Conrad and the Illustrated London News

Article excerpt

In "Geography and Some Explorers," Joseph Conrad produces a series of vignettes of Mungo Park, David Livingstone, and Dr. Barth. Park, for example, means for him "the vision of a young, emaciated, fair-haired man, clad simply in a tattered shirt and worn-out breeches, gasping painfully for breath and lying on the ground in the shade of an enormous African tree," while "a charitable black-skinned woman is approaching him with a calabash full of pure cold water" ("Geography" 22). Barth he presents as "a self-confident and keen-eyed person in a long cloak and wearing a turban on his head, riding slowly towards a gate in the mud walls of an African city, from which an excited population is streaming out to behold the wonder" ("Geography" 22-23). The source of this highly visual style of presentation is then explained by reference to "the many pictures in the illustrated papers" ("Geography" 23). Where Dickens wrote his novels with an awareness of his illustrators' need for scenes that could be visually realized within a particular tradition of representation, Conrad draws on the visual language of the "illustrated papers" in this late essay written for a popular audience. (1) As Richard Curle notes, the essay was written "as a general introduction to a serial publication called Countries of the World" ("Geography" ix). The teacher of languages in Under Western Eyes shows a similar familiarity with the "illustrated papers." He observes of Mr de P--, "the President of the notorious Repressive Committee," whom Haldin has assassinated: "not a month passed without his portrait appearing in some one of the illustrated papers of Europe" (Under 7).

The first and most prominent of these "illustrated papers" was the Illustrated London News (ILN), founded in 1842 (see Figure 10). It was followed by L'Illustration in France (1843) and by Leslie's Illustrated Paper in the United States (1845). These were the first of a wave of illustrated papers: they were soon accompanied by Le Monde Illustre in France, the Illustrierte Zeitung in Germany, the Hollandsche Illustratie in the Netherlands, Harper's Weekly in the United States, and The Graphic in Britain. The Graphic, which was founded in 1869 by William Lusan Thomas, a former engraver for the Illustrated London News, presented the Illustrated London News with serious competition during the heyday of these papers in the 1870s and 1880s. The Graphic's outstanding coverage of the Franco-Prussian War attracted a large readership and threatened the dominance of the Illustrated London News. Conrad's early works were reviewed in the Illustrated London News, and he read at least some of the reviews and reported them to his correspondents. Conrad was also a contributor: The Rescue was supposed to appear in the Illustrated London News in 1898, but Conrad failed to meet the deadline; "Amy Foster" was published in the paper (14, 21, and 28 December 1901); and Conrad also wrote the more obviously journalistic piece "The Lesson of the Collision" for it (6 June 1914). However, Conrad's relationship with the Illustrated London News was very different from his relationship with Blackwood's: he did not produce a succession of works for it; he did not write with its readership in mind; he did not have the close relationship and extended correspondence with Clement Shorter that he had with William Blackwood. Instead, his relations with the paper correspond to discrete phases of his writing life, and investigation of those relations provides cross-sections of his career.

[FIGURE 10 OMITTED]

The essay that follows is divided into four parts. The first part of the essay considers the early history of the Illustrated London News. The second part examines Conrad's early relations with the ILN, beginning with the reviews of Conrad's early work in the ILN (4 April 1896 and 5 February 1898). This part of the essay examines the ILN's reading of Conrad both in terms of the early works selected for review (An Outcast of the Islands and The Nigger of the "Narcissus') and the terms in which they are reviewed. …