The Conradian: Review

By John Lester, London

Lord Jim, edited by J. H. Stape and Ernest W. Sullivan II. lvi + 577pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. £75

Conrad's 'Lord Jim': A Transmission of the Manuscript, edited by J. H. Stape and Ernest W. Sullivan II. Conrad Studies 5. xiii + 164pp. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. €36. $49

At the recent international conference held by the Joseph Conrad Society (UK) at Bath, a representative from Penguin Books revealed that Lord Jim is their second highest selling novel by Joseph Conrad, with only Heart of Darkness selling more (albeit many more). This bare statistic reveals the enduring popularity of the book, in many cases the story that first attracted us to Conrad. Since the Cambridge Edition of Conrad's works first hove into view, one has been waiting eagerly for the Lord Jim flag to fly from its masthead. Welcome then is this latest addition to the ranks.

A volume of such importance requires a comprehensive approach and this has been achieved, the "Contents" page indicating its scope. A necessarily lengthy introduction is divided into three main compartments – origins, sources and reception – and gives each of these areas the attention it deserves.

The "Origins" section is especially important, since these are more complex than with most novels, even Conrad's, and the section explores Lord Jim's transition from "A Sketch" to Lord Jim: A Tale. The story formed another rescue from "The Rescuer," doomed to languish another twenty years before its completion, and was first conceived as another short story or novella to follow "Youth" and "Heart of Darkness" in Blackwood's Magazine, probably with the idea of it joining those stories in completing the Youth volume with Marlow as common narrator. If not a "baggy monster" in its final form, it was still far too long to share a volume with anything else and has generally remained a separate publication ever since.

The "Sources" section, besides citing the historical "Jeddah" incident that clearly sparked the pilgrim-ship sequence, also considers literary antecedents, Conrad's own experience, his reading and current events that occurred during the composition of the tale. All this is important to an understanding of the novel and, particularly, the attitude of the Europeans, specifically the British, with their emphasis on proper conduct and Jim seeming to be "one of us." "Reception" reveals an intriguing gamut of reactions to the book from D. H. Lawrence's complaint about it having a "snivelling purpose" (li) to the admiration of F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Many of the later criticisms of the novel are shown to derive from the influence of various theorists or psychoanalysts popular at various times, including today. In some respects this part could be said to have a cautionary purpose, warning the reader of approaches to the text that are current now or have been followed in the past and encouraging an independent appraisal – which in itself testifies to the extensive scope of the work. To a significant degree, understanding Jim depends on our ability to understand ourselves.

In the light of its origins, it is not surprising that "The Growth of the Novel" forms an important part of an essay on "The Texts" that follows the story itself. This essay is meticulous in detailing the minutiae of challenges faced in attempting to produce a definitive edition – a goal that will never be achieved to everyone's satisfaction, I suspect. There are problems of punctuation caused by typos and faulty machines, for instance. It is a little daunting to discover that some learned point in a thesis may have been induced by the vagaries of Jessie's typewriter. There are issues connected with serialisation and errors related to that initial publication, partly caused by Blackwood's house style. A misplaced comma here can result in a different meaning. The editors explain: "Liberating Conrad's prose from systematically applied house-styling restores to narrative passages the more free-flowing conversational rhythms that they have in his manuscript and that he presumably would have wished them to have, had he been able to circumvent the 'correctness' and conventionalizing imposed by his publisher" (369).

Free-flowing (the river imagery is particularly apposite here) is thus one of the aims, and one anticipates a trouble-free journey as a result.

This aim is almost achieved, but occasionally (very occasionally, to be fair) there is an unexpected jar – not as much as the Patna encountering its Red Sea obstruction but still enough to cause a moment of puzzlement like an unforeseen ripple on the Golfo Placido (to mix books for a moment). The spelling of "lapel" on page 55 is one of these moments. Conrad's Lord Jim: A Transmission of the Manuscript, which shares the same editors, shows that this was Conrad's original spelling, and the editors comment in the Cambridge edition: "At the time of writing, a spelling already obsolete" (534). Presumably it was not too obsolete, though, since Blackwood retained it for both serial and book versions, but it is still possible that it might have been a Conradian spelling error (like "strength", which Conrad regularly mis-spelt as "strenght" at this time and which is instantly recognisable as a mistake, of course). No rhythms are disturbed by spelling "lapel" the usual way, but one can hardly criticise the editors for lining up with Conrad and Blackwood here. Conrad may in fact have picked up the spelling from Dickens, who uses it in chapter XIV of Nicholas Nickleby.

Initially I had the same feeling about "deviltry" (122), also in the manuscript, but this form was less obscure at the time and is still (just) allowable today, although this finished up as "devilry" in magazine and book by way of "devilery" in the typescript (424). Actually, when read aloud, it does add a moment of oral activity to an otherwise unruffled ending to the sentence ("an utterly aimless piece of deviltry"). It makes the word stand out, in short, and this may well have been Conrad's intention in choosing it, an example, perhaps, of the "resultant lack of polish" that the editors claim "more accurately represents Conrad's work than do the many silent and fastidious editorial alterations to it" (381).

