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  • Introduction
  • Richard Ruppel

In the first recorded mention of the United States in his Collected Letters (October 25, 1896), Joseph Conrad scorns the reviewers of the country he mocked mercilessly through the most productive years of his working life: "judging from the idiotic tone of press comments over there I would have thought Am[erican] rights [to Conrad's fiction] hardly worth anything" (CL I, 309). Through the beginning of World War I, sarcasm and scorn characterize nearly all of his references to the States. The American Robert McClure, based in London and brother of S.S. McClure, publisher of McClure's Magazine, becomes "The Child of the Screaming Eagle" (CL II, 71, June 15, 1898). In their successful attempts to help Panama secede from Columbia, Conrad calls Americans "Yankee Conquistadores" (CL III, 102, December 26, 1903). In a letter to H. G. Wells he describes the conversation he had with "an American with that peculiar vein of childishness and savagery which crops up so often from under the erudition culture and scientific knowledge of many US citizens" (CL III, 235, April 25, 1905). As late as March 1912, in a letter to John Galsworthy, he writes "Ah! These Americans! I had two come to see me. They sat and 'orated' . . . . It was like children playing at thinking": children, he adds sarcastically, of "God's own country" (CL V, 39).

Americans and America are equally scorned in his fiction. The German captain of the Patna, one of Conrad's most comically grotesque villains, leaves the pages of Lord Jim with these last words:

"That's what you English always make—make a tam' fuss—for any little thing, because I was not born in your tam' country. Take away my certificate. Take it. I don't want the certificate. A man like me don't want your verfluchte certificate. I shpit on it." He spat. "I vill an Amerigan citizen begome." [End Page 1]

In Conrad's fiction, America and American citizenship are fitting goals for this "precious bird" (42). And Holroyd, the wealthy financier of Nostromo who backs Charles Gould and his silver mine in Costaguana and who champions a peculiar Evangelical Protestantism that he attempts to impose, along with predatory American capitalism, on the entire world, works from an office building in San Francisco.

So along with the stubborn logistical problems of bringing Conradians from all over the world to Southern California and Chapman University, the "Conrad under California Skies" conference steering committee encountered something like a psychic impediment created by Conrad's unquiet ghost.

But thanks to the efforts of that steering committee—Raymond Brebach, at Drexel University, Paul Gulino, at Chapman University, Carola Kaplan, at California State University, Pomona, Tim Middleton, at Bath Spa University, John Peters, at the University of North Texas, and Andrea White, at California State University, Dominguez Hills—and thanks to our sponsor, Chapman University's Office of the Chancellor and Office of the Dean of Wilkinson College—the conference was a great success. Highlights included the keynote address by Conrad's greatest biographer, Zdzisław Najder, who was unable to travel physically to Southern California but who sent a stirring DVD tribute to the long-awaited Museum of Joseph Conrad-Korzeniowski in Berdichev in the Ukraine; an opening plenary on "the textual unconscious," a compelling attempt to explore the authorial presence in Conrad's work, by Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan; ten panel sessions dealing with a wide range of things Conradian, and a trip to Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, which included a behind-the-scenes tour of the library and an exhibit of its Conrad materials. Scholars from China, Israel, Norway, Poland, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States enjoyed stimulating intellectual exchange in the California sunshine. The success of the conference was due in no small part to the efforts of the Chapman Events Planning office, led by Susanna Branch, who loaned the conference her friendly and indefatigable assistant, Liz Ruppel.

The ten essays in this volume—concerned with matters of style, race, psychology, philosophy, pedagogy, and film—reveal the range of scholarship presented at the conference and a glimpse of the vibrant world of contemporary...


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