Mario Curreli, ed. The Ugo Mursia Memorial Lectures, Second Series: Papers from the International Conrad Conference, University of Pisa, Sept. 16th-18th, 2004.
The 2004 International Conference, like the 1983 meeting, was graciously hosted by Mario Curreli and the University of Pisa to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the International Conrad Society and its Italian branch by Ugo Mursia, Renato Prinzhofer, and Mario Curreli; the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Nostromo; and the eighteenth anniversary of the publication of "Heart of Darkness" in Italian translation. Needless to say, the assembled group of international scholars must be grateful for the delightful venue and high quality of the academic programs. Topics for sessions treated "Conrad and the Classical World," "The Centenary of Nostromo," "Conrad and Italy," and "Conrad and the Mediterranean." A short description of each of the papers which were presented is outlined by Curreli in his foreword, and twenty-three full texts follow, along with a substantial number of photographic illustrations of relevant material. All the articles are of substantial interest, although some are directed more toward the specialist, rather than the general reader. Taken together, the papers form a closely coherent whole and are of a high quality. All serious scholars of things Conradian will want to read this book.
Zdzislaw Najder opens the topic of Conrad and classicism with a much needed summary of Conrad's schoolboy study of Latin and Greek, the classical texts he was expected to know, and the implications behind Conrad's references to names, tropes, plotting, allusions, and similar possibly derivative intersections between his English fiction and his Latin and Greek studies. Andrzej Busza elaborates the topic by discussing the nostos, the classical heroic return pattern, in The Rover. David Lucking treats the recurrence of the Orpheus and of the Narcissus themes in Conrad's stories. Yannick Le Boulicaut presents one of the most interesting intertextual arguments challenging the idea that the quests of Kaspar Almayer, Lord Jim, Martin Decoud, Tom Lingard, or Charlie Marlow are comparable to that of Odysseus or Aeneas. Le Boulicaut sees Conrad's treatment of the descent into hell as offering a Christian redemptive path quite unlike the classical hero's. Mario Curreli's broader examination of the role of myth in fiction, particularly the perilous journey and nostos pattem in Nostromo, makes a transition between the papers which concern strictly classical elements and those which examine wider literary connections in Conrad's works.
Sylvere Monod begins to broaden the scope of intertextual investigations presented with a study of Conrad's references to L'Albergo d'Italia Una and the "Inn of the Three Witches." In this section one of the most interesting arguments is made by Laurence Davies, who points out that the novel The Gadfly by Lily Voynich, now largely forgotten in the Western world, although prominent in Communist circles, links Latin America and Risorgimento Italy in a way which looks forward to Nostromo. Myrtle Hooper examines recurring tropes in the work of J. M. Coetzee and Conrad, while Mario Domenichelli performs a similar service for Ennio Flaiano and Elena Paruolo for Dacia Maraini. Jean M. Szczypien explains the relevance of the name, Zamoyski, in Polish history and the significance of red boots to Polish historical castes as reflected in Conrad's imagination. The difficult balance of history versus fiction, the degree to which a story is bound to tell the reader some important truth about human behavior, occupies Cedric Watts, as he challenges Terry Eagleton's negative view of Conrad's politics, concluding, "Nostromo is not a political tract but a work of intelligent entertainment" (113).
The Italian ties to Conrad are explored more fully in Mario Domenichelli's work on Ennio Flaiano compared to Conrad; Michel Arouimi's consideration of parallels between Carlo Levi's Cristo si e fermato a Eboli and Conrad's characters who are doomed to live as alienated exiles; and Elena Paruolo's and Roberta Ferrari's papers on Dacia Maraini and Italian translations of Conrad. Laura Giovannelli treats how Conrad becomes "rewritten" in Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, and Giuseppe Berto. Fausto Ciompi details the critical reception on Conrad in Italy from 1924, the year of his death, to the present. The most interesting of these papers on Conrad and Italy is, perhaps, the contribution by Gian Mario Benzing concerning the translations by Mario Benzing, through which many Italians first learned to know Conrad. Carola M. Kaplan shows how Conrad used Italy as an alibi for a judgmental attitude toward things British, displacing the national origin of his negative or morally questionable characters. There can be no doubt, in light of this set of papers, that Conrad's impact on Italian literature has been deep and that, in turn, to see Conrad through Italian eyes is illuminating.
Regarding the somewhat broader context of the Mediterranean setting generally, Gene M. Moore discusses the unfinished state of Suspense. Anne Luyat, in a very thoughtful paper, treats the issue of "opacity" in Conrad's life and fiction related to the history, politics, and sociology of the Mediterranean. Philip Olleson studies the interaction of the conventions of opera and fiction with particular reference to Richard Rodney Bennett's opera based on Victory. Sema Postacioglu-Banon and Robert Hampson both open the question of how Conrad understood anarchists and terrorists in works like The Secret Agent.
Taken altogether, this volume of essays is very even, coherent, and solid, showing yet once again that a wide-ranging, international approach to a major author enriches both our grasp of his work and our understanding of our own individual cultures. The polyglot Polish officer in the British merchant marine, Joseph Conrad, as he sometimes called himself, would surely approve of these attempts to place his work in a context which breaks out of narrow and parochial limitations.
TODD K. BENDER
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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|Author:||Bender, Todd K.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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