Monday, March 5, 2018

Something Old

 Not everything worth reading is hot off the press. In this section, we recommend "something old" that is still well worth reading. "Something Old" can mean anything from a venerable and antique classic to a good book first published four or more years ago.

“NOSTROMO – A Tale of the Seaboard” by Joseph Conrad (first published 1904)

If you make it your business to read the works of canonical novelists, you will soon discover one very interesting phenomenon. Often the novel of a particular author, which is esteemed most by the critics or the dedicated fans of that particular novelist, will not be the novel that is most loved by the mass of general readers. General readers of Charles Dickens will read David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist or A Tale of Two Cities in preference to Bleak House or even Great Expectations, which intellectual Dickensians see as Dickens’ greatest. Online recently I saw a group of Henry James aficionados (of whom I am generally not a member) singing the praises of the later-period James novel The Ambassadors. Most of us non-dedicated James readers would prefer to read Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Turn of the Screw, The Europeans, The Bostonians or The Aspern Papers. And so too it is with the polyglot Pole, Josef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski (1857-1924), who wrote as Joseph Conrad. As I’ve said a number of times before on this blog (look up posts on Victory, The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes and Heart of Darkness), I went through a student phase of being a very committed Conradian. But, as with most general readers of Conrad, it was Lord Jim, The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness that most attracted me. I’d heard that the best academic critics of Conrad regarded Nostromo as Conrad’s masterpiece; however, I’d also heard that Nostromo was a notoriously difficult novel, as well as being Conrad’s longest. And biographies of Conrad had told me that when Nostromo was first published it was, to the author’s grief, a commercial flop, hardly selling out the first edition and damned with faint praise by reviewers.

So I put off reading it for many years.

When finally I got to read Nostromo, I discovered two things.

First, it really is a masterpiece.

Second, there are good reasons why the general reader tends to shun it.

This is a case where an attempted “plot summary” would be particularly fatuous. In an “Author’s Note” which he added to Nostromo in 1917 (thirteen years after the novel was first published) Joseph Conrad explained the events that were the germ of the novel’s inspiration. In a South American republic, a sailor had been able to take possession of a lighter (a small vessel used for transporting goods) filled with silver ingots, which he secreted and then furtively used over the years as a purse gradually to make himself rich. But if this was the reported action that inspired Conrad and set him writing, it is in no way the heart of the novel. The events concerning a lighter, silver ingots and hidden wealth are confined to the second half of the novel. More central to Nostromo is its panoramic depiction of a whole society. In Nostromo - over which he laboured for two years - Conrad creates the fictitious South American republic of Costaguana, conveying in detail its topography and climate and society and social classes and political tensions. This expansive feat of imagination is what is most praised by sympathetic critics – especially as Conrad had had only a brief, youthful glance at South America (at most, four days ashore in Venezuela many years before he wrote this novel) and understood the continent mainly through extensive reading.

As I experience it, the first quarter of the novel (“The Silver of the Mine”) is like a long, slow establishing shot, introducing us to the land and landscape of Costaguana with much of Conrad’s signature detailed description, especially of the port of Sulaco where most of the action takes place, its hinterland mountains and its gulf of islands, the Golfo Placido. But more importantly, this first part introduces us to the large cast of characters, far larger than the dramatis personae of any other Conrad novel. Though none is caricatured, they can be categorised according to social type.

Representing older-style industrialists, there is the wealthy Costaguanian-born English mine-owner Charles Gould and his wife Emily, usually known as Dona Emilia by the Spanish-speaking characters. Mrs Gould is highly idealised – critics have noted correctly Conrad’s tendency to idealise his sympathetic women characters. Charles Gould has the Concession that allows him to run the San Tome silver mine, which plays such a large part in the narrative. It also means he has many dealings with the English railway magnate, Sir John. Representing the newer breed of exploitative American capitalists there is the millionaire Holroyd. The exiled Italian republican and anti-clerical Giorgio Viola, a “Garibaldino”, lives as a humble store-keeper with his pious church-going wife Teresa and his two daughters Linda and Giselle. At the other end of the political and social spectrum is the old aristocratic Spanish gentleman Don Jose Avellanos, who pines for a more settled political regime and has a much-admired daughter Antonia (she is another idealised woman who, according to one biography, was based on a youthful love of Conrad’s). Some characters are not politically or socially minded, but they represent strongly-embedded values, such as the English Captain Joseph Mitchell, with his attachment to order, regularity and decency as he runs the wharves, the handling of cargoes and the operations of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. More saturnine than this man of order is the English Doctor Monygham, widely regarded as a schemer and misanthrope, though at a certain point in the novel (specifically Part 3, Chap. 4) we hear of traumatic events in his past that have made him that way. In his conversations with Mrs Gould, Monygham opposes Charles Gould’s naïve view that material progress alone will bring about improvement in the human condition.  The most problematic character is Martin Decoud, a Costaguanian intellectual who has had a French education, regards himself as a progressive, runs a political newspaper and is filled with ideas for the improvement of the state. But as events in the novel are to prove, there is a hollow, nihilistic core to this man which is eventually very destructive.

