The Conradian: Review

By Susan Zhang Maginn

David J. Supino, Joseph Conrad: A Bibliographical Catalogue of Editions to 1930 (Liverpool University Press, 2022)

David J. Supino’s new book, Joseph Conrad: A Bibliographical Catalogue of Editions to 1930, will undoubtedly prove to be an invaluable reference-book for serious Conradians and bibliophiles. Following on from his success with the 2006 publication of Henry James: A Bibliographical Catalogue of a Collection of Editions to 1921, this catalogue is based on Supino’s own outstanding collection of unique Joseph Conrad editions, and details approximately 700 volumes.1  The catalogue is a major production, especially noteworthy in its unprecedented scope: Supino covers all of Conrad’s works published in Britain, America, Canada, the British colonies, and Tauchnitz editions in Europe, from the first publication of Almayer’s Folly in 1895, to 1930.2  Supino’s primary explanation for the cut-off date is that by 1930, the printing of Conrad’s works (by Conrad’s American publisher and some English publishers such as J. M. Dent) tended to be further impressions from the Sun-Dial Edition plates produced by Doubleday, Page & Company; hence of little bibliographical or book historical significance. Thus the catalogue aims to include not merely first editions of Conrad, but all editions, impressions, issues and states published in the English language. The catalogue is divided into four main sections, covering (1) Conrad’s 27 principal works; (2) Conrad’s pamphlets, limited editions, plays, and other minor works; (3) early collected editions; and (4) Conrad’s Tauchnitz editions in English. In this regard, Supino builds upon and far exceeds the previous scope of Conradian bibliographies that we have seen from Thomas J. Wise, Water E. Smith, William Cagle, and the George T. Keating collection, which primarily focus on first editions.

What is also impressive about Supino’s catalogue is its consistency and detail: each entry follows a pattern that has ensured a uniformity of quality. Under each title, the order of the editions, impressions, and states, follows the chronological order of publication. Full descriptions, usually reserved for the first edition, first impression, include a transcription of the title page, collation, contents, page size, binding, inserted ads, bookplates, binder’s and bookseller’s tickets, while follow-on entries, usually concerning later states, issues, or impressions, primarily describe the differences. Where they have survived, Supino also includes full descriptions of dustjackets, an addition not always typically included by standard bibliographers. The inclusion of dustjackets and inserted ads within this catalogue illuminate the often ambivalent intersection between a modernist demarcation of art and the increasing commercialisation of authorial promulgation, in part a reaction to advances in printing technology and the changing form of the novel. Most valuably, in many instances, Supino has also supplemented his bibliographical descriptions with commentary on the specifics of each work’s printing history. The question, for example, of why a contemporary British, American, and Canadian reader will have encountered three quite different endings to Lord Jim, is one that is easily answered by tracing the genesis of the three texts. Basing his commentary on Ernest W. Sullivan’s bibliographical investigation in the 1970s, Supino details how Conrad made a series of revisions to the serial copy of Lord Jim in preparation for book publication, and how at different points in the revision history, galley proofs were sent to Doubleday, Page & Co. in America and then to W. J. Gage Company in Canada. As a consequence, the American text is the closest to the original serial of Lord Jim that ran in Blackwood’s Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900, the Canadian text incorporates some of Conrad’s initial edits, and the British text is the most extensively revised and therefore the closest what one assumes is the final expression of Conrad’s authorial intention. The result of Supino’s work therefore, is that we now have some of the most detailed accounts of the printing and publishing history of Conrad’s books, which will surely be of interest not only to Conrad scholars but also to those who wish to understand more about the book trade and publishing conventions of this era.

