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LORD JIM (1900)

Lord Jim was begun as a short story entitled "Tuan Jim – A Sketch" in early summer 1898. The novel ran for fourteen installments in Blackwood's Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900, with Conrad completing the text of the serial version in July 1900. To his friend and early mentor Edward Garnett, however, he was pessimistic about the novel's chances of success: "What is fundamentally wrong with the book … is want of power. … I mean the want of illuminating imagination. I wanted to obtain a sort of lurid light out the very events … alas! I haven’t been strong enough to breathe the right sort of life into it" (CL2 302).

Lord Jim: A Tale was published by Blackwood's on 9 October 1900 and published in the United States by Doubleday, McClure, on 31 October as Lord Jim: A Romance.

The Critical Response

Readers coming to the novel for the first time might want to start their engagement with secondary sources with those gathered by Thomas C. Moser for his second Norton Critical Edition of Lord Jim (1996), as this work offers a full account of the historical background to the text along with a selection from the key criticism, including substantial extracts from seminal works by Albert J. Guerard, Ian Watt, Frederic Jameson, and Edward Said.

Whilst there are number of studies of the novel written before the late 1950s readers new to the study of the novel might want to restrict themselves to Albert J. Gerard’s still compelling evaluation in Conrad: the Novelist (1958) where he examined the work’s innovative use of impressionistic techniques. Ian Watt’s chapter on the novel in Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (1979) also offers an assessment of Conrad’s narrative strategies, along with a helpful discussion of Marlow’s relationship with Jim and reflection on the handling of the novel’s ending. Jakob Lothe’s Conrad’s Narrative Method (1992) provides a careful study of the "thematic authority" of Marlow’s role in his narrative’s framing of Jim’s experiences (174).

Background Materials

The real-life event on which Conrad based the Patna incident are well known, and the subject of discussion in Norman Sherry's Conrad's Eastern World (1966). Gene M. Moore's useful supplement of this material can be accessed here: Accounts of the Jeddah Affair.

Further Reading

  • Daphna Erdinast Vulcan, Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper (1991)
  • Bruce Henricksen, Nomadic Voices: Conrad and the Subject of Narrative (1992)
  • Robert G. Hampson, Cross Cultural Encounters in Conrad’s Malay Fiction (2000).
  • Allan H. Simmons and J. H. Stape, eds., Lord Jim: Centennial Essays (2000)

Some Web Links for Lord Jim


The novel is one of Conrad’s great city novels (the other being Under Western Eyes), and it offers an unrelentingly ironic treatment of anarchist activity in London of the 1890s. The novel has been celebrated for its portrayal of the double agent Verloc, his wife Winnie, and her simple-minded brother Stevie. Its presentation of the city and police owed a debt to Charles Dickens, especially his novel Bleak House – in A Personal Record (1912) Conrad declared this novel to be "a work of the master for which I have such an admiration, or rather such an intense and unreasoning affection, dating from the days of my childhood, that its very weaknesses are more precious to me than the strengths of other men’s works" (124).

Early in February 1906, after a year of false starts on what was to become Chance and ongoing but fruitless tinkering with The Rescue, Conrad began what he thought of as a short story entitled "Verloc." He had already written two short stories dealing with anarchists – "An Anarchist" and "The Informer" – and there are many connections to be made between these tales and the novel. In March, Conrad noted that "Verloc is extending," but he took until November to complete the story for its serial publication in the American journal Ridgways: A Militant Weekly for God & Country.

In May 1907, Conrad began revising the text for book publication, adding chapter 10 and substantially re-working the ending to develop Winnie’s story. As book publication approached, Conrad disingenuously declared that his revised sub-title – "A Simple Tale" – was expressly chosen to avoid the story being ‘misunderstood’ as having ‘any sort of social or polemical intention (CL3 446). The novel was published in September by Methuen in England and by Harpers in the United States.

The Critical Response

Modern appreciation for the novel stems from F. R. Leavis’s account of it in The Great Tradition (1948) where he argued that the work was perfect in its structure (243) and citing the final scene between Winnie and her husband as ‘one of the most astonishing triumphs of genius in fiction’ (245). Ian Watt’s Conrad: The Secret Agent: A Casebook (1973) covered the early critical response, with longer studies from the late 1940s through to the late 1960s, including important work from Leavis, Irving Howe, Albert J. Guerard, and Avrom Fleishman. A study missing from Watt’s collection was Eloise Knapp Hay’s The Political Novels of Joseph Conrad (1963).

Further Reading

  • Jacques Berthoud, Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase (1978)
  • Con Coroneos, Space, Conrad, and Modernity (2003)
  • Robert Hampson, Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity (1992)
  • Barbara Melchiori, Terrorism in the Late Victorian Novel (1985)
  • Gene M. Moore, ed., Conrad’s Cities (1992)
  • Claire Rosenfield, Paradise of Snakes (1967)
  • Lissa Schneider, Conrad’s Narratives of Difference (2003)
  • Daniel Schwarz, Conrad: Almayer’s Folly to Under Western Eyes (1980)
  • J. H. Stape, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (1996)

Some Web Links for The Secret Agent


"The Secret Sharer" was written during the composition of Under Western Eyes and, with its theme of the doppelganger, many critics have seen connections between the two works. The story was begun in December 1909, shortly after Conrad’s birthday, and was written for money at the prompting of the literary editor of the Daily Mail. Conrad claimed "it is a very characteristic Conrad" (CL4 297, 298) in its psychological take on the pressures of first command. On completing the tale Conrad wrote to Edward Garnett, gloating that "the Secret Sharer is it. Eh? No damned tricks with girls there. Eh? Every word fits and there is not a single uncertain note. Luck my boy. Pure luck" (CL5 128).

The story was first published in the United States in the August and September 1910 issues of Harper’s Magazine. The "Author’s Note" to 'Twixt Land and Sea in which the story was collected in book form by Conrad, informs the reader that the germ of the tale came from a real incident which occurred on board the Cutty Sark in which a black sailor was killed by the chief mate. Concise coverage of this incident is given in Cedric Watts’ "Introduction" to his edition of Typhoon and Other Tales (2002). For more extensive coverage of the story's real-life sources, see Norman Sherry Conrad’s Eastern World (1971).

The Critical Response

There is a useful general survey of early critical responses in Bruce Harkness, ed., Conrad’s Secret Sharer and The Critics (1962). The story has been a productive quarry for psychoanalytic studies through its use of the motif of the double. Barbara Johnson and Marjorie Garber’s "Secret Sharing: Reading Conrad Psychoanalytically," College English, 49 (1987): 628-40, provided an overview of major psychoanalytic readings.

Further Reading

  • Lawrence Graver, Conrad's Short Fiction (1969)
  • Norman Sherry, Conrad’s Eastern World (1971)
  • Daniel Schwarz, Conrad: The Later Fiction (1982)
  • Ted Billy, Closure and Disclosure in Conrad’s Short Fiction (1997)
  • The Secret Sharer: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (St Martin's Press, 1997)

Some Web Links for"The Secret Sharer"












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