Printer Friendly

"Don't you think I am a lost soul?" Conrad's early stories and the magazines.

If most readers of Lord Jim must be thankful Joseph Conrad did not leave it as a five-thousand-word "Sketch" or a forty-thousand-word novella, few readers of "The Idiots," "The Lagoon," or "The Return" would want to find them longer than they are or, remarkable though "An Outpost of Progress" is, see Kayerts and Carlier receive as much attention as Marlow and Mr. Kurtz. Yet, partly because, after Almayer's Folly and An Outcast, Conrad made a practice of letting promising stories burgeon into novels, the generic lines smudge easily, and many of the Conrad stories that did not follow this pattern are considerably longer and more episodic than the short fiction of our own day. Conrad was not unique in this respect: Henry James called the five-thousandword tales published in Harper's Magazine "their terrible little shortest of short stories" (Home 5). Although the "Author's Note" to Tales of Unrest (1919) is a blur of retrospection, it offers another reason for not insisting on too strict a divide between longer and shorter works, namely the thematic, circumstantial, and aesthetic affinities that group certain fictions together regardless of their length. "The Lagoon," Conrad declares, was "[c]onceived in the same mood," "told in the same breath," "seen with the same vision," and "rendered with the same method" as Almayer's Folly and An Outcast (Tales vi). While Conrad promptly denies that method held any conscious fascination for him in those days, the abrupt and often disconcerting shifts of voice and vision in "The Idiots" and The Nigger suggest otherwise. Whatever the scale, he was always trying something new. This experimentalism offers one more reason for thinking of his work published between 1895 and 1900 as a fictional continuum rather than two not quite isomorphic domains. Without for a moment suggesting that, for instance, "The Lagoon" shows as much ambition, yields as much pleasure, or deserves as much attention as Almayer's Folly, both works belong to a period when Conrad was setting out, seeking an audience, and beginning to make an existence as an artist.


"Existence" conveys the appropriate, overarching ambiguity. Conrad hoped to make a living; he hoped to write fiction that would live up to his creative desires; he also hoped to become a literary presence. A literary presence grows from self-awareness as much as reputation, from seeing oneself in print. In creating or sustaining a literary presence, authors are neither entirely free agents nor entirely creatures of circumstance. The established writer is constrained by what he has already done (the tyranny of the fixed); the novice by what he has not done (the tyranny of uncertain expectations); both are constrained by what other writers, not to mention editors, critics, publishers, and readers are doing (the tyrannies of fashion and the market). Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the literary field, Peter McDonald offers a model of such constraints: "In ideal terms [... ] the field has a dual structure determined by two different but interrelated oppositions: the purists versus the profiteers, on the one hand and the establishment versus the newcomers, on the other" (17). This model is all the more useful to the study of Conrad because McDonald applies it to the period from 1880 to 1914, when clashes between "purists" and "profiteers," "newcomers" and sentries of "the establishment" grew noisier and noisier. The widening gap between the literary and the popular drew much attention, and contemporary critics found it "a puzzling and sometimes distressing phenomenon" (White 32). Even so, determining a writer's habitus (1) is not exactly a scientific procedure; it is all very well to class Conrad as a "purist newcomer" and a "'born' literary intellectual," but the tradition into which he was born extolled not sacrifice for art but sacrifice for nation--a very different kind of purism from that exemplified, say, by Henry James (McDonald 31, 17).

Writers, publishers, compositors, readers, and all the other actors in the literary world are locked together, sometimes in conflict, sometimes for mutual benefit and pleasure. More so for publishers and writers, less so for compositors and readers, deviousness is a condition of the game. The creation of a literary presence in the late nineteenth century was a formidable challenge. Allon White describes the arrival of the rebarbative author, anxious to keep the public at a distance: "The degree of withdrawal is closely linked to a failure to penetrate the broad community of common readers, and the more the writer feels himself to be whispering only to himself, or at best to a small group, the more vulnerable he becomes to the act of publication" (41). Clearly, no simple notion of self-expression is adequate to describe the case of a secretive writer like Conrad, for whom a literary presence required adopting a repertoire of masks. Yet the public could not be kept too distant: "The paradox of the position in which [George] Meredith found himself applied with equal force to Conrad and James: that they were 'too intellectual to be popular,' that the higher the quality of their work, the less likely they were to appeal to the mass market" (White 32). Conrad was not so much a purist that he could afford to ignore this paradox. Here is another reason for approaching his early work in a spirit of theoretical impurity.

Complicating the question of artistic purism is the fact that several of the writers Conrad most admired had flourished in the marketplace. When he looked for formulations that might describe his own aesthetic, he turned to Guy de Maupassant, most of whose short fiction appeared during the 1880s in the Parisian weekly Gil-Blas or the daily Gaulois, flanked by satire, polemics, scurrilous gossip, and vigorous, often sensational illustrations. (2) After his father, Conrad's first extended acquaintance with an author was with Marguerite Poradowska, all but one of whose novels first appeared enfeuilleton (3) in the more respectable pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes. To consider Conrad's relationship to periodical serialization in an English setting exclusively thus narrows the context.

