Amy Foster Summary
by Joseph Conrad

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Amy Foster Summary

In "Amy Foster," Dr. Kennedy tells the narrator a story about a man and woman who fell in love in the English countryside.

Dr. Kennedy is an intelligent local doctor whom the narrator is staying with. As they travel around the countryside, they come to the home of a woman whom the narrator describes as dull. Her name is Amy Foster. Dr. Kennedy says that she is dull but kind and once had enough imagination to fall in love.

Amy was born to a shepherd and his wife. The oldest of her siblings, she was sent to work with the Smiths on their farm when she turned fifteen. She sent all her money home and still walked miles to her family's cottage to help with the chores and her siblings. One day, a strange man stumbled onto the Smith farm and scared Mrs. Smith. Amy stopped Mr. Smith from hurting him.

The man's name was Yanko Goorall. He was an emigrant on a voyage from Central Europe to America with a company that turned out to be a scam that bilked people out of money and property. He didn't speak English and appeared savage to the English villagers around him. He was eventually given a job working on a nearby farm and fell in love with Amy because of her kindness. He purchased a ribbon for her and started to court her. This courtship was met with derision by the other villagers. Yanko began to work on another family's farm and saved the grandchild of that family, the Smiths, from drowning.

Yanko and Amy eventually married, despite the fact that her father, Isaac, didn't approve. He didn't want to lose Amy's money, and he found Yanko foreign and strange. The newlyweds moved into a cottage on the land Yanko had been given for saving the Smith child. Yanko and Amy had one son, Johnny. When Johnny was born, Yanko wanted the boy to pray with him and began to teach him his language, but Amy—who had never left her English village—grabbed the boy. She didn't want Yanko teaching Johnny ways that were strange to her. Yanko confided to Dr. Kennedy that he simply wanted someone to speak to in his native language.

One day, Yanko fell deathly ill and begged Amy for water. Feverish, he spoke in his native language, and she didn't understand. Instead, she fled with Johnny out of fear of what she perceived as Yanko's strange ways, and Yanko died. Dr. Kennedy says that Amy never mentioned him again, and her father was pleased that Yanko was gone. Amy tended her and Yanko's child with great care and love. Johnny, Dr. Kennedy remarks, reminds him very strongly of Yanko.


(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....

(The entire section is 1,417 words.)