tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
The Brute was written in early 1906, and published in The Daily Chronicle in December 1906. 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 Il Conde.
The Brute – critical commentary
Conrad’s own introduction to A Set of Six gives some idea of his methods of fictional composition and even a glimpse of what he thinks fiction ought to be. He mixes personal anecdote with what he sees as historical fact, and (quite reasonably) he also splices two separate incidents to make a single tale.
Perhaps the most interesting thing from the point of view of a modern reader is that he sees the necessity to provide some sort of verisimilitude – to claim that ‘this is really tue’ or ‘this really happened’ – as if a piece of fiction could not provide its own self-justification.
This is the tradition of realism in the novel (and tale) still in its strongest phase in the early twentieth century – for which we should be thankful. But it is worth noting, because so many other facets of Conrad’s writing contravene the rules of narrative logic and chronological coherence demanded by realism – even though he produced some stunning dramatic effects whilst doing so. See my various comments on both the Tales and the Novels for examples of these contraventions.
The Brute, which is the only sea-story in the volume, is … associated with a direct narrative and based on a suggestion gathered on warm human lips. I will not disclose the real name of the criminal ship but the first I heard of her homicidal habits was from the late Captain Blake, commanding a London ship in which I served in 1884 as Second Officer … In his young days he had had a personal experience of the brute and it is perhaps for that reason that I have put the story into the mouth of a young man and made of it what the reader will see. The existence of the brute was a fact.
The end of the brute as related in the story is also a fact, well-known at the time though it really happened to another ship, of great beauty of form and of blameless character, which certainly deserved a better fate. I have unscrupulously adapted it to the needs of my story thinking that I had there something in the nature of poetical justice. I hope that little villainy will not cast a shadow upon the general honesty of my proceedings as a writer of tales.
The Brute – 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
The Brute – plot summary
The narrator Ned enters a pub where two seamen, Stoner and Jermyn are in conversation with a stranger. The stranger is expostulating about a ship that has a reputation for causing problems and even deaths. The ship has been built especially big and heavy by its owners, the Apse family – which is also the ship’s name. He claims that the ship behaves erratically, damages other ships, and is responsible for the death of at least one person every year.
He recounts joining the ship at fourteen and seeing a young sailor killed in a fall from a mast on his first day on board. He serves for three years then transfers to another ship. Later he returns to the Apse Family, serving under his brother Charley, who is first mate. They sail to Australia where Charley appears to become engaged to Maggie, a relative of the captain.
The journey home is uneventful, but on reaching port in Gravesend, there is a shipping accident and Maggie is caught up in the ship’s anchor and drowned. Charley and Ned go home, where Charley succumbs to a fever. The later history of the ship is that a sailor Wilmot neglects his watch because he is dallying with a woman passenger. As a result of this the Apse Family runs aground on some rocks and breaks up in a storm.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
The Brute – principal characters
|Ned||the narrator, a sailor|
|Charley||his brother, a sailor|
|Mr Stoner||a senior Trinity pilot|
|Mr Jermyn||a North Sea pilot|
|Mr Colchester||captain of the Apse Family|
|Mrs Colchester||his wife|
|Maggie Colchester||Charley’s ‘intended’|
|Wilmot||a sailor who is susceptible to women|
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
Joseph Conrad at Mantex
Biography, tutorials, book reviews, study guides, videos, web links.
Joseph Conrad – his greatest novels and novellas
Brief notes introducing his major works in recommended editions.
Joseph Conrad at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts in a variety of formats.
Joseph Conrad at Wikipedia
Biography, major works, literary career, style, politics, and further reading.
Joseph Conrad at the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production notes, box office, trivia, and quizzes.
Works by Joseph Conrad
Large online database of free HTML texts, digital scans, and eText versions of novels, stories, and occasional writings.
The Joseph Conrad Society (UK)
Conradian journal, reviews. and scholarly resources.
The Joseph Conrad Society of America
American-based – recent publications, journal, awards, conferences.
Hyper-Concordance of Conrad’s works
Locate a word or phrase – in the context of the novel or story.