The Conradian: Review

By Richard Niland, Strathclyde University

An Outcast of the Islands, edited by Allan H. Simmons, Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge University Press, 2016). xlix + 477 pp. £80.

With the publication of the Cambridge edition of An Outcast of the Islands, the first part of Conrad's career has now been almost fully presented in modern, authoritative scholarly editions. Excepting The Nigger of the "Narcissus", presently in preparation, the period from 1895 to 1900, in which Conrad produced his foundational fictions, is now available to scholars under the imprint of Cambridge University Press. In keeping with the volumes previously published in the series, Allan H. Simmons's edition of An Outcast of the Islands is a testament throughout to devoted scholarly industry, astute critical judgement, and the highest standards of textual editing. Accordingly, this Cambridge edition of the novel has been deservedly designated an Approved Edition by the Modern Language Association.

Conrad's second novel, published in 1896, saw him cast aside his life as an extravagant and wheeling stranger to embrace the sedentary life of a writer. As Simmons outlines in his wide-ranging introduction, which explores An Outcast in the context of Conrad's initial sense of his own potential as a writer and also his later understanding of its place in the development of his career, the novel represents a seminal text in Conrad's emergence a literary figure at the end of the nineteenth century, marking the definitive end of his attachment to the possibility of continuing to work at sea. Alongside a discussion of his relationship with Marguerite Poradowska, who acted as a contact in the wider, European literary environment that Conrad sought to enter, the burgeoning writer's professional encounter, and subsequent friendship with Edward Garnett is discussed here in detail. The introduction discloses the origins of the novel in Conrad's experiences in the Far East, identifying important real-life and literary sources, and surveys its initial reception, including significant early reviews by figures such as H. G. Wells, which pointed to the limitations but also the great possibilities inherent in Conrad's newly-prolix style. While criticized as ponderous in some contemporary reviews, elsewhere Conrad's literary language, and the imaginative spaces it created, held the promise of a literary artist who might rival Kipling in his evocation of empire and exceed him in his exploration of its moral and psychological demands.

As the introduction observes, while Conrad hesitantly moved from one novel to the next at the start of his career, he nevertheless had an expansive sense of his fictional worlds from the very outset, with his literary development of character and place emerging as a substitute for the people and locations left behind in real life as he settled in England. An Outcast has since acquired something of a liminal standing, existing corpulently between the tautness of Almayer's Folly and the more stylistically compact Conrad who would emerge in The Nigger of the "Narcissus". In fact, Conrad himself spoke of the novel in such terms, and included as an appendix in this Cambridge edition is a previously unpublished "Author's Note," written in 1916. In this short piece, abandoned by Conrad when he later set out to produce notes to the rest of his works in 1920, the writer reflects on the fate of second novels, which usually fall unhappily between the first creative burst that initiates a career and the emerging mastery that can be found in a third work. In his treatment of the circumstances of the writing of the book, Conrad portrays himself as something of an authorial Willems, labouring, after the appearance of Almayer's Folly, in "emotional indecision" (435) to produce this tale of intrigue, romance and death visited upon the wrecked servants of empire and commerce.

An Outcast has primarily spoken to those critics interested in the scope of the Malay Trilogy and its transtextual elements, or the real-life economic and political concerns of Conrad's Eastern worlds, with these approaches captured in the work of Robert Hampson, Heliéna Krenn, and more recently, in Andrew Francis's Culture and Commerce in Conrad's Asian Fiction (2015). In the earliest estimations of Conrad's career, by William Lyon Phelps, Frederic Taber Cooper and Hugh Walpole amongst others, the novel existed as a prelude to the main event of the later fictions, an approach later developed in Albert J. Guerard's Conrad the Novelist (1958), where the second volume of the Lingard trilogy was "chiefly interesting for its situational prefigurations of Lord Jim" (Guerard 1958: 81). Prior to this, Richard Curle, in his Joseph Conrad: A Study (1914), found the work "too long drawn out," and too ready to cast its readers and characters down amongst the "dank undergrowth" (Curle 1914: 32). The primary Conradian quality that pervaded "that strange book" was "the irony of disillusionment and of vanished hope" (Curle 1914: 175), and, indeed, alongside such irony, many recognizably Conradian traits reach early fruition here. An Outcast excels in those passages that spoke to contemporaries such as Max Beerbohm, E. M Forster and F. R. Leavis, where Conrad's universe is characterized – sometimes oppressively – by the "impalpable distinctness of a dream" (62). Given the success of Carol Reed's later film of the novel, often regarded as the truest transposition of Conrad to the screen, an important essence of Conrad evidently lies in the pages of An Outcast.

