Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad

Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad (1895)

I wanted to read Almayer's Folly primarily because it is Joseph Conrad's (1857 to 1924) first novel.   Conrad is pretty much universally regarded as one of the greatest of all English language novelists and is considered a superb master prose stylist.  (I have previously posted on his short story "Amy", his short novel The Secret Agent and The Heart of Darkness.  There is some background information on Conrad in those posts.).   In the very long ago I read his Lord Jim and Nostromo, considered his best novel.   I hope I will reread both of these works in the not terribly distant future.

Almayer is a European business man living in what is now Malaysia, .   He is married to a Malaysian woman with whom he has a daughter, Nina.   His failed ambition was to find a gold mine.  One day he hears the British are coming  to take over the area so he built a big house to welcome them on the spot near where he thinks they will land.   They never show up and the decaying over time house becomes to be called "Almayer's Folly".   At first he still tries to find the gold mine but he gives up and stays home and his wife comes to hate him for his stupor.  A Malayan Prince falls in love with his daughter and now the plot gets pretty complicated.      Almayer ends his folly in a fire and spends his last time on earth on opium.

I really liked the descriptions of nature in Almayer's Folly.  I have been in tropical jungles and for sure Conrad's descriptions are perfect.   It is the wonder of his prose that makes this a very much worth reading work.   The characters of his wife and his daughter will generate some misgivings as some may see them as being depicted in a way that suggests because they are Asians (orientals) they are possessed of a sinister cunning of some sort.   I think one has to see the narrator of the stories, as somehow a character in them to rise above the common place readings of Conrad, centering on The Heart of Darkness, that see him as a racist.   I think, this may offend some people, that one reason this is the common view of Conrad is that it is an easy way for teachers to approach his work and is something that can be easily grasped, which cannot be said for the deeper readings of Conrad.   It is also a way to dismiss a difficult writer and at the same time pander to the elements of society and the literary world that look at literature not as art but as something to be evaluated for political correctness.

I also want to take this opportunity to be sure that my readers are aware of a wonderful electronic edition of the Complete Works of Joseph Conrad recently released by Delphi Classics.   It contains all if the novels and novellas, in chronological order, all of his short stories and the hard to find essays of Conrad.   For those who like the idea of reading everything by an author, the Delphi editions are perfect.   I think researchers and students would find the ability to search all of an author's works for key terms would also be very useful.  The volume contains some very well done information on Conrad and some interesting photographs.

You can learn more about Delphi Classics Edition on their webpage.   For $2.99 you can have a complete edition of the works of Joseph Conrad.

Mel u


valerie sirr said...

Interesting post. Chinua Achebe said that Conrad approved of Marlowe's racist views in 'Heart of Darkness', and could have used narrative techniques to distance himself more clearly if he wanted to.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Very interesting. The story, at least, has a lot in common with the second half of Lord Jim, which I just read. I should obviously take a look at this book sometime.

Mel u said...

Valeriie Sirr. I agree with Edward Said's response to Achebe's attempt to claim Conrad was a racist. I did a comparative post on their two views.

Amateur Reader. I hope to read Lord jim this year. Guess you are back from France!

nicole said...

Mel, I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this one; I loved it myself and it's not exactly at the top of most people's Conrad reading lists. I'm also glad to hear you found his descriptions of nature accurate. They were almost mesmerizing, but I don't have any personal experience to go by.

I also agree with what you say about race and Conrad interpretation. I think it simplifies much of what he was doing in his work. Even here, in a relatively less masterful novel, the racial and cultural milieu is rather complex, and there is certainly much more behind the psychology and events of the novel than that.