Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

One Day More

Richard J. Hand, University of Glamorgan, Wales UK

© Richard J. Hand. No part of this text may be reposted or republished without the permission of the author.


Joseph Conrad is most famous as a novelist and, to a degree, a short story writer and essayist. However, this master of prose did attempt other genres of writing. In The English Review (August 1913) and The Smart Set (February 1914) we find an example of Conrad’s theatrical output: One Day More. This one-act play was, at the time of publication in these British and American journals, a unique instance of Conrad as playwright.
One Day More is based on Conrad’s short story “To-morrow,” which was published in Pall Mall Magazine in 1902 and collected in Typhoon and Other Stories the following year. Written in 1904, the play was performed at the Royalty Theatre in London in June 1905 after having been championed by the leading man of the theatre Herbert Beerbohm Tree and produced for the English Stage Society by George R. Foss. The production was performed five times as part of a double bill with Miss Laurence Alma Tadema’s New Felicity, and featured the notable actress Constance Collier as Bessie, her husband Julian L’Estrange in the role of Harry, and the experienced actor William Farren as Captain Hagberd. After a limited run in London, the play went on to enjoy a few provincial revivals in the following years, including a noteworthy production by John Drinkwater at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in September 1918. Outside of Britain, One Day More was translated into French by P. H. Raymond-Duval and performed in Paris in April 1909, and it was also staged by the Sunday Theatre Society in Chicago in 1913–1914.
Although One Day More is a short play which had only a modest run, its genesis and performance met with great interest from members of the contemporary theatrical scene. Harley Granville-Barker and George Bernard Shaw were extremely enthusiastic when they heard that Conrad was writing a play, and GBS himself gave extremely prudent advice and even intervened editorially in order to improve the play’s theatricality. Attending the performance at the Royalty Theatre were leading theatre reviewers William Archer and Max Beerbohm, who wrote perceptive and encouraging reviews. For his own part, Conrad was less than sanguine, describing the enterprise in a letter to H. G. Wells as a “Complete failure” (Conrad 1988, 288), and in his essay “The Censor of Plays” (1907) he claimed that the play had received an “open execution” by a less than impressed audience (Conrad 1921, 77)—a verdict which left him “not pleased” but nonetheless “content” insofar as the decision had been democratic.
Conrad’s first experiment in drama is best understood within the cultural context of what was known as the English Literary Theatre (Baxter and Hand, 2009; Hand, 2005). Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the English stage was seen by some as being in a poor condition compared to the rest of English cultural scene. The theatre was dominated by melodrama and other populist forms of live entertainment, and the “literary” theatre tended to take the guise of productions of Shakespeare. As for living writers and contemporary plays, the most stimulating works of theatre were widely seen as coming from elsewhere in Europe. The putatively pitiable state of contemporary British theatre came to obsess figures such as William Archer and Henry Arthur Jones, who were desperate to see English playwrights capable of producing works of literary and theatrical merit to match the achievements of European playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Maurice Maeterlinck. At times the advocates of an English Literary Theatre turned to novelists to write for the stage. In Conrad’s case, his good friend Sidney Colvin, a major figure in the British arts scene, offered him the most active encouragement.
One Day More is centred on the character of Bessie, the put-upon daughter of the blind Josiah Carvil. Bessie tolerates their eccentric neighbour Captain Hagberd, who endlessly anticipates “to-morrow” as the day when his son Harry will return. The flawed old men Carvil and Hagberd are reminiscent of Samuel Beckett characters in their tragi-comic absurdity, while the play as a whole has some parallels with Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1946), in which pathetic barflies struggle on with a fantastic sense of “tomorrow”. To an extent, Bessie herself has participated in Hagberd’s fantasy: her unsatisfactory existence is tempered by Hagberd’s promise that Harry will fall in love with Bessie when he comes back. In the second half of the play, Harry does return. However, Captain Hagberd refuses to recognise his son, regarding the visitor as a swindling “information fellow” (English Review, 23) . Bessie is overwhelmed by surprise at the return of the prodigal son, but Harry, a maverick who has drifted around the world, reveals the misery of his childhood and the brutality of his detested father. After teasing Bessie and taunting his father, Harry eventually makes it clear that he will not stay. He leaves forever but not before unexpectedly kissing Bessie with great passion. Devastated, Bessie longs to follow him but her hellish fate is sealed when she informs Hagberd that there is “no to-morrow” (English Review, 35) before going inside to attend to her decrepit and tyrannical father.
Despite its brevity, One Day More is noteworthy in that it offers a great opportunity for a leading lady. The play follows Conrad’s original short story closely but makes Bessie very much the pivot and focus of dramatic action. Indeed, Bessie is also the psychological centre of the play, a figure of humanity and pathos surrounded by men who are exploitative, untrustworthy, or demented. Conrad’s play is by no means a “New Woman Play”, that is to say an example of the radical and political genre of drama with women at their centre, pioneered by Ibsen in the late nineteenth century and followed up with numerous works by feminist dramatists. Nonetheless, One Day More starkly reveals Bessie as a victim of her social context and gender, a filial slave with no opportunities for escape or fulfilment. Although at one point she wants to elope with Harry, she knows (as does the audience) that he is a rogue and that her freedom would have been doomed—unless she had succeeded in escaping Harry as she had Carvil and Hagberd.
One Day More was deliberately written for performance but its publication a decade later also bears testament to the impact of English Literary Theatre inasmuch as it is an example of literature in script form. Appearing in this form, One Day More is indubitably an example of theatre-as-literature produced by an English man of letters. However, it must be stressed that the champions of the English Literary Theatre yearned to see such plays on the stage rather than merely in print. Although some literary magazines at this time gave coverage to the theatrical scene, it was unusual for playscripts to be published in literary journals. However, in this case the culturally-informed readers of these magazines were being given the chance to read an entire script and, to boot, a never previously published Conrad work, written around a decade before and seen only by a small number of spectators during its sporadic production history.
The English Review—not least in the issue that contains One Day More—was determined to give its readers significant new poetry and fiction, an overview of the literary scene (including, significantly, a section on the current theatrical season), and essays on contemporary social issues. Conrad’s one-act play is clearly embedded in a literary context and intended for consumption by readers not spectators, readers, moreover, who had subscribed to read poems by Victoria Sackville-West, fiction by Anatole France and new translations of Ivan Turgenev. Although Conrad, especially towards the end of his life, strove to master the art of stagecraft, his relationship with the theatre was never easy. In this regard, seeing One Day More in the pages of The English Review must have been a relatively comfortable experience for him. The Smart Set, which described itself as “A Magazine of Cleverness,” was similarly a magazine for the educated reader, and featured short fiction, novelettes, poems, and essays. Appearing in an issue that featured D. H. Lawrence and H. L. Mencken, Conrad’s play received top billing on the front cover.
The style in which the script of One Day More is presented on the page of these magazines is highly revealing. In a practice that is utterly maddening for most actors and directors, Conrad fills the script with adjectives and adverbs, insisting how virtually every line needs to be delivered as well as imposing a degree of precision regarding stage set and even lighting. To take an example from the end of the play:

