- Last Essay by Joseph Conrad, ed. by Harold Ray Stevens and J. H. Stape
With so many different writings from so many different sources and in so many different states, any textual editing of Last Essays is fraught with difficulties. Further complicating the process is the fact that the textual issues surrounding each essay are different. Consequently, a single method that fits all is impossible in a project such as this one. Instead, each essay must be treated differently and presents different textual challenges. Nevertheless, the editors of this volume, Harold Ray Stevens and J. H. Stape (assisted by Mary Burgoyne, Alexandre Fachard, and Owen Knowles), have done an excellent job of attempting to present the best text possible, given the lack (in most cases) of the usual aid of multiple manuscript, typescript, and published states.
Beyond the excellent textual editing, this edition creates the best of both worlds concerning Conrad’s uncollected writings. The editors reproduce the selection of materials that Richard Curle collected in the original 1926 edition. Along with those essays, however, Stevens and Stape include Conrad’s other uncollected writings, of which Curle was either unaware or chose not to include in the original volume. In addition, the editors present the complete “Congo Diary” and “Up-River Book.” Curle had only an abbreviated version in his edition of Last Essays. As to this volume’s accompanying material, there is a wealth of useful resources, from the introduction and the textual and explanatory notes to the maps, appendices, and glossary of nautical terms.
Concerning the textual notes, the editors do an excellent job of delineating the choices they encountered and explaining their emendations and decisions. Invariably, their familiarity with Conrad’s composition and publication practices, along with a similar familiarity with the practices of the various publishing houses and journals, is immensely helpful in determining the appropriate emendations to make. The same is true for the explanatory notes. They are [End Page 85] thorough and complete in their glosses of the texts, and with a volume like Last Essay, where the essays have rarely if ever appeared in an edited collection, this edition may provide the only gloss available for so many of the terms and information that appear in these essays.
Finally, the essay on the text and the introduction are extremely helpful documents. In the essay on the text, the editors discuss composition and publication history of both Last Essays and the individual writings that make up this volume. All of this is useful. In a few instances, though, I would like to have seen a bit more from Conrad’s correspondence, as for example with the introduction to Youth and Gaspar Ruiz, in which Conrad has some interesting things to say about the volume, at first appearing indifferent to it and later trying to sell F. N. Doubleday on the idea of doing something similar in America. The correspondence concerning Youth and Gaspar Ruiz also indicates that he read the book and even suggested an errata sheet be included to correct some errors (see Collected Letters 7: 17–8, 98, 136 and 8: 127–8). The introduction to Last Essays does a similarly fine job of setting context for this volume, identifying the origins of the volume and the individual essays and discussing other relevant topics concerning them. The introduction concludes with a discussion of the reception of Last Essays. The editors do a good job of demonstrating the contemporary response to the volume (having the benefit of Mary Burgoyne and Katherine Isobel Baxter’s volume of Joseph Conrad: The Contemporary Reviews available to them in manuscript). However, together with the contemporary response to Last Essays, I would also like to have seen an indication of the later response to the volume or to some of the prominent individual essays, such “Geography and Some Explorers.”
JOHN G. PETERS is a University Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Texas and...