Then he joined an English steamer—not a war vessel—bound for the Sea of Azov (not the Bosphorus).
Where the “notes on me,” in his phrase, had mentioned “a trip to Pacific waters,” Conrad explained that after becoming a master in the English merchant marine—and a British citizen—he spent much of the eighteen-eighties in the East, organizing steamers out of Singapore, then commanding the bark Otago.
By early 1897, Galsworthy had assembled a book of short stories, and his Polish friend, who had engineered a midlife career change of his own from British seaman to English novelist, under the name Joseph Conrad, was writing to Edward Garnett, who worked as a publisher’s reader—a sort of grand scout—asking him to look out for a manuscript by “my literary!
friend.”Mostly, though, the favors travelled in the other direction.
The Torrens, he wrote, had been a sort of “swan-song.”But Knopf wasn’t just asking for help with facts.
He was granting Conrad a collaborative role in telling his own story—the selection of detail, the fixing of emphasis.
But, where Flaubert adopted an air of superhuman detachment, Conrad insures that Marlow’s position is itself relativized.
Though clearly Conrad’s alter ego and even mouthpiece, Marlow is not the narrator of “Youth” and “Heart of Darkness” but a yarn-spinner described by a member of his audience.
Everything he says comes pinched between inverted commas.
The uncertainties are multiplied in “Lord Jim” (1900), Conrad’s first full-length novel using this method.