This chapter treats Conrad's first three magazine appearances, "The Idiots" (Savoy, October 1896), "The Lagoon" (Cornhill Magazine, January 1897), and "An Outpost of Progress" (Cosmopolis, June-July 1897), and another, "The Return," which he sought in vain to place with magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. (4) Although these publications were important as a source of income and an introduction to influential people, I focus upon their significance for the development of Conrad's literary presence. For this reason, I pay particular attention to the company he kept, to the match between his work and its discursive setting. Even for a well-connected writer, popular, respected, or both, finding the right fit can be chancy; for a writer only just beginning to be known, anxious about social codes, and acutely conscious of unusual origins, the fit can hardly be otherwise. The range of venues and rewards open to Conrad was much larger than for writers of our own day, (5) but placing work was contingent on editorial policy and editorial intuition. What may look in hindsight like a predictable convergence of writer and periodical would not have seemed so at the time. Despite his adherence to the conventions of genre, Conrad was too unorthodox--and too generally subversive--to start his career with facility. In his early years, moreover, he had no agent. He benefited, it is true, from the guidance of Edward Garnett, Fisher Unwin's brilliant and sympathetic reader, but like most of his professional contemporaries, Conrad remained dependent upon on his own understanding of how best to submit his shorter work. His choice of periodicals was neither random nor determined by economic factors alone. Instead of trying magazines such as the Strand, which had the widest circulation and the strongest appetite for sensational stories of seafaring, revenge, and the uncanny (6)--all prominent features of his early work he sent these earliest stories to Blackwood's, the Cornhill, Cosmopolis, Chapman's Magazine, and the Savoy. If not quite in the dark, Conrad often found himself at this stage of his career in a frustrating professional twilight.

I. "THE IDIOTS" (1896)

No editor attacked the perils of artistic compromise with more spirit than Arthur Symons of the Savoy, (7) whose polemical obituary "The Lesson of Millais" was published with Conrad's "The Idiots" in the magazine's October 1896 number: "In the eulogies that have been so justly given to the late President of the Royal Academy, I have looked in vain for this sentence, which should have had its place in them all [... ] he was so English, and so fond of salmon-fishing" (57). Upon election to the Academy, Symons continued, Millais had betrayed his gifts by painting "continuously, often brilliantly, whatever came before him, Mr. Gladstone or Cinderella, a bishop or a landscape [... ] all with the same facility and the same lack of conviction [ ... ] whatever would bring him ready money and immediate fame" (Symons, "Lesson" 58). The economics and aesthetics of literature and painting differed substantially, of course, but Symons, the son of a Wesleyan minister, presents this moral contest between commercialism and artistic integrity in terms of life rather than medium. He denied that he was a dogmatist, however, and, like Conrad in his "Preface" to The Nigger of the "Narcissus," Symons insists in an unsigned Editorial Note to the first number (January 1896): "We have no formulas, and we desire no false unity of form or matter. We are not Realists, or Romanticists, or Decadents. For us, all art is good which is good art" (2). Auspiciously for Conrad, Symons places the serious beginner and the seriously accomplished artist on the same footing: "We have no objection to a celebrity who deserves to be celebrated, or to an unknown person who has not been seen often enough to be recognised in passing" ("Editorial" 2). (8)

Conrad was not, of course, completely unknown. When he wrote this story in May 1896, while still on honeymoon at Ile-Grande, he had already earned a friendly critical response to his first two novels and was grappling with "The Rescuer." E. V. Lucas, a regular contributor to the Cornhill, asked Garnett if Conrad would offer the magazine some short stories. Garner realized at once that such a connection could also help to place the serial of the novel in progress. Then C. L. Graves, an assistant editor of the Cornhill who thought highly of An Outast, approached Conrad directly. Conrad saw a chance to place "The Idiots" (Stape and Knowles 23-24; CL 1: 285-86). Meanwhile, T. Fisher Unwin tried Cosmopolis with the story, but in spite of being that magazine's British publisher, he did not succeed. At this point, Arthur Symons wrote to Conrad. Hoping that Unwin might publish a collection of his shorter works, Conrad adopted the pose of the "serious" artist forced to sully himself with a commercial transaction:

Bad or good I cannot be ashamed of those things that are like fragments of my innermost being produced for the public gaze.

But I must live. I don't care much where I appear since the acceptance of such stories is not based upon their artistic worth [... ] If the "Savoy" thing asks for my work--why not give it to them? I understand they pay tolerably well (2 g[uinea]s per page). (CL 1: 293)

Although at this point the Savoy was a mere three issues old, Conrad probably knew something of its lurid reputation; "The Idiots," he told T. Fisher Unwin in May 1896, is "a story of Brittany. Peasant life. Not for babies" (CL 1: 279). Symons's editorial "we," however, speaks not only for himself but for a loose group of like-minded contributors, the most notorious of whom was Aubrey Beardsley, whose work appeared in every issue (see Figure 2). Even the Savoy's own contributors, Bernard Shaw among them, had been shaken by Beardsley's design for the prospectus: a drawing of a campy John Bull shouldering an arsenal of phallic pens and pencils and sporting a blatant erection. Before its publisher, Leonard Smithers, insisted on some hasty surgery, the cover art for the Savoy's first number, printed on pink boards, showed Cupid about to piss upon a copy of its Decadent rival, the Yellow Book (Beckson 123-24). The magazine also featured Beardsley's poetry and prose, including Under the Hill, that carnival of double entendres. Balking at the naked bodies in William Blake's illustrations to the Divine Comedy, which were first published in the magazine with an extended commentary by William Butler Yeats, W. H. Smith's banned The Savoy from their ubiquitous bookstalls. Indeed, Smithers's own connections with the clandestine book trade placed Symons at one remove from a pornographer. The previous year, Symons's poems about harlotry had caused a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette to call him "a very dirty-minded man" (Beckson and Munro 113 n. 2). Small wonder, then, that this costly magazine, which ran for three issues as a quarterly and five as a monthly, making its final flourish in December 1896, should so swiftly have gained a reputation for self-indulgent naughtiness. It seems a most unsuitable venue for Conrad.

