What Was Literary Impressionism?

Table of contents :
Introduction: The Upturned Page
ONE. Almayer’s Face
TWO. Invisible Writing
THREE. Ford’s Impressionism
FOUR. Some Impressionist (and Non-Impressionist) Faces
FIVE. “A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against”
SIX. Maps, Charts, and Mist
SEVEN. The Writing of Revolution
EIGHT. Versions of Regression
NINE. How Literary Impressionism Ended
Coda: Four Modernists

Citation preview

What Was Literary Impressionism?

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, manuscript, 1894. Clifton Walter Barrett Library of American Lit­er­a­ture, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of ­Virginia, Charlottesville (Accession No. MSS 5505-­a).

n What Was Literary Impressionism? Michael Fried

the belk na p pr ess of h a r va r d u n i v e r s i t y p r e s s Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 2018

Copyright © 2018 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of Amer­i­ca First printing Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names: Fried, Michael, author. Title: What was literary impressionism? / Michael Fried. Description: Cambridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017043786 | ISBN 9780674980792 (alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Impressionism in lit­er­a­t ure. | Visual perception in lit­er­a­t ure. | En­glish lit­er­a­t ure—19th ­century—­History and criticism. | En­glish lit­er­a­t ure—20th  century—­History and criticism. | American lit­er­a­t ure—19th ­century—­History and criticism. | American lit­er­a­t ure—20th ­century—­History and criticism. | Modernism (Lit­er­a­t ure) Classification: LCC PN56.I5 F75 2018 | DDC 823 / .9120911—­dc23 LC rec­ord available at https:// ­lccn​.­loc​.­gov​/­2017043786 Cover art: (top) Joseph Conrad, first page, first version of chapter 11 of the manuscript of Almayer’s Folly, late March or early April 1894. Philadelphia: The Rosenback Museum and Library; (bottom) Illustration from Voyage pittoresque et Historique au Brésil by Jean-Baptiste Debret (1798–1848), published in Paris, 1839 (color lithograph), after Jean-Baptiste Debret. Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images Cover design: Jill Breitbarth

To the memory of Edward Said


Introduction: The Upturned Page 1 One Almayer’s Face


Two Invisible Writing


Three Ford’s Impressionism


Four Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


Five “A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against”


Six Maps, Charts, and Mist


Seven The Writing of Revolution


Eight Versions of Regression


Nine How Literary Impressionism Ended


Coda: Four Modernists 317 Notes 337 Acknowl­edgments


Index 389

The faculty of attention has utterly vanished from the general anglosaxon mind, extinguished at its source by the big blatant Bayadère of Journalism, of the newspaper & the picture (above all) magazine; who keeps screaming “Look at me, I am the ­thing, & I only, the ­thing that ­will keep you in relation with me all the time without your having to attend one minute of the time.” If you are moved to write anything anywhere about the W. of the D. [The Wings of the Dove] do say something of that—it so awfully wants saying. But we live in a lonely age for lit­er­a­ture or for any art but the mere visual. Illustrations, loud simplifications and grossissements, the big building (good for John [Howells’s son, an architect];) the “mounted” play, the prose that is careful to be in the tone of, & with the distinction of, a newspaper or bill-­ poster advertisement—­these, & ­these only, meseems, “stand a chance.” —­Henry James to W. D. Howells, 1902

No theory is kind to us that cheats us of seeing. —­Henry James to Robert Louis Stevenson, 1891

Introduction The Upturned Page



e t me begi n on a personal note. My engagement with the topic of literary impressionism first came about in a somewhat indirect way. In the late spring of 1982, about halfway through writing a book on the French realist painter Gustave Courbet, I visited the large exhibition of the work of the American painter Thomas Eakins that was then being held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Eakins, too, was a realist; born in 1844, he was a full generation younger than Courbet, who proclaimed himself a Realist, with a capital R, in 1855.) Naturally, I had looked at Eakins’s paintings before, but had never known what to make of them—­ they had always puzzled and disconcerted me, for reasons that I had never been able to bring into focus. On this occasion, though, I began to have a few ideas, based, to begin with, on certain partial analogies with the art of Courbet. For example (a key example, as every­thing I went on to work out flowed from this), standing before Eakins’s stupendous early masterpiece The Gross Clinic (1875) (Figure 1), I was struck by the fact that the famous surgeon Samuel Gross holding a blood-­tipped scalpel could be seen as analogous to a painter standing with a paintbrush in his hand as if contemplating his model or perhaps his canvas—­here I thought specifically of the figure of Velázquez in Las Meninas (1656) (Figure 2), a picture



