Hawthorne's house-fly resettles in the Russian Embassy of The Secret Agent, where Verloc hears it buzzing against the window-pane (II). Conrad has also lifted from The House of Seven Gables the shop-bell, which before and after the death-scene clatters to return us from that halted segment of time to the recognition of the Moment Now--back to time rushing on with life. In Macbeth the time-period of Duncan's murder is framed first by the bell that is rung to bring Macbeth his wine and finally by the bell that clatters to alarm the castle, and so perhaps Conrad and Hawthorne both pawned their bell from Shakespeare.
In both Macbeth and The House of Seven Gables the bell transports us from the framed segment of time terminated, a hole in time's continuity and in the progression of narrated events; transports us back from this segment, of time fixed and dead, to life and time's flux. (Verloc's shop-bell has the same symbolic import, but its symbolic import is not confined solely to this one.) In The Secret Agent the shop-bell rings both before and after the murder, but the interim consumes such a time-span that only the chronologist would notice this bell-enclosing device.
As for other points of comparison, both Hawthorne and Conrad render the dead man as alive, and render the living as more dead than alive (with the exception of Holgrave and the scissor-grinder and Ned Higgins and Venner, etc.); in Macbeth the resurrected Banquo contends against the living Macbeth, and this ghost destroys his enjoyment of point-present nowness. The Pyncheons are similarly haunted by Maul's curse. All three works dramatize the theme of time.
Both Hawthorne and Conrad evince a predilection for circles. Concentric circles diagram the seven generations of Pyncheons, and circular selfhoods-- patented by Hawthorne--reappear conspicuously in The Secret Agent. Another point of a parallelism is the circular form of both novels. Again, both novels open on a cutback in the time-sequence, the opening action in both novels beginning in Chapter II.
JOHN HOWARD WILLS
"IL CONDE," the last and finest story of A Set of Six ( 1908), has been neglected by Conrad's critics. At most, there have been for it a few words of praise or a paragraph or two as to its "meaning." In view of its almost perfect form and complex symbolism, one can only wonder why it has been so neglected. Perhaps because of its tranquillity.____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Art of Joseph Conrad:A Critical Symposium. Contributors: R. W. Stallman - Editor. Publisher: Michigan State University Press. Place of publication: East Lansing, MI. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 254.