In his preface to The Tales of Unrest1, Joseph Conrad told the story of the pen he used to write his short story ‘The Lagoon’. Wishing to put the instrument in a place of safekeeping, he entrusted it to a wooden salad bowl which also contained a variety of other domestic objects. One day, in the course of one of his regular inspections, he was surprised to discover not one but two pens! Not knowing which one should be the object of his solicitude, and rather than make a favourite of the one that meant nothing to him, he decided to dispose of both of them. Thrown from a window, their flight followed a rhetorical parabola of the most pertinent kind and let them fall to earth in a flower bed, the ideal poetic tomb. Although it would be most audacious to make critical assumptions on the strength of such a seemingly insignificant incident, it is possible to compare this modest fiction and Conrad’s methods of composition. A pen which becomes two pens as soon as its purpose is fulfilled, a pen which meets a sister soul in the bottom of a salad bowl — an epic helmet (in a picaresque inn) which has been turned over to become a recipient for sealing wax and for the links of broken chains — could this not be an amusing parallel for the mysterious and romantic image which was an obsession with Conrad, that of the secret sharer?
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