tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
Il Conde first appeared in Cassell’s Magazine in London (1908) and Hampton’s Magazine in New York (1909). It was later collected in A Set of Six, published in 1908 (UK) and 1915 (US). The other stories in this collection of Joseph Conrad’s work were The Informer, An Anarchist, Gaspar Ruiz, The Duel, and The Brute.
“Vedi Napoli e poi mori”
Il Conde – critical commentary
In his prefatory notes to A Set of Six Conrad outlines the genesis of his stories, putting his emphasis on the fact that they are based on true incidents:
In all of them the facts are inherently true, by which I mean that they are not only possible but that they have actually happened. For instance, the last story in the volume, the one I call Pathetic, whose first title is Il Conde (misspelt by-the-by) is an almost verbatim transcript of the tale told me by a very charming old gentleman whom I met in Italy.
It is curious (with over a hundred years’ hindsight) that he should think that the ‘real’ origins of the tale lend credibility (and even artistic merit) to what is not much more than an anecdote. It is indeed rather shocking if an elderly and cultivated man is held up at knife point and robbed by a university student from a wealthy family who is also connected to a Mafia-style gang. But since nothing further is made of this confrontation (and contradiction) it’s not clear what point is being made. The elderly man is so shocked he returns to somewhere in middle Europe – but that is all. Conrad goes on to say that the tale concerns a ‘problem’ – but then admits that he’s not sure what it is:
Anybody can see that it is something more than a verbatim report, but where he left off and where I began must be left to the acute discrimination of the reader who may be interested in the problem. I don’t mean to say that the problem is worth the trouble. What I am certain of, however, is that it is not to be solved, for I am not at all clear about it myself by this time.
The tale is an anecdote, a character sketch, an evocation of time and place, but not much more. It lacks the biting irony of An Outpost of Progress or the terrible themes of Falk and Amy Foster. We cannot expect every one of Conrad’s tales to be equally powerful, and it is fairly clear that his greatest literary strength lay as a novelist and a writer of novellas, not as an artist of the shorter literary forms.
Il Conde – study resources
A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK
A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US
The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook
A Set of Six – 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
Il Conde – plot summary
An un-named narrator describes the Count he meets at his hotel in Naples. He is a cultivated, rich, and sympathetic character, yet the narrator does not know his name or where he is from. The narrator leaves for ten days to look after a friend who is ill. When he returns the Count tells him about an unpleasant experience.
The Count goes after dinner to listen to music played in a public garden. Afterwards he strolls on a darkened boulevard, where a man robs him at knife point. He gives him his money and watch, but refuses to give him his rings.
Afterwards, the Count retreats to a cafe, where he sees his attacker again at a nearby table. He asks a cigarette vendor for information and is told that the young man is a university student from a very good family and the head of a Camorra (Mafia-style gang). The young man threatens to pursue him further, so the Count decides to leave Naples, even though he believes that its climate is necessary for his health. The narrator sees him off on a train bound for Vienna.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
|I||the un-named narrator|
|Il Conde||a cultivated traveller|
|—||a young man|
Joseph Conrad’s writing
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 Yoprk: 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
Joseph Conrad links
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