tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
The Lagoon was written in 1896 and published in Cornhill Magazine in 1897. It was later collected in Tales of Unrest which appeared in 1898. The other stories in the collection are Karain, A Memory, An Outpost of Progress, The Return, and The Idiots. Joseph Conrad later claimed ‘It is the first short story I ever wrote’, but he might have meant it was the first he ever published.
The Lagoon – commentary
No matter if it is his first-written or his first-published story, this tale is notable for the literary style that Conrad made his own
In the stillness of the air every tree, every leaf, every bough, every tendril of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms seemed to have been bewitched into an immobility perfect and final.
He uses verbal repetition (‘every tree, every leaf’) then repetition of construction with variation (‘every tendril of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms’) followed by what is almost his trademark – an abstraction qualified by ponderous nouns (‘an immobility perfect and final’). It is also worth noting that the expression ‘an immobility perfect and final’ is not conventional English syntax. Adjectives normally come before the thing they qualify (‘a perfect and final immobility’) – but then the amazing thing is that English was Conrad’s third language (after Polish and French) and he often imports constructions and even transliterations from other languages into his very idiosyncratic English.
The Lagoon – study resources
Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK
Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US
The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook
Tales of Unrest – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg
The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Routledge Guide to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad – Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad: A Biography – Amazon UK
Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad – biographical notes
The Lagoon – plot summary
A white European sailor and his crew arrive at Arsat’s outpost on the edge of a lagoon in the Malayan archipelago, to find that his friend’s wife is dying of fever. The two men fall into reminiscence, and Arsat recounts how he came to form the relationship with his woman.
He abducts her from her family with his brother’s help. His bother taunts him for not being more defiant, but Arsat knows that he will be killed if caught. Nevertheless, Arsat greatly admires his brother’s courage and strength.
When they are pursued by the local Rajah’s men, Arsat’s brother holds them at bay with a gun whilst Arsat and the woman escape. But when all his shots are fired the pursuing men catch the brother and kill him.
At this point in the narrative Arsat’s wife dies. The white man offers to take Arsat away on the ship, but he chooses to stay by the lagoon.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
The Lagoon – principal characters
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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 web links
Joseph Conrad at Mantex
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Joseph Conrad – his greatest novels and novellas
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Joseph Conrad at Project Gutenberg
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Joseph Conrad at Wikipedia
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Joseph Conrad at the Internet Movie Database
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Works by Joseph Conrad
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The Joseph Conrad Society (UK)
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The Joseph Conrad Society of America
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Hyper-Concordance of Conrad’s works
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More on Joseph Conrad
Twentieth century literature
Joseph Conrad complete tales