Friday, December 7, 2007

la douceur des Ombres

[Joseph Conrad to Angele Zagorska]


My Dear Angele,*

I know that you do not forget my existence and I know also that this is not due to my merit, but to your goodness. Silence may be a sin, but it is not always a mortal one; there are circumstances when one may obtain pardon. Naturally, I think that my sins deserve forgiveness. Du reste tout le monde pense de meme, au point de vue personnel bien entendu. In all sincerity I may add in earnest that there is in me so much of the Englishman, the sailor and the adventurer, that I do not care to write--even to my nearest and dearest relatives--when things do not go well. This is the reason for my long silence. I do not want to count the months. I prefer to ask you to forget them. We have lived another year. Autant de gagne! Therefore we must wish one another happiness--ce bonheur dont personne ne connait le premier mot--and wish it sincerely with all our hearts; try to forget that man's wishes are seldom fulfilled.

I write here words of affection, words that vanish when once spoken--but the feeling remains. May the next year bring you health, peace and the realization of your dreams--without disenchantment. And if you think that this is not possible--I shall tell you that my wishes do reflect, if not the possibility, at least my feelings for you all.

My wife joins me in my wishes. She knows you all--comme les enfants connaissent les personnages de Contes de Fees, and like children eager for stories, she is always ready to listen, and I, (a real story-teller), am always ready to relate. In this way you live two lives. Over there, at Lublin, where life is hard, no doubt--and here in Stanford, Essex, on the banks of the Thames--under the spell of my words: for the one you have never seen, vous avez la douceur des Ombres et la splendeur de l'Inconnu!

I have worked during the whole year. I have finished two volumes. One came out a fortnight ago and the other is ready for the press. Voila. And while waiting I live in a state of uncertainty. I enjoy a good reputation but no popularity. And as to money I have none, either. Triste. But things are going better at present. That I shall some day attain material success there is no reason to doubt. But that requires time and meanwhile???

The worst is that my health is not good. Les nerfs, les nerfs! Uncertainty torments me. It is very foolish, no doubt--mais que voulez-vous l'homme est bete.

And this is how I battle with time. At my age ce n'est pas drole. I fear that "before the sun rises, the dew will have destroyed the eyesight". . . .**

*The original of this letter is in Polish.
** Polish proverb.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 216-17.

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