Monday, June 2, 2008

by a hair's breadth

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett

Monday evening
[January 24, 1898.]

Dear Garnett,
I have your letter and the proofs.* You are the best of fellows to go through all that disgusting kind of toil for me. And my ingratitude is so complete, is so black that I can by no means be ashamed of it. This morning for half an hour or perhaps a little less I disliked you with the utmost cordiality and sat brooding about some way to do you a serious mischief. But now at 5 pm I feel I could bear the sight of you without showing any unholy emotion.

Yes. Seriously. You are right in everything even in the suggestion to let the story** go as it is. It shall go and be hanged to it. It is bad and in sober truth I can't bear the sight of it any more. Let it go. No one will notice it particularly, and even if someone arose to solemnly curse it, the story and the curse would be forgotten before the end of the week.

My very sincere thanks to Mrs Garnett for saying a good word--the only good word--for the woman. Tell her please that as to the story I think it is as false as a sermon by an Archbishop. Exactly. Another man goes out than the man who came in. T'other fellow is dead. You have missed the symbolism of the new gospel (that's what the Return is) altogether and you call yourself a critic! The only weak point in the story is the slamming of the street door at the end. I ought to have stopped on the "not even a foot-step on the thick carpet . . . as though no sooner outside he had died and his body had vanished together with his soul" and then in leaded type "He never returned."

That would have made the newspaper boys sit up. They would have wanted to know where he went to, how he got downstairs; they would have made guesses at it they would have called it realism, naturalism, or new humour. I've missed fame by a hair's breadth. And then we could have hired some chinaman of letters to explain that the whole story is transcendental symbolico-positivist with traces of illuminism. I've missed my best chance. Enough fooling. It strikes me I am "taking up your valuable time"
Ever yours
J. Conrad

Jess sends her love to Mrs Garnett and desires me to state that the baby is a very fine baby. I disclaim all responsibility for that statement. Do you really think the volume* will do?

-from Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895-1924 edited with introduction and notes by Edward Garnett (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill) p.128-130.

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