The Conradian: Review

By Mary Burgoyne, St Mary’s University College, Strawberry Hill, London

Martin Ray, editor.Joseph Conrad: Memories and Impressions: An Annotated Bibliography. Amsterdam/New York, NY: Rodopi, 2007. x + 188 pp. Hardback €40 / US $58

There is a happy symmetry, albeit one tinged with sadness, that this annotated bibliography by the recently deceased Martin Ray should inaugurate the “Conrad Studies” series, as an earlier version of the text introduced The Joseph Conrad Society Monograph Series in 1988.

Whereas the previous series was envisaged as an occasional supplement to the Society’s journal, the General Editors of this new venture, Allan H. Simmons and J. H. Stape with Consulting Editors Laurence Davies and Owen Knowles, have already timetabled eight further titles to be initially published bi-annually in cooperation with The Joseph Conrad Society UK and Rodopi of Amsterdam.

The stated aim of the “Conrad Studies” series is to make available rare or out-of-print items of Conradiana, whilst also initiating new projects such as Conrad: The Contemporary Reviews. The formatting of the series corresponds to that established in The Conradian, and this and forthcoming volumes should serve both to enhance and consolidate The Society’s role in the production and dissemination of Conrad scholarship. (Details of works-in-progress are posted on the “Publications” page of this website.)

Martin Ray notes in his foreword that, although this monograph has its origins in Joseph Conrad and his Contemporaries, the present volume has been considerably revised and expanded by the addition of extensive annotations for effectively all of the entries. That this is not a mere reprint is further signaled by the new title, Joseph Conrad: Memories and Impressions.

The aim of the bibliography, however, remains unchanged: it seeks to identify and annotate publications which record first-hand reports and recollections of Joseph Conrad, in particular those “with literary and biographical interest” (viii). Despite the fact that this book is over twice the length of its predecessor, it remains concise and compact, an eminently manageable research tool. This is attributable in no small measure to the selection, organization and presentation of the material.

Judiciously, Ray excludes items that are readily found elsewhere. Hence, letters to Conrad from friends are not included as the “most pertinent ones” are to be found in J. H. Stape and Owen Knowles, A Portrait in Letters: Correspondence to and about Joseph Conrad (1996). Similarly, while items in Polish are omitted, as they are accounted for in Zdzislaw Najder’s Conrad Under Familial Eyes (1983), those in French are included.

Ray uses the late Theodore G. Ehrsham’s A Bibliography of Joseph Conrad (1969) as his control text, finding it “more comprehensive” than the bibliographies of Lohf and Sheehy (1957) or Teets and Gerber (1971). Duplication of entries in Ehrsham’s bibliography is therefore avoided.

Accordingly, dedicated critical studies of Conrad are excluded, as are publications already listed in Ehrsham by Richard Curle, Ford Madox Ford, G. Jean-Aubry, and Conrad’s wife and sons. Preference for citation is instead given to comparatively unfamiliar and inaccessible items, especially those in newspapers, magazines, and, indeed, journals. Included, for example, is Jean-Aubry’s article “Joseph Conrad and Music” published in The Chesterian (1924).

The material is organized alphabetically by author surname; unsigned newspaper reports are gathered somewhat less satisfactorily under the heading “Anonymous.” Because of the specific scope of the bibliography, however, these entries are not an omnium gatherum and most of the citations in this section relate to Conrad’s 1923 visit to the eastern seaboard of the United States. One of the undoubted strengths of this book is the inclusion of material generated by Conrad’s stay in America, and perhaps more could have been made of this in the index.

That cavil aside, Memories and Impressions is a testament to Martin Ray’s meticulous scholarship and one feels in safe hands. As ever, Ray is alert to the needs of the scholar and cautions that some items are recalled from casual conversations, dimmed by time and like tales of hearsay, should be taken “cum grano salis” (viii). In a similar spirit, he also includes and identifies entries that are either bogus (41), plagiarized (25) or merely a reprint of another item (57).

Ray clearly succeeds in his expressed wish to “make the work useful and interesting” and he could have added entertaining (ix). For surely there is general appeal in such items that recollect Conrad’s favourite pub was the “Fleur-de-Lys” in Canterbury, where, in his reserved seat by the window, he “drank gin and voiced robust opinions” (12); or how in return for an annual box of apples received from a farmer in Virginia, Conrad sent books inscribed, “Art for apples is not a bad exchange” (170); and that on his visit to Boston Harbour “Conrad wanted to throw a pound of tea from the wharf, but his friends dissuaded him” (6).

The present work clearly benefits from and includes material that has come to light in recent years, such as Jessie Conrad’s letter to her sister Dolly Moor, located by Keith Carabine and J. H. Stape and published in The Conradian (2005). However, as Ray confirms, the additional annotations have been facilitated to a large extent by the publication of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. With the final two volumes now available, The Collected Letters have essentially become the indispensable aid to Conrad studies. The consistent references to The Collected Letters serve to establish a greater sense of context.

Whereas the extensive biographical and historical annotations informed by both Ray’s erudition and his keen eye for telling detail, provide further contextualisation. As a result, this slim volume belies the sheer density of scholarship that went into its production, and if ever a book could be described as punching above its weight, happily this is it.

In complete accord with the aims of the “Conrad Studies” series, Martin Ray has produced an invaluable resource for scholars. Indeed, this work is compelling not only for the supremely absorbing “impressions and memories” of Conrad that emerge, but also as a fitting tribute to a much valued Conradian.

“Camerado! This is no book, who touches this, touches a man." -- Walt Whitman, “So Long” (1860)

© 2007 Mary Burgoyne






last updated: Sunday, September 30, 2012 11:22 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy