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Joseph Conrad. Joseph Conrad: Prefaces.

Joseph Conrad. Joseph Conrad: Prefaces.

Edited and Foreword by Owen Knowles.

Toronto: Fire & Ash Publishers, 2016. 214 pp.

ISBN: 9980994009814.


At first sight and touch, the physical fact of the 2016 edition of Edward Garnett's 1937 collection of Conrad's prefaces, edited and with a foreword by Owen Knowles, is a bibliophile's joy. Its black hardcover binding, rich and velvety to the hand, features on its front either a brigantine or a barque. Two masts, or two with a short gaff-rigged third, we cannot say. (1) If the latter, the image may evoke intimations of the trim barque Otago, Conrad's first and last command. Through a sea mist under a pale gibbous moon the vessel close-hauled with topsails furled, rides, as it were, "stormie seas," symbolic, perhaps, of Conrad's weathering his inner and outer lives before his "sleep after toyle" (2) in 1924, the publication year of his collected works. On the back, an image of chalk cliffs, with no Beachy Head lighthouse apparent, yet reminiscent of Conrad's many departures and landfalls in his ships, life, and art. At the not unreasonable price of US $21.00 advertised online at time of this review, this elegant volume will add aesthetic lustre to the Conradian's book shelf.


We have eminent Conradian Owen Knowles, the editor of this version, to thank for this revivifying of the 1937 classic, Conrad's Prefaces to His Works, edited by Edward Garnett, Conrad's loyal friend, mentor, and benefactor. Professor Knowles's Conradian publishing history, as impressive as it is enviable, proves him exceptionally qualified for this task: research fellow at the University of Hull, author, editor, and co-editor of some fifteen books of literary scholarship, including editorship and co-editorship respectively of the Cambridge Edition's Youth, Heart of Darkness, and The End of the Tether, and The Shadow-Line, (3) he is also advisory editor for The Conradian (UK).


This review, then, is a consideration, not of Conrad's prefaces themselves, but of their presentation by Owen Knowles as editor of the 2016 version of Edward Garnett's original 1937 Dent edition, imputedly a revisiting but in fact a major revision. To this end, we intend to locate this 2016 version in its bibliographic comparative context. Conrad's prefaces speak for themselves, and over the years many others have spoken for them, including Edward Garnett in his essay contained in the 1937, 1971, and Knowles's 2016 versions, and in his Foreword. So we shall have nothing to say about the prefaces' content.


Twelve years after Conrad's death, Aime Felix Tschiffely (1895-1954), adventurer and author, selected and wrote an introduction to Rodeo, a collection of stories by Conrad's fellow writer Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936). After his introduction with its quotations of Conrad's admiring comments on his dear friend "Don Roberto," Tschiffely includes a brief prefatory note by Graham who died the year Rodeo was published (and the year before Conrad's Prefaces appeared). Titled "To the Incurious Reader," Graham's few words conclude dismissively of the passage itself, "That, oh, Incurious Reader, is all I have to say to you, by way of preface, foreword, prologue--or anything you choose" (Tschiffely xx).

That note is not about the stories Tschiffely has chosen. It is a preface about prefaces, an essay explaining why prefaces no longer were, and ought not to be, written. Arch and macho as the argument is, it tells us "that which oft was thought, but neer so well expressed":

Few writers nowadays [...] write prefaces; your best-seller, never. Possibly they do so wisely, for your preface is a snare. It breaks down all the barriers authorship raises between the writer and the man who reads the book. As long as writers strut upon the stage with the cothurnus (4) and the mask impersonality affords, they hide behind their characters [...]. But in your preface your high-flying bird comes down to earth [...]. Then, he has to face his public man to man subject to [...] all those petty failings that piffling scribblers take such trouble to point out in their attacks upon great names [...]. Once face to face, it often comes to light that the contriver is a poor creature considered as a man, when he essays a preface. It often proves to be but [...] a puff of his own wares [...]. So he does wisely to refrain. (Graham xv)

A writer is, then--by Graham's lights--an actor, a poseur, who by writing prefaces reveals to his reader his true--and inferior--self. But how might one conclude with Graham either that the preface is truth, or that the person it reveals behind the author is somehow inferior to his authorial persona?

Graham's semi-serious asseveration presumably applies to prefaces written (or not written) for a book's first publication. Perhaps as a still young author at the height of his powers Conrad shared that view, although that proposition is doubtful in view of "Some Reminiscences" (A Personal Record), serialized early in his career in Ford Madox Ford's English Review. (5) However, later in life and posthumously, fresh editions of his greatest novels in the 1924 Dent and Doubleday collected works contained author's notes, written as self-revealing reflections on his books and stories years after their early publications. So, unlike Graham's notion of the preface as truly a prolegomena, most of the listed entries in Edward Garnett's Conrad's Prefaces to His Works were thoughtfully backward-gazing meditations, mirrors on a previous self.


In his concise and masterly Foreword, Owen Knowles percipiently sees something nobler in Conrad's prefaces than Graham's notion:

Originally called "Author's Notes," most of the prefaces [...] were composed in the final decade of Conrad's life (between 1917 and 1920) [...]. [T]he ageing Conrad, at this stage mindful of his own mortality, came to regard the whole enterprise of supplying these prefaces as having a symbolic character. It represented the master-novelist's act of celebratory retrospection and valediction--a moving return to his past work in order to bid it farewell--as well as a vital stage in the consolidation of his reputation as a writer. Written many years after the heated stresses of composition and with the benefit of detached hindsight, the prefaces also offered him an opportunity to shape his own legacy and, consciously or unconsciously, to fashion a public image of himself for posterity [...]. Conrad seems already to be playing the role of curator in the formation of his own richly-stocked museum. (Knowles viii)

In brief, seen in this light, these prefaces seem to assume for this reviewer the character of extended envoies placed as prologues, but in reality epilogical. They may be seen, then, as Milan Kundera might see them, as Conrad's intentional or subliminal bid for immortality, "for death and immortality are an indissoluble pair of lovers, and the person whose face merges in our mind with the faces of the dead is immortal while still alive" (Kundera 49).

The Foreword also quotes Edward Garnett's "memorable claim" in his essay "Conrad's Place in English Literature" that Conrad was "'a bridge between the British and Continental spirit,'" a writer of European heritage to whom we owe "'an enrichment of our consciousness of human life that no British contemporary novelist could match'" (Knowles vii). The Foreword continues its discussion of the history and motivations for Conrad's author's notes, adverting to Conrad's "Prospero-like sense that the time approaches when he must set aside his magic art" (viii). This colorful conjecture that Conrad was prompted to write these prefaces by a premonition of time's winged chariot hurrying near, (6) while debatable, compels this reviewer's assent.

Wide-ranging, the Foreword also comments on Conrad's plan of "definite form" for his author's notes: simple and accessible, aiming for "brevity and intimacy," in contrast to Henry James's "elaborately technical or esoteric" style (viii). The Foreword concludes with the editor's accomplishment: "With its coverage of all of Conrad's important prefaces, this volume sends out to the present-day reader the writer's own strikingly vivid invitation to enter his fictional world" (xi).


While Knowles's broad intention is clear, to perpetuate and make available Conrad's prefaces, this reviewer is somewhat bemused by the editor's more immediate purposes. Is the aim to produce an updated version of the 1937 first edition of the collected prefaces edited by Edward Garnett? Or is it simply to reproduce only the prefaces and Edward Garnett's 1937 essay unaltered, while exercising editorial discretionary preference to modify the rest of the original 1937 edition's title and supporting text?

The first line of the Foreword tells us that "the present volume [is] a reprinting of an edition first published in 1937" (Knowles vii); yet, the back cover's blurb begins, "This volume, proudly reissued" (my emphasis). This reviewer's confusion is compounded by a statement in the publisher's front matter, that this book has been "[previously published under title: Conrad's prefaces to his works, 1971" (sic), (7) intimating, then, that the editor's copy text was not the 1937 Dent first edition, but the 1971 Haskell House edition. (8) On the one hand, in bibliographical argot a reprint is precisely what it means: pages printed from the original galleys newly inked, or in more recent times, photocopied or digitally scanned and reproduced as facsimiles of the original edition. For example, a reprint of Edward Garnett's 1937 Dent edition is available online for previewing or for ordering as an e-book or hard copy. (9) A (re)issue, on the other hand, is essentially the same, but possibly with minor corrigenda and emendations, or at most, an added epigraph. (10)

The Knowles version is neither of these. For a start, the title has changed. No longer is it titled Conrad's Prefaces to His Works, as in Garnett's Dent 1937 original; the Knowles version reduces the title to simply Joseph Conrad: Prefaces. In the Table of Contents, within sets of collected stories such as Tales of Unrest, A Set of Six, etc., the constituent stories shown in the 1937 edition have been removed in the 2016 version. Moreover, not only has the editor's admittedly very useful Foreword taken pride of place at the start of the text (Knowles vii-xi), but Edward Garnett's brilliant introductory essay (Garnett 3-34) is relegated to last place, banished merely as a codex following the prefaces (Knowles 173-214). Yet, that wide-ranging and detailed essay is as illuminating of Conrad's prefaces and oeuvre, and as vitally relevant today, as it was when Garnett wrote it.

Further, the 1937 edition's opening passage by Edward Garnett's son David Garnett (1892-1981), a well-published novelist in his own right (Crystal 366), has gone missing in this 2016 version. According to David, his father completed his Introduction to the 1937 original edition only "four or five days before he died." The publisher Hugh Dent "suggested that [David] should write [a] biographical note" (Garnett vi-vii). David did so; it was included in the 1937 edition, and subsequently in the 1971 edition, which faithfully reproduces the 1937 original. Yet, in the Knowles edition, "Edward Garnett: A Biographical Note" has been removed in its entirety, with no trace or reference to it.

This lacuna is a pity, because not only does it describe the circumstance of the 1937 edition's being published posthumously, it gives remarkable insight into Edward's history, character, and his roles as intimate mentor and benefactor in his relationship with Conrad:

[H]aving discovered an author and got his first book published [Almayers Folly (1895)], Edward felt it his job to cajole and persuade him to write more and to develop his talent, though this might involve protecting the author from his own employer. His relationship with Conrad was after that pattern, and Conrad told the story of how Edward tempted him into writing his second book [An Outcast of the Islands (1896)] and thus prevented him from throwing up a literary career and going back to sea [...]. He was unusually tolerant of vanity and egotism and treated young authors (11) as the ideal producer has to treat theatrical stars. (Garnett vi-vii)

Yet further still, while a title page for Appendices (Knowles 157) retains mention of "A Chronological List of the Published Works of Joseph Conrad" as shown in the 1937 edition, the List itself is not to be found in the 2016 edition. Also, a bibliographic addendum in the 1937 edition, beginning with a brief biographical sketch (Garnett 213-218) does not appear in the 2016 version. Its retention would have been useful for the new reader of Conrad; however, the loss is not great. Since 1937, similar and more detailed lists such as Stephen Donovan's Conrad First: Index of Serializations (2002-209), and brief Conrad chronologies have long been readily available, such as is found in Morton Zabel's The Portable Conrad (1947), or more recently in the late John H. Stape's New Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (2015). So, the Knowles version clearly is neither a reprint nor a reissue of the 1937 edition as claimed. It is a fresh version, with substantive changes and deletions, if not inexplicable, at least unexplained.


The foregoing refers, however, only to this 2016 version's supporting material. The twenty-one prefaces themselves, arranged in chronological order from Almayer's Folly to The Rescue, and with the original versions of A Personal Record's "A Familiar Preface" and Victory's author's note, bear fidelity to the 1937 Dent edition down to the least punctuation mark; and that is what really matters. (Whether each Author's Note in the 1924 Dent Collected Works is a precise transcription from any ur-version is another matter, not--and need not be--Knowles's concern, and also beyond the scope of this review.) A single minor erratum (12) attests to some sort of intervention or painstaking transcription of the prefaces, the production process not relying on modern digital magic for reproduction and repagination of the format.

With all this said anent this 2016 version's departures from its 1937 original, this reviewer heartily acknowledges in Knowles's foreword his implicit encouragement not only of Conrad scholars but of entry-level readers of Conrad. Presumably by benign design, aspiring tyros are mercifully spared the kind of demotivating payload of bibliographic niceties and publishing histories burdening more technical texts. In sum, Owen Knowles has performed a valuable service in perpetuating a vital element of Conrad scholarship for our own and following generations. This reviewer concurs with the editor's appraisal that this volume offers a "strikingly vivid invitation" to both old and new readers of Conrad. On balance we could not ask for more than that.


Royal Roads Military College, retired


(1.) The Otago was a small three-masted barque. One cannot ascertain whether the pictured vessel has three masts or only two. A brigantine was (and is) a two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square-rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff mainsail (behind the mast). The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts. The image does not show whether the foremast has a mainsail or only a topsail. If the latter, the vessel could be a topsail schooner. (Otherwise, a schooner was fore-and-aft rigged.) If a schooner, then the image is redolent of Conrad's first sea berth in England, on the coal schooner Skimmer of the Sea on the coastal run from Lowestoft to Newcastle. Otherwise, other ships in which Conrad served were clippers, either three masted and full-rigged, or steamers.

(2.) The words spoken by Despayre in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, bk. 1, quoted by Conrad as The Rover's epigraph, and indited on Conrad's headstone in Canterbury's cemetery.

(3.) For a complete list, see "Books by Owen Knowles."

(4.) Cothurnus: thick-soled buskin used initially on the Athenian theatre, and on the Eliabethan stage.

(5.) From December 1908 to June 1909, serials of "Some Reminiscences" appeared in four issues of The English Review, vol. 1, and in three issues of vol. 2.

(6.) Pace Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," the "mistress" in Conrad's case being the muse Calliope.

(7.) As shown, the title in the front matter is in lower case without italics.

(8.) The 1971 version is an "edition" rather than a "reissue" or a "reprint" (even if the same galleys were used), because the publishing house, and necessarily the publisher's front matter, have changed.

(9.) See online "Conrad's Prefaces to His Works; With an Introductory Essay" (Book, 1937).

(10.) A second issue of a first edition has not the market value of the first issue as an artifact. Issues decrease in value, the more issues there are.

(11.) At least chronologically, Edward Garnett was Conrad's junior by eleven years, although Garnett's role in their association seems to have been somewhat avuncular. (Conversely, although R.B. Cunninghame Graham was Conrad's senior by five years, the timbre of Conrad's letters to Graham seems to assign him the junior role.)

(12.) p. 7, para 4, l. 1: glace v. glance.


Crystal, David, editor. The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Donovan, Stephen, editor. Conrad First: Index of Serializations. Uppsala University Press, 2002-2009.

Garnett, Edward, editor. Conrad's Prefaces to His Works. Introduction by Edward Garnett, 1st ed., J.M. Dent & Sons, 1937.

--. Conrad's Prefaces to His Works. 1937, Haskell House Publishers, 1971.

Goodreads. "Books by Owen Knowles." _Knowles.

Graham, Robert Bontine Cunninghame. Rodeo. William Heinemann, 1936.

Knowles, Owen. "Foreword." Joseph Conrad: Prefaces, Fire & Ash Publishers, 2016.

Kundera, Milan. Immortality. Translated by Peter Kussi, Grove Weidenfeld, 1990.

Tschiffely, A.F. "Introduction." Rodeo: A Collection of the Tales and Sketches of R.B. Cunninghame Graham, by R.B. Cunninghame Graham, William Heinemann, 1936.

Zabel, Morton Dauwen, editor. The Portable Conrad. 1947, Viking, 1954.

Stape, J.H., editor. The New Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
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Author:Brodsky, G.W. Stephen
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2015
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