CONRAD (JOSEPH)
Lot 477
CONRAD (JOSEPH)
Sold for £9,560 (US$ 15,443) inc. premium

Lot Details
CONRAD (JOSEPH)
Series of twenty-three autograph letters signed, one partly typed, to Christopher Sandeman, playwright and member of the Intelligence Service during the Great War, the majority of the series written during the last two years of the war, the subjects covered including his novel Victory ("...The point of criticism you raise in Victory (the novel) is not so apparent in the play. Perhaps you are right. But I still think the psychology quite possible. My fault is that I haven't made Lena's reticence credible enough - since a mind like yours (after reflexion) remains unconvinced. I need not tell you that while I wrote her silence seemed to me truth itself, a rigorous consequence of the character and the situation. It was not invented for the sake of the 'the story'. Enfin! What's done is done. And I am unfeignedly glad that you like the book as a whole..."); the staging of The Secret Agent by the actor Norman McKinnel ("...Thus unexpectedly I shall find myself your confrère ...I foresee for it a 'frost' modified - or tempered - by a certain amount of curiosity on the part of a small section of the public; with the conclusion on the part of the critics that 'Conrad can't write a play.' It is a pretty horrible thing too - but McKinnell is an artist of talent and may prolong the agony for six weeks or so...") and its failure ("...I was there like a man in a dream of a particularly squalid kind, my very lines sounding hollow and utterly contemptible...I felt disconcerted at every step - and yet amused. And that faculty of detachment saved me from dying of rage on several occasions...Reading the press cuttings was like being in a parrot-house..."); publication of The Rover ("...Last July between the gasps, coughs and groans I managed to finish a comparatively short novel - which, certainly, is not remarkable. It will be pub.d next spring. I am at work at another - because I must. But that's nothing new..."); Poland's wartime position vis-à-vis the great powers ("...Poland attached to R. would end by getting absorbed either by massacre or conciliation or by mere economical pressure or from sheer hopeless aspect of its future. And I submit that with all possible loyalty to our present engagements it is no part or our duty to work gratuitously for the aggrandisement of Ra which is big enough in all conscience. And, after all, if England owes something to Ra, Ra owes even more to Eng & France. Without the Western powers there would have been seen the biggest crumpling up in the history of the world; and the Germans would be watering their horses in the Volga today..."); his own contacts there ("...You musn't [sic] forget that I left the border provinces in '69 and Poland altogether in 1873. My last relation on my Father's side died in 76 in Siberia; and since my maternal uncle's death now 25 years ago I haven't exchanged 10 letters with Poland, till quite lately. As far as personalities and inner movements are concerned Je ne suis pas au courant..."); wartime work with the RNR ("...I had a long flight from the Yarmouth station where all the airmen have been most kind to me. Now I have the prospect of being allowed to proceed to sea for a fortnight or so in a special service ship. I feel 20 years younger for all this..."); the role of naval power ("...This war (like every other) has to be won on land. The Navy has been playing - is playing - its part as well as ever it has played it before. If the public mind wants a great fleet victory I can't for the life of me see what material effect such a victory could have...it would not demoralise Germany to any appreciable extent. For they know and admit their inferiority on that point...I detest myself for my abominably correct anticipation of events of Rumanian campaign. As it was based on my unfavourable view of Russia I would have been abused if I had voiced it..."); his utter despair at the state of the world in September 1917 ("...Je me demande what on earth one can write to a friend in these times? A speechless stare would about meet the situation but one can't send that in a letter. And words somehow die on one's lips...I remain flattened out as before. I can't even produce a bitter smile at the Russian Antics...The democratic bawlings of our Statesmen at Mme Germania would be droll enough if history were a comic libretto. But one somehow can't look at it in that way...the days through which we live would make Stupidity itself pause..."); the encroachments of old age ("...My 'age des folies' is over which would be satisfactory if it was not for a long (too long) fit of depression which I cannot shake off..."); and the obligations that prevent him visiting Sandeman in Spain ("...I am one of those that can work only in their workshop. And this novel must be finished by April..."); the last letter written three days after Proust's death ("...I've lately read nothing but M. Proust. But I share your opinion of the historians who have treated of the second Empire. What an astonishing atmosphere that time had!..."), nearly 70 pages, 4to and 8vo, minor creasing etc., but overall in fine condition, Capel House, Spring Grove, and Oswalds, 28 August 1916 to 21 November 1922

