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Today's quote:

Thursday, March 3, 2022

I'm a confirmed Conraddict

Read the book online at www.archive.org


Somerset Maugham once quipped, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." He died in 1965, long before Gavin Young wrote "In Search of Conrad" in 1991 which may have convinced him otherwise.

Whatever those three rules are, Gaving Young must've known them all because he turned "In Search of Conrad" into a unique travel book, part mariner's log and part detective story, both scholarly and enthralling, which gave me, a confirmed Conraddict who's read every one of Conrad's books and several of his biographies to boot, new insights into the real persons behind many of Conrad's fictional characters.

With no more than his notebook, a mosquito net, and a Dutch wife - which isn't a buxom and obliging blonde from Utrecht or Eindhoven, but a large bolster which you hug to your overheated body in order to absorb the sweat - he travelled the length and breadth of the Indonesian archipelago following in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad.

Aboard an Indonesian prau, he sailed along the west coast of Celebes, that fabled octopus-shaped island, calling in at Makassar, perhaps better known to you for the famous macassar oil which Victorian gentlemen plastered on their hair, obliging their wives to protect the backs of their archairs with white cloths called antimacassars, but known to me as Ujung Padang when Padma worked there in 1996. Then west to Borneo, passing Samarinda in the north where Padma's family used to live, and Banjarmassin where she was born, through the Lombok Strait and arriving in Bali after having crossed the Wallace Line (look it up, Des!)

Remember Lord Jim? Well, this famous fictional character is loosely based on an A.P. Williams who in 1880 was first officer of the pilgrim-ship 'Jeddah' at the time of her abandonment. He was blamed by the official inquiry in Aden as 'unfitted for his position as First Mate' and returned to Singapore in disgrace where he died on 17 April 1916.

Kaspar Almayer in 'Almayer's Folly' and 'An Outcast of the Islands' was born Charles Olmeijer in Surabaya in 1848. A Eurasion bookkeeper in Makassar (now Ujung Padang), he was employed by William Lingard to represent him in the Berau office of Lingard & Co. for thirty years. He retired to Surabaya where he died after a cancer operation in 1900.

As for William Lingard - known as Captain Tom Lingard in Conrad's novels - he was a generous, daring, successful privateer and owner-captain of a succession of Singapore-based sailing ships, trading through the Eastern Archipelago. He discovered and commercially exploited the Bearu and Bulungan rivers in east Borneo. His end is mysterious. He probably returned to England and died there, but where and when is not known.

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but all you need is some fifty-thousand well-chosen words to turn it into Conrad's exciting fiction.

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