When this novel first appeared in book form a notion got about that I
had been bolted away with. Some reviewers maintained that the work
starting as a short story had got beyond the writer's control. One or
two discovered internal evidence of the fact, which seemed to amuse
them. They pointed out the limitations of the narrative form. They
argued that no man could have been expected to talk all that time, and
other men to listen so long. It was not, they said, very credible.
After thinking it over for something like sixteen years I am not so sure
about that. Men have been known, both in tropics and in the temperate
zone, to sit up half the night "swapping yarns." This, however, is but
one yarn, yet with interruptions affording some measure of relief; and
in regard to the listeners' endurance, the postulate must be accepted
that the story _was_ interesting. It is the necessary preliminary
assumption. If I hadn't believed that it _was_ interesting I could never
have begun to write it. As to the mere physical possibility we all know
that some speeches in Parliament have taken nearer six than three hours
in delivery; whereas all that part of the book which is Marlow's
narrative can be read through aloud, I should say, in less than three
hours. Besides--though I have kept strictly all such insignificant
details out of the tale--we may presume that there must have been
refreshments on that night, a glass of mineral water of some sort to
help the narrator on.
But, seriously, the truth of the matter is, that my first thought was of
a short story, concerned only with the pilgrim ship episode; nothing
more. And that was a legitimate conception. After writing a few pages,
however, I became for some reason discontented and I laid them aside for
a time. I didn't take them out of the drawer till the late Mr. William
Blackwood suggested I should give something again to his magazine.
It was only then that I perceived that the pilgrim ship episode was a
good starting-point for a free and wandering tale; that it was an event,
too, which could conceivably colour the whole "sentiment of existence"
in a simple and sensitive character. But all these preliminary moods and
stirrings of spirit were rather obscure at the time, and they do not
appear clearer to me now after the lapse of so many years.
The few pages I had laid aside were not without their weight in the
choice of subject. But the whole was re-written deliberately. When I
sat down to it I knew it would be a long book, though I didn't foresee
that it would spread itself over thirteen numbers of _Maga_.
I have been asked at times whether this was not the book of mine I liked
best. I am a great foe to favouritism in public life, in private life,
and even in the delicate relationship of an author to his works. As a
matter of principle I will have no favourites; but I don't go so far as
to feel grieved and annoyed by the preference some people give to my
"Lord Jim." I won't even say that I "fail to understand...." No! But
once I had occasion to be puzzled and surprised.
A friend of mine returning from Italy had talked with a lady there who
did not like the book. I regretted that, of course, but what surprised
me was the ground of her dislike. "You know," she said, "it is all so
The pronouncement gave me food for an hour's anxious thought. Finally I
arrived at the conclusion that, making due allowances for the subject
itself being rather foreign to women's normal sensibilities, the lady
could not have been an Italian. I wonder whether she was European at
all? In any case, no Latin temperament would have perceived anything
morbid in the acute consciousness of lost honour. Such a consciousness
may be wrong, or it may be right, or it may be condemned as artificial;
and, perhaps, my Jim is not a type of wide commonness. But I can safely
assure my readers that he is not the product of coldly perverted
thinking. He's not a figure of Northern Mists either. One sunny morning
in the commonplace surroundings of an Eastern roadstead, I saw his form
pass by--appealing--significant--under a cloud--perfectly silent. Which
is as it should be. It was for me, with all the sympathy of which I was
capable, to seek fit words for his meaning. He was "one of us."
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