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  • The "Passion of Paternity"-Fathers and Daughters in the Works of Joseph Conrad
  • Jennifer Turner (bio)

"And an immense and fierce impulse, the very passion of paternity, flamed up with all the unquenched vigour of his worthless life in a desire to see her face"

("End" 320)

In July 1902, Joseph Conrad wrote to Ford Madox Ford bemoaning the laborious development of "The End of the Tether": "I am most desperately unhappy and harrowed by the awful task of trying to get the mood" (CL 2: 435). Though akin to his usual protestations of frustration and self-doubt, the emphasis on "mood" hints at a sense of discomfort with the morally dubious paternal dilemma at the heart of this text. The "awful grind" appears to have been more severe than usual, compounded by the necessity of rewriting the second half after the original was destroyed when a lamp exploded (CL 3:16). Ironically, fire is a dominant metaphor in the above quotation, as Captain Whalley's inflamed paternal passion edges ever closer to self-destruction. By concealing a debilitating blindness from his crew, he knowingly endangers both them and his ship, imperiling his soul and undermining years of honest service: "All his spotless life had fallen into the abyss" ("End" 319). Yet in so doing he protects a five-hundred-pound investment-inheritance for his far-off daughter Ivy, who provides both meaning and justification for his lonely, dishonored existence: "Rather than give her up I set myself to deceive you all" ("End" 301). Later on, having inadvertently beached his vessel, he drowns himself, less to avoid the shame of exposure than to save his legacy, thereby keeping Ivy from poverty. His "passion of paternity" is strong enough to enable him to [End Page 229] face death and dishonor with no hope of personal reward ("End" 320). The opening quotation also highlights several recurrent elements in Conrad's depictions of father-daughter relationships, such as an emphasis on faulty or failing sight, a sense of paternal failure, and a need for the daughter's physical presence that hints at an almost incestuous desire for possession. Paradoxically, Whalley projects a sense of transcendence onto Ivy—negating his individual responsibility by using her as an excuse—even while he conceives of her as a passive sufferer, against whom he defines himself and his masculinity. Moreover, the absence of the actual daughter up until the final pages of the story introduces the notion of a specter—a nostalgic ideal—shaping the actions of the father from afar. The disturbing stillness of the conclusion also suggests an unwitting influence and a tragic sense of alienation between the real daughter and her father: "Life had been too hard, for all the efforts of his love. It had silenced her emotions" ("End" 338–39). Amid other familial concerns, Whalley's suffering and sacrifice are appreciated almost solely in financial terms, easing "the carking care of poverty" ("End" 339). Yet the seemingly indifferent Ivy is finally redeemed by a brief, ghostly moment of reunion: "it was her father's face alone that she saw, as though he had come to see her, always quiet and big, as she had seen him last, but with something more august and tender in his aspect" ("End" 339). Echoing Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857), Conrad concludes with the words: "There had been whole days when she had not thought of him at all—had no time. But she had loved him, she felt she had loved him after all" ("End" 339). Thus the daughter proves an ambiguous character, a careworn figure who, though failing to live up to her father's idealized memory, evokes a strong sense of sympathy and, in her final admission, produces the desired affirmation of his life. This essay investigates Conrad's enduring interest in this close blood-relationship, his several dubious depictions of the problematic "passion of paternity"—beginning with his first novel Almayer's Folly—and its effects, and the extent to which he considers it a fair burden or one that might be alleviated—for father, daughter, or both ("End" 320).

William Shakespeare's King Lear adapts a literary tradition dating back to...


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