Freitag, 15. Dezember 2017

The Editor Who Pulled Joseph Conrad from the Slush Pile

Edward Garnett’s daily job of ploughing through all the manuscripts submitted to Unwin by authors considerably less accomplished than Ford Madox Ford was generally a pretty thankless task, but just occasionally something was sent in which caused real excitement. Wilfred Chesson initially took charge of the manuscripts as they arrived at Unwin’s office and then passed on a selection to Edward, who did most of his reading at Henhurst Cross. On July 5, 1894, Chesson received a manuscript submitted for consideration for the Pseudonym Library. The author’s name on the typescript was “Kamudi”—the Malay word for “rudder.” This tale of a Dutch trader’s disintegration in Borneo impressed Chesson, who dispatched it to Edward. The story contained many of the elements of standard exotic “romances” of the time, including piracy, elopement and betrayal, but Edward immediately recognized that the narrative had qualities that set it apart from the usual run of Far Eastern potboilers.

Indeed, the manuscript seemed to challenge many of the conventions of such books: there was a distinctly antiheroic aspect to its main protagonist, the portraits of the natives ran counter to prevailing stereotypes, and the narrative’s mordant undercurrent was entirely unlike superficially similar works. The sophistication of the narrative point of view and the evocation of the tropical atmosphere evident in the opening chapter arrested Edward’s attention. He was captivated, too, by the figure of Babalatchi, an elderly, one-eyed statesman, and by a night scene at the river’s edge between the Dutch trader’s Malay wife and her daughter. Having read the manuscript, Edward firmly advised Unwin, “Hold on to this.” He was curious about the author, who he thought at first must have Eastern blood in his veins. “I was told however that he was a Pole,” Edward later recalled, “and this increased my interest, since my Nihilist friends, Stepniak and Volkhovksy, had always subtly decried the Poles when one sympathized with their position as ‘under dog.'” The Pole and the Russians: that early association in Edward’s mind was something he could never entirely relinquish. ... [mehr]

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