Themes and Meanings
Many literary scholars, and indeed early reviewers, regard “Il Conde” as the best example of Joseph Conrad’s short fiction. Conrad wrote it as one of a group of six short stories—the so-called “Set of Six”—that he published early for popular consumption when he needed money badly. He proudly declared that the story had taken him only ten days to write after he decided to elaborate on an event that occurred in the life of Count Zygmunt Zzembek, whom he had met on Capri. Although the “Set of Six” stories are separate, they gain unity as critiques of then current political tendencies within Europe’s class structure. At one level, to be sure, each story explores individual integrity, honor, glory, romance, and bravery. However, more important, each also embodies political observations on European class warfare.
Scholars have noted that “Il Conde” intimates the decline and eventual demise of the aristocracy with which Conrad identified himself. Obviously, Conrad’s Count delineates both the admirable qualities and the flaws typical of his class. The Count is a polylingual cosmopolite; he is cultured and sensitive—an unostentatious and emotionally disciplined man devoted to living a balanced and moderate life of quiet comforts nourished by select tastes. Until he feels the Neapolitan’s knife on his belly, he seems unaware of the social discontents that might imperil him, of the dark forces through which previously he had moved...
(The entire section is 469 words.)