Yet Symons really was an eclectic editor and a man of varied, often conflicting tastes. His ambivalence shows in "A Causerie from a Castle in Ireland," published in the August number after a visit to Edward Martyn, wealthy, Catholic, and gay: "I find all this bareness, grayness, monotony, solitude, at once primitive and fantastical, curiously attractive; giving just the same kind of relief from the fat, luxurious English landscape that these gaunt, nervous, long-chinned peasants give from the red and rolling sleepiness of the English villager" (94). Yet, feeling that he has "no part among those remote idealists," he hurries back to London (Symons, "Causerie" 95). Such attitudes pose Symons as the rural equivalent of the flaneur, but the magazine's cast of characters features the peasant rather more often than the tormented artist or the kinky aristocrat. In this and other respects, Symons's connection with Yeats, with whom he was sharing London quarters at the time, had at least as much influence on the magazine's character as the less intimate association with Beardsley. Yeats wrote fervently about Blake's Dante, Irish peasant visionaries, and the mysteries of alchemy--all typical enthusiasms of the 1890s but not typical models of artistic practice. Then there were stories and poems by the Decadent poet Ernest Dowson, who had abandoned his halfhearted paganism for the splendid austerity of Catholicism, and essays by Havelock Ellis on Emile Zola, Thomas Hardy, and Friedrich Nietzsche as well as a translation of Cesare Lombroso's psychiatric case study "A Mad Saint" (April 1896). (9)

Although contemporary theory asks us to distrust thematic approaches to literature, fascinations and disputes are the stuff of cultural matrices. They help define the literary field; they are a part of editorial habitus. A list of favorite topics in the Savoy might include France, French art, French literature, Celtic cultures, Roman Catholicism, peasant life, fictional representations of peasant life, sexual revulsion, inherited insanity, and insanity in general. Discussing a forty-year-old Italian woman, the daughter of a madman and the reluctant mother of eight children, prone to "hysterical convulsions," given to glorious visions of the Madonna and ghastly encounters with monsters, who considers bad priests "responsible for the wickedness of the world" and wants to decapitate "the unfaithful with the tremendous sword of God, though this is only a spiritual weapon," Lombroso's article twists several of these strands together (13, 15). Conrad's "The Idiots" twists several more, braiding psychopathology with the ghostly, the ghastly, and the rustic. Setting his story in Brittany, he offered not only France but Celtic France embodied in a province marked by the harshness of its life, its traditional piety, and the intensity of the struggle between clericals and anticlericals, a province currently attractive to writers and the painters of the Pont-Aven school, such as Charles Cottet and Maurice Denis. (10)

Symons did not impose an editorial line on any of these topics. A magazine is a tiny epistemic circle within the larger ones of time and place, each with its own horizon of cultural expectations. Those who find themselves within such circles agree on the importance, but not necessarily the substance of a set of issues. For example, Victorians of the 1880s and 1890s might disagree vociferously on the ethics of vivisection or the theological implications of entropy while wholeheartedly agreeing that these were now urgent topics. And while individual periodicals such as the New Review or the Yellow Book staked out clearly defined positions of their own, even so strident an editor as W. E. Henley allowed his authors considerable latitude on the contentious topic of masculinity (Watts, Joseph Conrad 71). Thus the handling of religious topics in artworks, poems, essays, and stories in The Savoy is variously mystical, mocking, reverential, aestheticized, Christian, agnostic, pagan, or bemused. The contexts, too, are generally rural but differ widely in setting: Yeats's Ireland, Hubert Crackanthorpe's Lakeland, the Highlands and Islands of "Fiona Macleod," the Brittany of Conrad and Dowson. Dowson's Breton stories (some written in Pont-Aven) show the consolations of faith; Conrad's story shows its painfulness. For some readers, Conrad's narrative voice may be dispiriting in its evocation of an indifferent cosmos--Susan Bacadou's children are "an offence to the sunshine, a reproach to empty heaven, a blight on the concentrated and purposeful vigour of the wild landscape" (Tales 58)-but its poetic intensity contrasts sharply with Lombroso's prosaically scientific treatment of madness: "sometimes while singing she falls into a condition of ecstasy, the eyeballs are turned upwards, the eyelids become fixed, the arms extended, and she is able to support a much stronger electric current than that which gives her pain under normal conditions" (16). "The Idiots" is sometimes read in terms of Conrad's own anxieties and phobias--a fear of going mad, panic about sexuality and childbirth, half-submerged misogyny (11)--yet, far more than in any other story published in the Savoy, its shifts in point-of-view enhance the cause of a victim, the "lunatic," the wife Susan (Tales of Unrest 84). (12)

Consciously or otherwise, Symons pursued a critical agenda that acknowledged the boundaries between poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, literature and other arts even as it sought to overcome them. His own insistence on what he saw as aesthetic quality suggests a purist's disregard for theme, debate, or ideology, yet editorial intention is only half the story. His fascinations with peasant life and mental extremity gave Conrad just the place to find a sympathetic reading, one that saw the story's relevance without demanding conformity to a specific philosophical or artistic model.

