- Conrad Cambridge Edition
The "heart of darkness" "craze" prophesied by Ford Madox Ford in the late 1920s, confirmed by Jonah Raskin in the late 1960s, and attacked by Chinua Achebe in the mid-1970s, has yet to abate, as Val Cunningham recently remarked. "Heart of Darkness," which at one level is about the unspeakable and indescribable, correspondingly remains, as Cunningham puts it, "exemplary in being one of those classic texts about which interpreters feel licensed ... to say absolutely anything." When Youth, A Narrative: and Two Other Stories (as the volume was originally titled) first appeared in 1902, however, both "Youth" and "The End of the Tether," the collection's first and final tales, attracted equal—and in some cases more—praise. This latest instalment in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad, beautifully edited by Owen Knowles, aims to recover an experience of reading Conrad unencumbered by over a century of accreted critical baggage, or the textual interventions in Conrad's contemporary moment that produced the texts with which we are now familiar. Being closer than ever to [End Page 262] Conrad's original vision, the texts presented here will be new to readers and critics of Conrad alike, then as now.
This volume bears the Cambridge edition's new, somewhat austere dust-jacket design; the old design of the previous volumes, a recreation of the wallpaper adorning one of Conrad's early London lodgings, seemingly having provoked a similar dislike in the edition's current editorial board as that which Conrad took to the physical appearance of the first British edition, which he denounced with the Kurtzian, "Horrible! Horrible!" The contents, however, follow much the same pattern as previous instalments (with Almayer's Folly, Notes on Life and Letters, A Personal Record, The Secret Agent, Last Essays and 'Twixt Land and Sea already published). After a brief chronology of Conrad's life and works (no doubt drawing on Knowles's own invaluable reference text A Conrad Chronology, 1990) comes a substantial—though not overly so, as with 2008's rather unwieldy 'Twixt Land and Sea—introductory section. This section is divided into three parts. The first covers Conrad's relationship with the Edinburgh-based publisher William Blackwood, a connection that lasted from 1897 until 1902 and which, in addition to the three tales gathered here, also yielded such critical favourites as "Karain: A Memory" (1897) and Lord Jim (1900) (the latter originally planned as the final tale in the present volume, before outgrowing—like so many of Conrad's longer works—its initial concept as a short story). Blackwood's approach to Conrad came at a time when, as a relative fledgling, yet to fully secure a place in the late-Victorian literary establishment, the dilemma of whether to pursue a career as a writer or seaman was still very much alive; it offered Conrad, nearly forty and soon to become a family man, the promise of a long-term publishing association that would, he hoped, bring increased sales and much-needed stability to his early literary career. This association turned out to be far from long term, however, with Blackwood, increasingly embroiled in Conrad's financial troubles and exasperated by Conrad's constant struggle to provide copy to deadline, terminating the relationship soon after the publication of the book edition of Youth in 1902. Despite this, the Blackwood house took clear pride in having nurtured the author of "Heart of Darkness," which appeared in the thousandth issue of Maga (as Blackwood's Magazine was popularly known), praising it as "the most notable book we have published since George Eliot"; Conrad, for his part, would later look back on the association as marking the happiest period of his career. [End Page 263]
There follows a useful survey of the stories' possible sources, which, as with many of Conrad's most characteristic works, comprise a rich matrix of the personal, the historical, and the literary: from his experience of then-remote parts of the world during his sea years (notably colonial...