Not all of these characters are introduced in the novel’s first part, for Conrad’s leisurely exposition continues in the novel’s second part (“The Isabels” – referring to islands in the gulf) where we also hear of the bandit Hernandez, the clerical interests of the Catholic Church represented by the pliable Father Ramon and the more dedicated and intelligent senior cleric Father Corbelan, local government officials and military figures. It is in this second part that an ongoing revolutionary conflict in Costaguana is outlined. The “Blancos” (i.e. the older, more Hispanic, less “native” possessors) are at odds with the “Monterists”. A president called Ribiera, who himself overthrew a long-serving dictator, is in the process of being overthrown by General Montero, who has taken over Costaguana’s inland capital and is now sending his forces to take Sulaco. Which side other military figures will take (Generals Sotillo and Barrios) hangs in the balance for some time, and there are some betrayals and some horse-trading. To the European and American interests in Sulaco, the big question is who will control the San Tome silver mine, which is the principal source of wealth for the western province in which it lies.

As this complex psychological and political scene is laid out, it is Joseph Conrad’s acute analyses of characters that most hold the attention. Conrad was critical and sceptical without being a cynic. However negative he may appear to be about some of his own characters, he is never dismissive of them. Of the director of the mine Charles Gould, he notes “Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions. Only in the conduct of our action can we find the sense of mastery over the Fates.” (Part 1, Chap. 6) He is, in effect, showing Gould to be a man who can find himself only in the “illusion” (one of Conrad’s favourite words) that he is in charge of affairs, when in reality he is dominated by circumstances beyond his control (including the remembered influence of his father). The American investor and millionaire Holroyd is described as having “the temperament of a Puritan and an insatiable imagination of conquest.” (Part 1, Chap. 6), a succinct description of the evangelical zeal with which markets are pursued and developed in an expansive capitalist economy.

Captain Mitchell is very much a minor character, yet he is analysed with the same care as the more essential characters. Late in the novel, the stuffy Mitchell’s character is dramatised when he is threatened by revolutionary soldiers, but faces up to them impeturbably and insists that they return to him his presentation pocket watch, which they have filched. Conrad remarks: “The old sailor, with all his small weaknesses and absurdities, was constitutionally incapable of entertaining for any length of time a fear of his personal safety. It was not so much firmness of soul as the lack of a certain kind of imagination… that sort of imagination which adds the blind terror of bodily suffering and of death… to all the other apprehensions on which the sense of one’s existence is based.” (Part 3, Chap. 2) The secret of Mitchell’s steadfastness is his lack of imagination. This is like a negative image of Conrad’s Lord Jim who, when a storm struck his ship, had too much imagination, deserted his post and became a coward. Not having an imagination may be the key to physical courage.

Upon Martin Decoud, Conrad makes many judgements. We are warned well before the novel’s mid-point that Decoud had “a Frenchified – but most un-French – cosmopolitanism, in reality a mere barren indifferentism posing as intellectual superiority.” (Part 2, Chap. 3) There is something of the dandy and the dilettante to this man who believes himself to be a progressive liberal. Most tellingly, Decoud has no real sense of solidarity with his fellow human beings (that “fidelity” about which Conrad often wrote). Late in the novel, Decoud suffers a complete moral collapse [I will not give the plot details] when he is left, in solitude, to his own mental resources and without other people to impress and influence: “He had recognised no other virtue than intelligence, and had erected passions into duties. Both his intelligence and his passion were swallowed up easily in the great unbroken solitude of waiting without faith…. His sadness was the sadness of a sceptical mind. He beheld the universe as a succession of incomprehensible images… all exertion seemed senseless.” (Part 3, Chap. 10) I should add, however, that many commentators (notably C. B. Cox) have noted how much Conrad identifies with Decoud’s scepticism, which may represent an element of Conrad’s own psyche that he himself rigorously suppressed.

