An Anarchist

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

An Anarchist was written late in 1905. It was first serialized in Harper’s Magazine, 1906, then later collected in A Set of Six, 1908 (UK), 1915 (US). The other stories in this collection are Gaspar Ruiz, The Informer, The Brute, The Duel, and Il Conde.

An Anarchist

An Anarchist – plot summary

An un-named narrator is on a cattle-ranching island in South America. The manager of the company relates how he saved a runaway convict and, convincing himself he was an anarchist from Barcelona, gave him a job as an engineer on the company’s steam boat.

Paul (the convict) then relates his life history to the narrator. Whilst celebrating his twenty-fifth birthday with friends in Paris, he gets drunk, fights with police, and goes to jail. On release he cannot get work. He falls in with a group of anarchists who support themselves by stealing from the rich. When they attempt to rob a bank the plot is foiled and he is deported to a penitentiary island in Cayenne (French Guiana).

The convicts there organise a mutiny and the prison warders are overthrown. Paul does not participate in the uprising for humanitarian reasons. Whilst hiding in some bushes he watches soldiers pursuing convicts, then on finding a revolver he escapes in a boat. Two other convicts seize control of the boat and they all row off to sea to escape.

Paul produces the revolver and takes charge, forcing the other two to do the rowing. When they spot a passenger schooner, the two men suddenly become very friendly towards Paul, but he shoots them both and pushes the bodies overboard, then throws away the gun.

The schooner picks him up and drops him off at the island where the story began. The narrator invites him to leave the island and return to Europe – but he chooses to remain, having become slightly deranged.

Study resources

The Anarchist A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK

The Anarchist A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US

The Anarchist The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook

An Anarchist A Set of Six – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg

The Anarchist Joseph Conrad: A Biography – Amazon UK

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 Anarchist Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK

The Anarchist Joseph Conrad – biographical notes

An Anarchist – commentary

Conrad is amazingly frank in his 1908 take-it-or-leave-it introductory notes to A Set of Six, the collection which includes The Anarchist.

Of The Informer and An Anarchist I will say next to nothing. The pedigree of these tales is hopelessly complicated and not worth disentangling at this distance of time. I found them and here they are. The discriminating reader will guess that I have found them within my mind; but how they or their elements came in there I have forgotten for the most part; and for the rest I really don’t see why I should give myself away more than I have done already.

Conrad obviously had an interest in anarchists and the radical political movements of the late nineteenth century (see The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes) but in the case of The Anarchist he depicts someone who is perceived to be an anarchist by someone else (the ranch manager) – but who is simply a victim of fate.

Paul is an ordinary young working man who is criminalized merely because he resists arrest when drunk. When released from jail he is unable to find work, and falls in with a group of anarchists – without ever sharing their political ideology. And when on the penitentiary island he is not particularly active in the revolt against the State (the prison guards).

However, political theory aside, it could be argued that Paul behaves in a manner which many people would consider anarchic. He has some humanitarian scruples in not joining the prisoner revolt in the penitentiary and its aftermath, yet once in the escape boat, he has no scruples about shooting his two fellow escapees and ditching the evidence. He escapes intact, but then refuses the offer to rejoin European society. He is not so much an anarchist as an ‘outsider’.

Joseph Conrad – video biography

Principal characters
I an un-named European narrator
Harry Gee the manager of the cattle station
Paul ‘Anarchista de Barcelona’ – actually from Paris

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.
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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 York: 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.
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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’.
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© 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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