"These Ignorant and Bumptious Reviewers": F. J. Furnivall in Defence of Conrad

By Burgoyne, Mary | The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.), Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

"These Ignorant and Bumptious Reviewers": F. J. Furnivall in Defence of Conrad


Burgoyne, Mary, The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)


On matters of style swim with the current;

on matters of principle, stand like a rock.

Thomas Jefferson

MATTERS OF STYLE were invariably discussed, but without consensus, in the critical reception of Conrad's early work. Yet the publication of Tales of Unrest (1898) prompted a degree of accord among reviewers who deemed the author's style to be lacking in matters of syntax. The Daily Mail set the general tone with the observation: "It is sufficient testimony to Mr. Conrad's power that we accept and enjoy him as we do, considering the continual weakness of his grammar" (12 April 1898: 3).

In a similar vein the Outlook noted that this "otherwise excellent piece of literary work is marred by a regrettable laxity of style," and illustrated the point with an example from "The Return": "He shouted, 'Enough of this!' like men shout in the tumult of a riot, with a red face and staring eyes." The reviewer's cavil was Conrad's "misuse of the word 'like' grates upon the sensitive ear with irritating frequency in this book." While Black and White wondered "why will he make us shiver in the middle of a fine piece of writing by using 'like' for 'as'?" The Manchester Guardian was in turn exercised by his "unaccountable habit of using the adverb 'like' as if it were a conjunction." Whereas the American publication the Nation mused that Conrad "often takes pains to select one very wrong word, such as 'like' for 'as.'"1

In an early example of Conrad's work being called into service for pedagogical purposes, the topic was also commented upon in the "Our Student Column" of the Weekly Irish Times. The dedicated forum was launched in 1891 to provide not only information on educational topics, but also offered tutorials by setting arithmetic, handwriting, and composition exercises. Examples of the latter were regularly published, and, commenting on one such contribution, the column's editor, Erasmus, noted:

He uses "like" in a peculiar way in the phrase "like we regard savages." The use of the same word in a similar manner by Mr. Joseph Conrad in his 'Tales of Unrest" has aroused a good deal of discussion in literary circles. I should like to have your opinions on the matter.

(The Weekly Irish Times, 21 May 1898: 2)

Unfortunately, the request for reader's opinions was to no avail, yet mention of the ensuing discussion in literary circles was one probably prompted by the exchange of letters in the Outlook between the reviewer of Tales of Unrest and no less an authority than the eminent philologist Frederick) J(ames) Furnivall (1825-1910). Furnivall was never shy of confrontation, public or otherwise, as his spats with the poet Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) and the literary journalist and man of letters Charles Whibley (1859-1930) testify. A formidable scholar, Furnivall contributed immeasurably to the founding of the Oxford English Dictionary, the Working Men's College, and numerous literary societies. Indeed, John Gross has cast him as "one of the great rock-blasting entrepreneurs of Victorian scholarship, the kind of man who if his energies had taken another turn might have covered a continent with railways" (1969: 188).

Furnivall's spirited defence of Conrad's use of the word like cites historical precedents both to defend the author and lambast the critic. The published debate between the men appeared in two non-consecutive issues of the Outlook, but each time under the provocative banner extracted from Furnivall's first missive - "these ignorant and bumptious reviewers" - and is reprinted below (see Appendix). One can imagine the lively discussions that reverberated in literary circles around this time.2 Conrad did not enter the fray publicly, but he unequivocally, and graciously, stated his position in a letter to his then publisher, T. Fisher Unwin:

Have you seen the controversy about my grammar - a poor thing to quarrel about. Good old Furnivall seems a peppery kind of grammarian, and I am very much obliged to him for pointing out my authorities. …

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 ...
Default project is now your active project.
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

"These Ignorant and Bumptious Reviewers": F. J. Furnivall in Defence of Conrad
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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.