In the light of this statement one wonders why the "has" Conrad produces on page two [f. 20v] of the manuscript volume in the midst of present tense verbs is changed to "had" for this edition, the passage now reading: "which means to smash, to destroy, to annihilate all he had seen, known, loved, enjoyed or hated; all that is priceless and necessary" (14). It was similarly changed by Blackwood but, with nine present tense verbs in the long sentence, what is wrong with Conrad's "has" making a tenth? Later when Cornelius says to Jim, "You shall d-d-die h-h-here," it would be logical and natural for Jim to reply in the same tense but this time Conrad does produce "had" – "Not till I had seen you tucked away, you bet" (220) – for the reply and this is retained. I'm on the side of the later editors who changed "had" to "have" here. Similarly when one reads: "He made the point brazenly, for, in truth, Dain Waris's energetic action has prevented the greatest calamities: because Brown told me distinctly. . ." (290), "had" seems more appropriate on the grounds of tense agreement and, indeed, context since "has" implies that all has gone well since, which is, of course, not the case. Soon after, with the sentence "I haven't the heart to set down here such glimpses as she had given me of the hour or more she has passed . . ." (308), surely "had" should here be "has" for the same tense agreement reason. One edition even has the "has" and "had" the other way round; another decides on "had" in both places, which is better, I think, than one of each. Although the editors are following both the serial and first editions in these instances, the differing tenses jar, I feel, and jar unnecessarily.

Lastly, consider the following:

Our common fate . . . for where is the man – I mean a real sentient man – who does not remember vaguely having been deserted in the fulness of possession by someone or something more precious than life? . . . Our common fate . . . (208)

The second "Our" follows what is surely a parenthesis within the same sentence (even if it does repeat the subject mentioned three lines earlier to ensure we haven't lost track of this) and, if capitalised, renders what precedes it ungrammatical and, indeed, an example of anacoluthon. Conrad is accurately reproducing a speech pattern here but the repetition of the phrase "our common fate" with all lower case shows that Marlow's desire is to incorporate his listeners into his subject before continuing (a planned insertion) whereas use of the capital indicates that he has lost his drift and is having to start again (unplanned). Since the manuscript page is missing, we don't know what Conrad actually wrote here. The editors indicate later that the "O" of the second "Our" is being capitalised here for the first time (481). I'm not really sure why. These, though, are decidedly minor quibbles in assessing a project so immense. One can but applaud many of the decisions taken, a simple one being to revert to "Conrad's expressed wish" that the word "chapter" be deleted, leaving just roman numerals at the head of each division. Conrad's reasoning that these are meant "only as pauses – rests for the reader's attention while he is following the development of one situation, only one really from beginning to end" (379) exactly fits the situation and answers the question "Why did Conrad end the chapter here?", which I was posing as I was reading the book. A minor detail, perhaps, that might go unnoticed, but another example of the care and integrity that lies behind the volume.

There are four separate sections delineating all the various options there have been. The "Emendations and Variations" section is of particular interest, not just by its listing of all the previous choices but also by revealing which parts of the novel attract the most entries. Statistically this takes up 77 pages, yielding an average of four instances for each page of novel (308 pages in this edition). There are not many of these at the beginning (only half a page for 20 pages of novel) or the end (two-and-a-half pages for the final 48) in contrast to the occasions when Marlow is wrestling with the enigmatic Jim where, for instance, it takes two whole pages (with two columns to each page) to list all the emendations and variations that occur between pages 120 and 122 of the novel, which describe the court pronouncing its decision on the Patna enquiry. This suggests, at a superficial glance at least, the areas that caused Conrad the most difficulty – where Marlow wrestles, so does his creator. Marlow doesn't appear at all, of course, in those first twenty pages.

Sometimes these entries reveal whole swaths of prose now discarded – an intriguing insight into the creative process; sometimes mere minor differences between editions (of the type mentioned above). Here is an example of the former with the final version first:

[The magistrate] began to read aloud in an even, distinct and careless voice. (121)

121.39-40 aloud … voice.] S– aloud. ¶ I don't know what was the matter [MS leaf 313 missing: 'in an even' (121.39) to 'beheading' (122.2)] MS aloud. I don't know what was the matter with me that morning but all the people there, the ex-officio stainless trio behind the desk, the natives in court, the people who did not understand anything, the few – besides myself – who understood the words read out; those who not having been tried were called to judge, and those who did not care, they all seemed to me strange, foreign, as if belonging to some order of beings I had no connection with. It was only when my eyes turned towards Jim that I had a sense of not being alone of my kind, as if we two had wandered in there from some distant regions, from a different world. I turned to him for fellowship. He alone seemed to look natural. The magistrate read on in a low, distinct and careless voice. TS (423)

The book really would have been a "baggy monster" had passages like this been retained. It has the effect of isolating Marlow from his kind and allying him with Jim in a way that is, perhaps, too direct, too unequivocal – which may explain its deletion from the published work. Having it included in this section gives us a fascinating insight into the process of creation (assuming it was Conrad and not Blackwood who was responsible for the change). One could spend a productive hour or so simply reading these deleted passages against the final product and assessing whether the book would have gained or is better off without their inclusion. Better off without, in this instance, I think (along with the editors), but it is of inestimable value to have the alternative versions available.

