Conrad and the Harmsworth Empire: The Daily Mail, London Magazine, Times, Evening News, and Hutchinson's Magazine

By Donovan, Stephen | Conradiana, Fall-Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Conrad and the Harmsworth Empire: The Daily Mail, London Magazine, Times, Evening News, and Hutchinson's Magazine


Donovan, Stephen, Conradiana


A new name upon a book means a very limited order from Boot's or Mudie's, but a new name on the Daily Mail feuilleton or in Pearson's Weekly needs but the editorial head-note "Powerful New Story" to command an audience that would make even a famous author reflective.

Albert Bull, How to Write for the Press 62

I had a communication from Curle who had lunch with the Daily Mail man and settled with him about an article about J. C. As to the prospects of serialising anything in the Daily Mail, [...] it appears that [the feuilletons] are written to a cut and dried pattern and that there would be no opening for anything by me there. C[urle] however calls my attention to the fact that "The Times" weekly edition for abroad and the colonies runs a feuilleton too and that this might be a better opening. It certainly might be, as I am on friendly terms with Lord N[orthcliffe] and as a matter of fact I could approach him personally.

Conrad to Erik Pinker, 25 March 1922 (CL 7: 437)

Between 1904 and 1925 a motley collection of Conrad's prose appeared in the pages of five British serials: the Daily Mail, the Times, the Evening News, London Magazine, and Hutchinson's Magazine. Submitted for the most part in response to personal commissions, these memoirs, book reviews, short stories, and topical commentaries not only brought Conrad's work to the attention of a mass audience in Britain, they yoked his name in a number of ways to a firm that occupied the vanguard of an ongoing revolution in publishing. As the second epigraph above illustrates, Conrad's interactions with the journals of the Amalgamated Press were shaped by several overlapping factors: his marketing as a celebrity author; the tensions between financial reward and artistic constraint in serial publication; the growing importance of fiction for periodical publishing; the national and international reach of the modern media conglomerate; and his personal acquaintance with individual journalists such as Richard Curle (Mail leader writer), Edmund Gosse (Mail literary supplement editor), C. K. Scott Montcrieff (Times contributor), Jane Anderson (Mail war correspondent), Walter George (Mail journalist), Archibald Marshall (Mail Literary Supplement editor), and, above all, the newspaper magnate Alfred Harmsworth.

Hitherto the serializations of these twenty-odd essays and works of fiction have been treated singly, most often as footnotes to the textual histories of the book volumes in which they were eventually collected. And yet Conrad's contributions to these jointly owned serials cannot be considered in isolation. The Mirror of the Sea was serialized in both the Mail and London Magazine; "The Censor of Plays" was published in the Mail and republished in the Times; a notice in the Times announced that "Mr. Joseph Conrad has written an important essay, entitled 'Tradition,' which will be published to-morrow in the Daily Mail" (Advertisement 6); and the Mail contained regular advertisements for Hutchinson's Magazine during the serializing of Conrad's Suspense in its sister organ in 1925. Accordingly, the following essay considers Conrad's protracted involvement with the Harmsworths--lasting more than two decades, it was his longest professional engagement with any periodical publisher--as a singular and significant object of study in its own right. In seeking to disentangle the various strands of his relationship with this media empire, it is intended to defamiliarize its subject: essays that have been criticized as propagandistic or cliched and short fiction that is frequently dismissed as inferior or generic. In the process, it shows how Conrad's writing for mass-circulation serials, more than simply financial expediency or debasement of his art, must be understood as part of a long albeit unwilling dialogue with the public he once derisively termed "a great multitude whose voice is a shout" (CL 3: 13).

CURIOUS INTIMACIES

In a life distinguished by extraordinary encounters, Conrad's meeting and subsequent friendship with Alfred Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, stands out. …

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