Conrad: A Reassessment

Conrad: A Reassessment

Conrad: A Reassessment

Conrad: A Reassessment

Excerpt

'Who are those fellows who write in the press? Where do they come from?' This outburst in a letter to John Galsworthy was wrung from Joseph Conrad by criticisms of 'The Secret Sharer', but it epitomizes a constant feeling. In a quieter mood he wrote to Sir Sidney Colvin, on 18 March, 1917:

Perhaps you won't find it presumption if, after 22 years of work, I may say that I have not been very well understood. I have been called a writer of the sea, of the tropics, a descriptive writer, a romantic writer -- and also a realist.

Few writers indeed have been so often misinterpreted, but it appears that his true significance is now beginning to be appreciated. The various accusations of 'Slavism', 'brutality', 'abnormality', 'excessive realism', of being -- in his own words -- only a 'writer of sea-stuff' -- all these have been disposed of, partly by critics, more, perhaps, by time. We can now safely ask what are the unique and peculiar features of his work without seeming to imply that because he was a Pole writing in English he was in some way a freak, or that because he sometimes writes of jungles and shipwrecks he is different in kind from those novelists who deal with places and events more familiar to most of us.

But there are other dangers. One of his main subjects is guilt, and this can be explained plausibly -- and perhaps, from the psychologist's point of view, correctly -- in terms of his Polish youth. Few novelists, in fact, offer such fine material for the psycho-analytical delver: childhood in Poland under the rule of the Tsars, a mother who died in . . .

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