Pathos and Fun: Conrad and Harper's Magazine

Article excerpt


Though Joseph Conrad probably took the most pleasure from Blackwood's acceptance of Heart of Darkness for Maga early in his writing career, his relationship with Harper's publishing and with Harper's Monthly Magazine was at least as important to his eventual popular acceptance, both in England and in the United States, and to his financial success (see figure 5). Harper's was Conrad's American book publisher for Nostromo (1904), The Mirror of the Sea (1905), The Secret Agent (1907), Under Western Eyes (1911), and A Personal Record (1912); "An Anarchist" (August 1906), "The Informer" (December 1906), "The Partner (November 1911), and "The Secret-Sharer" (August-September 1910) were all first published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (both in England and the United States) (Reid 57-58). "The Tallness of the Spars" (10 June 1905) and "The Weight of the Burden" (17 June 1905) first appeared in Harper's Weekly Magazine before being collected in The Mirror of the Sea (1906, where "The Tallness of the Spars" became "Cobwebs and Gossamer").


By the time its legendary, long-serving (1869-1919) editor, Henry Mills Alden, accepted "An Anarchist" in 1906, Harper's was the preeminent literary magazine in the United States. Harper's New Monthly Magazine began in 1850 as a "'compendium' for those of their customers who didn't have time to read through 'scores and hundreds of magazines and journals'" (Lapham xii). Copyright laws did not protect European authors and publishers in the American market, so Harper's early issues were full of pirated pieces by Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, and others--American authors were relegated to the back. Though the magazine achieved extraordinary popularity very soon--with fifty thousand subscribers after six months of publication (Exman 69-70)--its European orientation inspired a backlash:

The American (Whig) Review (1845-1852) claimed that the Harpers were "anti-American in feeling as concem[ed] American literary development," and George R. Graham, of Graham's Magazine called Harper's Monthly a good foreign magazine and prophesized "the veriest worshipper of the dust of Europe will tire of the dead level of John Bull upon every page." (Haveman 16)

Nearly bankrupt in 1896, it was restored to solvency through huge loans from J. P. Morgan, who wrote, "[t]he downfall of the House of Harper would be a national calamity"; Morgan never asked to be repaid (Lapham xx).

Partly in response to the criticism the magazine suffered for being slavishly European, but mostly because of the increasing acceptance of American authors and the more general rise in American cultural self-confidence (fueled by its growing industrial power), Harper's priorities had reversed by 1900. American works were given preferential treatment, and European authors like Conrad appeared near the back. The magazine worked hard not to offend middle-class, late-Victorian tastes. "Harper's was notorious for its censorship of fictional writing, most notably an early version of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure in 1894, and it was the house policy of Harper and Brothers to print only material that could be read aloud before all members of the family" (Dawson). Harper's Monthly Magazine ("New" was dropped from the title in 1900) therefore tended to be a genteel, cautious outlet for middle-class taste and morality. William Dean Howells wrote the "Editor's Study" from January 1892 to March 1896 (Campbell). Before taking the position, he learned in an interview with one of the Harpers that there were things "a man might or might not say in the Harper periodicals [...] at any approach to which it 'rang a little bell.' [...] I tried to catch the tinkle of the little bell when it was not actually sounded" (Brake 111).

Conrad's attitude toward Harper and Brothers began with enthusiastic gratitude for their generous terms. In November 1902 he told Pinker he would be happy to "occasionally furnish a story for Harper" because "they pay well; and ! …