Monday, June 16, 2008

the revealing life

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett

Pent Farm,
Stanford, Near Hythe,

12. Nov. 1900.

Dearest E.
You are great and good.
Yes! you've put your finger on the plague spot. The division of the book* into two parts which is the basis of your criticism demonstrates to me once more your amazing insight; and your analysis of the effect of the book puts into words precisely and suggestively the dumb thoughts of every reader--and my own.

Such is indeed the effect of the book; the effect which you can name and others can only feel. I admit I stood for a great triumph and I have only succeeded in giving myself utterly away. Nobody'll see it, but you have detected me falling back into my lump of clay I had been lugging up from the bottom of the pit, with the idea of breathing big life into it. And all I have done was to let it fall with a silly crash.

For what is fundamentally wrong with the book--the cause and the effect--is want of power. I do not mean the 'power' of reviewers' jargon. I mean the want of illuminating imagination. I wanted to obtain a sort of lurid light out (of) the very events. You know what I have done--alas! I haven't been strong enough to breathe the right sort of life into my clay--the revealing life.

I've been satanically ambitious, but there's nothing of a devil in me, worse luck. The Outcast is a heap of sand, the Nigger a splash of water, Jim a lump of clay. A stone, I suppose will be my next gift to the impatient mankind--before I get drowned in mud to which even my supreme struggles won't give a simulacrum of life. Poor mankind! Drop a tear for it--but look how infinitely more pathetic I am! This pathos is a kind of triumph no criticism can touch. Like the philosopher who crowed at the Universe I shall know when I am utterly squashed. This time I am only very bruised, very sore, very humiliated.

This is the effect of the book upon me; the intimate and personal effect. Humiliation. Not extinction. Not yet. All of you stand by me so nobly that I must still exist. There is You, always, and never dismayed I had an amazing note from Lucas. Amazing! This morning a letter came from Henry James. Ah! You rub in the balm till every sore smarts--therefore I exist. The time will come when you shall get tired of tending true and most well-intentioned sham--and then the end'll come too.

But keep up! keep up! Let me exhort you earnestly to keep up! as long as you can.

I send you the H J. letter. A draught from the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Wouldn't you think a boy had written it? Such enthusiasm! Wonderful old man, with his record of wonderful work! It is, I believe, seriously intended (the latter) as confidential. And to you alone I show it--keep his secret for us both. No more now. I've read Petersburg tales** Phew! That is something! That is many things and the only thing it is written! It is. That work is genuine, undeniable, constructed and inhabited. It hath foundation and life. I hope the writer will deign to recognize my most fraternal welcome!
Yours ever
J. C.

PS Pray send the James autograph back--registered. Our great love to you three. We must meet soon.

*Lord Jim
**Petersburg Tales, by Olive Garnett (Heinemann, 1900.)
-from Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895-1924 edited with introduction and notes by Edward Garnett (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill) p.171-73.

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