of _Treasure Island_ and the reality of _New Grub Street_.
If, on the one hand, the pessimists lament that the English novel is
dead, that everything that can be done has been done, there is, surely,
on the other hand, some justification for the optimists who believe
that at few periods in English literature has the novel shown more
signs of a thrilling and original future.

For signs of the possible development of Conrad himself one may glance
for a moment at his last novel, _Victory_.

The conclusion of _Chance_ and the last volume of short stories had
shown that there was some danger lest romance should divorce him,
ultimately, from reality. _Victory_, splendid tale though it is,
does not entirely reassure us. The theme of the book is the pursuit
of almost helpless uprightness and innocence by almost helpless evil
and malignancy; that is to say that the strength and virtue of Heyst
and Lena are as elemental and independent of human will and effort as
the villainy and slime of Mr Jones and Ricardo. Conrad has here then
returned to his old early demonstration that nature is too strong
for man and I feel as though, in this book, he had intended the
whole affair to be blown, finally, sky-high by some natural volcanic
eruption. He prepares for that eruption and when, for some reason or
another, that elemental catastrophe is prevented he consoles himself
by strewing the beach of his island with the battered corpses of his
characters. It is in such a wanton conclusion, following as it does
immediately upon the finest, strongest and most beautiful thing in the
whole of Conrad--the last conversation between Heyst and Lena--that we
see this above-mentioned divorce from reality. We see it again in the
more fantastic characteristics of Mr Jones and Ricardo, in the presence
of the Orang-Outang, and in other smaller and less important effects.
At the same time his realism, when he pleases, as in the arrival of the
boat of the thirst-maddened trio on the island beach, is as magnificent
in its austerity and truth as ever it was.

Will he allow his imagination to carry him wildly into fantasy and
incredibility? He has not, during these last years, exerted the
discipline and restraint that were once his law.

Nevertheless, at the last, when one looks back over twenty years, from
the _Almayer's Folly_ of 1895 to the _Victory_ of 1915, one realises
that it was, for the English novel, no mean nor insignificant fortune
that brought the author of those books to our shores to give a fresh
impetus to the progress of our literature and to enrich our lives with
a new world of character and high adventure.


[The date is given of the first edition of each book. New edition
signifies a change of format or transference to a different publisher.]

Almayer's Folly: A Story of an Eastern River _(Unwin)_. 1895. New
editions: _(Nash)_. 1904; _(Unwin)_. 1909, 1914, 1915.

An Outcast of the Islands _(Unwin)_. 1896. New edition, 1914.

The Nigger of the "Narcissus": A Tale of the Sea _(Heinemann)_. 1897.
New edition, 1910.

Tales of Unrest _(Unwin)_. 1898. New edition, 1909.

Lord Jim: A Tale _(Blackwood)_. 1900. New edition, 1914.

The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story. By Joseph Conrad and Ford M.
Hueffer _(Heinemann)_. 1901.

Youth: a Narrative, and Two Other Stories _(Blackwood)_. 1902.

Typhoon and Other Stories _(Heinemann)_. 1903. New edition, 1912.

Romance: A Novel. By Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer _(Smith,
Elder)_. 1903. New edition _(Nelson)_. 1909.

Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard _(Harper)_. 1904.

The Mirror of the Sea: Memories and Impressions _(Methuen)_. 1906. New
editions, 1913, 1915.

The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale _(Methuen)_. 1907. New edition, 1914.

A Set of Six: Tales _(Methuen)_. 1908.

Under Western Eyes _(Methuen)_. 1911. New edition, 1915.

Some Reminiscences _(Nash)_. 1912.

'Twixt Land and Sea: Tales _(Dent)_. 1912. New edition, 1914.

Chance: A Tale in Two Parts _(Methuen)_. 1914.

Within the Tides: Tales _(Dent)_. 1915.

Victory: An Island Tale _(Methuen)_. 1915.


Almayer's Folly: A Story of an Eastern River _(Macmillan)_. 1895. New
editions, 1912; _(Doubleday)_. 1914.

An Outcast of the Islands _(Appleton)_. 1896. New edition
_(Doubleday)_. 1914.

Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle _(Dodd, Mead)_. 1897.
New edition, 1912. New edition under English title: "The Nigger of the
'Narcissus'" _(Doubleday)_. 1914.

Tales of Unrest _(Scribner)_. 1898.

Lord Jim _(Doubleday)_ 1900. New edition, 1914.

The Inheritors. By Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer _(McClure Co.)_.

Typhoon _(Putman)_. 1902. New edition _(Doubleday)_. 1914.

Youth, and two Other Stories _(McClure Co_. Afterwards transferred to
_Doubleday)_. 1903.

Falk: Amy Foster: To-morrow [Three Stories] _(McClure Co.)_. 1903. New
edition _(Doubleday)_. 1914.

Romance. By Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer _(McClure Co_.
Afterwards transferred to _Doubleday)_. 1904.

Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard _(Harper)_. 1904.

The Mirror of the Sea: Memories and Impressions _(Harper)_. 1906.

The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale _(Harper)_. 1907.

A Point of Honour: A Military Tale _(McClure Co_. Afterwards
transferred to _Doubleday)_. 1908.

Under Western Eyes: A Novel _(Harper)_. 1911.

A Personal Record _(Harper)_. 1912.

'Twixt Land and Sea: Tales _(Doran)_. 1912. New edition _(Doubleday)_.

Chance: A Tale in Two Parts _(Doubleday)_. 1914.

A Set of Six [Tales: one, "The Duel," previously issued as "A Point of
Honour"] _(Doubleday)_. 1915.

Victory: An Island Tale _(Doubleday)_. 1915.

Within the Tides: Tales _(Doubleday)_. 1916.


_Almayer's Folly_

Bennett, Arnold
Beresford, J. D.
_Brothers Karamazov, The_

_Cherry Orchard, The_
Chesterton, G. K.
Conrad, J., birth; naturalised
Curle, R.


Eliot, George
_End of the Tether, The_
_Evan Harrington_
_Eve of St Agnes, The_

Forster, E. M.
_Freya of the Seven Islands_

Galsworthy, J.
George, W. L.

_Heart of Darkness_
Hueffer, F. M.


James, Henry

Kipling, R.

_Lord Jim_
Lyrical impulse

_Madame Bovary_
Method in fiction
Mid-Victorian English novel
_Mirror of the Sea, The_

_Nigger of the Narcissus, The_

_Outcast of the Islands, An_


_Return, The_
_Richard Feverel_
Romance. Russian Influence

_Secret Agent, The_
_Secret Sharer, The_
_Set of Six, A_
Shaw, Bernard
_Smile of Fortune, A_
_Some Reminiscences_
_Spectator, The_
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Swinnerton, Frank

_Tales of Unrest_
_T. P.'s Weekly_
Trollope, Anthony
_'Twixt Land and Sea_

_Under Western Eyes_
_Une Vie_


Wells, H. G.
Wharton, Mrs

_Yellow Book, The_

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