Dan Sandman

10: Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance on 06/03/2015 at 12:00 pm

Almayer's Folly by Joseph ConradJoseph Conrad (Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) (1857 – 1924) lived a somewhat displaced life, and often created characters who have traveled far away from their homeland. Writing towards the end of the British Empire, his best-known work has been criticised for its outdated portrayal of ‘the other’. But despite over a hundred years of literary criticism, his writing continues to grip new readers because it is written with great narrative verve. For when the reader opens a Conrad novel, it is the narrative – as opposed to the story – that centres itself. In other words, the way that he tells the story is more important than the plot.

And this remarkable first novel (published in 1895), in only twelve chapters, inhabits place and character in a way that is vivid and lucid and almost transcendental. The exotic setting (the Malay archipelago), is beautifully brought to life, written with that Conrad-esque clarity of vision, equally at ease when pinpointing a character trait as it is when directing the dramatic action. Further more, these emotions, these actions, smoothly pull and shift alongside changes in the weather, the Malay people and the sea.

One character that stands out for me is Nina, the young girl who falls in love with the forbidden Dian. Her father Almayer is a white European, a failed merchant who loves Nina deeply. He is in conflict with his wife Mrs. Almayer, a Malay woman rumored to be a witch. At the start of the book, Nina is sent to a convent by her father, who wishes her to adopt Christian values. However, as Almayer foolishly builds an unfinished house nicknamed ‘Almayer’s Folly’, his business begins to fail and his daughter returns home. Later Nina falls in love with the fugitive Dian (wanted by the white authorities), and is asked to choose between her European father and her Malay lover.

A melancholic and stirring romance.

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