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Reviewed by:
  • The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad: Volume 7, 1920–1922
  • Keith Carabine (bio) and Alan Carruth (bio)
Conrad, Joseph. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad: Volume 7, 1920–1922. Ed. Laurence DaviesJ. H. Stape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. lxv + 656 pp. ISBN 978-0-52156-196–9


The publication of Joseph Conrad’s letters is one of the great projects of modern scholarship. The one constant since the first volume in 1983, Laurence Davies deserves our undying regard for his fidelity and tenacity; and his wise recruitment of coeditors, Owen Knowles for volume 6 (2002), John Stape for volume 7 (2005), and Gene Moore for volume 8 (2008) means that the finishing line, after a stagger in the 1990s, is clearly in sight. Given the scale and complexity of producing such a volume, it is remarkable that there are only a handful of errors which are too tedious to list. The notes are more splendid than ever, benefiting I surmise from the wonders of the Internet. As ever, they are concise, informative, interesting, and occasionally delightful (see, for example, note 4 on page 270); and they cross-reference earlier letters and draw fruitfully upon two recent significant contributions to Conrad scholarship, A Portrait in Letters (1996) and Conrad Between the Lines: Documents in a Life (2000) . The notes, however, ignore Jessie Conrad’s correspondence, an issue I will address at the end of my review.

During the three years covered by volume 7, as Conrad admitted to all and sundry, he wrote very little and seems to have derived little pleasure from it: he began Suspense in June 1920, and by the end of 1922, he had written only 45,000 words; he wrote author’s notes for several volumes in the Heinemann Collected Edition; he revised the essays in [End Page 198] Notes on Life and Letters; in the autumn of 1920 he collaborated with his agent J. B. Pinker on a screen scenario, “Gaspar the Strong Man”; he translated Bruno Winawer’s play The Book of Job from Polish to English in June 1921; he completed The Rover in nine months (October 1921–July 1922); he wrote a handful of essays for the press, including “The Dover Patrol” and “Outside Literature”; and, finally, he composed two plays, Laughing Anne and The Secret Agent.

The reasons for Conrad’s creative slowdown are touched upon in almost every letter during this period and are indirectly broached in his valetudinarian wish on 2 April 1921 that his “dear friend” Edmund Candler and his family “will find peace of mind and comfort of body which make up the sum of daily happiness—that minimum that makes life tolerable” (CL 7:444). Conrad rarely experienced peace of mind during these years because Jessie, often bed-bound, was in constant pain, staggering from one useless operation on her knee to another; Borys suffered from shell shock and staggered from one financial crisis to another; John struggled at Tonbridge school, requiring extra tuition; Conrad himself struggled with gout, a useless right wrist that meant he often had to dictate to Miss Hallowes; and he endured a succession of depressions that left him in a state of “moral fatigue” and “uncertain and directionless, like a ship whose crew has gone to land leaving all her sails in disarray” (CL 7: 507, 552). Acutely conscious of his waning powers and that “now the years are creeping on me with absolutely nothing laid by,” Conrad devoted much of his remaining energy to two interrelated pursuits: to orchestrate his reputation and reception at home and abroad and to “turn to any prospect of making a little money in an honest and dignified manner” to ensure the future prosperity of his beleaguered family (CL 7:594).

Conrad’s guiding “principle” during these years was to create “readers for my work in the coming generation,” especially in America, and luckily (among others, including F. N. Doubleday), the American journalist and feminist, Mary Austin, was at hand both to assist and to instruct (CL 7:502). On 21 September 1921, Austin told Conrad that she had called on Arthur Vance, the “editor of the Pictorial Review, the woman...


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