Karain: A Memory

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Karain: A Memory was written in February-April 1897 and published in the November 1897 issue of Blackwood’s Magazine. Its first appearance in book form was as part of Tales of Unrest published by in 1898, which was Conrad’s first collection of stories. The other stories in the book were The Idiots, An Outpost of Progress, The Return, and The Lagoon.

Karain: A Memory

Karain: A Memory – plot summary

Part I.   An un-named narrator describes the first visit of his schooner to the small fiefdom of Karain in an isolated part of the Malayan archipelago. Karain is a colourful and confident leader who the narrator likens to an actor. He is surrounded by loyal followers, and he buys illegally-traded guns and ammunition from the narrator.

Part II.   At night Karain visits the schooner, always with an armed attendant at his back. He asks the narrator questions about Queen Victoria and tells him about his own mother who was a local ruler: he is her son from a second marriage. Once he was attacked by natives from beyond the nearby mountains but he killed most of the attackers and the rest never came back. He dispenses justice amongst his `people’, is much revered, and enjoys huge banquets.

Part III.   The narrator visits him for two years, perceives him to be planning a war, and tries to warn him about forces beyond his own domain; but he fails to understand such concepts. On the occasion of his last visit the chief’s old henchman has died and Karain himself is ill. The trade in munitions takes place, then there is a tropical storm.

Karain suddenly appears on the schooner, having swum to the ship after escaping from his stockade. He fears that some invisible spirit is pursuing him, and he wants the crew to take him away.

Part IV.   Karain relates how a Dutchman set up home in the locality of his friend Pata Malara. Then Malara`s sister joins the Dutchman, bringing dishonour onto her family. When the Dutchman leaves with the sister, Malara decides to follow and strike vengeance. Karain decides to go with him out of loyalty to his friend. They sail to Java and go on an extended and fruitless search which lasts for two years or more.

Karain falls in love with the image of Malara`s sister who they are hunting down. Eventually they find them both, whereupon Malara wants to kill his sister to avenge the family`s honour. He gives Karain a gun to shoot the Dutchman, but instead Karain shoots his friend Malara.

Part V.   Karain runs away and survives in a forest, but he is visited by the ghost of Malara. He moves on and meets an old man who becomes his henchman, protecting him from `the dead’. But now that old man has died Karain has become vulnerable again to spirits. He thinks he will be safe amongst people who do not believe in the spirit world. He wants them to provide him with a weapon or charm against his demon.

Part VI.   Hollis produces a box containing a sixpence which bears Queen Victoria`s head. He makes it into a charm, then they present it to Karain and convince him it will keep the spirit at bay. Karain goes back to his people.

The story ends with the narrator meeting Jackson in London some years later, and they recall Karain amidst the bustle of the capital city.

Study resources

Karain Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK

Karain Tales of Unrest – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US

Karain The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook

Karain Tales of Unrest – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg

Karain 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

Karain Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK

Karain Joseph Conrad – biographical notes

Joseph Conrad – video biography

Principal characters
an un-named narrator
Karain a war lord of three coastal villages, originally from Les Celebes
Pata Malara Karain’s friend
Hollis a young mate
Jackson an old guitar-playing sailor

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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