The latest instalment in the Cambridge Edition of Conrad’s collected works belongs to a recent explosion of new critical editions of twentieth-century authors, including T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Katherine Mansfield, Ford Madox Ford, Dorothy Richardson, Evelyn Waugh and Wyndham Lewis. Together, these projects have seen a gradual reconfiguration of the early twentieth-century literary field. The Cambridge edition of Conrad also positions itself as offering a reconfiguration of the author’s texts as we have come to know them. One of the aims of the edition is to recover an experience of reading Conrad cleansed of the interventions which produced the texts with which we are now familiar, including errors introduced by Conrad’s typists, compositors and editors—or even Conrad himself, who rarely checked revisions against first drafts. The results of this editorial restoration are made immediately clear in the first lines of this new edition of Victory, whose light-hearted opening discussion of schoolboys and solid-fuel chemistry now contains the jarringly serious (some would say characteristically ungrammatical) observation, ‘Mankind is prone to exaggeration of language’. It has been suggested elsewhere that the Cambridge Conrad, taken as a whole, not only presents Conrad’s works in an entirely new way but also in a way that Conrad might not have recognized. The new Victory raises similar issues of authorship and authority because it argues that the received text of the novel was never fully authorized by Conrad. Thanks to the outbreak of the First World War, Conrad found himself trapped on the Continent at a time when transatlantic communications were difficult at best. As a result, he had limited involvement in the serialization of Victory in the American magazine Munsey’s, the first appearance of the novel in print, and from which all subsequent versions of it derive. This new edition restores the part and chapter divisions from the original typescript, with those introduced by the editors of Munsey’s—and repeated in every version since—thrown out. It also attends to Munsey’s revision of the novel’s language and themes to suit American audiences, which included wholesale changes to dialogue and diluting its treatment of sex and religion. In this context, M. C. Bradbrook’s later remark that Victory was merely a series of ‘exercises in the manner of Conrad’, both highlights her sense that late Conrad was also lesser Conrad, and also speaks to this textual history of editorial intervention and even invention. It is this history that the critical apparatus aims to recover, detailing major deletions, emendations and variations across the novel’s pre-print and early published forms. At 446 pages, it is considerably longer than the text of the novel: while in keeping with its ultimate desire for authority and completeness, the sheer size of the edition brings to mind Victory’s opening joke about portable property and the incompatibility of coal mines with waistcoat pockets. The earlier book editions have been rejected as having no special authority—whether the first American and British editions issued, respectively, by Doubleday, Page and Company in March 1915 and by Methuen in September the same year, or the subsequent collected editions issued during the 1920 s, each of which saw selectively imported readings from one another, producing a ‘hybrid text’ which in places overwrites Conrad’s own work. (Of course, the idea of the author as a single presiding presence is qualified in the case of Conrad, whose published works are frequently composite texts, the product of various contributing hands—from the early interventions of collaborators and editors such as Ford, to the reliance on his wife Jessie Conrad and, in later years, his secretary Lilian Hallowes as amanuenses.) Although the original manuscript is now available to us in a way it was not to Conrad—who, then a mainstay of the collector’s market, had sold it to the New York tax attorney John Quinn—this is dismissed for being still just a draft. Instead, the preferred copy-text is the first typescript, in which the novel’s sub-title ‘An Island Story’ first appears. The novel’s origins and sources are examined in the engaging introduction. Victory partly grew out from Conrad’s correspondence with Captain Carl Marris, whose exchange of shared experiences in the Far East between 1909 and 1911, recalling the circulation of professional gossip at the beginning of the novel, saw Conrad break out of the creative impasse that followed the completion of Under Western Eyes and return to the East which had inspired earlier works. The novel’s geography draws upon Conrad’s time as first mate in the Vidar in 1887–1888, when he visited Singapore, Bangkok and various trading settlements in eastern Borneo, as well as A. R. Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago (1869), one of the ‘dull, wise books’ repeatedly utilized by Conrad to help create and authenticate his represented Eastern worlds. Also explored is Conrad’s engagement with Polish and French literatures, the plays of Ibsen and Strindberg, as well as more distant antecedents such as Shakespeare and Milton, from whose Comus (1634) the novel borrows its epigraph. So, too, are Conrad’s debts to other cultural influences, including Robert Louis Stevenson (notably The Ebb-Tide, another tale of island interlopers) and Lady Margaret Brooke’s 1913 memoir My Life in Sarawak, whose depiction of the Grey Friars ‘Orchestra of Virgins’ offers a possible model for the altogether less chaste travelling orchestra of the novel. This is complemented by a set of annotations accompanying the main text of the novel, casting light on historical, geographical and linguistic references, including Conrad’s habitual Polonisms and Gallicisms, and by a simple map of the Far East of the period. Fredric Jameson has argued that Conrad was able to gratify both the ‘limited coteries’ of modernism and the popular market by successfully straddling ‘high’ culture and mass culture, often within the covers of the same book. At the same time, Victory was clearly written in a more popular vein than, say, ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1899) or Nostromo (1904), as the contexts of its composition, early transmission and reception, deftly explored in the textual essay, underline. By the time Victory appeared in 1915, Conrad had finally achieved popular success with Chance, published the preceding year, and in terms of the popular character of its themes and plot his new novel seemed designed to cater to and consolidate this lately won audience. Yet Conrad was clearly not sold on giving himself wholly up to the middlebrow or the mass market. He dismissed Munsey’s as ‘obviously not fit for intelligent readers’, and Methuen as ‘a very modern manufactury of books’. Despite his misgivings, the novel sold well in Britain and especially America, leading to further issues in 1918 and 1921. The 1919 screen and stage adaptations by Maurice Tourneur and B. Macdonald Hastings served to confirm Conrad’s contemporary popularity, and as a spur to further impressions and sales. In The Great Tradition (1948), his influential recalibration of the English literary canon, F. R. Leavis praised Victory as being ‘among those of Conrad’s works … representing his claim to classical standing’. Yet, although Conrad’s canonical status remains assured, it is rare to see Victory cited as an exemplifying text. In fact, until recently the novel was more typically grouped among the comparatively ‘minor’ products of a late falling off. This new edition of Victory offers worthy testament that, whatever the shifting opinion of his late novel, Conrad’s critical standing remains strong. Like the nine-volume Collected Letters, these volumes are essential touchstones for Conrad scholars and useful for anyone interested in the history of early twentieth-century publishing. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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