II. "THE LAGOON" (1897)

The next story to appear was "The Lagoon," published in the January 1897 issue of the Cornhill Magazine (see Figure 3). The magazine's new editor, J. St Loe Strachey, paid half as well as Symons and Smithers (one guinea per page) but, unlike Smithers, he paid on time. (13) Another benefit for a writer eager to change firms was the prestige of the Cornhill's publisher, Smith, Elder, one of the major houses. The magazine, however, was not the literary force it had been in William Thackeray's time, when among its regulars were the Brownings, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Swinburne, and Anthony Trollope, or in the 1880s and early 1890s, when the roster had included Thomas Hardy and Meredith. The first volume of the new series (July-December 1896) offered articles on topics such as "Duels of All Nations," "Freemasonry and the Roman Church," "Fags and Fagging," "The Way We Flirt Now! .... At the Great Durbar," and "Toast." The blandness of such pieces was enlivened by vivid reminiscence and sensational fiction such as Bernard Capes's "The Moon-Stricken," an Alpine horror story of a man driven mad by a glimpse of lunar life, "a segment of desolation more horrible than any desert," and Andrew Lang's "The Black Dogs and the Thumbless Hand," a grotesque anecdote from the New Hebrides (810). At the climax of C. J. Cutcliffe-Hyne's "A Lottery Duel," a European who has lost out to a romantic rival, faked his own death, and used every method short of torture to dominate the inhabitants of a remote area of the Congo Free State marries an African woman in a ritual celebrated with blood and human bones. (14) Far less luridly, Mary Kingsley drew on her West African experiences to write about "Black Ghosts." In the next six months, during which time it published Conrad's "The Lagoon," the magazine continued in the same vein: Mary Kingsley on "Two African Days' Entertainments"; John Arthur Barry's "Missing," a story about South Sea islanders, called by Barry's narrator "the Children of Treachery," who massacre the crew of a naval vessel before wrecking her on a reef; and an essay by Andrew Lang which begins "The Editor has asked me to say something about Ghosts and the Ghostly" (629). For the most part, the fiction on this list consists of two-finger exercises in colonial gothic.


With its lush vocabulary, unwarranted portentousness, and seemingly condescending attitudes, "The Lagoon" has delighted parodists as much as it has distressed academic critics. Seen, however, in the company of other contributions from the Cornhill of that period, it looks at the very least like the work of an apprentice storyteller of some promise struggling to escape not so much from colonialist attitudes as from an overreliance on the Polish sublime and the French exotic. Strachey had perhaps inherited some of the poorer work from his immediate predecessor, James Payn, a breezy advocate of fiction writing as a way to fame and fortune (Keating 35, 82-83). Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan makes an excellent case for distinguishing between "Karain" and "The Lagoon" on the grounds that "these apparent literary clones, only eight or nine months apart, are, in fact, wholly antagonistic siblings," and thus, in its turn, the case for the critical prosecution (55). In doing so, she shows the inadequacy of a thematic reading that ignores political, ethical, and aesthetic issues, such as the narrative complexity of "Karain." At the same time, though not exactly a "neat enclosure of otherness," "The Lagoon" is far more ambitious and thoughtful than the Cornhill's usual fare (60). Conrad's notorious reference to the unnamed white protagonist as liking his Malay friend Arsat "not so much perhaps as a man likes his favourite dog" makes more sense as the product of ironic distance than of narrative approval, especially in light of the fact that Arsat is named and the white man not, and that Conrad has Arsat tell his friend, "We are of a people who take what they want--like you whites" (Tales 191, 196). Having been one himself, Arsat knows a subjugator when he sees him. (For all its shortcomings, this is a story begging for a more carefully contextual reading. Although Arsat's way of speaking, for example, often attracts unfavorable notice, most of the critics involved in the debate, the present writer included, have no knowledge even of twenty-first-century Malay, let alone the other languages of the archipelago, and thus are in no position to judge whether or not the speech Conrad gives him is "childish," artificial, borrowed from other orientalist texts, laden with Polonisms, or otherwise inauthentic.)

By featuring the uncanny and grotesque so prominently, above all in exotic settings, the Cornhill was far from unique. For instance, the same combination appears in Blackwood's and the Strand (albeit with different emphases), accompanied by vigorous illustrations in the Strand and would-be magisterial essays in Blackwood's, which, like the increasingly conservative Cornhill, was sufficiently respectable to eschew illustrations. Conrad's creation of a literary presence required a precise knowledge of these distinctions and affinities.


Cosmopolis is the least known but most remarkable of the magazines that carried Conrad's early short fiction. The publication of "An Outpost of Progress" in its June and July 1897 numbers (see Figure 4) put him in extraordinarily distinguished company, introduced him to a truly international audience (literally cosmopolitan rather than imperial), and situated his story within an energetic debate about imperialism and, in particular, imperialism in Africa. (15) Launched in January 1896, the magazine ran to thirty-five monthly issues, averaging 320 pages each, selling in Britain for half a crown. (16) Publication was simultaneous in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, New York, and London. As the English prospectus put it, "COSMOPOLIS has no rival in its chief purpose, which is to present English-speaking and Continental readers with a tri-lingual review composed (in equal parts) of English, French and German text by leading writers. COSMOPOLIS will publish no translations." (17) True to its agenda, the first issue boasted an essay in French on Othello by the Danish critic Georg Brandes, stories in French by Paul Bourget and Anatole France, and a formidable article in German from the great historian Theodor Mommsen on capital punishment in ancient Rome. Among the English contributions were a long review of Jude the Obscure by Edmund Gosse, the first episode of R. L. Stevenson's posthumous Weir of Hermiston, and the first half of Henry James's "The Figure in the Carpet." This rich vein of artistry and scholarship never gave out. Later German-speaking contributors included Arthur Schnitzler, Theodor Fontane, and Lou Andreas-Salome; among the French were Jean Jaures and Maurice Barres (one a socialist and internationalist, the other a reactionary nationalist), and, most remarkable of all in view of its challenging novelty, Stephane Mallarme's "Un coup de des," set in a wide array of typefaces.
Figure 4. Part II of "An Outpost of Progress" in Cosmopolis, July 1897.


