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The Rescue


Of the three long novels of mine which suffered an interruption, "The
Rescue" was the one that had to wait the longest for the good pleasure
of the Fates. I am betraying no secret when I state here that it had to
wait precisely for twenty years. I laid it aside at the end of the
summer of 1898 and it was about the end of the summer of 1918 that I
took it up again with the firm determination to see the end of it and
helped by the sudden feeling that I might be equal to the task.

This does not mean that I turned to it with elation. I was well aware
and perhaps even too much aware of the dangers of such an adventure. The
amazingly sympathetic kindness which men of various temperaments,
diverse views and different literary tastes have been for years
displaying towards my work has done much for me, has done all--except
giving me that overweening self-confidence which may assist an
adventurer sometimes but in the long run ends by leading him to the
gallows.

As the characteristic I want most to impress upon these short Author's
Notes prepared for my first Collected Edition is that of absolute
frankness, I hasten to declare that I founded my hopes not on my
supposed merits but on the continued goodwill of my readers. I may say
at once that my hopes have been justified out of all proportion to my
deserts. I met with the most considerate, most delicately expressed
criticism free from all antagonism and in its conclusions showing an
insight which in itself could not fail to move me deeply, but was
associated also with enough commendation to make me feel rich beyond the
dreams of avarice--I mean an artist's avarice which seeks its treasure
in the hearts of men and women.

No! Whatever the preliminary anxieties might have been this adventure
was not to end in sorrow. Once more Fortune favoured audacity; and yet I
have never forgotten the jocular translation of _Audaces fortuna juvat_
offered to me by my tutor when I was a small boy: "The Audacious get
bitten." However he took care to mention that there were various kinds
of audacity. Oh, there are, there are!... There is, for instance, the
kind of audacity almost indistinguishable from impudence.... I must
believe that in this case I have not been impudent for I am not
conscious of having been bitten.

The truth is that when "The Rescue" was laid aside it was not laid aside
in despair. Several reasons contributed to this abandonment and, no
doubt, the first of them was the growing sense of general difficulty in
the handling of the subject. The contents and the course of the story I
had clearly in my mind. But as to the way of presenting the facts, and
perhaps in a certain measure as to the nature of the facts themselves, I
had many doubts. I mean the telling, representative facts, helpful to
carry on the idea, and, at the same time, of such a nature as not to
demand an elaborate creation of the atmosphere to the detriment of the
action. I did not see how I could avoid becoming wearisome in the
presentation of detail and in the pursuit of clearness. I saw the action
plainly enough. What I had lost for the moment was the sense of the
proper formula of expression, of the only formula that would suit. This,
of course, weakened my confidence in the intrinsic worth and in the
possible interest of the story--that is in my invention. But I suspect
that all the trouble was, in reality, the doubt of my prose, the doubt
of its adequacy, of its power to master both the colours and the shades.

It is difficult to describe, exactly as I remember it, the complex
state of my feelings; but those of my readers who take an interest in
artistic perplexities will understand me best when I point out that I
dropped "The Rescue" not to give myself up to idleness, regrets, or
dreaming, but to begin "The Nigger of the Narcissus" and to go on with
it without hesitation and without a pause. A comparison of any page of
"The Rescue" with any page of "The Nigger" will furnish an ocular
demonstration of the nature and the inward meaning of this first crisis
of my writing life. For it was a crisis undoubtedly. The laying aside of
a work so far advanced was a very awful decision to take. It was wrung
from me by a sudden conviction that _there_ only was the road of
salvation, the clear way out for an uneasy conscience. The finishing of
"The Nigger" brought to my troubled mind the comforting sense of an
accomplished task, and the first consciousness of a certain sort of
mastery which could accomplish something with the aid of propitious
stars. Why I did not return to "The Rescue" at once then, was not for
the reason that I had grown afraid of it. Being able now to assume a
firm attitude I said to myself deliberately: "That thing can wait." At
the same time I was just as certain in my mind that "Youth," a story
which I had then, so to speak, on the tip of my pen, could _not_ wait.
Neither could Heart of Darkness be put off; for the practical reason
that Mr. Wm. Blackwood having requested me to write something for the
No. M. of his magazine I had to stir up at once the subject of that tale
which had been long lying quiescent in my mind, because, obviously, the
venerable Maga at her patriarchal age of 1000 numbers could not be kept
waiting. Then "Lord Jim," with about seventeen pages already written at
odd times, put in his claim which was irresistible. Thus every stroke of
the pen was taking me further away from the abandoned "Rescue," not
without some compunction on my part but with a gradually diminishing
resistance; till at last I let myself go as if recognizing a superior
influence against which it was useless to contend.

The years passed and the pages grew in number, and the long reveries of
which they were the outcome stretched wide between me and the deserted
"Rescue" like the smooth hazy spaces of a dreamy sea. Yet I never
actually lost sight of that dark speck in the misty distance. It had
grown very small but it asserted itself with the appeal of old
associations. It seemed to me that it would be a base thing for me to
slip out of the world leaving it out there all alone, waiting for its
fate--that would never come!

Sentiment, pure sentiment as you see, prompted me in the last instance
to face the pains and hazards of that return. As I moved slowly towards
the abandoned body of the tale it loomed up big amongst the glittering
shallows of the coast, lonely but not forbidding. There was nothing
about it of a grim derelict. It had an air of expectant life. One after
another I made out the familiar faces watching my approach with faint
smiles of amused recognition. They had known well enough that I was
bound to come back to them. But their eyes met mine seriously as was
only to be expected since I myself felt very serious as I stood amongst
them again after years of absence. At once, without wasting words, we
went to work together on our renewed life; and every moment I felt more
strongly that They Who had Waited bore no grudge to the man who however
widely he may have wandered at times had played truant only once in his
life.

J. C.

1920.

Joseph Conrad

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