tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
The Warrior’s Soul was written in late 1915–early 1916. It was first published in Land and Water, March 1917. It was posthumously collected in Tales of Hearsay, published by T. Fisher Unwin in 1925. The other tales in the volume were The Tale, Prince Roman, and The Black Mate.
The Retreat from Moscow
Illarion Pryanishnikov 1840-1894
The Warrior’s Soul – critical commentary
The issues here are very typical Conrad subjects. There is a strong sense of internationalist friendship between the Russian Tomassov and his French colleague De Castell. They are also united in their admiration for the French lady in whose salon they have met. De Castell gives Tomassov classified information which is advantageous to the Russians.
But then Tomassov is confronted by his patriotic duty in circumstances of a tragic coincidence. As a Russian he ought to be remorseless towards the Frenchman who has invaded his own country. Even worse: De Castell is so devastated by the grim conditions and the slim chances of surviving the French retreat from Moscow (in which 380,000 men died and 100,000 were captured) that he begs Tomassov to shoot him. At first he refuses, but then does so – with what seem like devastating consequences to his own conscience.
Conrad is being unusually even-handed here. Russians do not usually fare well in his work – with the good biographical reason that Conrad’s family suffered under the political control of Poland by Russia in the nineteenth century. His father and family were exiled to the Ukraine because of his father’s political agitation as a democrat and a patriot.
Of course at the time of this tale’s composition, England , Russia, and France were allies during the first part of the first world war in the conflict with Germany. So it might be argued that Conrad was contributing a little propaganda to the war effort with this tale. Conrad had an unusual and complex relationship with nationality. He was born a Russian citizen – since Russia ruled Poland at that time. He imbibed a strong sense of Polish patriotism from his father. And after serving in the British merchant navy, he took out English citizenship in 1886. Following that, it took him a further three years to renounce his Russian citizenship in 1889.
This is another of Conrad’s historical narratives which is not so successful as his more mature and contemporary-based works. It smacks of the anecdote and lacks the aesthetic and moral complexities of his more successful writing. The elements of the drama are related in very general terms, with very little concrete detail and almost no personal focalization.
It is interesting that he reaches back into the Napoleonic wars to come up with a topic which might throw some light on the conflict which was tearing Europe apart in 1914-1918. The connection is logical – a major international conflict – but somehow the time gap is too wide, and the work pales beside Under Western Eyes and The Secret Agent
The Warrior’s Soul – study resources
The Warrior’s Soul – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK
The Warrior’s Soul – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US
The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook
Tales of Hearsay – 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 Warrior’s Soul – plot summary
An un-named narrator, an old Russian military campaigner, recounts scenes from the Napoleonic wars, finally focusing on his special relationship with a young soldier called Tomassov who had previously been posted in Paris. In an attack on the demoralised Napoleonic Grand Army in its retreat from Moscow, Tomassov takes pity on the enemy and puts up his sword.
Tomassov had previously fallen in love with a beautiful woman who ran a salon in Paris. One afternoon in early 1812 he visits the salon to find her in conversation with French officer De Castel. The two men sense that they are in competition for her favours. When the y both leave, De Castel reveals to Tomassov that the Russian envoy and his staff are about to be arrested. This disclosure permits the envoy to escape arrest.
Back at the Napoleonic battle, the narrator expresses sympathy for the French troops who have fared so badly in the ill-fated Moscow campaign. Tomassov arrives from his patrol with an utterly bedraggled and despairing French prisoner. The prisoner has begged Tomassov to kill him as an act of mercy – but he has refused. The prisoner turns out to be De Castel. Tomassov is mocked in his regiment for being ‘humane’ – and in the end he is so touched by De Castel’s pleas that he does shoot him.
Afterwards, Tomassov resigns from the army and retreats into provincial obscurity.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
The Warrior’s Soul – principal characters
|I||an un-named Russian officer, the narrator|
|Tomassov||an idealistic young Russian soldier|
|De Castel||a French army officer|
The Warrior’s Soul
first edition, Fisher Unwin 1925
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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