An International Review.

No. XIX.--JULY, 1897.



THERE were ten station men who had been left by the
Director. Those fellows, having engaged themselves to the
Company for six months (without having any idea of a month
in particular and only a very faint notion of time in general),
had been serving the cause of progress for upwards of two
years. Belonging to a tribe from a very distant part of this land
of darkness and sorrow, they did not run away, naturally
supposing that as wandering strangers they would be killed by
the inhabitants of the country; in which they Were right
They lived in straw huts on the slope of a ravine overgrown
with reedy grass, just behind the station buildings, They were
not happy, regretting the festive incantations, the sorceries, the
human sacrifices of their own land; where they also had
parents, brothers, sisters, admired chiefs, respected magicians,
loved friends, and other ties supposed generally to be human.
Besides, the rice rations served out by the Company did not
agree with them, being a food unknown to their land, and to
which they could not get used. Consequently they were
unhealthy and miserable. Had they been of any other tribe
they would have made up their minds to die--for nothing is
easier to certain savages than suicide and so have escaped
from the puzzling difficulties of existence. But belonging, as
they did, to a warlike tribe with filed teeth, they had more grit,
and went on stupidly living through disease and sorrow. They
did very little work, and had lost their splendid physique.

* Copyright in the United States of America. 1897, by J. Conrad.

Introducing this first appearance of Mallarme's enigmatic poem, the members of the editorial board present themselves as "Desireuse d'etre aussi eclectique en litterature qu'en politique" [Wishing to be as eclectic in literature as in politics] (417). According to the English version of the prospectus: "COSMOPOLIS has inspired the hope of its originators that, by its independence and impartiality, by its moderation and urbanity of tone, it may, in some measure, help to bring about a sense of closer fellowship between the nations." Although Conrad would hardly have shared these sentiments, they echoed the liberal internationalism of T. Fisher Unwin, his publisher at this time and the British sponsor of Cosmopolis. The magazine's regular commentators were keenly aware of living in an atmosphere of virulent chauvinism made ever more toxic by the popular press: in February 1896, for instance, the French jurist and human rights advocate Francis de Pressense gave nearly the whole of his monthly article on international affairs to the handling of the Jameson raid by the British press (521-34); and in March that year T. H. S. Escott, a former editor of the Fortnightly Review, expressed the hope that in spite of "periodical tendencies to patriotic chauvinism, a newspaper public co-extensive with the civilised world must, if wisely controlled, generally be favourable to the prevention of national misunderstanding, and therefore to the promotion of international amity" (677). Even so, the magazine's editor Fernand Ortmans preferred outspokenness to bland discretion, and it might be assumed that Cosmopolis was at heart an imperialist magazine, and a pro-British one at that, to judge by some of the English-language contributions in the Jubilee year of 1897: Kipling's "Slaves of the Lamp," Sir Richard Temple's article "The Reign of Queen Victoria," or Henry Norman's "The Globe and the Island." The last of these asserts, "The Jubilee celebration [...] was more, much more, than homage to the Queen's person. The British nation rejoiced as much over its own triumphs as over the virtues and the happy lot of its Sovereign" (Norman 80). Yet to cover the Jubilee, Ortmans also assigned Francis de Pressense and Theodore Barth, a Socialist member of the Reichstag, neither of whom was inclined to look on London as the center of the world. (18)

Africa held a special fascination for contributors to the magazine. In April 1896, after the Italian reverse at Adowa and French and British setbacks in the Sudan, Pressense wrote, "Africa is definitely taking its revenge upon Europe. At the present time it is a real bag of surprises" (182). Just a year before the publication of "An Outpost of Progress," Sir Charles Dilke appeared with an extensive critique of Belgian rule in the Congo and British administration of the River Niger titled "Civilisation in Africa." Denouncing the European opportunists who hide behind double standards, Dilke offers a remark by General Gordon that might have come from Conrad himself: "I am sick of these people; it is they, and not the blacks, who need civilisation" (21). Like Conrad, and like Cunninghame Graham, an attentive reader of Cosmopolis, Dilke is struck by the disparity between words and deeds. Ten years have passed since the Berlin Conference, writes Dilke, in whose high-flown declarations "the name of the Deity was freely invoked" but whose "visible form" is "the ivory-stealing, the village-burning, the flogging, and the shooting which are going on in the heart of Africa now" (22). The philanthropists who naively echo the pious avowals of the chartered companies and the governments who condone the atrocities those pieties disguise simply make the damage worse: "[...] in all the proceedings of the Congo State, of the Niger Company, and of the British East Africa Company, their language has been spoken. It is indeed probable that when the founders of these enterprises come to die, our philanthropic societies will declare that their title to fame consists in having been the civilisers of Africa" (Dilke 34-35). Dilke is as critical of the British chartered companies as he is of their Belgian equivalents, and particularly of their secrecy: "we are left to the occasional reports of missionaries and to the quarrels of great persons for the little information that we can obtain with regard to the acts of either the Niger Company or the Congo State" (24).

