The Lagoon

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

The Lagoon was written in 1896 and published in Cornhill Magazine in 1897. It was later collected in Tales of Unrest which appeared in 1898. The other stories in the collection are Karain, A Memory, An Outpost of Progress, The Return, and The Idiots. Joseph Conrad later claimed ‘It is the first short story I ever wrote’, but he might have meant it was the first he ever published.


The Lagoon


The Lagoon – commentary

Literary style

No matter if it is his first-written or his first-published story, this tale is notable for the literary style that Conrad made his own

In the stillness of the air every tree, every leaf, every bough, every tendril of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms seemed to have been bewitched into an immobility perfect and final.

He uses verbal repetition (‘every tree, every leaf’) then repetition of construction with variation (‘every tendril of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms’) followed by what is almost his trademark – an abstraction qualified by ponderous nouns (‘an immobility perfect and final’). It is also worth noting that the expression ‘an immobility perfect and final’ is not conventional English syntax. Adjectives normally come before the thing they qualify (‘a perfect and final immobility’) – but then the amazing thing is that English was Conrad’s third language (after Polish and French) and he often imports constructions and even transliterations from other languages into his very idiosyncratic English.


The Lagoon – study resources

The Lagoon Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK

The Lagoon Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US

The Lagoon The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook

The Lagoon Tales of Unrest – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK

Red button Routledge Guide to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK

Red button Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad – Amazon UK

The Lagoon Joseph Conrad: A Biography – Amazon UK

The Lagoon Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK

The Lagoon Joseph Conrad – biographical notes


The Lagoon – plot summary

A white European sailor and his crew arrive at Arsat’s outpost on the edge of a lagoon in the Malayan archipelago, to find that his friend’s wife is dying of fever. The two men fall into reminiscence, and Arsat recounts how he came to form the relationship with his woman.

He abducts her from her family with his brother’s help. His bother taunts him for not being more defiant, but Arsat knows that he will be killed if caught. Nevertheless, Arsat greatly admires his brother’s courage and strength.

When they are pursued by the local Rajah’s men, Arsat’s brother holds them at bay with a gun whilst Arsat and the woman escape. But when all his shots are fired the pursuing men catch the brother and kill him.

At this point in the narrative Arsat’s wife dies. The white man offers to take Arsat away on the ship, but he chooses to stay by the lagoon.


Joseph Conrad – video biography


Principal characters
an un-named European narrator
Arsat a Malayan
Diamelen Arsat’s ‘wife’

Joseph Conrad’s writing

Joseph Conrad - manuscript page

Manuscript page from Heart of Darkness


The Cambridge Companion to Joseph ConradThe Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad offers a series of essays by leading Conrad scholars aimed at both students and the general reader. There’s a chronology and overview of Conrad’s life, then chapters that explore significant issues in his major writings, and deal in depth with individual works. These are followed by discussions of the special nature of Conrad’s narrative techniques, his complex relationships with late-Victorian imperialism and with literary Modernism, and his influence on other writers and artists. Each essay provides guidance to further reading, and a concluding chapter surveys the body of Conrad criticism.
Joseph Conrad Buy the book at Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad Buy the book at Amazon US


Joseph Conrad - writing table

Joseph Conrad’s writing table


Further reading

Red button Amar Acheraiou Joseph Conrad and the Reader, London: Macmillan, 2009.

Red button Jacques Berthoud, Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Red button Muriel Bradbrook, Joseph Conrad: Poland’s English Genius, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1941

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Joseph Conrad (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views, New Yoprk: Chelsea House Publishers, 2010

Red button Hillel M. Daleski , Joseph Conrad: The Way of Dispossession, London: Faber, 1977

Red button Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Red button Aaron Fogel, Coercion to Speak: Conrad’s Poetics of Dialogue, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985

Red button John Dozier Gordon, Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1940

Red button Albert J. Guerard, Conrad the Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1958

Red button Robert Hampson, Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992

Red button Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Language and Fictional Self-Consciousness, London: Edward Arnold, 1979

Red button Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Narrative Technique and Ideological Commitment, London: Edward Arnold, 1990

Red button Jeremy Hawthorn, Sexuality and the Erotic in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad, London: Continuum, 2007.