I could quote similarly penetrating comments on many other characters in this novel but I have so far, deliberately, delayed mentioning the novel’s eponymous character. The fact is, Conrad himself delays presenting Nostromo as a rounded character. For the first half of the novel Nostromo is presented in long shot only, as it were, almost as a character of legend. We know early on that he is Genoese, that he is a trusted “Capataz de Cargadores” (foreman of the dock-workers who unload cargoes), and that wealthy employers such as Charles Gould and middlemen such as Captain Mitchell rely on him to keep the workers un-rebellious. He is respected by workingmen and admired by women. We also learn that Gian’ Battista is his given name, while Nostromo is only a nickname: The camp-master was the Italian sailor whom all the Europeans in Sulaco, following Captain Mitchell’s mispronunciation, were in the habit of calling Nostromo.” (Part 1, Chap. 5) Only very late in the novel do we learn that his real name is Fidanza – though Conradians are quick to remind us that the name “Nostromo” serves a thematic purpose as it is very similar to the Italian nostro uomo (“our man” – what Captain Mitchell was probably trying to say), making Nostromo, in his potential and his flaws, a representative of us all, like the way the narrator of Lord Jim refers to Jim as “one of us”.  Even so, for the first half of the novel, Nostromo is presented solely as a public figure, spectacular and picturesque, as in the following passage:

The bright colours of a Mexican serape twisted on the cantle, the enormous silver buttons down the seam of the trousers, the snowy linen, a silk sash with embroidered ends, the silver plates on headstall and saddle, proclaimed the unapproachable style of the famous Capataz de Cargadores – a Mediterranean sailor – got up with more finished splendour than any well-to-do young ranchero had ever displayed on a high holiday.” (Part 1, Chap. 8)

Only towards the end of Part 2, and then in the long third (and final) part of the novel (“The Lighthouse”) do we begin to see Nostromo in close-up, have his moral character analysed, and accept him as a rounded human being. In the long Chapter 7 of Part 2, Nostromo and Decoud are together at sea on the small lighter that is carrying silver ingots away from potential capture by revolutionary rebels. In this chapter the tone of the novel changes considerably. It is as if, stripped of other human company, the real selves of both Nostromo and Decoud are revealed. Decoud remains the opportunist with dreams of leadership. In contrast, Nostromo has a strong sense of his duty to others. We already know this from earlier in the novel when we hear of his service to his employers and his care for the workmen he commands. But, though he himself is an unbeliever and an anti-clerical, we now hear of his pangs of conscience about his failure to summon a priest for a dying woman (Teresa Viola, the “Garibaldino” Giorgio Viola’s wife). Unlike Decoud, he understands that he has to keep promises, live in solidarity with others and observe “fidelity”.

Conrad makes his analysis of Nostromo particularly layered, because Nostromo is characterised mainly through the words and observations of the very flawed Decoud. The dilettante’s view is that Nostromo is driven by vanity and the desire for public approval: “Decoud, incorrigible in his scepticism, reflected, not cynically, but with general satisfaction, that this man was made incorruptible by his enormous vanity, that finest form of egoism which can take on the aspect of every virtue.” (Part 2, Chap. 7) Decoud has no concept of what Nostromo, who is in no way an intellectual, would probably call “honour”.

The morality of this novel is indeed complex, and not as simplistic as the dichotomy of opportunism and “honour” that I have suggested here. Nostromo is a sympathetic character and does emerge as the human embodiment of a fraught historical and political situation. BUT (remember we are reading Conrad here) where this character goes – in the closing sections of the novel which I will not relate here, as you might want to discover them for yourself – is not exactly where you expect him to go. Conrad’s scepticism leads him to question even a man of probity and “honour”, and to tell us that even such a man can be radically flawed. He is indeed representative of us – nostro uomo, “one of us”. It could be that his “honour”, his desire to be admired by others and have a sound public reputation, is indeed a form of vanity.

As one nears the novel’s end, one also questions how much Nostromo has been “used” by other less scrupulous people. In keeping the stevedores and longshoremen in order, has he merely been underpinning an unjust economic order? Is personal “honour” something that can be exploited? Indeed, has Conrad deliberately led us to thorough disillusion in this man, who could be seen as anti-hero rather than hero?

