Problems of Authenticity: The Face Behind the Veil

  • D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke


Conrad was in the Far East between 1883 and 1888, but the actual time he spent there was no more than a year. Moreover, his Eastern experiences were gained as second mate of the Palestine, first mate of the Vidar, and master of the Otago. As an active seaman, he spent little time ashore.1 Thus, his first-hand experience of Eastern countries and peoples was slight. Indeed, Norman Sherry estimates that Conrad spent altogether only about twelve days (three days each during the four times the Vidar called) at Tandjong Redeb,2 which he transmutes into Sambir and Patusan in his fiction. Given his extremely slight experience of the Malay Archipelago, it is in a way a logical consequence that the authenticity of his Eastern fictive world should be called into question. But is it as false as it has been often made out?3


Malay Archipelago Conventional Romance Smart Clothes Colour Race Alien Environment 
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Notes and References

  1. 4.
    Conrad, Almayer’s Folly in Almayer’s Folly and Tales of Unrest (London: Dent, 1947 edn) pp. 166–7.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Hugh Clifford, ‘The Art of Mr Joseph Conrad’, in The Spectator 29 November 1902, pp. 827–8.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    J. I. M. Stewart, Joseph Conrad (London: Longman, 1968) p. 39.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Sherard Osborn, My Journal in Malayan Waters (London, 1861 edn) p. 69.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    For instance, compare E. M. Forster’s account of an Indian ‘public wedding’ in which Islamic prayer and Western music mix — Forster, ’Adrift in India’, in Abinger Harvest (London, 1967 edn) p. 330.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel, (London, 1962 edn) Vol. 2, p. 71.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    J. D. Legge, Indonesia (New Jersey, 1964 ) p. 112.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    George McTurnan Kahin, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (New York, 1963 edn) p. 2.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Frank S. Marryat, Borneo and the Indian Archipelago (London, 1848) pp. 99–100.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Frank Swettenham, ‘The Real Malay’, in Malay Sketches (London, 1895) pp. 2, 8.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Conrad refers to ‘Alfred Wallace’s famous book on the Malay Archipelago’ in The Secret Agent (London, 1961 edn) p. 118.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Fred McNair, Perak and the Malays: ‘Sarong and Kris’ (London, 1878) pp. 207–8.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    Indo-China was the first country I fell in love with after West Africa. It was partly the beauty of the women — it’s extraordinary — …’ ‘Graham Greene takes the Orient Express’, The Listener, 21 November 1968, p. 674.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    M. C. Bradbrook, Joseph Conrad: Poland’s English Genius (New York, 1965 edn) p. 14.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    Letter to Clifford, 17 May 1898, in Jean-Aubry, Life and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 237.Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    Letter to Clifford, 17 May 1898, in Jean-Aubry, Life and letters, Vol. 1, p. 237.Google Scholar
  17. 32.
    Conrad, ‘An Observer in Malaya’ (1898), in Notes on Life and letters, (London: Dent, 1949 edn) p. 58.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Quoted from Jessie Conrad, Joseph Conrad and his Circle (London, 1935) pp. 76–7.Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Conrad, ‘An Observer in Malaya’, in Notes on Life and letters, p. 60.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Hugh Clifford, A Talk on Joseph Conrad and his Work (Colombo, 1927) PP. 4–5.Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    Conrad, letter to the ‘Ranee’ Brooke, 15 July 1920, in C. T. Watts (ed.), Joseph Conrad’s Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham (Cambridge University Press, 1969) p. 210.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    E. M. Forster, ‘Notes on the English Character’ (1920), in Abinger Harvest p.22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KelaniyaSri Lanka

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