Footnotes

  • A SIGNIFICANT ADDITION TO THE CORPUS OF CONRAD'S LETTERS, AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SERIES TO HAVE BEEN OFFERED FOR SALE. Conrad himself acknowledged the special quality held by this series when he wrote to Sandeman on 3 April 1917: "(you may have noticed it) I do turn to you to ease my mind on various matters in which I feel I'll be understood by you better than by anyone. Vous êtes mon correspondant très special". Conrad's modern editors provide the following profile of this 'correspondant très special': "Rather than follow the family tradition of making port and sherry, Christopher or 'Kit' Sandeman (1882-1951) became a journalist, lecturer, and author. Opera, politics, poetry, history, and botany all fascinated him. Between the wars he led several expeditions to Peru and Brazil, rafting on the headwaters of the Amazon and the Huallaga, and collecting orchids for British herbaria. From 1914 to 1918, he served in the Intelligence Corps" ('Conrad's correspondents', the Cambridge University Press edition of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol.5 and 6, 1996 and 2002, edited by Laurence Davies, Frederick R. Karl and Owen Knowles). Nine of these letters were published soon after Conrad's death by G. Jean-Aubry Joseph Conrad: Life & Letters (1927); otherwise they have remained unavailable to scholars, the C.U.P. editors having to rely on the Jean-Aubry texts.
    Of the letters that were published by Jean-Aubry, large chunks have been suppressed, especially passages which might have offended American sensibilities. An especially striking example is Conrad's important letter of 17 October 1918, where - according to the Jean-Aubry version - a discussion of British attitudes to Spanish neutrality leads directly into the well-known passage which, as the C.U.P. editors point out, is "strikingly reminiscent of Marlow's opinion of Kurtz" and which they (rightly) guess "probably concern[s] the 'non-European mind of Woodrow Wilson'". This passage reads: "Somehow an air of mystery hangs upon the clearest utterances, like a cloud over an open landscape. The force behind these plain words is immense. Immense in every sense. The fact is that the mind uttering these momentous declarations is a non-European mind; and we old Europeans, with a long and bitter experience behind us of realities and illusions, can't help wondering as to the exact value of words expressing these great intentions. I will say no more of this. Time will show. And it is very possible that if this letter were to turn up in fifty years' time, it would appear very foolish to its discoverer". What Jean-Aubry has suppressed is the equally remarkable analysis which precedes this passage (an analysis that - nearly 100 years later - might seem chillingly prescient): "We certainly don't hate Americans; and, after all, America coming in on our side is a great piece of luck. Yet the sentiment is in most minds alloyed with certain misgivings as to the ultimate result from a material, political and moral point of view. And there is at the back of most thinking heads the conviction that this help will have to be paid for. Everything has to be paid for, even luck itself. But what will be the price? Future alone will show. And even if nothing material justifies that vague apprehension yet, in the last instance, one kind of moral domination is as bad as another, simply because one doesn't wish to have foreign ideals forced on one either of set purpose or by the force of circumstances. Never before perhaps in the diplomatic history of the world has utter frankness, obvious straightness, worn such an aspect of impenetrable and calculating craft. Somehow an air of mystery hangs upon the clearest utterances...". Also suppressed is an entire letter of ebullient rant against an American pronouncement of "amazing stupidity" [?Wilson's of 18 December 1916] ("...So amazing as to be incredible. Or is it only American humour, the celebrated American humour with the nasal twang? It must be that - for it would be impious to assume that the finest (intellectually) product of 'God's Own Country' is - an enormous Ass. And as in the braying of the animal just named, there is a blatant note of inhumanity in that phrase which will go on reverberating in the ears of mankind down the vistas of ages. We may leave it safely to their impartial judgement...") and an equally amusing passage mocking not so much the American President, as the European response to his brayings ("...The latest pronouncement of Wilson the First - Sa Majesté Très Transatlantique - 'queers the pitch' of the Western Powers in the usual way - till of course it is translated, explained and turned over in the usual way. And since they must be thus translated I wish the man would utter them in Chinese in the first instance. It would be less disturbing to our simple European minds...").