There is a separate section for "Emendations of Accidentals," many of these marked "ed" to indicate the alteration that has been made specially for this edition (to facilitate the aims that were mentioned earlier). Both these sections appear under the heading "Apparatus," the preamble to which informs many of us of the various technical terms involved in such procedures. The detail here testifies to the dedication of the editors, who involve their readers in the process by explaining exactly how they have gone about attempting to achieve their object. This is added to by the "Textual Notes" that follow and explain just why certain readings have been accepted in preference to others, justifying at times possibly contentious choices. It causes one to regard variations in editions not so listed in this thorough survey as possible mistakes (use of the word "forefront" in the Penguin [p. 148] instead of "forefoot" [Cambridge, p. 147], for example, the latter word usefully explained in the "Glossary of Nautical Terms" at the end – and clearly more appropriate).

There are two brief appendices. The first is a transcription of the earliest surviving manuscript of "Tuan Jim: A Sketch" (the opening section prior to Marlow's involvement), dating from 1898. One leaf of the actual manuscript (written in pencil) is reproduced to introduce this section (there are two others included immediately after the tale) – would there could be more! This leaf reveals (with mention of the Malay villagers who gave him his title) that the whole scope of the novel was in Conrad's mind from the start and never likely to fit into 20000 words or so. This intriguing fragment is followed by a copy of the agreement between Conrad and his publisher (Blackwood) – another brief document that brings us closer to the author.

Forty-five pages of "Explanatory Notes" separate the appendices from the Glossary, and these provide a veritable treasure house of information about the times, places, the sources (of characters, events and some of the imagery) and the meanings of phrases current in 1899 but sometimes obscure today. I hadn't realised just how many Biblical references there were in the novel, for example, though some like "in the twinkling of an eye" have become such clichés one cannot be sure that the allusion is intended. Conrad's familiarity with writers such as Shakespeare, Pope and others is also evident. A wealth of information indeed!

With such an abundance of material, one might think this extensive volume gives a complete picture of the composition of Lord Jim and all its many related aspects, but such a notion is effectively refuted by the editors themselves with their fascinating (and much shorter book) Conrad's Lord Jim: A Transmission of the Manuscript. This is at once an illuminating and frustrating volume; illuminating because it reveals Conrad's earliest penning of the novel (literally) and can thus be compared with how the story developed into its final incarnation; frustrating because (inevitably) leaves of manuscript are missing just when one is closely following a trail. There is nothing the editors could do about this, of course – they could hardly pluck missing pages out of the air – and frustration is an emotion they confess to, too. Enough is present, though, to make this an invaluable supplement to the major publication, which it proceeded by two years. The book was produced as the fifth of a series of "Conrad Studies" published by Rodopi under the general editorship of Allan H. Simmons and J. H. Stape with Owen Knowles and Laurence Davies as advisory editors, and my only complaint about it is that it gives no details about the other four volumes in the series, which would surely prove tempting to those whose interest has been whetted by what they have here. Ideally, I suppose, this could have been included as a mighty appendix to the Cambridge Edition itself, but the extra 164 pages would have made that unwieldy and clearly one has to stop somewhere. In these days where whole passages can be removed completely or transferred from one chapter to another by simple cut-and-paste on the computer with no evidence that such self-editing ever took place unless a hard copy has been printed, it is something to celebrate that we can come so close to the genesis of such a great work and follow its progress through.

Again the editors begin with a careful explanation of how they have gone to work and a description of the materials they are presenting. There are four strands of manuscript residing at four different homes, which alone shows the usefulness of this book for the ardent researcher. The first strand covers the pre-Marlow section of the novel, leaving Jim on the Patna, heading into the Red Sea; the main one gives us 356 of nearly 600 leaves (didn't I say this was frustrating?) covering most of Marlow's initial narrative with a further eight leaves to add to this. Some pages from the extant typescript follow and lastly the "Author's Note." Nothing from the final section is present, which is disappointing but again not possible – we are not privileged readers here.

Lord Jim is the ninth of Conrad's works to be published as a Cambridge Edition. It is a worthy newcomer, testimony to the painstaking efforts of its editors, whose remarkable diligence is matched by the meticulous nature of their decision-making and readiness to explain their final choices, not all of which would otherwise have been immediately obvious. Historical context is often a factor here, and the generous and careful explanatory notes fully inform the curious reader of many important contemporary aspects contributing to a fuller understanding of the novel. The many passages Conrad himself deleted are particularly instructive, indicating, at times, that their inclusion may have incited ill-advised or exaggerated interpretations that their removal has forestalled. Perhaps we can never have a complete portrait of Lord Jim in all its facets but we are now probably as close to this goal as is practicable. So scholarly a volume is of timely value now and should be the object of eager scrutiny for many years to come.

© 2013 John Lester






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