THREE NOVELS by Joseph Conrad--Almayer's Folly ( 1895), An Outcast of the Islands ( 1896) and The Rescue ( 1920)--comprise what might have been a purposeful trilogy, a tragedy in three acts, centered in the character of Tom Lingard, of misplaced good intentions. Written in reverse chronological order, they record first the consequences and later the inceptions of Tom Lingard's benevolent despotism. The unity of purpose in this novel-in-reverse is more potential than real, yet Albert Guerard, Jr., accepts the trilogy as an essay in moral continuity and finds "the full measure of Conrad's skepticism" reflected in the career of Tom Lingard, "the central figure of his work."1 Here is a case of the anxious synthesizer completing the author's design for him; to discover in the separate novels consistent mutations of Lingard's tragic flaw is a compliment unjustified by the insecurity of the original conception. The interest of the three novels lies in their collective clue to Conrad's shifts of intenon, to his uncertain psychological orientation and to his aesthetic polarities. The two Almayer novels were the first he wrote; The Rescue, one of the last. They reveal, studied together, the initiation of a novelist and his anticlimax, the promise and the loss, the beginning of mastery and the collapse of it.
Sequentially, then, in terms of Lingard's folly as subject--which at least____________________