Whilst by now it is well-known and perhaps obvious how Conrad’s various publishers were eager to commodify and market his works by using uniform binding states to create the appearance of selling complete editions, Supino’s detailing of the commercial front- and end-matter bear witness to a far greater range of promotional strategies that Conrad employed in the latter half of his career: writing Author’s Notes for his texts, engaging in translations and dramatizations of previous works, having his portrait taken, the cultivation of a private collector’s market through privately printed limited edition pamphlets,3 in addition to producing collected editions of his works. For instance Supino traces how Doubleday, Page & Co. announced the publication of the first two volumes of The Concord Edition (Lord Jim and Victory) in a full-page ad in the issue of Publishers’ Weekly of November 24, 1923. The contents of the ad demonstrate how Conrad’s works, viewed as a collective whole, were imagined not just as artefacts but as commodities: stating not only that “[t]he additional [20] volumes of the set will be published at the rate of two a month until complete and any new works of Mr. Conrad will be added as they appear,” but also highlighting the special and unique features of the Concord Edition: “first the author’s notes, never before published in a popular edition, and second, in each volume a photogravure frontispiece.” Certainly, this ad and many others in the catalogue testify to the increasing professionalization of the author in the early twentieth century, and Conrad’s membership within the modernist institutional arena that constantly re-negotiates the intersection between individual agency and the larger structures of relations by which value is generated. It also gestures towards the larger apparatus of agents involved in shaping Conrad’s public reputation and in investing his works with cultural authority – from printers and publishers, to advertisers and the mass-market press.

Although Supino includes all of Conrad’s works published in English across Britain, America, Canada, the British colonies, and Tauchnitz editions in Europe, the catalogue is unsurprisingly dominated by texts published in Britain and America. As such, the catalogue often brings to the surface the comparative relationship between British and American publications of Conrad, and the occasions in which they either build upon or diverge from one another. In just one example, A Set of Six, first published as a collection in Britain in 1908, did not appear as a collection in America until 1915. What Supino traces is that in the first instance, the delay was a matter of sheer chance and not necessarily part of a wider strategy. The first American edition, first impression, of the tale “The Duel” had been published in 1908 as a standalone volume by McClure Co. with the title The Point of Honor, but having run into financial difficulties a month later, McClure sold its book publishing business to Doubleday, Page & Co. including the plates and the unbound sheets of the first impression of this title. Doubleday, Page & Co. then published a second binding state composed of McClure first impression sheets, with a McClure title-page and colour plates, but with the Doubleday, Page imprint at the foot of the spine. The decision for Doubleday, Page & Co. to publish The Point of Honor separately from A Set of Six in 1908 can therefore be seen as a simple continuation of McClure’s agenda, belying the extent to which Doubleday tended to neglect the promotion of Conrad’s works until 1912, after the intervention of Alfred A. Knopf, which has been widely documented. From another perspective, both the timing and decision for Doubleday to subsequently publish A Set of Six together as a volume in America in January 1915 is just as revealing. Following closely on the heels of the commercial success of Chance, it is evidently part of Doubleday’s campaign to market Conrad’s works as a collective. The choice of A Set of Six in particular, foregrounds the turn towards a deliberate cultivation of a Conrad “industry,” by introducing Conrad to a much broader and more popular readership. That this volume also includes an essay entitled “The Romantic Story of Joseph Conrad,” much of which was taken from Richard Curle’s book on Conrad, suggests the actions and attitudes of an older and more established writer who, finally attaining financial success with Chance, began directly to involve himself in authorial self-fashioning with an eye on posterity. Undoubtedly then, these divergences in publishing history will have had an impact on popular and critical reception of Conrad in America. To be sure, these can be traced in comparisons of contemporary reviews of A Set of Six and of subsequent works between Britain and America.

The Bibliographical Catalogue also includes thirty-two pages of fine colour photographs of various Conrad editions. These include a number of intriguing side-by-side comparisons of dustjackets and bindings, for instance between cloth and paper wrappers, between first and second editions, or between English, Colonial, Canadian, and American issues. However, it is difficult for a layperson to ascertain the significance of such aesthetic differences – particularly when there are major differences in decorative binding or pictorial dustjackets – without detailed commentary. For instance, in the first English edition of Tales of Hearsay, first impression, domestic issue, the pictorial dustjacket depicts a calm sea with the sun on the horizon and a Union Jack; but in the first English edition, second impression, this image has been replaced by a Cossack soldier with a broken cannon behind him. One can only speculate as to the reasons for these various changes, but it is a good reminder that fiction (and its reception) is always located in its biographical, historical, cultural contexts, about which the critic today may only offer guesses in the absence of surviving documentation. Indeed it is a common theme reading through Supino’s catalogue that where there is commentary, it is insightful, but one yearns for far more commentary to accompany the bibliographical records, in order for the catalogue to become a more usable guide for students, collectors, and lovers of Conrad alike. Notwithstanding Supino’s Introduction, which acts as a clear and simple entry point for readers of all kinds into the complexities and vicissitudes of Conrad’s publishing history, the rest of the catalogue, though handsomely presented, is likely to attract a far more niche and specialist readership.

