The necessary voyage: Voice and authorial presence in The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’

  • Daniel R. Schwarz


In the past three decades the influence of the New Criticism and Wayne Booth’s seminal The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) has made those fiction critics who rely on formalist methods reluctant and even embarrassed to speak of authorial presence within a text. But it is often necessary to understand the relationship between the artist and his creation if we are to understand the text. The author’s personal circumstances may not only inform a text, but often become embodied within its plot, language, characterisation, and form. The intensity and importance of that presence vary from writer to writer and from work to work. Like Sons and Lovers and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897) must be understood in terms of its creator’s efforts to develop an authentic voice. In all three relatively early works, the author freed himself from past constraints and created a personal and artistic self which made future work possible. As a crucial passage in A Personal Record indicates, Conrad knew that an author’s presence became embodied in the finished work of art.


Crew Member Creative Task Nominalistic Experience Crucial Passage Omniscient Narrator 
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  1. 2.
    See Jocelyn Baines, Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960), pp. 75–7.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    In my judgement, the most interesting discussions of the point of view in The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ are those of Albert Guerard, Conrad the Novelist. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. 100–25Google Scholar
  3. Ian Watt, ‘Conrad Criticism and The Nigger of the “Narcissus”’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. xii (Mar. 1958), pp. 257–83. My discussion takes issue with Watt’s ingenious argument that the philosophic comments suggest ‘a plurality of voices’ and resembles a Greek chorus; it also tries to be more specific and more speculative than Guerard in defining and explaining what he calls the ‘waywardness in point of view’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel R. Schwarz 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Schwarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA

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