Red button Owen Knowles, The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990

Red button Jakob Lothe, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008

Red button Gustav Morf, The Polish Shades and Ghosts of Joseph Conrad, New York: Astra, 1976

Red button Ross Murfin, Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties, Tuscaloosa, Ala: University of Alabama Press, 1985

Red button Jeffery Myers, Joseph Conrad: A Biography, Cooper Square Publishers, 2001.

Red button Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Life, Camden House, 2007.

Red button George A. Panichas, Joseph Conrad: His Moral Vision, Mercer University Press, 2005.

Red button John G. Peters, The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Red button James Phelan, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008.

Red button Edward Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1966

Red button Allan H. Simmons, Joseph Conrad: (Critical Issues), London: Macmillan, 2006.

Red button J.H. Stape, The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Red button John Stape, The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, Arrow Books, 2008.

Red button Peter Villiers, Joseph Conrad: Master Mariner, Seafarer Books, 2006.

Red button Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century, London: Chatto and Windus, 1980

Red button Cedric Watts, Joseph Conrad: (Writers and their Work), London: Northcote House, 1994.


Other writing by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad Lord JimLord Jim (1900) is the earliest of Conrad’s big and serious novels, and it explores one of his favourite subjects – cowardice and moral redemption. Jim is a ship’s captain who in youthful ignorance commits the worst offence – abandoning his ship. He spends the remainder of his adult life in shameful obscurity in the South Seas, trying to re-build his confidence and his character. What makes the novel fascinating is not only the tragic but redemptive outcome, but the manner in which it is told. The narrator Marlowe recounts the events in a time scheme which shifts between past and present in an amazingly complex manner. This is one of the features which makes Conrad (born in the nineteenth century) considered one of the fathers of twentieth century modernism.
Joseph Conrad Buy the book from Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad Buy the book from Amazon US

 

Joseph Conrad Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness (1902) is a tightly controlled novella which has assumed classic status as an account of the process of Imperialism. It documents the search for a mysterious Kurtz, who has ‘gone too far’ in his exploitation of Africans in the ivory trade. The reader is plunged deeper and deeper into the ‘horrors’ of what happened when Europeans invaded the continent. This might well go down in literary history as Conrad’s finest and most insightful achievement, and it is based on his own experiences as a sea captain. This volume also contains ‘An Outpost of Progress’ – the magnificent study in shabby cowardice which prefigures ‘Heart of Darkness’.
Joseph Conrad Buy the book from Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad Buy the book from Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013


Joseph Conrad links

Joseph Conrad - tutorials Joseph Conrad at Mantex
Biography, tutorials, book reviews, study guides, videos, web links.

Red button Joseph Conrad – his greatest novels and novellas
Brief notes introducing his major works in recommended editions.

Joseph Conrad - eBooks Joseph Conrad at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts in a variety of formats.

Joseph Conrad - further reading Joseph Conrad at Wikipedia
Biography, major works, literary career, style, politics, and further reading.

Joseph Conrad - adaptations Joseph Conrad at the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production notes, box office, trivia, and quizzes.

Joseph Conrad - etexts Works by Joseph Conrad
Large online database of free HTML texts, digital scans, and eText versions of novels, stories, and occasional writings.

Joseph Conrad - journal The Joseph Conrad Society (UK)
Conradian journal, reviews. and scholarly resources.

Conrad US journal The Joseph Conrad Society of America
American-based – recent publications, journal, awards, conferences.

Joseph Conrad - concordance Hyper-Concordance of Conrad’s works
Locate a word or phrase – in the context of the novel or story.


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