- Conrad’s Evolution
the fourteenth volume in the Conrad: Eastern and Western Perspectives series, under the general editorship of Wiesław Krajka, is a companion volume to A Return to the Roots: Conrad, Poland, and East-Central Europe (2004) (see ELT, 49.3, 362–65), presenting a further nineteen papers first presented at the "Conrad's Polish Footprints" conference in 2001.
As the eclectic nature of this collection proves, essays gathered in this fashion are necessarily grouped under a flag of convenience when it comes to publication. But the diversity of approaches also attests to the vigorous health of Conrad studies, with contributions addressing almost the whole of the Conradian oeuvre from Almayer's Folly (1895) to The Rescue (1920) and providing both a conspectus of the terrain and the varied angles from which it may be viewed. In order to highlight "the evolution of Conrad's ideology and art," the essays, by an international [End Page 243] cast of writers, are arranged chronologically, according to the work principally dealt with. The hard scholarship—biography and textual interests—goes unrepresented, with the volume instead offering an omnium gatherum of conference papers of varying quality.
Following the editor's introduction, Conrad's early writings are discussed by Elio Di Piazza (The Nigger of the "Narcissus"), Agnieszka Adamowicz-Pośpiech (Lord Jim), and Marilena Saracino ("Youth"). The first of these, on polyphony, is marred by lax editing that allows misspellings (such as "riformist" and "Lingard's frigade") and factual inaccuracies ("Henty's New Review") to stand. This, however, is a minor blemish, as the volume as a whole is well proofed. The second offers a generic survey of Lord Jim and, consisting of a compendium of current ideas in the area, a tacit invitation to scholars to develop these. In the third, Saracino's theorized approach playfully envisions writing as "rite of passage" in "Youth."
Arguing that work provides "a source of existential security and ethical value," Michael Greaney's elegant and convincing essay, the first of seven in the volume to address "Heart of Darkness," finds in the novella a reformulation and relocation of the Victorian/Carlylean work ethic. Correspondingly, Rajyashree Khushu-Lahiri detects in the work a self-destructive impulse in the European colonization of Africa, whereby the "civilized" colonizer is hoisted with his own savage petard, and which is adumbrated in Almayer's Folly. Drawing on a quarter of a century of critical interest in the subject, Todd K. Bender interrogates the use of the term "race" in "Heart of Darkness" and Lord Jim, attempting a Conradian "dictionary entry for 'race'" drawing upon the continuum that stretches from Achebe (1977) to Peter Firchow (2000). If I disagree with his attribution to the privileged man, rather than Marlow, the claim that "of all mankind Jim had no dealings but with himself," this is a quibble about a lucid and, at times, ludic essay.
Bringing alterity theory to bear upon "Heart of Darkness," and arguing that the Other resists and refuses categorization—Levinas's "nonsubsumptive relationship"—J. Robert Baker claims that the novella's racism "is a phenomenon that reflects a deeper diagram of human relatedness to the Other that includes Europeans and women." Complementing this is Nupur Sen's clear and forthright essay on the presentation of Kurtz's African mistress that conflates colonialism and "gender issues."
There follow a series of comparative and contextualizing essays. J. Gill Holland traces the influence of the final scene in "Heart of Darkness" [End Page 244] on the conclusion of Bennett's Clayhanger, and Lawrence P. Ware speculates on the influence of Conrad on T. E. Lawrence. Inspired by the references to Garibaldi in Nostromo, Arnold Schmidt fruitfully compares the Italian revolution of 1860 with Poland's January Insurrection of 1863 to argue that the broader European movement towards self-determination in the nineteenth century influences Conrad's portrait of Costaguana. Mark Daniel Chilton follows Morse Peckham's description of Romanticism as "cultural vandalism" to...