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Cambridge Edition of Conrad's Suspense
Joseph Conrad. Suspense. Gene M. Moore, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. li + 357 pp. $125.00

In the summer of 1919, Conrad wrote to André Gide discussing Suspense, his "long-pondered novel of Napoleonic times": "I have an idea that I'll never finish it. To me, that is not a disagreeable thought. One can always come up with some imbecile who will say: he wanted to do something so big it killed him. A fine epitaph." These words proved prophetic and the novel's title apt: Conrad died in August 1924 and Suspense, unfinished at the time of his death, was published posthumously the following year, joining the likes of other "fragments" such as Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) and Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston (1897). The Saturday Review of Literature, which carried the novel's American serialization, invited readers to submit essays on a "probable ending," promising $500 for the winning entry. (Conrad's friend and former collaborator Ford Madox Ford went one better, publishing "a curious sequel" to Suspense, A Little Less Than Gods, in 1928.) While the contest promoted sales and intensified the interest in [End Page 131] the serialization, it also kept critics "thoroughly mindful of the novel's unfinished state." Precisely how "finished" Suspense is (with opinion varying from considerably under, to considerably over, half-finished, to almost completely finished) remains a question addressed in the present edition.

This latest instalment in the Cambridge edition of Conrad's Works, edited by Gene M. Moore, also aims to recover an experience of reading Conrad shorn of the textual interventions that produced the text with which we are now familiar, including errors introduced by Conrad's typists, compositors—or indeed Conrad himself (who rarely checked revisions against first drafts). Although the aim is to produce texts that are closer than ever before to Conrad's original vision, it has been argued elsewhere that the Cambridge project, taken as a whole, not only presents Conrad's work in an entirely new way to readers and critics alike, but also in a way that Conrad himself might not have recognised. Such issues of authorship, textual authority and recognition are less of an issue with regard to Suspense, however, because Conrad did not see the novel through to press himself.

Conrad was considered "marketable" after the popular success of Chance (1913-1914), and Suspense—whether considered an historical novel of the kind popularized by Scott, Dickens and Thackeray or a piece of Napoleonic fiction in the manner of Conrad's lifelong favourites Captain Frederick Marryat and James Fenimore Cooper (or even Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir [1830] or Tolstoy's War and Peace [1869])—appeared designed to emulate this, as Conrad's hopes for "a wider popular appeal" than the recently completed (and similarly long- delayed) The Rescue (1920) confirm. Yet the novel placed too great a demand on early-twentieth-century readers' knowledge of now-distant historical figures (the recent centenary of Trafalgar, on which Conrad had written elsewhere, notwithstanding) and still more distant political events such as the restoration of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. In letters Conrad mentions furnishing Suspense with "notes, appendices, and statistical tables," which, though not included in published versions of the novel, underline its problematic, almost scholarly aspect. Significantly, this edition not only sees Suspense published in English as a separate volume for the first time since the "Medallion," "Sun-dial," "Collected" and "Uniform" editions issued by Doubleday (in America) and by Heinemann and Dent (in Britain) during the late 1920s, but, with its critical apparatuses, arguably makes the novel more accessible than before. [End Page 132]

After a brief chronology of Conrad's life and works, mapping the lengthy gestation of the novel from Conrad's first mention of the "Mediterranean novel" in a letter to his publisher William Blackwood in 1902 to its eventual publication in 1925, comes a substantial introduction divided into three parts. The first part fleshes out the novel's origins. Conrad first glimpsed the Mediterranean while on a schoolboy holiday in Venice in the spring of 1873, and the region, which...