And there is another major consideration. Despite the novel’s title, is Nostromo really the novel’s protagonist? All indications are that Joseph Conrad himself saw “the silver of the mine” as the unifying force in the novel rather than any human character. In one major sense, the novel pivots on how its leading characters – the industrialist Gould, the intellectual Decoud, and the man-of-the-people Nostromo – react to, or are corrupted and deformed by, the silver. Silver is the novel’s “material fact” and Conrad makes sure silver is somehow mentioned as often as possible. Nearly every description of Nostromo himself includes the word “silver”.

One other way of considering this novel is as purely political commentary. As in (the later) The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes and (the earlier) Heart of Darkness, Conrad is in large part concerned with issues of politics, the use of violence, colonialism and economic exploitation. There are passages in the novel that could almost be said to be prophetic, in that they anticipate major destructive trends in 20th century history. To European and North American non-indigenous interests, Costaguana is an under-developed country just waiting to be modernised, and its conflicts are merely the incoherent eruptions of a failed state. The peasants on the hinterland Campo live with “oppression, inefficiency, fatuous methods, treachery, and savage brutality”(Part 1, Chap. 8). When that very unreliable narrator Martin Decoud discusses the situation of the “Blancos” and the “Monterists” with Mrs Gould, he says of his country “We convulsed a continent for our independence only to become the passive prey of a democratic parody, the helpless victims of scoundrels and cut-throats, our institutions a mockery, our laws a farce.” (Part 2, Chap. 4) The independent states of South America are the shattered remains of the old Spanish Empire, which have never settled to true statehood. The old (Spanish) imperialism is now in the process of being replaced by the new (capitalist) imperialism. In a letter, Decoud gives his view of the millionaire American investor Holroyd: “as long as the treasure flowed north, without a break, that utter sentimentalist, Holroyd, would not drop his idea of introducing, not only justice, industry, peace to the benighted continents, but also that pet dream of his of a purer form of Christianity.” (Part 2, Chap. 7) Mrs Gould has already remarked of Holroyd that “his sense of religion… was shocked and disgusted at the tawdriness of the dressed-up saints in the cathedral… But it seemed to me that he looked upon his own God as a sort of influential partner, who gets his share of profits in the endowment of churches. That’s a sort of idolatry. He told me he endowed churches every year…” (Part 1, Chap.6) One immediately thinks of the United States’ interventions – for its own profit – in Central and South America throughout the 20th century, and vigorous American attempts to Protestantize South America, Protestantism (with its individualisation of Christianity) being far more amenable to capitalism and the profit motive than the more collectivist Catholicism.

Festering in the Costaguanian revolution are ideas that would later exert huge influence in the world. Pedrito Montero, one of the “revolutionaries” trying to overthrow the “Blanco” regime, believes “that the highest expression of democracy was Caesarism: the imperial rule based upon the direct popular vote. Caesarism was conservative. It was strong. It recognised the legitimate needs of democracy which requires orders, titles and distinctions. They would be showered on deserving men. Caesarism was peace. It was progressive. It secured the prosperity of the country….. Look at what the Second Empire had done for France…” (Part 3, Chap. 7) As more than one historian has observed, Napoleon III, head of France’s Second Empire, was really the prototype of modern dictatorship – the populist who operated behind a veneer of democracy and made great play of appealing to the “people”, especially through referenda. In many respects, he was the curtain-raiser for Fascism, which is really what Pedrito Montano aspires to. Roll on Juan Peron and a few dozen other South American despots with a populist appeal.

If economic imperialism eats up exploited states, it also corrupts, morally, the exploiters. This, surely, is one of the main points of Heart of Darkness, especially in its depiction of Kurtz. In Nostromo, Mrs Gould eventually realises that economic imperialism has morally destroyed Charles Gould: “she saw clearly … the San Tome mine possessing, consuming, burning up the life of the last of the Costaguana Goulds; mastering the energetic spirit of the son as it had mastered the lamentable weakness of the father.” (Part 3, Chap. 11) To control such an asset is to be controlled by it, as the silver mine is the “material fact” that corrupts a society.

