Study Guide

Amy Foster

by Joseph Conrad

Amy Foster Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An unnamed narrator recalls a time several years earlier, when he was staying with his friend Kennedy, a country doctor in the English coastal village of Colebrook, near Brenzett. One day as he accompanied the doctor on his afternoon rounds, they came upon a dull-looking woman named Amy Foster, who was hanging out her wash. Kennedy asked after her son’s health. As he continued his rounds, he told the narrator about this woman’s recent life.

Although Kennedy agreed that the woman looked passive and inert, he confided that this same woman once had enough imagination to fall in love. The oldest child of a large family, Amy was put into the service of the Smiths, the tenant family at New Barns Farm, where she worked for four years. Meanwhile, she occasionally made the three-mile walk to her family’s cottage to help with their chores. As Kennedy explained, Amy seemed satisfied with this drab life until she unexpectedly fell in love.

After the narrator and Kennedy passed a sullen group of men trudging along the road, Kennedy resumed his story, this time telling about a man who used to walk the village paths with such a jaunty, upright bearing that Kennedy thought he might be a woodland creature. The man was an emigrant from central Europe who had been on his way to America when his ship went down near the coast. He could speak no English, but Kennedy guessed that he had boarded the ship in Hamburg, Germany.

Kennedy then described the railway journey that had carried the German to Hamburg. After riding a train for several days before changing trains in Berlin, he reached the mouth of a river, where he saw a ship for the first time. There he lost contact with the three men who had recruited him to immigrate to America with the promise of his earning three dollars a day there. Using a telegraph, the three men secured passage to America for the man, whose father paid for the passage by selling livestock and part of his farm.

Kennedy again digressed to mention that he had patched this story together from fragments gathered over two or three years. When the castaway first appeared in Brenzett, his wild language and appearance shocked the town. Taking him for a gypsy, the milk-cart driver lashed him with his whip and boys pelted him with stones. The man ran to New Barns Farm, where he frightened Mrs. Smith. Amy Foster,...

(The entire section is 963 words.)