On board the ‘Fiona’

Edward Said

  • In Search of Conrad by Gavin Young
    Hutchinson, 304 pp, £17.99, October 1991, ISBN 0 09 173524 6

Conrad enthusiasts subdivide into two categories. Both are convinced that so peculiar and haunting are his life and work, so utterly without precedents or successful emulators, that only an all-out, full-scale, total exertion – no gracefully written or tasteful essays here – can even begin to get hold of his astonishing oeuvre. Category one believes that the exertion should be to nail down all the known details of Conrad’s travels and readings, thereby tying the fiction to real places and personages, and, whenever possible, actual books and ideas, that help explain the mysterious novels and stories. Norman Sherry famously does this in Conrad’s Eastern World and Conrad’s Western World, remarkable works of sleuthing rediscovery that respectively cover Conrad’s Indian and Pacific Ocean voyages, and his wanderings in Africa, Europe and Latin America. But so also do Zdislaw Najder, with his emphasis on Conrad’s Polish perspective, and Ian Watt, whose exhaustive survey of the 19th-century background provides a wide array of sources for Conrad’s stranger ideas.

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