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Typhoon

The main characteristic of this volume consists in this, that all the
stories composing it belong not only to the same period but have been
written one after another in the order in which they appear in the book.

The period is that which follows on my connection with _Blackwood's
Magazine_. I had just finished writing The End of the Tether and was
casting about for some subject which could be developed in a shorter
form than the tales in the volume of "Youth" when the instance of a
steamship full of returning coolies from Singapore to some port in
northern China occurred to my recollection. Years before I had heard it
being talked about in the East as a recent occurrence. It was for us
merely one subject of conversation amongst many others of the kind. Men
earning their bread in any very specialized occupation will talk shop,
not only because it is the most vital interest of their lives but also
because they have not much knowledge of other subjects. They have never
had the time to get acquainted with them. Life, for most of us, is not
so much a hard as an exacting taskmaster.

I never met anybody personally concerned in this affair, the interest of
which for us was, of course, not the bad weather but the extraordinary
complication brought into the ship's life at a moment of exceptional
stress by the human element below her deck. Neither was the story itself
ever enlarged upon in my hearing. In that company each of us could
imagine easily what the whole thing was like. The financial difficulty
of it, presenting also a human problem, was solved by a mind much too
simple to be perplexed by anything in the world except men's idle talk
for which it was not adapted.

From the first the mere anecdote, the mere statement I might say, that
such a thing had happened on the high seas, appeared to me a sufficient
subject for meditation. Yet it was but a bit of a sea yarn after all. I
felt that to bring out its deeper significance which was quite apparent
to me, something other, something more was required; a leading motive
that would harmonize all these violent noises, and a point of view that
would put all that elemental fury into its proper place.

What was needed of course was Captain MacWhirr. Directly I perceived him
I could see that he was the man for the situation. I don't mean to say
that I ever saw Captain MacWhirr in the flesh, or had ever come in
contact with his literal mind and his dauntless temperament. MacWhirr is
not an acquaintance of a few hours, or a few weeks, or a few months. He
is the product of twenty years of life. My own life. Conscious invention
had little to do with him. If it is true that Captain MacWhirr never
walked and breathed on this earth (which I find for my part extremely
difficult to believe) I can also assure my readers that he is perfectly
authentic. I may venture to assert the same of every aspect of the
story, while I confess that the particular typhoon of the tale was not a
typhoon of my actual experience.

At its first appearance "Typhoon," the story, was classed by some
critics as a deliberately intended storm-piece. Others picked out
MacWhirr, in whom they perceived a definite symbolic intention. Neither
was exclusively my intention. Both the typhoon and Captain MacWhirr
presented themselves to me as the necessities of the deep conviction
with which I approached the subject of the story. It was their
opportunity. It was also my opportunity, and it would be vain to
discourse about what I made of it in a handful of pages, since the
pages themselves are here, between the covers of this volume, to speak
for themselves.

This is a belated reflection. If it had occurred to me before it would
have perhaps done away with the existence of this Author's Note; for,
indeed, the same remark applies to every story in this volume. None of
them are stories of experience in the absolute sense of the word.
Experience in them is but the canvas of the attempted picture. Each of
them has its more than one intention. With each the question is what the
writer has done with his opportunity; and each answers the question for
itself in words which, if I may say so without undue solemnity, were
written with a conscientious regard for the truth of my own sensations.
And each of those stories, to mean something, must justify itself in its
own way to the conscience of each successive reader.

Falk--the second story in the volume--offended the delicacy of one
critic at least by certain peculiarities of its subject. But what is the
subject of Falk? I personally do not feel so very certain about it. He
who reads must find out for himself. My intention in writing Falk was
not to shock anybody. As in most of my writings I insist not on the
events but on their effect upon the persons in the tale. But in
everything I have written there is always one invariable intention, and
that is to capture the reader's attention, by securing his interest and
enlisting his sympathies for the matter in hand, whatever it may be,
within the limits of the visible world and within the boundaries of
human emotions.

I may safely say that Falk is absolutely true to my experience of
certain straightforward characters combining a perfectly natural
ruthlessness with a certain amount of moral delicacy. Falk obeys the law
of self-preservation without the slightest misgivings as to right, but
at a crucial turn of that ruthlessly preserved life he will not
condescend to dodge the truth. As he is presented as sensitive enough to
be affected permanently by a certain unusual experience, that experience
had to be set by me before the reader vividly; but it is not the subject
of the tale. If we go by mere facts then the subject is Falk's attempt
to get married; in which the narrator of the tale finds himself
unexpectedly involved both on its ruthless and its delicate side.

Falk shares with one other of my stories (The Return in the "Tales of
Unrest" volume) the distinction of never having been serialized. I think
the copy was shown to the editor of some magazine who rejected it
indignantly on the sole ground that "the girl never says anything." This
is perfectly true. From first to last Hermann's niece utters no word in
the tale--and it is not because she is dumb, but for the simple reason
that whenever she happens to come under the observation of the narrator
she has either no occasion or is too profoundly moved to speak. The
editor, who obviously had read the story, might have perceived that for
himself. Apparently he did not, and I refrained from pointing out the
impossibility to him because, since he did not venture to say that "the
girl" did not live, I felt no concern at his indignation.

All the other stories were serialized. "Typhoon" appeared in the early
numbers of the _Pall Mall Magazine_, then under the direction of the
late Mr. Halkett. It was on that occasion too, that I saw for the first
time my conceptions rendered by an artist in another medium. Mr. Maurice
Greiffenhagen knew how to combine in his illustrations the effect of
his own most distinguished personal vision with an absolute fidelity to
the inspiration of the writer. Amy Foster was published in _The
Illustrated London News_ with a fine drawing of Amy on her day out
giving tea to the children at her home in a hat with a big feather.
To-morrow appeared first in the _Pall Mall Magazine_. Of that story I
will only say that it struck many people by its adaptability to the
stage and that I was induced to dramatize it under the title of "One Day
More"; up to the present my only effort in that direction. I may also
add that each of the four stories on their appearance in book form was
picked out on various grounds as the "best of the lot" by different
critics, who reviewed the volume with a warmth of appreciation and
understanding, a sympathetic insight and a friendliness of expression
for which I cannot be sufficiently grateful.

J. C.

1919.


Joseph Conrad

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