- The New Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad ed. by J. H. Stape
A brief prologue, preceding even the title page, informs us that The New Cam-bridge Companion to Joseph Conrad "provides essential guidance to varied developments in the field of Conrad Studies since the publication of the first Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (1996)" (i). Its chapters engage emergent areas of interest including "canon formation, postcolonialism, gender, critical reception and adaptation […]." The present reviewer (hereinafter the editorial "we") has found it a privilege to engage with a collection so recondite and eclectic in its diverse yet complementary themes at the cutting edge of postmodern Conradian critical theory.
This opening volley resumes, "This volume is the ideal starting point for students new to Conrad's work as well as scholars wishing to keep abreast of current issues" (i). While the latter claim is clearly true in the most admirable way for Conrad specialists well acquainted with Conrad's oeuvre and the body of major criticism, this reviewer is somewhat skeptical as to the former optimistic view, derived, perhaps, from the late editor's own brilliance which throughout his life made the difficult easy.
As Douglas Kerr has pointed out in his essay in this volume, "Approaching Conrad Through Theory: 'The Secret Sharer,'" all criticism is based on "principles" governing approaches taken, whether overt or implicit. We have in this collection a treasury of thirteen outstanding "approach" paradigms. So, this collection is as much a study, or illustration, of today's critical theories and approaches, "burgeoning" in variety and complexity (to paraphrase Debra Rominick Baldwin ), as it is a consideration of Conrad and his oeuvre. Therefore, an informed reading may reveal that any but the most brilliant Con-rad tyro on first acquaintance with the canon may find such sophisticated and allusive discussions of critical modalities as textual editing, effects of serialization, facets of critical theory, and reception as daunting as it is dazzling. For the [End Page 287] Conrad specialist and even the trained generalist critic, however, this constellation of critical approaches is richly rewarding.
No Conrad scholar could be more fit than the late John H. Stape (1948–2016) to select and edit the contributions for this exquisite showcase of Conrad scholarship. Senior Research Fellow at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, London, he was co-general editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad (2008–14), also editing or co-editing directly six of its constituent works. Further, he edited the first Cambridge Companion, as well as Conrad works for Oxford World's Classics and Penguin Books and wrote his memorable biography, The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad (2007). He continued to work with unremitting resolve until illness and death ended his labor of love at the age of 68, still in the prime of his scholarly life. This review, then, is in tribute to a great Conradian.
At the outset the requisite List of Contributors, with brief professional descriptions, indicative, perhaps, not only of their remarkable credentials as—without exception—superb Conrad scholars, but of the editor's international leanings: eight contributors (Francis, Glazzard, Greaney, Hand, Miller, Niland, Purcell, Simmons) are British scholars, teaching in British universities; two more (Donovan, Kerr), British-trained, teach in Sweden and Hong Kong respectively; two (Romanick-Baldwin, Mallios) are USA-trained and teach in American universities; and the editor, also a contributor, Canadian-trained, taught internationally and in Britain. This diversity of backgrounds is itself emblematic of Conrad's international appeal, crossing boundaries of nation, gender, and interest, and accounting for the broadly representative range of critical modes and focuses.
An editor's Preface opens the volume proper, locating it in its context as complementary to its predecessor, for which, two decades earlier, John Stape also was editor. Showcasing "areas of concern that have opened up since," we are told, the present volume "aim(s) to take into account theoretical and hermeneutic perspectives that have come into clearer focus," through "essays that engage with the contexts—aesthetic...