"An Outpost of Progress" added to the weight of this indictment. Making this claim does not entail reducing the story to a simple polemic or a piece of reportage; that would be as foolish as insisting that Conrad's art is too pure and too profound to spoil with talk of politics and history. One needs, at least, a stereoscopic vision. There was too much at stake in his choice of literary contributions for Ortmans to be able to accept a story simply for its relevance to international politics: "COSMOPOLIS, in order [...] to meet the persistent demand for good literature in the form of fiction, will publish every month a short story in English, French and German, by acknowledged masters of that art" (Prospectus). Nevertheless, a story with such a background could hardly fail to attract readers hoping for some light amid the fog of propaganda. Conrad, who had apparently joined the ranks of Ortmans' "acknowledged masters" on the strength of two unpublished stories, saw "An Outpost" as a reflection upon his own discouraging experiences of Africa: "All the bitterness of those days, all my puzzled wonder as to the meeting of all--all my indignation at masquerading philanthropy--have been with me again, while I wrote" (CL 1: 294). He admitted to Garnett that the opening pages might deter a reader, while telling Unwin that this was a strong story likely to be drastically weakened by the plan to spread it over two issues (CL 1: 300, 338). As ever, his position vis-a-vis the correspondent guided these comments: to Garnett, his literary mentor, he was franker yet more deferential than he was to Unwin; his financial dependency upon the latter made Conrad, a sound contrarian, all the more eager to assert his artistic confidence and seriousness. Yet the misgivings he expresses to Garnett are suggestive, for they are about the shifts in stance and voice. As Jakob Lothe notes, "a narrative characteristic of this story is the fluctuation between irony and merely detached, informative comment" (55). The earlier stages of "An Outpost" carry the bulk of such remarks--in effect, discourses on the social patterns that have kept Kayerts and Carlier so shiftless and so empty-headed. A sentence from a longer passage sets the timbre: "Society, not from any tenderness, but because of its strange needs, had taken care of these two men, forbidding them all independent thought, all initiative, all departure from routine; and forbidding it under pain of death" (Conrad, Tales 91). In "Heart of Darkness," observations of this kind come from Marlow; here the narrator is akin to an essayist or editor glossing an exemplary story. Though occasional brief reversions appear later, the last major irruption occurs about two-thirds of the way through: "they became daily more like a pair of accomplices than like a couple of devoted friends" (Conrad, Tales 109). Increasingly, these detached opinions are replaced by a greater intimacy with the characters, accompanied by a more incisive irony: "He, Kayerts, was a thinking creature. He had been all his life, till that moment, a believer in a lot of nonsense like the rest of mankind--who are fools; but now he thought! He knew!" (Tales 115). As Lothe points out, the narrative voice more and more approximates that of The Secret Agent and Nostromo (53-56). Something remarkable is happening here. Even before "Heart of Darkness," a nineteenth-century voice is yielding to a twentieth-century one. Garnett's dissatisfaction with the early pages and Conrad's reluctance to split the text both concerned the balance of these voices. (19) It is hard to imagine a better site for this confluence of outrage, experimental art, and politics than Cosmopolis.


Writing to Garnett about "The Lagoon" in August 1896, Conrad struck a pose of cynical bravado: "It's a tricky thing with the usual forests river--stars--wind sunrise, and so on--and lots of secondhand Conradese in it. I would bet a penny they would take it. There is only 6000 words in it so it can't bring in many shekels ... Don't You think I am a lost soul?" (CL 1: 301). At least occasionally, he was starting to think of his work as a saleable phenomenon. Yet, to recapitulate a point made in the first section, Conrad was always trying something new, and all the Tales of Unrest exemplify this artistic restlessness. (20) A writer who does not oblige with a predictable and consistent product is at the mercy of critics, editors, and readers. Advertisers and reviewers in Conrad's day puffed "The New Corelli," or "The New Hall Caine," or "The New Story by Conan Doyle" to a readership sure of knowing what it wanted--Doyle's struggle to kill off Holmes is exemplary here. Even when Conrad challenged some predilection, some received opinion, or some bias, he did it on promising terrain, among people who were or might be attuned to what he had to say. In sending out his fiction, Conrad was neither blind nor thoroughly clear-sighted.

Here "The Return" provides a telling counterexample to the narrative of stories finding the right harbor. Before he finished it, he thought of trying the Yellow Book, a journal he had recommended to another beginning writer, Edward Noble, describing its editor, publisher, and contributors as "very aest[h]etic very advanced and think no end of themselves" and telling him to "send what you have most original and simple" (CL 1: 369, 231). In the context of his assessment of Henry Harland and John Lane, Conrad's use of the word "simple" is surprising since not even the least sympathetic reader would apply this adjective to "The Return," the story that Conrad himself considered submitting to the Yellow Book. Upon completion, Conrad's own insistent misgivings led him to ask Garnett whether to send "The Return" to the Yellow Book or Chapman's Magazine of Fiction, or simply bury it "in an unhonoured grave" (CL 1: 386-87). Presumably sensing that it was strained where it should be unrestrained and vice versa, Garnett proposed Chapman's, artistically speaking, the less punctilious of the two. Conrad duly submitted the story to its editor:

I had an answer by return of post from Oswald Crawfurd. He said the story is too long for any single number of the Magazine. But he would like to have my work which he knows and admires. He will read and decide within a fortnight. He thinks it may be used in the Xmas Number, (Here I nearly fell off my chair in a fit of laughter. Can't you imagine the story read by the domestic hearthstone in the season of festivity?) tho' it is somewhat too long even for that. (CL 1: 392)

