Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive
Extract (The Nigger of the "Narcissus": A Tale of the Forecastle)

At Sea With Conrad

in The Florence Morning News Review (Florence, SC, USA)

Extract from The Nigger of "The Narcissus". Passage reads:


Some idea of the descriptive powers with which Joseph Conrad (he died the other) endowed his tales of the sea, making him One of the three, or four greatest literary figures of our time, can be grasped from this quotation from 'The Nigger of the Narcissus' (chap. Two), one of his earlier works:

'The Narcissus left alone, heading south, seemed to stand resplendent and still upon the restless sea, under the moving sun. Flakes of foam swept past her sides; the water struck her with flashing blows; the land glided away, slowly fading; a few birds screamed on motionless wings over the swaying mastheads.

'But soon the land disappeared, the birds--went away; and to the west the pointed sail of an Arab dhow running for Bombay, rose triangular and upright above the sharp edge of the horizon, lingered and vanished like an illusion.

'Then the ship's wake, long and straight, stretched itself out through a day of immense solitude. The setting sun, burning on the level of the water, flamed crimson below the blackness of heavy rain clouds. The sunset squall, coming up from behind, dissolved itself into the short deluge of a hissing shower. Forward, the lookout man, erect between the flukes of the two anchors, hummed an endless tune, keeping his eyes fixed dutifully ahead in a vacant stare. A multitude of stars coming out into the clear night people the emptiness of the sky. They glittered, as if alive above the sea; they surrounded the running ship on all sides; more intense than the eyes of a staring crowd, and as inscrutable as the souls of men. The passage had begun, and the ship, a fragment detached from the earth, went on lonely and swift like a small planet. Round her the abysses of sky and sea met an unattainable frontier. A great circular solitude moved with her, ever changing and ever the same, always monotonous and always imposing. On her lived timid truth and audacious lies; and, like the earth, she was unconscious, fair to see and condemned by me to an ignoble fate. The august loneliness of her path lent dignity to the sordid inspiration of her pilgrimage. She drove foaming to the southward, as if guided by the courage of a high endeavor. The smiling greatness of the sea dwarfed the extent of time. The days raced after one another, and the nights, eventful and short, resembled fleeting dreams.”