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

Marlow's Audience in "Youth" and "Heart of Darkness": A Historical Note

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

Marlow's Audience in "Youth" and "Heart of Darkness": A Historical Note

Article excerpt

THE SETTINGS OF "Youth" and "Heart of Darkness," both geographic and human, are singularly important to their respective tales, even though only the English settings (the Thames, the Essex marches, Gravesend) are mentioned by name in the latter. The composition of Marlow's audience - The Director of Companies, The Lawyer, The Accountant, and, in "Heart of Darkness," the uncharacterized narrator, the recipients of Marlow's reflections and retrospective accounts of experience - is no less important to the intricate fabric of meanings constructed. In "Youth," the history of this audience is vividly detailed: "The director had been a Conway boy, the accountant had served four years at sea, the lawyer - a fine crusted Tory, High Churchman, the best of old fellows, the soul of honour - had been chief officer in the P. & O. service in the good old days" (Youth 3).

Conrad's biographers have drawn on the recollections of his friend Fountaine (G. F. W.) Hope, indeed a Conway boy and director of companies, to identify the real-life backdrop for the English setting of these stories: excursions Conrad made on the Thames in the 1890s in Hope's yawl, the NeIBe, with Hope and his friends. The standard annotation on Marlow's audience is possibly Cedric Watts's in his World Classics edition, 'Heart of Darkness" and Other Tales'.

the "Director" was G. F. W. Hope (a director of the South African Mercantile Company and the Thames Sand Dredging Company), who owned the yawl Nellie, moored at Greenhithe. He made occasional sailing expeditions in her with his friends, T. L. Mears (a lawyer), W. B. Keen (an accountant), and Conrad. When at anchor, they would exchange yarns. Mears had served in the Duke of Sutherland, as had Hope and Conrad at different times. (See Hope's "Friend of Conrad" in The Conradian, 25:2 (Autumn 2000), 1-56.) (2002: 200-01)

Frequently repeated in other editions of "Heart of Darkness" as well as in standard Conrad reference sources, the details given here concerning Mears and Keen do not originate in the source Watts mentions.1 Hope's memoir, long circulated in photocopy among Conrad's biographers and published in the year 2000 as "Friend of Conrad," gives no surnames with these initials and provides no information about the professions of Mears and Keen.2 The added biographical information represents the work of a Conrad scholar who made shrewd guesses about the individuals' identities.

As it turns out, both the chronological framework for these outings and the composition of Conrad's real-life audience can be established with some precision. With respect to chronology, the window of opportunity is surprisingly narrow: Hope owned the 33-foot yawl, of 9 tons register, from only 1889 to 1892 ÇLloyd's Register 1889-93), and given Conrad's whereabouts, including his absences from England - Africa in 1890, convalescence in Geneva in spring 1891, and service in the Torrens during the whole of 1892 - the outings must be situated either in the summers of 1889 and 1891, or both,3 and only in the latter year, of course, could there be yarning about Conrad's experience in Africa.

The identification of "T. L. Mears (a lawyer)" as a friend of Hope and as a source or the source for The Lawyer in Marlow's audience is erroneous. In addition to offering evidence for this conclusion and proposing a different individual, the present note provides details about W. B. Keen, who has an unnoticed importance in Conrad's life long after their contacts in the 1890s. A secondary purpose here is to show how historical research can yield facts interesting not only to the biographer of Conrad but also to the literary critic and textual annotator.

The Lawyer and The Meat Salesman:

Thomas Lambert Mears (1839-1918) and Edward Gardner Mears (1857-1936)

Superficially, the suggestion that "Mears" is a certain T. L. Mears, lawyer by profession, has much to commend it. The individual in question, born of British parents in New York in 1839, enjoyed a distinguished legal career and was a pillar of the establishment, dying on 10 January 1918. …

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