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Reviewed by:
  • Joseph Conrad’s Critical Receptio by John G. Peters
  • Cedric Watts (bio)
John G. Peters: Joseph Conrad’s Critical Reception. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xiii + 274 pp. ISBN 978-1-107-03485-3.

This volume summarises a vast amount of Conradian criticism, beginning at 1895 and continuing to 2012. The book constitutes a great tribute to Conrad and, in part, to the burgeoning of higher education internationally since 1945. John G. Peters, already well known to Conradians, has selected what he deems to be the most important writings of those published in English, and has proceeded to précis hundreds of books and articles. The entries are divided chronologically. His selection seems to me to be as fair and representative as the scope of a 274-page book permits. Perhaps room might have been found [End Page 86] for T. P. O’Connor, who in 1895, having read Almayer’s Folly ‘with rapture’, proclaimed Conrad’s genius in the ‘Book of the Month’ columns of the Weekly Sun on 9 June 1895. (O’Connor, an Irish nationalist sympathetic to the Polish cause, later serialised Nostromo.)

The reader of Joseph Conrad’s Critical Reception should be impressed by Peters’ sheer stamina, diligence and patience. The summaries are generally clear and fair-minded. Inevitably, Peters offers some evaluative comments, particularly of early Conradian items; but, in the main, he has endeavoured to suspend judgement when offering the paraphrases: he refrains from arguing with the selected critics. Considering that some of the material was highly abstruse, and other items were provocatively contentious, his diligence and restraint have been remarkable and usually commendable. On pp. 98-9, for instance, he renders well the cryptic, paradoxical and epigrammatic arguments of Terry Eagleton in Criticism and Ideology. He does not, however, cite Eagleton’s own allegation, in the same book, that those arguments illustrate ‘partial and reductive reading’. Earlier, on pp. 38-9, Peters has condensed to less than one page F. R. Leavis’s influential account of Conrad in The Great Tradition, but that précis seems quite accurate in rendering Leavis’s commendations and qualifications. So often, Peters manages to be concise while yet respecting the details of the arguments he summarises: he maintains a vigilant diligence and an unflagging stamina.

Peters’ volume will be a very useful resource for students and teachers. The admirably lengthy index (with such entries as ‘ecocriticism’, ‘Feminist criticism’, ‘Post-Freudian Psychology’, ‘Queer studies’, and ‘solipsism’) will make the material readily searchable. On the whole, then, I’m inclined to offer congratulations to Peters on completing a task so formidable that, at times, he may have felt like a warrior battling a hydra-headed monster, as Conradian studies proliferated and many a critical thesis seemed predictably to evoke its antithesis.

In his succinct ‘Afterword’, Peters explains why Conrad has lent himself to such a diversity of approaches. We are reminded of Conrad’s Polish ancestry, his polylingualism, his maritime career, and the great range (geographical, cultural, moral, philosophical) of the literary works which varied between relatively slight items and magnificent achievements such as Heart of Darkness and Nostromo. Conrad has provided exceptionally rich material for biographers, for close textual analysts, and for a diversity of approaches: psychoanalytic, structuralist, post-structuralist, post-colonialist, feminist and narratological, for example. And there is no sign yet that commentary is exhausted. For instance, as this book reminds us, valuably innovatory recent developments have included Richard J. Hand’s defence of Conrad’s plays (The Theatre of Joseph Conrad), Stephen Donovan’s Joseph Conrad and Popular Culture, [End Page 87] Anthony Fothergill’s study of Conrad’s influence in Germany (Secret Sharers), Robert Hampson’s Conrad’s Secrets, and the four-volume reference work, Joseph Conrad: The Contemporary Reviews (2012), which collects approximately two thousand contemporaneous reviews (the industrious John Peters being one of the five editors of that vast collection). Peters also presents with lucid aplomb a range of recent studies which postulate modes of homosexuality or homoeroticism in the Conradian texts. Repeatedly, then, Joseph Conrad’s Critical Reception illustrates the old rule of critical commentaries: ‘Where much has been written, more shall be written.’ Fortunately, the ‘more’ still...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0252
Print ISSN
0010-6356
Pages
pp. 86-89
Launched on MUSE
2014-11-13
Open Access
No
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