Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

A Set of Six

The six stories in this volume are the result of some three or four
years of occasional work. The dates of their writing are far apart,
their origins are various. None of them are connected directly with
personal experiences. 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 (mis-spelt by-the-by) is an
almost verbatim transcript of the tale told me by a very charming old
gentleman whom I met in Italy. I don't mean to say it is only that.
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. All I can say is that the
personality of the narrator was extremely suggestive quite apart from
the story he was telling me. I heard a few years ago that he had died
far away from his beloved Naples where that "abominable adventure" did
really happen to him.

Thus the genealogy of Il Conde is simple. It is not the case with the
other stories. Various strains contributed to their composition, and the
nature of many of those I have forgotten, not having the habit of making
notes either before or after the fact. I mean the fact of writing a
story. What I remember best about Caspar Ruiz is that it was written, or
at any rate begun, within a month of finishing "Nostromo," but apart
from the locality, and that a pretty wide one (all the South American
Continent), the novel and the story have nothing in common, neither
mood, nor intention and, certainly, not the style. The manner for the
most part is that of General Santierra, and that old warrior, I note
with satisfaction, is very true to himself all through. Looking now
dispassionately at the various ways in which this story could have been
presented I can't honestly think the General superfluous. It is he, an
old man talking of the days of his youth, who characterizes the whole
narrative and gives it an air of actuality which I doubt whether I could
have achieved without his help. In the mere writing his existence of
course was of no help at all, because the whole thing had to be
carefully kept within the frame of his simple mind. But all this is but
a laborious searching of memories. My present feeling is that the story
could not have been told otherwise. The hint for Gaspar Ruiz, the man, I
found in a book by Captain Basil Hall, R. N., who was for some time,
between the years 1824 and 1828, senior officer of a small British
Squadron on the West Coast of South America. His book published in the
thirties obtained a certain celebrity and I suppose is to be found still
in some libraries. The curious who may be mistrusting my imagination are
referred to that printed document, Vol. II, I forget the page, but it is
somewhere not far from the end. Another document connected with this
story is a letter of a biting and ironic kind from a friend then in
Burma, passing certain strictures upon "the gentleman with the gun on
his back" which I do not intend to make accessible to the public. Yet
the gun episode did really happen, or at least I am bound to believe it
because I remember it, described in an extremely matter-of-fact tone, in
some book I read in my boyhood; and I am not going to discard the
beliefs of my boyhood for anybody on earth.

The Brute, which is the only sea-story in the volume, is, like Il Conde,
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. Captain Blake was, of all my commanders, the one I remember
with the greatest affection. I have sketched in his personality, without
however mentioning his name, in the first paper of "The Mirror of the
Sea." 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.

Of The Informer and The Anarchist I will say next to nothing. The
pedigree of these tales is hopelessly complicated and not worth
disentangling at this distance of time. I found them and here they are.
The discriminating reader will guess that I have found them within my
mind; but how they or their elements came in there I have forgotten for
the most part; and for the rest I really don't see why I should give
myself away more than I have done already.

It remains for me only now to mention The Duel, the longest story in the
book. That story attained the dignity of publication all by itself in a
small illustrated volume, under the title, "The Point of Honour." That
was many years ago. It has been since reinstated in its proper place,
which is the place it occupies in this volume, in all the subsequent
editions of my work. Its pedigree is extremely simple. It springs from a
ten-line paragraph in a small provincial paper published in the South of
France. That paragraph, occasioned by a duel with a fatal ending between
two well-known Parisian personalities, referred for some reason or
other to the "well-known fact" of two officers in Napoleon's Grand Army
having fought a series of duels in the midst of great wars and on some
futile pretext. The pretext was never disclosed. I had therefore to
invent it; and I think that, given the character of the two officers
which I had to invent, too, I have made it sufficiently convincing by
the mere force of its absurdity. The truth is that in my mind the story
is nothing but a serious and even earnest attempt at a bit of historical
fiction. I had heard in my boyhood a good deal of the great Napoleonic
legend. I had a genuine feeling that I would find myself at home in it,
and The Duel is the result of that feeling, or, if the reader prefers,
of that presumption. Personally I have no qualms of conscience about
this piece of work. The story might have been better told of course. All
one's work might have been better done; but this is the sort of
reflection a worker must put aside courageously if he doesn't mean every
one of his conceptions to remain for ever a private vision, an
evanescent reverie. How many of those visions have I seen vanish in my
time! This one, however, has remained, a testimony, if you like, to my
courage or a proof of my rashness. What I care to remember best is the
testimony of some French readers who volunteered the opinion that in
those hundred pages or so I had managed to render "wonderfully" the
spirit of the whole epoch. Exaggeration of kindness no doubt; but even
so I hug it still to my breast, because in truth that is exactly what I
was trying to capture in my small net: the Spirit of the Epoch--never
purely militarist in the long clash of arms, youthful, almost childlike
in its exaltation of sentiment--na´vely heroic in its faith.

J. C.

1920.


Joseph Conrad

Sorry, no summary available yet.