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Eakins would have seen in Madrid shortly before returning to Philadelphia in 1870 a­ fter spending nearly five years as a student in the Paris studio of Jean-­Léon Gérôme. This resonated with my emerging understanding of Courbet’s mature art as continually comprising disguised or displaced and often partial repre­sen­ta­tions of the painter (or as I tended to say, the painter-­beholder) in the act of painting, a view of his enterprise that I went on to develop at length in my book Courbet’s Realism (1990).1 So, for example, I had come to see young and older laborers in The Stonebreakers (1849) (Figure 3) as stand-­ins for the painter-­beholder’s left and right (or palette-­and brush-) hands, respectively; more broadly, central personages depicted from the rear, often involved in two-­handed operations, as in ­After Dinner at Ornans (1848–1849) (Figure 4) and The Wheat Sifters (1854), I saw as figures for the painter-­beholder seated before and working on his canvas. (The further point was that by painting himself “into” his canvases in this way, Courbet would in effect have neutralized or negated his status as beholder of his work, thereby resolving a prob­lem that had devolved upon ambitious painting in France around the m ­ iddle of the eigh­teenth ­century.2) But then I noticed that the Gross Clinic included two personages wielding pencils—­the so-­ called recording physician, making notes on the operation, and (more obscurely but unmistakably) Eakins “himself,” seated among the other students ­toward the right-­hand edge of the canvas and ­either sketching the scene or making notes on it or both, along with a con­spic­u­ous third figure, the assistant surgeon intently probing the incision in the patient’s thigh in order to remove a diseased portion of bone (the operation was for osteomyelitis). This last action struck me as much closer in kind to writing or drawing than to painting, which is to say that the Gross Clinic invited the thought that it presented the act of painting and that of writing and / or drawing in close relation to each other—­indeed, as ele­ments in a single compound “system” of repre­sen­ta­tion (one that differed precisely in that re­spect from anything to be found in Courbet). It then occurred to me to go through the exhibition from start to finish looking out for other signs of writing or graphic notation—­and when I did so I found them in abundance, not only within the paintings themselves (letters, numbers, sheet ­music, posters, stencils, decorative flourishes, ­etc.) but also, in a few key instances, the most brilliant of which is



Fig. 1. ​Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic, 1875. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Alumni Association to Jefferson Medical College in 1878 and purchased by the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007, with the generous support of more than 3,600 donors (Accession No. 2007-1-1).

that of Eakins’s portrait Professor Henry A. Rowland (1897), carved into their original frames. This was intriguing, as it suggested a new slant on Eakins’s achievement, but then I noticed something further: that in painting ­after painting (though by no means in all), the “system” of what I came to call


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writing / drawing was associated with the horizontal plane of inscription, which is to say, with the plane of an upward-­facing sheet of paper lying flat on a t­able or desk or other hard support (along with Eakins’s commitment to rigorous perspective, one of the basic features of his art throughout his ­career). At the same time, I sensed in the paintings another, antithetical or at least fundamentally dif­fer­ent “system” oriented to the upright or vertical plane of the canvas (significantly, photo­graphs of Eakins at work invariably show the canvas on his easel to be absolutely vertical), with the result that in picture a­ fter picture one finds a

Fig. 2. ​Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (Inventory No. P01174).



Fig. 3. ​Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849–1850 (destroyed, February 1945). Formerly at Staatliche Gemäldegalerie (State Picture Gallery), Dresden.

Fig. 4. ​Gustave Courbet, ­After Dinner at Ornans, 1848–1849. Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille (Inventory No. P. 522). Photo­graph by Philipp Bernard. © RMN–­Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.


