Dan Sandman

51: Three Sea Stories by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 18/12/2015 at 12:00 pm

Three Sea Stories by Joseph ConradThe sea can provide the perfect backdrop for an adventure story, and Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924) published many works of fiction set within the isolated confines of a steamship. Many of his longer novels were printed as books, but Conrad also wrote a number of shorter works of around 30,000 words, published inside the influential magazines The Pall Mall Magazine (1893 – 1914) and Blackwell’s (1817 – 1980). Collected here in book form are three sea stories by the great grandfather of modernism himself. Each one can be enjoyed in one sitting, taking somewhere between three hours and three-and-a-half hours to complete.

Typhoon (1902) is a classic storm story with a twist, employing the frame within a frame technique used, to a lesser extent, in Samuel Coleridge’s excellent sea poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). The chilling Falk (later published, together with Typhoon in a hardback book, but written around the same time), is another sea story with a great twist. Finally, The Shadow Line (1917) tells of a young man who is thrust into his first captaincy, loosing his sense of youth along the way. All three stories focus on the difficult job of captaining of a steamship; showcase Conrad’s virtuosity as one of the most important writers we have; and would work as excellent introductions to his powerful, unsentimental fiction.

I do actively encourage you to try one of these Conrad sea stories. You will easily be able to find them for free on Project Gutenberg (the world’s oldest digital library), if you cannot find this Wordsworth Classics edition (which I bought for £2.49 new at The Book Warehouse in Camden Town — excellent shop!). Conrad should be read in long sittings of three hours plus, allowing the language to envelop your conciousness, like the way that the sea swishes over the side of  a steamship inside the eye of a storm. He should be devoured in long, heady gulps, not criticised for his Imperialist assumptions. Reading him from the point of view of someone living one hundred years later, with the benefit of hindsight, is like listening to Ride of the Valkyries (first written down in 1851) in 1951 whilst thinking about the German composer’s anti-Semitism.

An academic exercise.

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