February 17th, 2017

Romantic Realism and Joseph Conrad

"Joseph Conrad also called himself a Romantic Realist." That's something Ayn Rand remarked in a Q&A. Was she right?

There's a 1922 book, Joseph Conrad: His Romantic-Realism, by Ruth Stauffer, which I have a copy of and the text of which is available online. The author argues that Conrad should be viewed, indeed, as a Romantic Realist. You might think that if Conrad had identified himself as such, that Stauffer would make a point of citing this self-identification. But, no.

Today I did a little more digging on this, looking into Conrad's preface to his novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus. Wikipedia says: "The author's preface to the novel, regarded as a manifesto of literary impressionism, is considered one of Conrad's most significant pieces of non-fiction writing." Anyway, in this preface, Conrad seems reluctant to accept literary labels:

"The enduring part of them - the truth which each only imperfectly veils - should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial sentimentalism (which like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of), all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him..."

Anyway, if I have to guess, Rand may have been misled about Conrad's exact views, perhaps because she ran into this book or its title somewhere, like on a public library shelf.

Literary schools
supply great bags of tools,
but the struggling writer, still,
is left with lots of pages to fill.