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structural and sometimes also a thematic tension or strug­gle or compromise between the two orientations, or as I also came to put it, between the “spaces” associated with each. The discomfort I had often felt looking at his paintings had its source precisely t­ here. ­Here it is relevant that Eakins when young had been trained as a writing master, someone whose profession would involve if not the teaching of writing, at any rate the “engrossing” of documents—­his ­father’s profession, as a ­matter of fact. A crucial textbook on this subject was Rembrandt Peale’s Graphics (first edition 1834), in which the issue of orientation—­ vertical versus horizontal—­emerges as central, the education of the young draftsman involving learning how to accurately depict objects conceived as essentially vertical (i.e., upright) on the horizontal plane of graphic repre­sen­ta­tion. As I went on to write in a long essay on Eakins, which in slightly revised form became the first of two chapters in my book Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane, In Eakins’s art . . . ​t he crucial tension or conflict between planes of representation takes place at a more advanced or anyway a dif­ fer­ent stage. But the source of the conflict is, I think, the same as in the passage from Peale: the mutual identification of writing and drawing that Graphics systematically advocates and that all of Eakins’s early training reinforced. That is, I suggest that that it was primarily the strength and explicitness of that identification that defined the “space” of drawing as essentially horizontal in distinction to the vertical or upright “space” of real­ity on the one hand (Peale) and of painting on the other (Eakins). Not that the “space” of writing is always and everywhere intrinsically or naturally horizontal; on the contrary, t­ here have been cultures and epochs that would have found that association positively unnatural (modern technological society may be on the verge of ­doing so), and in any case the explicitness with which Peale argues his position represents a specific cultural formation. Given that formation, however, the emergence of a sense of disjunction between planes of repre­sen­ta­tion may be ­imagined to have followed naturally enough, though it is only in Eakins, so far as I am aware, that an attempt to come to grips with that disjunc-



tion becomes the implicit proj­ect of a large and significant body of painting. What this meant in practice was that painting, in obvious re­ spects the more comprehensive enterprise, had to be made to contain or subsume writing / drawing, which in one sense it ­couldn’t fail to do even while in another, ultimately more impor­tant sense the disparity between the “spaces” of writing / drawing and of painting was such that no true containment or subsumption, certainly no perfect dissolving of the first into the second, could be accomplished. Thus the proliferation of images of writing in Eakins’s pictures may be seen both as representing an effort at containment—­ painting depicting writing and thereby mastering it—­and as an index of the less than complete success of that effort—­writing investing painting and thereby escaping its control. 3

This barely summarizes my understanding of Eakins’s enterprise, but it sets the scene for my immediately subsequent approach to the work of the nineteenth-­century American writer Stephen Crane (b. 1871), which marked my first engagement with the question of literary impressionism. When early in the summer of 1984 I sat down to write my essay on Eakins, I was already familiar with Crane’s novels and stories. This had come about fortuitously: roughly twenty years before, as a first-­year gradu­ate student in the history of art at Harvard, I was looking for something to read besides less than totally engaging monographs on ­later sixteenth-­century Italian painting and discovered a paperback of John Berryman’s Stephen Crane in the Harvard Book Store. (I was aware of Berryman’s poetry and was intrigued to find that he was also a critic.4) I bought a copy, and I also bought The Red Badge of Courage, which fortunately I had never previously encountered—­ fortunately ­because I was thus able to come to it fresh—­along with a collection of Crane’s short stories and tales, both of which I immediately began to read. From the very first, I found myself swept away, dazzled, stunned, as by the most incandescent poetry—­I had never i­ magined that prose could do what Crane’s so palpably did, page a­ fter page, paragraph a­ fter paragraph, sentence ­after sentence. And before long I began to harbor the


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dream of eventually writing something about him. In par­tic­u­lar I was struck by a short two-­part narrative, “The Upturned Face,” ostensibly an account of the burial, ­under e­ nemy fire, of a dead officer by two fellow officers. It opens: “What w ­ ill we do now?” said the adjutant, troubled and excited. “Bury him,” said Timothy Lean. The two officers looked down close to their toes where lay the body of their comrade. The face was chalk-­blue; gleaming eyes stared at the sky. Over the two upright figures was a windy sound of bullets, and on top of the hill, Lean’s prostrate com­pany of Spitzbergen infantry was firing mea­sured volleys.5

