The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

Excerpt

"Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of 'The Greatest Artest who Ever Wrote a Novel.'"--that was November 21, 1957, with H. L. Mencken quoted in the Doubleday advertisement in the New York Times. Conrad "transcended all the rules. There have been, perhaps, greater novelists, but I believe that he was incomparable, the greatest artist who ever wrote a novel." But is it not Henry James, Conrad's acknowledged master, who is the greatest artist who ever wrote a novel? Notably in The Portrait of a Lady (1881) and again in The Ambassadors (1903). James's perfections both in the novel and in the short story far outnumber Conrad's. On James's perfections critical consensus stands mainly in agreement, whereas critical dispute still rages as to which Conrad works constitute his supreme achievements.

No one will dispute that Conrad is the more fascinating personality, at his most interesting because of contradictions in the man and in his works. It's difficult to pin him down. It is, it's not--all's doubleness. Even so for his birthdate: it is "le 21 novembre/3 decembre," as given in G. Jean-Aubry Vie de Conrad (American title: The Sea Dreamer). "The first date is according to the Julian (or old style) calendar used by Eastern Orthodox Christianity, then the official religion of Russia; the second refers to the Gregorian (or new style) calendar in use in the Western world, the difference between the two being twelve days in the nineteenth century." (New York Times: January 12, 1958: Letters to the Editor)

When Conrad died in 1924, the cabled story to the New York Times from London "firmly said December 6. Just as firmly, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1948 and 1954 editions, says the same. On the other hand, Twentieth Century Authors, the New Century Cyclopedia of Names, the Dictionary of National Biography, all cling to Dec. 3. Just to confuse the whole matter, the eleventh edition of Britannica puts the year at 1856 rather than 1857 and Gerard Jean-Aubry The Sea Dreamer says Nov. 21, 1857. Just so this matter will never, never come up again, Conrad's son, in London [Borys Conrad], was asked for a decision. The date, for once . . .

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