Craftsman and Seer

  • Linda R. Anderson


Conrad has for a long time occupied a no-man’s land within English Literature. His Polish origins and his late acquisition of English would alone accord him an extraordinary place among British writers. Coupled with this, though, there is his curious apprenticeship to man of letters, his early years in the merchant service before he began to write at the age of thirty-eight. Not surprisingly his place historically has seemed equally odd; he seems awkwardly poised between the nineteenth and twentieth century, more dramatically and clearly than any of his contemporaries straddling the contradictions between alienation, the loss of context and continuity for his writing, and the resolute affirmation that certain values could continue to exist. Critically his reputation suffered a decline in the years following his death in 1924 just as Bennett’s and Wells’s did. He did not fit into the 1920s and 1930s, into an era of more conscious experimentation and literary élitism. Both Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence failed to see in Conrad any precedent for their own‘newness’. For Lawrence Conrad was one of the ‘Writers among the Ruins’ who had ‘given-in’ to hopelessness. It was a charge he also brought against Arnold Bennett and the whole realist tradition of acceptance.‘Tragedy’, he wrote‘ought to be a great kick of misery’, a kick which he was going to go on to administer.1 Virginia Woolf, surveying the literary scene for models, also thought that Conrad ‘however admirable’ was ‘not very helpful’.2


Conscious Experimentation Personal Record British Writer Late Acquisition Realist Tradition 
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  1. Harry T. Morse (ed.), The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (London, 1962) (30 October 1912) p. 152.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Virginia Woolf,‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ in Collected Essays, 4 vols (London, 1966) p. 326.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious (London, 1981) p. 219.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1980) p. 359.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    John Gee and Paul Sturm (eds), Letters of Joseph Conrad to Marguerite Poradowska (New Haven Conn., 1940) (12 July 1894) p. 71, hereafter referred to as Poradowska.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Edward Garnett (ed.), Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895–1924 (London, 1928) (14 August 1896) p. 66; hereafter referred to as Garnett.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    G. Jean-Aubry, Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters, 2 vols (London, 1927) i (2 November 1895) p. 184; hereafter referred to as Aubry.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Jessie Conrad, Joseph Conrad and His Circle (London, 1935) pp. 143–4.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    William Blackburn (ed.), Joseph Conrad: Letters to William Blackwood and David S. Meldrum (Cambridge, 1958) (3 April 1900) p. 89; hereafter referred to as Blackwood.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Joseph Conrad,‘Henry James: an Appreciation’, in Notes on Life and Letters, p. 19. All references to works by Conrad will be to The Collected Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad, 21 vols (London, 1946–55).Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    Henry James,‘The Younger Generation’ in Henry James and H. G. Wells, edited with an introduction by Leon Edel and Gordon N. Ray (London, 1958) p. 202.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Joseph Conrad,‘To My Readers in America’, published in 1914;Google Scholar
  13. reprinted in David R. Smith (ed.), Conrad’s Manifesto: Preface to a Career. The History of the Preface to‘The Nigger of the “Narcissus” ’ with Facsimiles of the Manuscripts (Philadelphia, 1964) pp. 41–2.Google Scholar
  14. 36.
    Hugh Walpole,‘The Secret Agent’ in A Conrad Memorial Libray: the Collection of George T. Keating (New York, 1929) p. 159.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Linda R. Anderson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda R. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Newcastle upon TyneUK

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