Other Literary Forms
Joseph Conrad is best known for his powerful and psychologically penetrating novels, which, like his shorter fiction, are often set in exotic locales, frequently the Far East, at sea, or a combination of the two, as with his most famous work Lord Jim: A Tale (1900). Even when using a more conventional setting, such as London in The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (1907), or Geneva, Switzerland, in Under Western Eyes (1911), Conrad maintains a sense of otherness because his characters live in a moral shadow world of revolutionaries and adventures.
In addition to three plays based on his stories, Conrad produced three volumes of autobiographical writings, which, however, often conceal more than they explain about his varied and often dramatic personal life. Following his death, several edited collections of Conrad’s correspondence were published, and these letters offer some insight into his fiction.
Joseph Conrad is one of the outstanding writers in English literature and, because of his background and achievements, occupies a unique position. To a great degree, Conrad was the creator of the psychological story and modern spy novel. Because of his genius and insight, Conrad transformed the typical setting of the adventure romance—the mysterious Far East, the shadowy underworld of the secret agent—into an acceptable setting for the serious writer and greatly expanded the range of English literature.
Conrad avoided direct narrative, presenting his plots as a tale told by someone who either recounted the events from memory or passed along a story heard from someone else. The narrator in a Conrad story also gives events obliquely, partially revealing them, speculating on their cause and possible meaning, and then adding new and often essential information, so that the reader must participate in interpreting the unfolding story.
Conrad used this method because he felt that it accurately reflected the manner in which people understand actions in real life but also employed it because of his characters, who cannot be understood quickly, for they are not simple persons. Complicated and often contradictory figures, their actions, like their personalities, must be apprehended gradually and from different angles.
A writer who did not learn English until his twenties, Conrad brought a sense of newness and scrupulous care to the language. He uses an extensive vocabulary, particularly in his descriptive passages of settings, internal as well as external. His style produces in the reader the moral and psychological equivalent to the emotions and inner struggles felt by the characters.
These qualities of plot, character, and style were recognized by the noted American critic H. L. Mencken when he wrote about Conrad that “[t]here was something almost suggesting the vastness of a natural phenomenon. He transcended all the rules.”
Other literary forms
Joseph Conrad’s many short stories were published in seven collected editions. The majority of the stories appeared earlier in magazine form, especially in Blackwood’s Magazine, a periodical that Conrad referred to as “Maga.” Of the short stories, three—“Youth,” “The Secret Sharer,” and “An Outpost of Progress”—have been widely anthologized and are generally recognized as classics of the genre. Two memoirs of Conrad’s years at sea, The Mirror of the Sea (1906) and Some Reminiscences (1912), which is also known as A Personal Record, are prime sources of background information on Conrad’s sea tales. Conrad wrote three plays: The Secret Agent (pb. 1921), a four-act adaptation of his novel that enjoyed a brief success on the London stage; and two short plays, Laughing Anne (pb. 1923) and One Day More (pr. 1905), which had no success. His oeuvre is rounded out by two books of essays on widely ranging topics, Notes on Life and Letters (1921) and Last Essays (1926); a travel book, Joseph Conrad’s Diary of His Journey Up the Valley of the Congo in 1890 (1926); and the aborted novel The Sisters , left incomplete at his death in...
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