Conrad the Novelist

Conrad the Novelist

Conrad the Novelist

Conrad the Novelist

Excerpt

The true purpose of this book (that true purpose one discovers only upon writing the last line) is to express and define my response to a writer I have long liked and admired. But the book also completes a series of three related studies of which two -- Thomas Hardy (1949) and André Gide (1951) -- have already been published. The general aim of the series was to "throw some light on the development of the modern novel, and on the modern novelist's perplexities," and to examine Hardy, Conrad, and Gide as "roughly representative of the progress of the novel" from 1875 to 1925. Treating the three, it seemed to me, one could "record the impulse away from orthodox realism, classical psychology, and conventional structure; or, the impulse toward the somber and ironic distortions, the psychological explorations, the dislocations in form of many novelists writing in the middle of the twentieth century."

My original ambition, as it happens, was even more sweeping than this. It was to write "a book on the contemporary novel seen against the background of certain nineteenth-century intellectual and literary tendencies." In that Summa, as I recall, Conrad was to be given one of many chapters, while Hardy and Gide were to be disposed of even more briefly. Luckily I discovered before long that I preferred the intensive study of a few novelists to a panoramic survey of many names and trends. Ten years ago I promised that my enterprise would become more historical; obviously it has become less so. The grouping of the three names and several modes of fiction still strikes me as useful and provocative.

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