2011 and so many new projects. On New Years Day I started to read Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. This was not planned, it just so happened that I came to the end of a book on the final day of the year. For the last few years I have been thinking about my reading habits and wondering if I put breadth before depth. I was doing no re-reading, I didn’t see the point as there was so much to discover and, despite a 40 year reading habit, there were so many important books I hadn’t read. Why re-read Bleak House when I hadn’t read Pickwick Papers? I am now starting to enter that period of life when I start to re-read my favourite books. Lord Jim was to be the start of this process. However, another idea came to me, that is, to read nothing but one author for an entire year. Of course, there is the danger that I will have read all the best works before the end of the year and end up filling the rest of the year the second-rate works. To avoid this, I will concentrate on the period when Conrad produced his best work: 1900-1915. I will supplement the reading with a few critical essays if I can get hold of them. There are some by Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Ford Maddox Ford, John Galsworthy and F.R. Leavis. My rule of thumb is to stay away from academics because their attitudes to literature seem to me to be joyless. The get so caught up in their themes, dichotomies and historical contexts that they overlook the sheer joy of language. I will also write about each book and, of course, read them again.
It is not just a love of his work which connects me with the great man. There is a family connection to the world Conrad inhabited. My mother came from a family with a long merchant shipping pedigree. I remember as a child family photographs and mementoes as well as snippets of conversation that conjured up this golden age of steam, how it co-existed with sail and before it became militarized. Allow me to scrape one other connection from the barrel. Conrad was born in 1857 exactly 100 years before me and 100 after William Blake. It’s now down to me to carry on the ’57 tradition. There must be someone else, surely.
Conrad is not an easy author. Many modern readers find is prose style turgid and Edwardian. I struggled with him at first. Now I am awestruck by the grandiose, epic and poetic nature of his sentences. It’s easy to parody but impossible to equal. I collect his sentences and use them in my Chico Chica newsletters. Chico Chica by the way is the name of my Jazz band. I use them as a tag line at the bottom of the message. Let me know if you wanted to be included on the newsletter list. For years I used the phrase ‘….fished up from the depths of the incredible’ for a band project. I will publish a collection of these sentences in a future blog post.
One advantage for you the reader, is that my impressions will be heartfelt and sincere. I don’t look for over-complicated analysis and where there is too much obscurity and ambiguity, I leave at that. I do not claim to know the mind of Conrad but I will for the first time in my life, try to get inside it. To this end, I will, once again for the first time, provide myself with something I have spent a lifetime avoiding: a reading list. It will be in chronological order and comprise his best works from his most productive period. I have asterixed the ones I have perviously read.
1900 Lord Jim*
1902 Heart Of Darkness*
1902 The End Of The Tether
1907 The Secret Agent
1911 Under Western Eyes*