Archive | May, 2012


The Anarchism of Joseph Conrad

In his 1961 novel, Mother Night, author Kurt Vonnegut famously paraphrased Nietszche, writing: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Vonnegut’s American protagonist, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., opens Mother Night by describing himself as a Nazi “by reputation.” During World War II, he has served […]


Friday Fun: Apocalypse Now

Long before he ruined liberals for real presidential candidates, Martin Sheen (as Captain Benjamin L. Willard) made his way into the jungles of Vietnam on a mission to terminate (“with extreme prejudice”) Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Though the novel is a classic work that speaks […]


Friends with Words

Just after the turn of the century, Joseph Conrad partnered with Ford Madox Ford to write three novels, beginning with The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story. They’re not great novels, nor were they received as such on publication. Conrad would later dub the partnership the “fatal collaboration.” The friendship would flame out by 1909, and both […]


Stolen Lives

It should be clear by now that Henry James and Upton Sinclair are hardly the only 20th century authors to enjoy generous, wide-ranging afterlives in contemporary works. On the spectrum of life-to-lit authenticity, author Lawrence Thornton’s fictional treatment of Joseph Conrad falls somewhere between Chris Bachelder’s wildly imaginative rumpus with Sinclair, U.S.!, and two relatively […]


1907: Gentleman Prefer Blondes…?

By 1907, it had become clear just how the earlier Russo-Japanese War had changed the game. Russia’s defeat (just a few months after Anton Chekhov succumbed to tuberculosis) influenced, though it did not cause, the limited revolution of 1905, itself a forerunner to the sweeping revolution of 1917. The war also delayed the second Hague […]


Friday Fun: Hit by a Bus

In 2009, Slate’s Explainer asked and answered: “When did getting “hit by a bus” become the standard image of unexpected catastrophe?” They credit Joseph Conrad, more specifically his protagonist (of sorts), Mr. Verloc, with the earliest accident-related usage: But just try to understand that it was a pure accident; as much an accident as if […]