Yet Conrad was wrong: Crawfurd, who knew a thing or two about sexual misbehavior, (21) regularly published stories of unhappy married life, stories about adultery, violent confrontations, betrayals, and violent deaths that were far more brutal, and even less suitable for "the domestic hearthstone" than "The Return." (For example, Ella Merivale's "A Solution" [June 1897] in which a wife overhears her husband declaring his passion for a dashing widow and drowns herself in the Thames; after her mother succeeds in persuading everybody that the death was accidental, the husband blithely marries the widow.) Even the Christmas number followed this pattern. One of several tales of marital woe, Beatrice Heron-Maxwell's "The Society of Death" portrays the society in question as a group of wives dedicated to murdering prostitutes in order to reduce the opportunities for their husbands. (22) When Crawfurd finally declined Conrad's story, it was not on account of the asking price of fifty pounds, nor, presumably, out of fear of shocking the readership but rather because Conrad would not let the story be divided (CL 1: 394, 413-14). That may itself have been the "other grounds" for refusal, or Crawfurd may have come to feel that the story was not only too long or too convoluted but too decorous (CL 1: 414). Conrad was often fortunate in the placing of his stories. Here, for the good of his reputation and artistic praxis, he was fortunate in not being placed. Thanks to his willingness to experiment in a literary world of unpredictable convergence and divergence with the views of editors and public, he had three unorthodox and powerful stories to his credit. He had not so much lost his soul as found his literary presence, the presence of a writer who took chances, manifold yet always distinctive, volatile but strong.


Bancquart, Marie-Claire, ed. Guy de Maupassant. Contes normands. Paris: Livre de Poche, 2004.

Barry, John Arthur. "Missing." Cornhill Magazine NS 2 (January-June 1897): 798.

Beare, Geraldine. Index to the Strand Magazine, 1891-1950. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982.

Beckson, Karl. Arthur Symons: A Life. Oxford UP, 1987.

--, and John M. Munro, eds. Arthur Symons: Selected Letters, 1880-1935. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989.

Belford, Barbara. Violet: The Story of the Irrepressible Violet Hunt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Bishop, Edward. "Re-Covering Modernism--Format and Function in the Little Magazines." In Williston et al. 287-319.

Black, Michael. The Cosmopolis Archive. Dublin, 2003. cosmopolis.

Bock, Martin. Conrad and Psychological Medicine. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP, 2002.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Trans. Susan Emanuel. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1995.

Capes, Bernard. "The Moon-Stricken." Cornhill Magazine NS 1 (July-December 1896): 810.

Conrad, Joseph. Collected Letters. Ed. Frederick Karl, Laurence Davies, and Gene Moore. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983--2007.

--. "The Idiots." Savoy. (October 1896): 56-85.

--. "The Lagoon." Cornhill Magazine (January 1897): 187-204.

--. "An Outpost of Progress." Cosmopolis 6 (June-July 1897): 609-20.

--. A Personal Record. Collected Works. London: Dent, 1919.

--. Tales of Unrest. Collected Works. London: Dent, 1923.

Cutcliffe-Hyne, C. J. "A Lottery Duel." Cornhill Magazine NS 1 (July-December 1896): 66-78.

Daniel, Anne Margaret. "Arthur Symons and The Savoy." Literary Imagination 7.2 (Spring 2005): 165-96.

Dilke, Charles. "Civilisation in Africa." Cosmopolis 3 (July 1896): 18-35.

Erdinast-Vulcan, Daphna. The Strange Short Fiction of Joseph Conrad: Writing, Culture, and Subjectivity. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Escott, T. H. S. "The Press as an International Agency." Cosmopolis 1 (March 1896): 664-77.

Helias, Pierre-Jakez. Le cheval d'orgeuil. Paris: Plon, 1975.

Heron-Maxwell, Beatrice. "The Society of Death." Chapman's Magazine (December 1897): 7, 343-54.

Hervouet, Yves. The French Face of Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Home, Philip. "Henry James and the Economy of the Short Story." In Willison et al. 1-35.

Keating, Peter. The Haunted Study: A Social History of the English Novel, 1875-1914. London: Secker & Warburg, 1989.

Kingsley, Mary. "Black Ghosts." Cornhill Magazine NS 1 (July-December 1896): 79-92.

Lang, Andrew. "The Black Dogs and the Thumbless Hand." Cornhill Magazine NS 1 (July-December 1896): 763-68.

--. "Ghosts and Right Reason." Cornhill Magazine NS 2 (January-June 1897): 629-41.

Lombroso, Cesare. "A Mad Saint." Savoy 4 (April 1896): 13-22.

Lothe, Jakob. Conrad's Narrative Method. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

Mallarme Stephane. "Un coup de des." Cosmopolis 6 (May 1896): 417-27.

McDonald, Peter D. British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice, 1880-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Merivale, Ella. "A Solution." Chapman's Magazine (June 1897): 6, 426-40.

Meyer, Bernard C. Joseph Conrad: A Psychoanalytic Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1967.

Norman, Henry. "The Globe and the Island." Cosmopolis 6 (July 1897): 79-92.

Orel, Harold. The Victorian Short Story: Development and Triumph of a Literary Genre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Pressense Francis de. "Revue du Mois." Cosmopolis I (February 1896): 519-34.

--. "Revue du Mois." Cosmopolis 2 (April 1896): 182-96.

"Prospectus." Cosmopolis. 1 (January 1896). Black Cosmopolis. zoom/cosmopolis/london/prospectusL.html.