    But unpublished material is by no means restricted to contentious references to the United States. Among other material suppressed is an important letter of 24 April 1917 discussing the prospects of peace and "The Great Russian Revolution" ("...For me peace is not yet in sight. As to the peace of Europe! I have no ideas as to that - only doubts and perplexities which if I were to attempt to set on paper I would go crazy myself and perhaps endanger your own reason in the reading. So I had better say nothing (there is also the shortage of paper) except, for the remark that this is a question of psychologies rather than of politics. One thing is certain to my mind: the army does not want peace. Not by a long way yet. The Great Russian Revolution has suppressed the Romanovs...but it still complains of the activities of the Black Bands in the south. C'est comique! Can't they find a few roubles in Petrograd to pay those people off? I don't think the fashion in Revolutions will set in just yet notwithstanding the enthusiasm of our press for that remedy. And I am not sorry, for indeed no peace will be worth much that is not brought about by overwhelming military success..."). In other unpublished passages, Conrad gives Sandeman his unfettered opinion of Ibsen ("...I had Ibsen's Ghosts read to me very well by a young apprentice-actress...I am confirmed in the idea I had for some time that Ibsen is 'un vieux singe'. He plays with the subject exactly like I've seen a monkey play with a nut. Still I was well entertained, yet not without a certain contempt for the dowdy 'get-up' of that play, its amazing provincialism and its funny air of respectability. It might have been written by Pastor Manders himself. I suspect that Ibsen must have written most of his plays with his tongue in his cheek all the time - or, say half the time, to be perfectly fair..."); confesses to his "abysmal ignorance of Teutonic mythology", of the German language and Wagner ("...the only Wagnerian production I've ever seen is his Tristan - 24 years ago in Brussels...And I don't know German..."); owns that he cannot give up following the news ("...Not looking at the papers is the very best resolution you could have taken. I haven't the strength of mind to enter upon it, much less to keep to it if I did..."); discusses at considerable length his anxieties at the end of the War concerning Joseph Retlinger [the charismatic Polish patriot, future founder of the Bilderberg Group and 'Eminence Grise of Europe', who features large in the earlier letters] ("...Some three weeks ago I had a despairing letter from him asking me to procure for him from the British Government the permission to return to England...I set to work Hugh Walpole and also enlisted the assistance of Arnold Bennett, who are both working at the Ministry of Propaganda...What is extraordinary is that he has not acknowledged the receipt nor given any other sign of life since. His silence adds considerably to my anxiety, even if it doesn't mean more than utter demoralisation. But it may mean severe illness amongst strangers - or something more final still..."); owns to his readiness to fall in love with Mona Limerick, the actress playing Lena in Victory ("...I am ready (and even anxious) to fall in love with M.L. - as Lena - as Lena. Indeed nothing would relieve my mind more than the discovery of an intelligent, fascinating individual Lena..."); sends Sandeman a copy of The Shadow Line ("...I am sending you a copy of my latest book - a reminiscent production, of which (even in my 60th year) I cannot find it in my heart to be ashamed..."); and bemoans his ill health and inability to write ("...A copy of Rescue crossed you on the way...I have been ill more or less since Christmas - and when not laid up too depressed to write. There was nothing to send to friends but groans - and I hadn't the courage. I've done no work. I don't ask for forgiveness but - I count on it...I've had a gouty wrist for weeks and weeks. I feel awful - but as to my appearance it isn't anything so ghastly as this handwriting..."). Furthermore, the texts that Jean-Aubry does print contain several misreadings (not always minor) and often iron out Conrad's stylistic idiosyncrasies. As a further act of mystification, he has protected the identity of several Polish patriots referred to in the letters with an 'X', a disguise that has successfully baffled Conrad's modern editors.

    For presentation copies of books from Conrad to Sandeman, please see lots 406-408.
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