tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
Because of the Dollars was written in 1914, and first appeared as part of Joseph Conrad’s collection Within the Tides published by J.M. Dent and Sons in 1915. The other stories in the volume were The Partner, The Inn of the Two Witches, and The Planter of Malata.
Because of the Dollars – critical commentary
This story features a very typical Conradian dramatic situation – an honourable protagonist in an isolated and vulnerable position, threatened by ruthless villains, and usually with the added complication of a woman on hand for whom the hero feels a gentlemanly sense of responsibility. It’s a situation he used in novels from Lord Jim (1900) to Victory (1915). In this instance there is the additional consideration of a sick child thrown into the plot.
Fortunately for Davidson, he is at least armed with a revolver, and his prime foe the Frenchman has the disadvantage of having no hands. This however does not stop him killing the innocent woman in question, Laughing Anne, who ironically has tied the seven pound weight to his arm stump with which he kills her.
But even after he survives the attempt to rob him of his dollars, his travails are not over. Honourably taking it on himself to look after Laughing Anne’s son Tony, he runs up against the suspicions and ire of his own wife. She suspects that the child is Davidson’s. This is an interesting point, since Laughing Anne is more or less a prostitute, and she does know Davidson from the past. The connection is not impossible, but does not seem to be substantiated by anything else in the text.
Moreover, Mrs Davidson has been flagged up by Hollis earlier in the story as a less than completely sympathetic character:
What I noticed under the superficial aspect of vapid sweetness was her convex, obstinate forehead, and her small, red pretty, ungenerous mouth.
Davidson himself however is universally regarded as ‘a good man’ – so the tale is a cautionary reminder that even good men may suffer misfortune and injustice in pursuit of doing The Right Thing.
Because of the Dollars – study resources
Because of the Dollars – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK
Because of the Dollars – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US
The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook –
Because of the Dollars – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg
Joseph Conrad: A Biography – Amazon UK
The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Routledge Guide to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad – Amazon UK
Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad – biographical notes
Because of the Dollars – plot summary
Part I. An un-named outer narrator and his friend Hollis see captain Davidson on the harbour front of an Eastern port. Hollis relates the background story of his character and life, explaining why he is known as ‘a good man’ . Davidson is the commander of the Sissie , which is owned by a Chinaman. When a new printing of dollars is issued, Davidson collects packages of the old silver dollars from people in the ports where he calls. His wife thinks that transporting currency might be dangerous, but he believes that nobody else can take his place. He also wishes to call on Bamtz, a loafer who has taken up with fellow drifter, Laughing Anne. When Davidson first called at the remote island of Mirrah he was recognised by Anne as an old friend. She explains that she has settled with Bamtz for the sake of her child Tony.
Part II. In a quayside bar the blackmailer Fector overhears Davidson’s plans to collect in the old dollars, and he recruits thugs Niclaus and the Frenchman (who has no hands). After collecting dollars, Davidson arrives late at night at the Bamtz house to find the three men with Bamtz, waiting for him. Anne’s son Tony is ill with a fever. Whilst she and Davidson attend to him she warns him about the Frenchman, who that day has asked her to tie a seven pound weight to the stumpt of his right arm.
At night the thugs attack the ship to steal the silver, but Davidson is armed with a revolver and scares them off. The Frenchman realises that Anne has given their plans away, and in the melee that ensues he bludgeons her to death with the weight. Davidson feels that she has somehow died to save him, and he feels guilty. However, he rescues the child.