Ruppel, Richard. "Heart of Darkness and the Popular Exotic Stories of the 1890s." Conradiana 21.1 (Spring 1989): 3-14.

Stape, J. H., and Owen Knowles. eds. A Portrait in Letters: Correspondence to and about Conrad. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.

Symons, Arthur. "A Causerie from a Castle in Ireland." Savoy 8 (August 1896): 94-95.

--. "Editorial Note." Savoy I (January 1896): 2-3.

--. "The Lesson of Millais." Savoy 10 (October 1896): 57-58.

Watts, Cedric. Joseph Conrad: A Literary Life. London: Macmillan, 1989.

--, ed. Joseph Conrad's Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

White, Allon. The Uses of Obscurity: The Fiction of Early Modernism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

Willison, Ian, Warwick Gould, and Warren Chemaik, eds. Modernist Writers and the Marketplace. London: Macmillan, 1996.




(1.) Habitus refers to the spaces of cognition and behavior where individuals, with their own predispositions, come up against the habits, practices, biases, beliefs, and socioeconomic roles of others, whether singly or in groups such as classes, professions, or educational and artistic networks.

(2.) See Hervouet passim. Bancquart writes of Gil-Blas: "It was the journal of high society 'libertinage'" (72-73).

(3.) Serialized in the literary section of a periodical, either as a supplement or a ruled-off segment of a page.

(4.) Conrad's anecdotal account of entering "The Black Mate" for a competition in Tit-Bits offers tantalizing evidence of his interest in a mass-market publication whose circulation in the 1880s approached half a million a week (Beare xii).

(5.) See Orel 185ff.

(6.) Harold Orel describes such fiction as valuing "action over introspection, adventure over analysis, doing over thinking" (190). Between 1891 and 1900, the Strand published about nine hundred stories; the magazine averaged four thousand submissions per year in all genres, of which it took about eighteen hundred (Beare xiii).

(7.) For a well-informed and thoughtful assessment of Symons's editorship, see Daniel, "Arthur Symons."

(8.) In A Personal Record, Conrad notes "some occult virtue in the first person plural, which makes it specially fit for critical and royal declarations" (110).

(9.) Edward Bishop makes a persuasive case for seeing the Savoy as the truly radical magazine and the Yellow Book as a distinctly respectable publication which gave a mostly bourgeois readership the thrill of thinking that the very act of reading an occasionally scandalous magazine turned them into bohemians (287-96).

(10.) Conrad's narrative does not specify a Breton setting, but certain details suggest one; although indebted, as Hervouet notes, to Flaubert, the wedding scene has musicians playing characteristically Breton instruments such as the biniou, and the village has a Breton name, Ploumar (33-34). For the battles pitting aristocrats, priests, and peasants against republicans and free-thinkers, see Pierre-Jakez Helias's memoir, Le cheval d'orgeuil, originally written in Breton.

(11.) Bernard C. Meyer claims that "Conrad was disturbed by the sexual aspects of marriage" (118); Martin Bock makes a more persuasive case for fears of going mad (81-83).

(12.) Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan argues that "The Idiots" is "one of Conrad's most pointless stories," one that "does not yield the 'sense of an ending' which would endow the plot with significance" (3). I propose a counter-reading with Susan at the story's center; she has none of the "cynicism, the greed, and the indifferent callousness" that Erdinast-Vulcan rightly sees in the other characters, and she suffers far more than they do (85). Conrad's tacit request to take her suffering seriously is far from "pointless." The narrative has a double ending; the pitiless Marquis de Chavanes offers the final say but not the final judgment.

(13.) Conrad complained of not being paid (CL 1: 310, 314); by the end of the year, Smithers had no funds left to pay his authors (Beckson 151).

(14.) Richard Ruppel draws attention to this crude anticipation of "Heart of Darkness" in his essay "'Heart of Darkness' and the Popular."

(15.) Cedric Watts's pioneering investigation of that magazine's contents is an inspiring and exemplary model of how to read Conrad's serial fiction in context (Joseph Conrad's Letters 19-23). Recently, Michael Black's website The Cosmopolis has made the hard-to-find international prospectuses for this extraordinary publishing venture accessible online.

(16.) One eighth of a pound, the same price as the Savoy. Each volume except the last includes three issues and is through-paginated.

(17.) See Black, Cosmopolis Archive. There were also supplements in other languages, such as the Russian one, which published stories by Chekhov and Tolstoy. Tables of contents appear on Black's website.

(18.) This account of Cosmopolis diverges from the one in Watts's Joseph Conrad's Letters, where Conrad figures as the lone dissenter.

(19.) As a matter of editorial policy, the story was too long for a single issue, and the need for symmetry required breaking toward the middle; to Ortmans, pausing at a suspenseful moment would also be attractive. Evidently Garnett was unhappy with the change in tone, but it is not clear whether he felt it should come earlier or, in the interests of artistic unity, not be there at all.

(20.) Even "The Lagoon," where Conrad experiments with delayed decoding, as in the paragraph where the steersman turns the canoe (Tales 188).

(21.) For a history of Crawfurd's philanderings, see Belford passim.

(22.) The central character is a woman whose assigned victim is, unknown to her, her missing daughter; the mother learns her identity at the last moment, and dies of a seizure.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Texas Tech University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Davies, Laurence
Date:Mar 22, 2009
Previous Article:Introduction.
Next Article:Decent company: Conrad, Blackwood's, and the literary marketplace.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters