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  • Imperialism Tempered by Expediency:Conrad and The Outlook
  • Scott A. Cohen (bio)

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Figure 8.

The Outlook, 5 February 1898, front page.

[End Page 48]

Writing to Ted Sanderson on 3 February 1898, Joseph Conrad forecast the appearance of a new London weekly:

And so I've taken to writing for the press. More words—another hole. [ . . . ] There is a new weekly coming. Its name The Outlook; its price three pence sterling, its attitude—literary; its policy—Imperialism, tempered by expediency; its mission—to make money for a Jew; its editor Percy Hurd (never heard of him); one of its contributors Joseph Conrad—under the heading of "Views and Reviews."

The first number comes out on Saturday next. There will be in it something of mine about a Frenchman who is dead and therefore harmless. I've just sent off a second contribution. It is a chatter about Kipling provoked by a silly criticism. It's called—Concerning a certain criticism; I'll send you the number in which it appears, probably Nº 2.

(CL 2: 34)

Thus Conrad unceremoniously announced his debut as a literary journalist, an identity whose awkwardness is registered in his telling reference to himself as "Joseph Conrad." To Edward Garnett he was considerably less reserved, at once rationalizing and disparaging his decision in an echo of Hamlet's rebuke to Polonius: "I've gone and done it. I write for the press!!!!!! I've sent The Outlook an unconceivably silly thing about A[lphonse] Daudet. 'Words! words! words!' Apparently that's what they want. They asked for more. Today I've sent another silly thing about Kipling. It took me one and a half days to write 1500 words. I can do this kind of thing quicker than the muddy romance" (CL 2: 32). [End Page 49]

Between 1898 and 1906, Conrad submitted four essays to The Outlook: In Politics, Life, Letters, and the Arts, a weekly that ran from 1898 to 1928 (see Figure 8). Of these, "Alphonse Daudet" (1898), "Tales of the Sea" (1898), and "A Middle-Class Family" (1906) were published in their entirety, while a fourth piece on Rudyard Kipling possibly appeared as an unsigned and greatly shortened review.1 In the pages of this British imperialist magazine, Conrad's contributions found themselves among the famous and the notorious of Conservative politics and fin-de-siècle literary circles. The successor of W. E. Henley's avant-garde New Review (1889-1897), which had serialized Conrad's The Nigger of the "Narcissus" in 1897, The Outlook featured reviews and commentary by well-known figures of the literary world, including Herbert Maxwell, Max Beerbohm, Rudyard Kipling, George Wyndham, Lionel Johnson, Louis Zangwill, and Henley himself. Their balanced and thoughtful discussions formed the literary and cultural side of a weekly magazine whose chief concern was providing news and commentary on imperial affairs. More often than not, the Outlook reported on imperial politics and policy in a tone of shrill jingoism that differed markedly from the sober reflection which had characterized its predecessor.

Conrad's relationship with The Outlook is striking for a number of reasons. Not only do his contributions mark the beginning of his nonfiction writing for the popular press, they represent complex exercises in literary criticism in a venue that sought to politicize literary production. Just as Conrad's review essays shed light on the complexity of his political thinking, so, too, does The Outlook's treatment of British imperialism throw into relief the political significance of Conrad's writings and especially his essay "Tales of the Sea." Although much of Conrad's early fiction has been seen as skeptical of the work of imperialism, his contributions to The Outlook bear a remarkable similarity to the spirited writing from the heart of the Empire that appeared on facing pages. Critics have long suggested that Conrad's feelings about imperialism were highly complicated but, as much of his early fiction vividly demonstrates, when it came to jingoistic rhetoric and its popular dissemination, there can be no uncertainty about his distaste for what Patrick Brantlinger has called "the lying propaganda of modern imperialism" (274).2 Given his...


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