The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

By R. W. Stallman | Go to book overview

DOUGLAS HEWITT


"The Secret Sharer"

*

THOUGH IT WAS NOT published until 1912 in the volume ' Twixt Land and Sea, "The Secret Sharer" was written in November, 1909. Conrad had taken up and set aside Chance, finished The Secret Agent, just completed A Personal Record, and was engaged in writing Under Western Eyeds, which he finished two months later.

It is a remarkable story and its extraordinary virtues have attracted surprisingly little attention.1 It belongs very obviously, in the nature of the interests displayed and in some similarities of treatment, to the same phase of his writing as "Heart of Darkness", Lord Jim and Nostromo. But it marks the end of this period. The previous works show the central character confronted by some realization of the nature of his beliefs or by some "deadly incubus"--the knowledge of the link with Mr. Kurtz or Gentleman Brown, the disturbing awareness of "the foundation of all the emotions" or of the disastrous results of Don Carlos Gould's idealism. From this knowledge or from these relationships there is no escape; in the nature of the case no solution of the problems is possible. The narrator of "The Secret Sharer" is similarly faced by the realization of a bond between him and Leggatt, but he finds a solution; at the end of the story he frees himself from the haunting presence of his "other self".

The setting of the story is typical of Conrad's work in its emphasis on the isolation of the little self-contained world of the ship and on the supremely important position of the narrator-captain. So far as outward power is concerned, he reflects: "I could do what I liked, with no one to say nay to me within the whole circle of the horison".2 At the end, when he is giving Leggatt, the secret sharer of his cabin, an opportunity to escape, although he seems to his officers and men to be wantonly running the ship aground yet he is still obeyed. The crew know that their safety is in his hands, yet he is still the captain and they leave their fate to him.

The intruder on this isolation is Leggatt, the fugitive who swims out to the ship, and it is made abundantly clear that he is only able to come on board because of the state of mind of the captain, a state in which he feels "somewhat of a stranger" to himself. He decides to set no anchorwatch and to stay on deck alone and explains that:

My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had prompted that unconventional arrangement, as if I had expected in those solitary hours of the night to get on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing, manned by men of whom I knew very little more.3

It seems at first as though he will achieve his purpose. In a passage whose irony very soon becomes apparent, he says:

____________________
*
From Douglas Hewitt Joseph Conrad: A Reassessment (Bowes & Bowes, 1952), VI, pp. 70-79.

-289-

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The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Part One 1
  • The Art of Conrad 5
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 19
  • Notes 35
  • Notes 45
  • Part Two 59
  • Notes 87
  • Notes 96
  • The Nigger of the "Narcissus" 121
  • On Lord Jim(an Excerpt) 140
  • On Lord Jim 142
  • Notes 154
  • Marlow's Descent into Hell 162
  • Conrad's Underworld 171
  • Three Notes On "Heart of Darkness" 179
  • Notes 186
  • On "Typhoon" and the Shadow Line 190
  • On Nostromo 191
  • Notes 198
  • Conrad's the Secret Agent 209
  • Notes 227
  • Notes 234
  • Adam, Axel, and "Il Conde" 253
  • Notes 254
  • Notes 275
  • Notes 275
  • The Secret Sharer 289
  • Joseph Conrad: Chance 296
  • Notes 304
  • The Hollow Men: Victory 313
  • The Knight: Man in Eden: the Arrow of Gold 317
  • On the Rescue 323
  • On the Rover and Suspense 330
  • Notes 331
  • Appendix I 337
  • Appendix II 345
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