In the main body of this edition, the elegantly produced Cambridge tome maintains the textual divisions found in the original publication, in which the novel is ordered in five parts. Drawing on important previous research by Mary Gilford Belcher, John D. Gordan, and Norman Sherry, amongst others, and comprehensively expanding upon reading editions by Cedric Watts and J. H. Stape, Simmons offers a text that returns us to Conrad's manuscript style with as few omissions and intrusions as is editorially conscionable. A persuasive claim is made for the authority of Conrad's manuscript in light of the editorial practices of the novel's first publishers, T. F. Unwin. As no extant Unwin editorial manual exists to incontrovertibly document the full extent of their input, the manuscript and first English edition of another Unwin novel, Somerset Maugham's Liza of Lambeth (1897), are offered as evidence of a work subjected to a similar editorial polishing. This demonstrates consistency of practice on the part of Unwin and, in turn, becomes a means of extracting the work of Conrad the writer from that of Conrad the published author. Consequently, the copy-text for this edition "lies between the manuscript and the first English edition," with the manuscript's claims proving "decisive" (328) over those of the first edition owing to its "unimpeachable authority" (328).

In decluttering Conrad's writing, the aim of this edition is to reveal "the rhythmic expansiveness of Conrad's early style" (329) allowing the fresh and unusual aspects of his writing to emerge from its pages and to capture a sense of Conrad at work during the period of the novel's composition in 1894-95. As such, the edition seeks to assimilate Conrad to the contemporaneous conventions of English fiction only as much as the writer himself saw fit in his original conception of individual sentences and phrasing. Such choices are justified in the context of the Gregg-Bowers-Tanselle tradition (330) of textual editing, which seeks to return the text to its earliest authorial form, while also adhering to the practice and potential of offering "deliberately eclectic texts" (350), a policy founded on both a firm notion of authorial intention but also one that sees the practice of textual editing as a living art that allows elements of the texts formerly-understood as moribundly and definitively closed to become open and reanimated through the unbiased eclecticism of the contemporary editor.

Working with the manuscript of the novel, held at the Rosenbach of the Free Library, Philadelphia, and the manuscript of the "Author's Note," held at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Simmons explores these documents in conjunction with the first English edition to chart the changes involved in the journey from Conrad's initial impulses and inscriptions to their subsequent reworking to make them a saleable, or recognizably digestible commodity in the literary marketplace. In one example, Conrad's use of the French défiance was corrected to "defiance," thereby stripping the relevant word and sentence of both its francophone resonance and semantic richness. Elsewhere, Conrad's use of minimal punctuation has been restored, giving passages an altered appearance and greater fluidity. As a representative example, the following sentence demonstrates the Cambridge edition's success in offering new texts that undress individual passages to display them in their denuded but original form. For instance, in its description of the evasive, precautionary movements of Mrs. Willems when confronted with her husband's domestic brutality, the first English edition has the following:

She leaped back, the fright again in her eyes, snatched up the child, pressed it to her breast, and, falling into the chair, drummed insanely with her heels on the resounding floor of the verandah (313).

However, the Cambridge edition, drawing on the manuscript, instead has:

She leaped back – the fright again in her eyes – snatched up the child, pressed it to her breast and falling into the chair drummed insanely with her heels on the resounding floor of the verandah (32).

