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Reviewed by:
  • Victory: An Island Tale by Joseph Conrad
  • Cedric Watts (bio)
Joseph Conrad. Victory: An Island Tale. Edited by J. H. Stape and Alexandre Fachard, with the assistance of Aaron Zacks, and with an introduction by Richard Niland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. lv + 919 pp. ISBN: 9781107101616.


Brace yourself. This will be a janiform review.

Cambridge University Press's vast project to produce authoritative new editions of the literary works of Joseph Conrad is now well advanced. In the case of Victory, the project is flawed. [End Page 90]

The immensely industrious and conscientious editors of Victory made one big mistake. They thought they knew better than Conrad. Those editors show that Conrad generally accepted, by choice or acquiescence, the house styling and corrections that various publishers imposed on his work (sometimes he saw the changes at the proof stage, sometimes he did not); but the editors think that generally he should not have accepted the changes. They have therefore deleted much house styling and correction. The result is a Conradian prose which is often impoverished and sometimes even ungrammatical and uncouth.

In this review, therefore, I shall first summarise the contents of the book. Secondly, I shall illustrate the claim that this Cambridge edition is impressive and contains important new readings. Thirdly, I shall illustrate the allegation that this Cambridge edition has inflicted much stylistic damage on Conrad.


The book is a hefty hardback priced at £89.99. Richard Niland's introduction offers a concise and proficient survey of the novel's origins, sources and critical reception. This is followed by Conrad's "Note to the First Edition" (1915), his "Author's Note" (1920), and the text of the novel, edited by the late J. H. Stape and Alexandre Fachard. Among other scholarly material, the edition contains explanatory notes, two glossaries (one of nautical terms and one of foreign words and phrases), ten illustrations, and a map.

The explanatory notes are, generally, very helpful. One peculiar error, however, appears on p. 902. There, a reference to Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner yields this wince-inducing misquotation: "We stuck, nor breath nor motion, / As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted sea." As the rhyme should have reminded the editors, that last line should be "Upon a painted ocean." On p. 908, the word "saillient" receives more than four lines of commentary, but the editors fail to explain that the word means "prominent." No gloss is offered for "sticking point" (p. 98; Macbeth, act 1, scene 7 comes to mind), or "Life . . . had no savour" (p. 101; Matthew 5:13 is relevant), or "under her heel" (p. 341; evoking Genesis 3:14–15).

A long "Essay" on the texts offers a superb account of the novel's composition and publication, detailing interventions by typists, compositors, and editors, and explains the present editorial policy. The long and impressive "Apparatus" specifies most (but not all) of the emendations. Four "Appendices" are headed "The Preprint Documents," "Major Deletions," "Part and Chapter Divisions," and "Borrowings and Echoes from French Writers." The citations of French works are admirable, showing the remarkable extent of Conrad's [End Page 91] borrowings from Anatole France and Guy de Maupassant, notably when he was depicting tensions in the relationship of Lena and Heyst.

The text of the novel results from a comparison of the manuscript, typescripts, serials, and early book editions. The copy-text for most of the novel is the revised first typescript. The copy-text for the novel's coda (featuring Davidson and a "great man") is the manuscript.

The comparative work by Stape and Fachard appears to be impressively diligent and detailed. These editors reveal that "haphazard typing replaced Conrad's own work at numerous points" (379). For instance, Jessie Conrad garbled "blowing avenging blasts," so that "avenging" did not appear in print; and she mistyped "precision of its acts" as "precision of its facts," a mistyping which entered the published texts. Compositors sometimes generated errors: for instance, one correction by Conrad, "colourless" (95), was misread as "toneless" (386); another, "all-forgetful rapture" (335), became "unforgetful rapture"; and the short sentence "It pricks a little" (326) was overlooked. Removing...


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