tutorial, commentary, web links, 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 – critical 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’.
An Anarchist – study resources
A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon UK
A Set of Six – CreateSpace editions – Amazon US
The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad – Kindle eBook
A Set of Six – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg
Joseph Conrad: A Biography – Amazon UK
The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Routledge Guide to Joseph Conrad – Amazon UK
Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad – Amazon UK
Notes on Life and Letters – Amazon UK
Joseph Conrad – biographical notes
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.
Joseph Conrad – video biography
|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
Manuscript page from Heart of Darkness
The 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’s writing table
Amar Acheraiou Joseph Conrad and the Reader, London: Macmillan, 2009.
Jacques Berthoud, Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Muriel Bradbrook, Joseph Conrad: Poland’s English Genius, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1941
Harold Bloom (ed), Joseph Conrad (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2010
Hillel M. Daleski , Joseph Conrad: The Way of Dispossession, London: Faber, 1977
Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Aaron Fogel, Coercion to Speak: Conrad’s Poetics of Dialogue, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985
John Dozier Gordon, Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1940
Albert J. Guerard, Conrad the Novelist, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1958
Robert Hampson, Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992
Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Language and Fictional Self-Consciousness, London: Edward Arnold, 1979
Jeremy Hawthorn, Joseph Conrad: Narrative Technique and Ideological Commitment, London: Edward Arnold, 1990
Jeremy Hawthorn, Sexuality and the Erotic in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad, London: Continuum, 2007.
Owen Knowles, The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990
Jakob Lothe, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008
Gustav Morf, The Polish Shades and Ghosts of Joseph Conrad, New York: Astra, 1976
Ross Murfin, Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties, Tuscaloosa, Ala: University of Alabama Press, 1985
Jeffery Myers, Joseph Conrad: A Biography, Cooper Square Publishers, 2001.
Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Life, Camden House, 2007.
George A. Panichas, Joseph Conrad: His Moral Vision, Mercer University Press, 2005.
John G. Peters, The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
James Phelan, Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre, Ohio State University Press, 2008.
Edward Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1966
Allan H. Simmons, Joseph Conrad: (Critical Issues), London: Macmillan, 2006.
J.H. Stape, The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996
John Stape, The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, Arrow Books, 2008.
Peter Villiers, Joseph Conrad: Master Mariner, Seafarer Books, 2006.
Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century, London: Chatto and Windus, 1980
Cedric Watts, Joseph Conrad: (Writers and their Work), London: Northcote House, 1994.
Other writing by Joseph Conrad
Lord 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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Heart 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
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