Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Written in 1979

"Conrad's education had certainly stopped far short of any training in philosophical thought, and he was decidedly hostile to theories and systems; but the main quality of his mind was not simplicity but its opposite, scepticism. Conrad's casual literary comments, and his letters to friends about their current manuscripts...reveal an impressive ease in going to the essence of critical problems. A more dauntless pursuer of subversive paradox might be tempted to say that Conrad was a good literary critic who was bad at writing literary criticism; the reverse phenomenon, of course, is much commoner." --
Ian Watt, in his richly rewarding study,
Conrad in the Nineteenth Century, one of the first books I bought with my employee discount at the Doubleday Bookshop at 49th and Third in NYC, back in 1979. Ian Watt happened to visit the store one day and I asked him to sign the only copy we had in stock (it was a title that we'd ordered because of a terrific review in the Times). We chatted about Conrad a little. Watt, a great scholar and critical intelligence, was very gracious in letting me spew forth some nonsense. He died in 1999, his projected second volume on Conrad was never completed.

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