As Simmons observes, Unwin's punctuation breaks up and fragments a sentence whose "entire point is rapid movement" (313). In terms of general punctuation, Conrad's style has been preserved in matters of emphasis, but not, for instance, where a vocative comma has been omitted. In this respect, the policy is attuned to preserving what is original in Conrad's style without preserving "authorial idiosyncrasies for their own sake" (333).

Along with accidentals and emendations, scrupulously noted in the editorial matter, the edition presents Conrad's substantive omissions and revisions. Some reveal the writer's attention to detail, such as the alterations to the place of registration of Abdullah's ship, which moves from Leith to Sunderland, to finally rest at Greenock. Elsewhere, substantive revisions primarily occur in Part V. In many instances these reveal a tendency towards concision, as when Conrad "replaces a 150-word manuscript sequence describing the death of a moth" with the words "He leaned with both arms over his master's hammock and fell into a light doze" (312). Amongst information included elsewhere in the accompanying editorial commentary, to offer one small example, is the fact that the original epigraph to the novel was to have been from Catullus, before being altered to the final choice of Calderón, thereby evoking Schopenhauer in its claim that man's greatest crime is having been born.

To allay the fears of social text adherents and those concerned that this edition might irrevocably alter Conrad's work, the Conradian world of the novel remains distinctly recognizable here, exploring the violence of remote life against the long history of European contact with Eastern societies and cultures. Conrad registers the contested spheres of imperial domination and the construction and deconstruction of the imperial subject, elements explored by critics such as Andrea White in Joseph Conrad and the Adventure Tradition (1993). In his "Author's Note," Conrad noted the unremarkable nature of the real-life Willems, but observed that his "interest was aroused by his dependent position, his strange, dubious status of a mistrusted, disliked, worn-out European living ... in the heart of the forest-land, up that sombre stream (6), thereby linking him to some of the central images of the writer's work. In the midst of his decline, Willems engages in muddled idealization of the native struggle for subsistence compared to the relative hardships of the disenchanted Western inheritance, which continues its work of appropriation and accumulation: "The very savages around him strove, struggled, fought, worked – if only to prolong a miserable existence, but they lived, they lived! And it was only himself that seemed to be left outside the scheme of creation in a hopeless immobility filled with tormenting anger and with ever-stinging regret" (58).

Conrad's irony and comic style are captured perfectly in some of Almayer and Lingard's exchanges, prefiguring the humour and desperation of "An Outpost of Progress." An elaborate attempt to swat a fly culminates in "Lingard and Almayer standing face to face in the fresh silence of the young day, looking very puzzled and idle, their arms hanging uselessly by their sides – like men disheartened by some portentous failure" (137). A clear literary impressionism is also on display, rendering locations where "indistinct forms leap into a noisy and disorderly activity. There are cries, orders, banter, abuse. Torches blaze sending out much more smoke than light" (111). Likewise, Conrad's psychological acuity and the novel's perception of shadowy motives in the unfolding of imperial history mirrors the impressionistic portrait of external reality: "It was the unreasoning fear of this glimpse into the unknown things, into those motives, impulses, desires" (121), and Willems endures dark nights in which "he fought with the shadows, with the darkness, with the silence" (127). In the context of the biographical contextualizing in Simmons' introduction, which details Conrad's treatment for neurasthenia in Switzerland around the time of the composition of the novel, many of these passages take on a more particular resonance relating to mental illness and depression.

