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A Set of Six (1908) is one of Conrad's most versatile and varied compositions, embracing diverse interests and settings, multiple tonal qualities and a medley of short-story forms (ranging from the novella in 'The Duel' to the anecdotal tale in 'The Informer'). The volume's wide-ranging introduction offers a careful evaluation of the origins and sources of the individual stories, while also measuring their early reception as a published collection. Explanatory notes clarify literary and historical references, identify real-life places and people, and indicate borrowings and Gallicisms. The lengthy textual essay and its accompanying apparatus lay out the history of composition and publication, detailing interventions made by Conrad's typists, compositors and editors. Also included are appendices, allowing the reader first-hand access to Conrad's source material; glossaries of nautical and foreign terms; and illustrations in the form of maps and reproductions of early drafts. By returning to (and respecting) Conrad's own early manuscript and typescript forms, this edition presents the collection and its preface in a form more authoritative than any so far printed.
'I asked myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold'. Charles Marlow's dark intuition here arrives at the culmination of his physical and psychological quest in search of the infamous ivory-trader Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's most famous short story, Heart of Darkness. Ambiguously drawn to the powerful 'voice' of this autocratic European who has become a self-proclaimed ruler in an African colony, Marlow is increasingly embroiled in Kurtz's life and death: he is finally forced into a radical questioning, not only of his own assumptions, but also of the civilized and imperial pretensions of Western Europe. Offering a freshly-researched text based on the writer's original documents, this edition presents a classic of early modernist fiction in a version that, for the first time, recovers Conrad's preferred wordings, punctuation and narrative structure.
Conrad's earliest sense of himself, as a six-year-old child in 1863, was typically multiple, as 'Pole, Catholic, Gentleman' (Baines, Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography, p. 14). In 1874, he was an adolescent thought by some to be 'betraying' his country in his desire to escape Poland for a freer life as a seaman in France. By 1878 he had joined the British Merchant Service, though still officially a Russian subject and unable to speak English. Nicknamed 'Polish Joe' by other crew members, he was about to discover sustaining social and corporate ideals under the Red Ensign. By 1904, nine years after publishing his first novel, he produced the most radically experimental English novel of the early Modernist period, the monumental Nostromo. At his death in Canterbury in August 1924 he was already a legend in his own lifetime.
Surprised though the Polish-born ‘Joseph Conrad’ may have been to become a published English author in 1895 at the age of thirty-seven, it should come as no surprise, given the extraordinarily varied and cosmopolitan influences at work on him, that he should turn out to be the novelist of paradox and riddle. The logic connecting the various diverse phases of his life often appeared so mysterious to Conrad himself that he would repeatedly speak and write about it in terms of a dream-like ‘affair’.
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