BESSIE: (distracted) Be quiet. Shut yourself in. You will make me mad. (Losing control of herself, repeats with rising inflexion) You make me mad. (With despair) There is no tomorrow! (Sinks to ground near middle railings. Low sobs.) (The stage darkens perceptibly.)

As we can see, Conrad here attempts to capture the state of mind of the character (distracted and, later, despair), her tone of voice (rising inflexion), and her physical actions (sinks to ground), as well as to give an overall stage picture (the stage darkens). In fact, he gives us twenty-three words of description for a speech that is eighteen words long.
While this tendency characterizes all Conrad’s scripts, it varied according to the stage of production. For instance, in his The Secret Agent stage adaptation (written 1919, staged 1922), the parenthetical guidance tends to come and go through the different versions of the script. In the case of One Day More,it is worth noting that the earliest versions of the script, such as the manuscript transcription in Ford Madox Ford’s hand, tend to have more raw dialogue. The implication is that Conrad’s adjectival fine-tuning of the dialogue occurred during the later stages as he revised and reworked the script. By the time of his serialization in The English Review and The Smart Set, this practice served to create, for the educated readers of such journals, an “ideal” performance with no ambiguity as to how the voices of the characters must be “heard”. While ambiguity is the essence of practical stage production, the sheer number of stage directions, above all in regard to vocal delivery, makes Conrad’s script more like a kind of dialogic short story. On this view, One Day More comes to resemble a generic hybrid: a theatre script but also a work of prose fiction driven by dialogue, whose numerous parenthetical inflections by the author seek to create the very sound of the characters’ voices.
The serializations of One Day More in Britain and the United States came at a timely moment for Conrad, whose interest in drama was renewed shortly after. In 1919, Basil Macdonald Hastings—who, incidentally, considered One Day More “hopeless” (Hastings 1990, 223)—produced a large-scale dramatization of Victory, with significant advice from Conrad himself, which enjoyed a successful run at the Globe Theatre in London co-produced by, and starring, the actor-manager Marie Löhr. After this, Conrad embarked on a concerted effort to write scripts, mainly around the pivotal year of 1920: a stage adaptation of The Secret Agent, which enjoyed a West End production in 1922; Laughing Anne, a two-act adaptation of his story “Because of the Dollars” (1914) for the London Grand Guignol (it was rejected and not produced in Conrad’s lifetime); a translation of Bruno Winawer’s play The Book of Job, Conrad’s only published translation from Polish; and an unproduced script Gaspar the Strong Man, based on “Gaspar Ruiz” (1906). Although Conrad’s dramatic works are modest in number and limited in success, they nevertheless provide a fascinating insight into his cultural context as well as his own creative processes of adaptation and dramatic creativity.


Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. 1921. Notes on Life and Letters. London: Dent.

-----. 1988. Collected Letters, Volume 3: 1903–1907. Ed. Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baxter, Katherine and Richard J. Hand (eds.). 2009. Joseph Conrad and the Performing Arts. London: Ashgate.

Hand, Richard J. 2005. The Theatre of Joseph Conrad: Reconstructed Fictions.London: Palgrave

Hastings, Basil Macdonald. 1990. “The Joseph Conrad I Knew.” In Joseph Conrad: Interviews and Recollections, ed. Martin Ray, 222–24. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.


Richard J. Hand is Professor of Theatre and Media Drama at the Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries (University of Glamorgan) in Wales. He is the founding co-editor of the Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance, an international peer-reviewed journal which features “traditional” academic articles as well as explorations of creative practice and pedagogy. In addition to adaptation and translation studies, his interests include interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity in performance media, using critical and practical research methodologies. His major Conrad-related publications include The Theatre of Joseph Conrad: Reconstructed Fictions (Palgrave, 2005) and Victory: The Play and Reviews (Rodopi, 2009). With Katherine Baxter, he co-edited Joseph Conrad and the Performing Arts (Ashgate, 2009). As a practitioner he has directed stage plays in the UK and US including, in 2000, the world premiere of Conrad’s Laughing Anne.


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