If, owing to its relative verbosity, the novel at times threatens to exhaust our interest after having first aroused it, An Outcast nevertheless captivates because, like so much of his work, it records Conrad's presence at a transformative period in history, one marked by a rapidly encroaching modernity. Conrad stands here as a uniquely important writer for the diversity of his contact with this period of globalization and for his scrutiny of newly-emerging forces and embattled residual tendencies. Chapter two, for instance, explores the sea, evoking in a Romantic manner the work of Victor Hugo and Jules Michelet, to treat the subject of the Suez Canal, contrasting immemorial contact with the sea's elemental force with an era in which "the French mind set the Egyptian muscle in motion and produced a dismal but profitable ditch. Then a great pall of smoke sent out by countless steamboats was spread over the restless mirror of the Infinite" (20). Elsewhere in his work, in "Travel," from Last Essays (1926), Conrad similarly treated the forces that now "encompass the globe ... after the piercing of the Isthmus of Suez," one of which became the emergence of the popular travel account, with immense feats of engineering engendering minor feats of travel writing to proliferate texts that simplified the Eastern world more challengingly presented in Conrad's fiction: "The inanity of the mass travel book the Suez Canal is responsible for took the proportions of an enormous and melancholy joke" (LE, 85-86).

"The Texts" carefully explores the growth of the novel, detailing it as the earliest example of a work that "rapidly outgrew its original modest confines" (293) as a short story, something that would occur frequently with Conrad's subsequent fictions. Simmons explores its origins in a projected short story entitled "Two Vagabonds," and traces of this vagabondage appear in the characterization of drifters throughout. Much of this is linked to ruthlessness and exploitation, with the one-eyed Babalatchi, who "lived by rapine and plunder of coasts and ships in his prosperous days" (49), emerging as a formerly-roving counterpart to Willems. Willems is, however, "hopelessly at variance with the spirit of the sea" (23), and this spirit is embodied by Tom Lingard, whose mythologized existence comes at the price of skewed vision and a degree of mental darkness. Lingard was "amazed and awed by his fate that seemed to his ill informed mind the most wondrous known in the annals of men" (159). However, his view of his enduring power, regarding himself as a "bringer of prosperity" who is "more master there than his Dutch Excellency down in Batavia" (44), proves as misguided as his understanding of the limitless existence of natural resources, which are "Simply inexhaustible, my boy" (43).

In establishing a concrete sense of place to supplement his own memories of the East, Conrad drew on a wealth of ethnographic and anthropological works that he would elsewhere label "dull, wise books" (CL2 130). These included Alfred Russel Wallace's The Malay Archipelago (1869) and Hugh Low's Sarawak: Its Inhabitants and Productions (1848), with the former in particular important to Conrad throughout his career. Further, Richard Francis Burton's Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Mecca (1855-56) provided suggestions for the portrayal of Islamic beliefs and expression in the novel. In addition to anthropological and geographical texts, what is abundantly clear from this edition is how much An Outcast brings together Conrad's already existing immersion in fiction, especially in the form of major textual borrowings. These consist of numerous passages, sometimes lengthy, from nineteenth-century French writers, principally Flaubert, Maupassant and Pierre Loti, with Conrad's style periodically infused with phrases, diction and syntax derived from his Polish and French linguistic heritage and his wide-ranging literary education.

Drawing on the scholarship of Yves Hervouet and Paul Kirschner in this regard, the edition documents Conrad's extensive borrowings in his construction of this powerful original fiction, with his love of some of the main currents of French literature manifesting itself in outright theft, an approach which has been a longstanding mark of the greatest artists. After documenting the subsequent publication history of the novel in Conrad's lifetime, the remainder of the edition is made up of a detailed apparatus intimidating enough to please Kafka-esque officers in penal colonies the world over, and thorough and informative explanatory notes covering allusions, politics, geography, culture, and linguistic and literary references. To conclude, there are glossaries of nautical terms and foreign words and phrases, and an accompanying map of the Far East in the nineteenth century, all of which complete a comprehensive edition of An Outcast of the Islands, the novel that perhaps more than any other ensured that Józef Korzeniowski became Joseph Conrad and committed himself to the art of fiction.

© 2016 Richard Niland

Works cited

Curle, Richard. Joseph Conrad: A Study. London: Kegan Paul, French, Tru¨bner & Co., 1914.

Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958.






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