Davidson buries Anne at sea and gives the child to his wife to look after. However, his wife suspects that the child is actually his, and she turns against both of them. Eventually, even though he tells her the whole story, she leaves him and goes back to her parents. The boy is sent to a church school in Malacca, where he eventually does well and plans to become a missionary. Davidson is left alone with nobody – which is where the story began.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
Because of the Dollars – principal characters
|I||an un-named outer narrator|
|Davidson||commander of the Sissie|
|Bamtz||a loafer with a beard|
|Laughing Anne||a drifter from Saigon – a ‘painted woman’|
|Fector||a blackmailer and ‘journalist’|
|Niclaus||a dead beat|
|the Frenchman||a thug with no hands|
Manuscript page from Heart of Darkness
The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad offers a series of essays by leading Conrad scholars aimed at both students and the general reader. There’s a chronology and overview of Conrad’s life, then chapters that explore significant issues in his major writings, and deal in depth with individual works. These are followed by discussions of the special nature of Conrad’s narrative techniques, his complex relationships with late-Victorian imperialism and with literary Modernism, and his influence on other writers and artists. Each essay provides guidance to further reading, and a concluding chapter surveys the body of Conrad criticism.
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Joseph Conrad’s writing table
Amar Acheraiou Joseph Conrad and the Reader, London: Macmillan, 2009.
Jacques Berthoud, Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Muriel Bradbrook, Joseph Conrad: Poland’s English Genius, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1941
Harold Bloom (ed), Joseph Conrad (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2010
Hillel M. Daleski , Joseph Conrad: The Way of Dispossession, London: Faber, 1977
Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Aaron Fogel, Coercion to Speak: Conrad’s Poetics of Dialogue, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985
John Dozier Gordon, Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1940
Albert J. Guerard, Conrad the Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1958
Robert Hampson, Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992
Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Language and Fictional Self-Consciousness, London: Edward Arnold, 1979
Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Narrative Technique and Ideological Commitment, London: Edward Arnold, 1990
Jeremy Hawthorn, Sexuality and the Erotic in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad, London: Continuum, 2007.
Owen Knowles, The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990
Jakob Lothe, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008
Gustav Morf, The Polish Shades and Ghosts of Joseph Conrad, New York: Astra, 1976
Ross Murfin, Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties, Tuscaloosa, Ala: University of Alabama Press, 1985
Jeffery Myers, Joseph Conrad: A Biography, Cooper Square Publishers, 2001.
Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Life, Camden House, 2007.
George A. Panichas, Joseph Conrad: His Moral Vision, Mercer University Press, 2005.
John G. Peters, The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
James Phelan, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008.
Edward Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1966
Allan H. Simmons, Joseph Conrad: (Critical Issues), London: Macmillan, 2006.
J.H. Stape, The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996
John Stape, The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, Arrow Books, 2008.
Peter Villiers, Joseph Conrad: Master Mariner, Seafarer Books, 2006.
Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century, London: Chatto and Windus, 1980
Cedric Watts, Joseph Conrad: (Writers and their Work), London: Northcote House, 1994.
Other writing by Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim (1900) is the earliest of Conrad’s big and serious novels, and it explores one of his favourite subjects – cowardice and moral redemption. Jim is a ship’s captain who in youthful ignorance commits the worst offence – abandoning his ship. He spends the remainder of his adult life in shameful obscurity in the South Seas, trying to re-build his confidence and his character. What makes the novel fascinating is not only the tragic but redemptive outcome, but the manner in which it is told. The narrator Marlowe recounts the events in a time scheme which shifts between past and present in an amazingly complex manner. This is one of the features which makes Conrad (born in the nineteenth century) considered one of the fathers of twentieth century modernism.
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Heart of Darkness (1902) is a tightly controlled novella which has assumed classic status as an account of the process of Imperialism. It documents the search for a mysterious Kurtz, who has ‘gone too far’ in his exploitation of Africans in the ivory trade. The reader is plunged deeper and deeper into the ‘horrors’ of what happened when Europeans invaded the continent. This might well go down in literary history as Conrad’s finest and most insightful achievement, and it is based on his own experiences as a sea captain. This volume also contains ‘An Outpost of Progress’ – the magnificent study in shabby cowardice which prefigures ‘Heart of Darkness’.
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© Roy Johnson 2013
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