Yanqui imperialism, proto-Fascism and the moral corruption of economic exploitation are all perceived in Nostromo; and so are the very methods by which imperial exploitation works. To “solve” the problem of Costaguana’s revolution, Martin Decoud comes up with the idea of the “separation of the whole Occidental Province from the rest of the unquiet body… The richest, the most fertile part of this land may be saved from anarchy.” (Part 2, Chap. 6) In other words, that part of Costaguana which has the richest resources may – for the convenience of those who wish to exploit it – be separated from the (less resource-rich) rest of the country. This is the political plan that, with American backing, is carried through in Nostromo; reminding one at once of Britain’s later separation of oil-rich Kuwait from the rest of Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Conrad had a more immediate model for this manoeuvre when he wrote Nostromo, however. The year before the novel was published, the United States broke treaties it had made with Colombia and openly backed rebels who set up the breakaway state of Panama, from which the United States extracted the “Canal Zone”, enabling it to control the Panama Canal. It is noteworthy that in 2007 the young Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez wrote a novel, The Secret History of Costaguana, which basically indicts Joseph Conrad for fictionalising these real events, and substituting a silver mine for a canal. Despite this, reference books tell me that Nostromo is now widely read and admired in Latin America for its political acumen, even if Latin American readers are bemused by the way the descriptive details of the novel sometimes jumble together cultural and ethnogaphic details from a number of different (real) Latin American countries.

Descriptiveness, penetrating psychological insights and an important political subtext – these features of Nostromo could be said to characterise all Conrad’s best work. So could the novel’s narrative technique. We are again in the Conradian territory of a “cloud of witnesses” and a number of unreliable narrators. I have on my shelf a simple “reader’s guide” to Conrad’s works published in the 1950s, in which one Oliver Warner claims of Nostromo that it is a straightforward third-person narrative and that  “No narrator or intermediary distracts from the directness of what he [Conrad] narrates.” Nonsense! In the first place place, although the novel is indeed written in the apparently omniscient third-person, we switch from viewpoint to viewpoint as Conrad analyses many characters’ thoughts and impulses. Then there is the fact that other voices do take over much of the narrative. In Part 2, Chapter 7 we have the text of a very long letter written by Martin Decoud, basically giving his cynical view of how political events are developing. Conrad also often uses the device of long, expository conversations, again giving a character’s viewpoint. In Part 3, Chapter 10, it is Captain Mitchell’s inane and conventional conversation which tells us what the outcome of Costaguana’s “revolution” has been. In Part 3, Chapter 11 we learn of developments in Nostromo’s life through a long conversation which Dr Moynigham has with Mrs Gould. We also note that (as, most obviously, in The Secret Agent), the order of events in the novel is not strictly chronological. Some outcomes made plain early in the novel are not fully explicated until much later. To give one bizarre example of a shuffling of events – in Part 3, Chapter 8, there is a painful scene where Nostromo and Dr Monygham converse in the presence of the corpse of a minor character (the trader of hides, Hirsch) who has been tortured and hanged by revolutionary soldiers. Only in the following chapter, Part 3, Chapter 9, do we have the narrative of Hirsch’s death.

I could not finish an analysis of this great novel without mention of the dominant mood of melancholy that it creates – a typically Conradian melancholy. Much of it depends on Conrad’s underlying sense of the vanity of human wishes and the small impact of human effort upon a vast and indifferent universe. When I read such a sentence as “Men ploughed with wooden ploughs and yoked oxen, small in a boundless expanse, as if attacking immensity itself.” (Part 1, Chap. 6); I am at once reminded of Conrad’s image of the French warship shooting into the immensity of the African continent in Heart of Darkness. Both images suggest an ultimate pointlessness to human endeavour. Where Nostromo is concerned, this relates also to the novel’s political ideas. Conrad was no Utopian. He did not believe that revolutions, changes of government or progressive ideas would alter the essential human condition. One plausible reading of Nostromo is that it tells us plans concocted even with the best of intentions will go astray; that (as T.S.Eliot put it) “history at all times draws / the strangest consequence from remotest cause”; or (as Allen Curnow put it) “to make out our tomorrow from its motives / Is pure guessing, yesterday’s were so mixed”. Of course this view of history is highly inimical to Marxists, who live with the delusion that a comprehensible and progressive pattern may be discerned in history. For this very reason, at least some Marxist critics (such as Arnold Kettle) have produced negative and very reductionist critiques of Nostromo, berating Conrad for using the term “material interests” rather than “imperialism” and claiming that he is avoiding a real analysis of Costaguana’s situation. Given that the novel is one of the clearest indictments of imperialism in the language, it is hard to see much merit in this claim.