In general however, one senses that Supino’s work has come as close as is practically possible to building a complete bibliographical portrait of Conrad’s works in all its facets, especially considering the dearth of printing records of Conrad’s many publishers. As Supino points out, no printing records of Conrad’s American publishers can be found, apart from Scribner’s at the Firestone Library at Princeton University, and Harpers at Columbia University. The state of Conrad’s surviving textual artefacts is notoriously complex, and often deliberately unreliable.4 This is compounded by Conrad’s compositional methods and the lack of one single source of truth in his various publishers’ records. To this end, documents such as the “Note Book of Joseph Conrad” kept by his secretary, Lilian Mary Hallowes, and Conrad’s letters are invaluable archival records of book-historical information. The “Note Book”, for instance, details publishing contracts, the sale of manuscripts and privately printed limited-edition pamphlets, serial rights and royalties, as well as translation and play agreements in the last decade of Conrad’s life. The fact that this aide-memoire, with its inconsistent blue ink, black ink, and pencil inscription, is the only form in which some of Conrad’s publishing contracts survive, makes apparent both the challenge and heroism of Supino’s task, and the level of research and scholarly expertise that has clearly gone into establishing the texts, tracing their publishing history, variations, reprints, and detailed descriptions of the physical volumes.

What then, is ultimately the value of such an extensive and thorough bibliographical catalogue of Conrad’s works? How does literary criticism intersect with histories of authorship, publishing, and reading? How important are the paratexts captured in Supino’s catalogue – dustjackets, inserted ads, bindings, and so forth? Joseph Conrad: A Bibliographical Catalogue of Editions to 1930 provides important evidence about the book as a material object, embedded within the economic structures of the market. This engagement with textual scholarship enables us to re-contextualize the literary text within the conditions of its material and symbolic production and hence grasp the full significance of “Conrad”: a literary celebrity, a private individual agent, a public promotional figure, a brand name, and an investment commodity. For a student new to Conrad, one imagines that this catalogue may seem at times impenetrable and far from self-revealing, but for a seasoned book-historian or Conradian, there will be much to consider and scrutinise. The introduction and notes themselves make it worthwhile, and having the bibliographical records of all Conrad’s English editions consolidated in one place make for an easy reference. Overall this volume is a useful addition, sure to inform Conrad studies for decades to come. The catalogue charts the period from Conrad’s arrival on the literary scene in 1895 through to his establishment as a major literary figure in his lifetime. It tells the story of the fortunes and misfortunes of Conrad’s various publishers and collectors, and finally it provides us with a rich archive from which to better understand and probe Conrad’s complex relationship with his fiction, his agents, his reception, popular culture, and the modern publishing context that underpins it all.

© 2023 Susan Zhang Maginn

1. There are a few exceptions of volumes not owned by the author, such as in the case of the limited edition pamphlets. These are called out explicitly at the end of the entry.

2. The cut-off of 1930 specified by Supino in the Catalogue’s title is broadly observed, with some exceptions, such as in the case of Tauchnitz editions, where later publications have been included in order to present a fuller picture of a work’s publishing history.

3. I have written in detail about Conrad’s dealings with Shorter and Wise and the vital role of the collectors’ market as an emerging apparatus for the commodity economy; see: Susan Zhang Maginn, “Confronting the Conrad ‘Industry’: Private Printing and the Collectors’ Market in Conrad’s Later Years,” The Conradian, vol. 43, no. 2 (Autumn 2018).

4. See J. H. Stape, The New Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015) for an articulate representation of the extent to which Conrad himself bestowed a seal of authorial accuracy upon unreliable or corrupt texts.

last updated: Saturday, December 31, 2011 7:36 AM
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