Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

The Unenchanted Garden: Children, Childhood, and Conrad

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

The Unenchanted Garden: Children, Childhood, and Conrad

Article excerpt

CHILDREN ARE VISIBLE in much of the fiction written in late-Victorian and Edwardian England. Charles Dickens repeatedly placed a child - Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Pip in Great Expectations - at the centre of his novels. George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner, Thomas Hardy in Jude the Obscure, Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book, John Galsworthy in The Forsyte Saga all place children at the hearts of their stories, as does Henry James in WhatMaisie Knew and most chillingly in The Turn of the Screw. The era of geographical exploration throughout the British Empire saw, in 1904, J. M. Barrie's discovery of Neverland, and, twenty years later, in the year Joseph Conrad died, Christopher Robin went down to the Palace for the first time, with Alice.

The place of children in Conrad's work and life has barely been considered as - with the exception of his sons, Borys and John - children are seldom seen and hardly heard. Conrad appears to have had little interest in little people. The aims of this primarily biographical essay are to consider the children who appear in Conrad's fiction, to observe the relationship between Conrad and his boys, and briefly to examine Conrad's recollections of his own childhood.1

Ghosts

Conrad's attitude to children is hard to gauge when reading his novels and memoirs. No infant appears in his fiction. The nearest one gets to mention of a baby is in the opening paragraph of The Shadow-Line : "The very young have, properly speaking, no moments" (3), a revealingly naïve observation from such a psychologically astute writer.

When Conrad does depict a child, it is usually much older and usually female - Nina in Almayer's Folly, Antonia Avellanos and Giorgio Viola's daughters Giselle and Linda in Nostromo, Natalia Haldin in Under Western Eyes, Hermann's niece in "Falk" and, in Chance, Hora de Barrai and Mrs Fyne's diree daughters. InAlmayer's Folly, Nina's father notes nostalgically of his daughter "She was nearly as tall as himself but he liked to recall the time when she was litde and they were all in all to each other" (16). A group of children appears in "The Idiots," but the focus is not on their story but on their effect on their parents.

The marriages (or marriages in effect) Conrad depicted - Almayer's to his Malay girl, Jim's to Jewel, Al van Hervey's in "The Return," Charles and Emilia Gould in Nostromo, the Verlocs - are strained and mosdy childless.

In The Secret Agent, Conrad observes that "in her heart of hearts" Winnie's mother was "not perhaps displeased that the Verlocs had no children" (12). Both Verlocs' relationships with Stevie are couched in near-parental terms - Winnie is described as having "quasi-maternal affection" for her brother, watching him with "maternal vigilance" (13,14). Later, seeing her husband walk her brother to his death

Winnie, at the shop door, did not see this fatal attendant upon Mr Verloc's walks. She watched the two figures down the squalid street, one tall and burly, the other slight and short, with a thin neck, and the peaked shoulders raised slightly under the large semitransparent ears. The material of their overcoats was the same, their hats were black and round in shape. Inspired by the similarity of wearing apparel, Mrs Verioc gave rein to her fancy.

"Might be father and son," she said to herself. She thought also that Mr Verloc was as much of a father as poor Stevie ever had in his life. (142)

The phrase is repeated later in the novel, with a twist in tense - "Might have been a father and son" "reproducing the supreme illusion of her life" (184) as Winnie realizes the trudi about her brother's fate.

The exception is the son of the shipwrecked Yanko Goorall, "Amy Foster's boy" (142). Yanko is discovered longing "for their boy to grow up so that he could have a man to talk with in diat language that to our ears sounded so disturbing, so passionate, and so bizarre" (137); his own cbroken English . …

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