But now we come to a major problem with this novel. In an earlier posting on Conrad’s Victory, I quoted Frank Sargeson’s observation “I’ve never been able to make my mind up about ConradI’m worried that the careful plausibility of the beginning goes down the drain as the melodrama begins to go really into action.”

For me, this opinion is especially valid for the closing chapters of Nostromo. Once again, carefully avoiding making a synopsis [you may want to discover how it turns out for yourself], I understand fully the carefully-wrought symbolism of the lighthouse and the hidden treasure. But the last thirty-or-so pages of the novel plunge us into irredeemable melodrama of a very old-fashioned sort. This is true even when we know that (according to Conrad’s 1917 preface) these pages incorporate the anecdote that was Conrad’s first inspiration – the grit in the oyster that made the pearl. Please understand my audacity in stating this. After all, the revered critic Walter Allen said in his The English Novel (as quoted on the back cover of my old Penguin copy of Nostromo), that, of Conrad’s novels “Nostromo is undoubtedly the finest; a good case could be made out for considering it the greatest novel in English of this century. It represents a remarkable extension of Conrad’s genius”. Apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald once said he would rather have written Nostromo than any of his own works or any other novel he could think of. Those who admire this as a truly great novel are many – and I am one of them.

But there is still that clunk of melodrama in the novel’s ending.

To revert to what I said at the beginning of this notice, however, it is not the melodrama that is likely to have put off the general reader. It is the very depth and density of the novel’s portrait of its fictitious South American republic. It is the leisurely way in which the novel unfolds - the very delayed fuse before the final explosions – and the time sequence that deliberately defies chronology. This is not a novel that can be hurried over and it is not a novel that presents a straightforward and simplified morality. In other words, masterpiece or not, it is not the sort of novel to attract the mass readership. And it is approximately seven times as long as Heart of Darkness.

Eccentric and largely silly footnotes: Three mildly interesting things related to Nostromo.

(1.) When I was a senior schoolboy, I had an English teacher of very firm views (the Marist Brother Stephen Coll) who disliked the works of Joseph Conrad (this was before I had read any of Conrad’s novels), and singled out Nostromo as being “boring”. But he did make the interesting observation that Conrad, as a Pole, very occasionally muddled up English idioms. My teacher said Conrad would sometimes say things like “black long shadow” rather than “long black shadow”. I think I found the sentence to which my teacher was referring in Nostromo: “The front of the house threw off a black long rectangle of shadow” (Part 1, Chap. 4) – although frankly I have rarely found this literary genius making similar “mistakes”. I am, however, reminded that English was at least Conrad’s third language (after Polish and French – and probably Russian) when Conrad refers to “the lecture of the letters”  (Part 1, Chap. 6), where he is clearly using “lecture” in the French sense of “reading”. I am also surprised to find this 1904 novel using one word which I thought had been a more recent coinage: “Charles Gould…. had shown himself to be a real hustler” (Part 1, Chap. 6)

(2.) I admit that when he nods, Conrad can go all purty in his descriptions, as when (in one of the novel’s most vivid and iconic sequences) Decoud and Nostromo are together at sea in the small lighter.  “A great recrudescence of obscurity embraced the boat” (Part 2, Chap. 7), says Conrad. I think he means “The boat became invisible in yet more darkness”.

(3.) Nostromo, being totally unfilmable, has had the good fortune never to be made as a film for the cinema, although the English director David Lean did spend years pondering a film adaptation (at different times collaborating on scripts with Christopher Hampton and Robert Bolt). What resulted was what the IMBd website calls “probably one of the most celebrated scripts never to be filmed” because, for a huge variety of reasons, the film was never made. What was made by other people (in 1996-97) was a 4-part TV series, with a limp and unpersuasive Claudio Amendola as Nostromo, Lothaire Bluteau as Martin Decoud, Claudia Cardinale as Teresa Viola and English stalwarts such as Colin Firth as Charles Gould, Albert Finney as Dr Monygham and Paul Brooke as Captain Mitchell. Gentle reader, if you want a bare synopsis of the novel’s external action, then this series is adequate. But that is all it is. If you want to taste Conrad’s ideas and style, then the TV series is ridiculous.

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