Life & Letters, Letters & Life, the Final Three Volumes

By Karl, Frederick R. | Conradiana, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Life & Letters, Letters & Life, the Final Three Volumes


Karl, Frederick R., Conradiana


Let me begin by reading to you an unpublished letter that Joseph Conrad wrote in the postwar years. One of the things I plan to do here is to reveal how complicated Conrad's life had become in its final ten years or so, as evidenced by his letters--mainly unpublished ones--that will appear in the final three volumes of the Collected Edition. Most Conrad criticism and biographical study has focused on the early life, as it should, since Conrad's formation as a writer was unique in the annals of literature. We search out the smallest pieces of evidence of his reading, his associations, his family background, how his ideas were shaped and reshaped, his conception of what it meant to be a writer, his philosophy or ideology, such as it is; and we create out of that a narrative which seemingly locates, even defines, Conrad. Some narratives are more successful than others, although many are too empirically conceived, too grounded in a kind of pragmatism which cannot account for the vagaries in any life, no less than in Conrad's. Letters become part of this narrative and they, too, are unreliable, although we continue to use them, as I will here. But letters can create patterns, designs, new paradigms, so to speak. The final three volumes of Conrad's letters--coming at a time when it is generally agreed that he was closing down fictionally--reveal that he was very much alive to all aspects of his life, work, and reputation; but more than that, we see him interpreting and reinterpreting his life as his earlier fictional efforts burst upon him, in translations, collected editions, and his own use of earlier work to energize later fictions. The last three volumes give Conrad a sense of completion that perhaps we did not recognize before, focused as we were on earlier success and later decline. Memory, return, awareness of origins, all, characterized the later years.

Now the letter: I will quote extensively from a letter Conrad wrote to John Quinn, the American lawyer and collector of manuscripts and first editions, a letter at the Berg, typed, but with holograph additions. While this letter alone does not give us the full play of Conrad's later years--it comes in 1919, on July 31--it does suggest how he was beginning to touch on everything in his thirty years of fiction writing. He writes:

As to figures [for payment from Doubleday] you and I know very well that their positive value is just--nil. They are worth rather less than the paper they are written upon unless one is convinced of the perfect integrity of the man who has written them down. I am perfectly convinced of Mr. Doubleday's integrity. But I can't say that I am pleased at Mr. Doubleday complaining of my attitude and asking for assistance as though I were an impossible person. [This is of course in connection with a planned Collected Edition of Conrad's works.] For that is what it amounts to. A man is entitled to a certain amount of privacy in his affairs. Mr. Doubleday also talks and even writes about his partners' "discouragement." This looks like, diplomatically speaking, "apply pressure" (to make me mend my ways, I suppose), or in plain Anglo-Saxon. "uttering a threat." If it does not mean that, then what does it mean? That sort of thing will end up by making me feet not "discouraged" but dissatisfied--profoundly so.

With the fullest acknowledgment of your kind offer I don't think this is a case for a buffer. A buffer is inserted between inimical forces to prevent damage. But my feelings towards Mr. Doubleday (the Man and the Firm) are very much the reverse of inimical. Doubleday thought fit to approach me in his own time, and I made no secret of it that I was pleased. On the other hand I was no obscure beginner then. I had made for myself a reputation of the most solid sort, because founded on the recognition of distinguished minds here and elsewhere. My position in English letters was unquestionable, my material position was so far from being unsatisfactory that had I been alone in the world I would have been content with it.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Life & Letters, Letters & Life, the Final Three Volumes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.