A grave is dug and Lean and the adjutant search the dead man’s clothes for “­things,” as the adjutant puts it. Lean rises “with a ghastly face. He had gathered a watch, a whistle, a pipe, a tobacco pouch, a handkerchief, a ­little case of cards and papers” (“UF,” 1283–1284). Meanwhile the bullets keep spitting overhead u­ ntil the grave is dug; the completion of the task is announced as follows: “The grave was finished. It was not a masterpiece—­poor ­little shallow ­thing. Lean and the adjutant looked at each other in a curious ­silent communication” (“UF,”1284). The two officers proceed to tumble the dead man into the grave, d ­ oing their best not to feel the corpse. “They tugged away; the corpse lifted, heaved, toppled, flopped into the grave, and the two officers, straightening, looked again at each other—­they ­were always looking at each other. They sighed with relief ” (“UF,” 1284). ­A fter saying a mangled prayer, they are ready to oversee the covering up of his remains. At this point, the first paragraph of the second part of the narrative, the motif of the corpse’s upturned face returns with new force: One of the aggrieved privates came forward with his shovel. He lifted his first shovel load of earth and for a moment of inexplicable hesitation it was held poised above this corpse which from its chalk-­ blue face looked keenly out from the grave. Then the soldier emptied his shovel on—on the feet. Timothy Lean felt as if tons had been swiftly lifted from off his forehead. He had felt that perhaps the private might empty the



shovel on—on the face. It had been emptied on the feet. T ­ here was a ­g reat point gained ­t here—ha, ha!—­t he first shovelful had been emptied on the feet. How satisfactory! (“UF,” 1285–1286)

The man with the shovel is struck in the arm by a bullet and Lean seizes the shovel and begins to fill the grave himself; as the dirt lands it makes a sound—­“plop.” The text concludes: Soon t­ here was nothing to be seen but the chalk-­blue face. Lean filled the shovel. . . . ​“Good God,” he cried to the adjutant. “Why ­d idn’t you turn him somehow when you put him in? This—” Then Lean began to stutter. The adjutant understood. He was pale to the lips. “Go on, man,” he cried, beseechingly, almost in a shout. . . . ​Lean swung back the shovel; it went forward in a pendulum curve. When the earth landed it made a sound—­plop. (“UF,” 1286–1287; ellipses Crane’s)

As I went on to write in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” the second chapter of Realism, Writing, Disfiguration (a two-­chapter book): Much of the cumulative effect of “The Upturned Face” has been lost in my summary, but even so several points are clear. First, . . . ​we find at the center of the scene a dead man lying on his back staring upward; in fact, as I have noted, we are presented with such a figure twice over, at the opening of the tale, where it is described as lying at the feet of Lean and the adjutant, and at the beginning of the second part, as the first shovelful of dirt is held suspended above it. Second, the corpse’s chalk-­blue face is on both occasions the principal object of Lean’s and the adjutant’s attention, and once again something uncanny and in a strong sense disfiguring happens to that face—in fact the entire second part of the tale turns on Lean’s repugnance at the prospect of having to cover the dead man’s face with dirt. [“Once again” ­because in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned Faces” I begin by considering two other passages featuring upturned faces, one from The Red Badge of Courage and the other, to be cited and discussed shortly, from the remarkable story The Monster.] . . . ​A nd third, although a thematics of writing is no


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? more than hinted at by the recurrent epithet “chalk-­blue” and perhaps also by the ­little case of cards and papers that Lean removes from the dead man, the newly excavated and still empty grave is characterized, indeed, is half-­addressed, as “not a masterpiece—­poor ­little shallow ­t hing,” a phrase that, however ironically, deploys a vocabulary of artistic valuation that one can imagine the author applying (again ironically: Crane seems to have thought especially well of this tale) to “The Upturned Face” itself. I suggest that the ostensible action of the tale—­the digging of a grave, the tumbling of a corpse into its shallow depths, and then the covering of the corpse and specifically its upturned face with shovelfuls of dirt—­and the movement of the prose of its telling are meant as nearly as pos­si­ble to coincide, as if each w ­ ere ultimately a figure for the other: this is one reason why, for example, the text comes to an end with the quasi-­word “plop,” which is nothing more nor less than the verbal repre­sen­ta­tion of the sound made when the last shovelful of dirt falls on the grave, or if not the very last at any rate the one that covers the chalk-­blue face once and for all. [Note, too, that what I have called “the quasi-­word ‘plop’ ” is foreshadowed in the first part of the tale by the words, “They tugged away, the corpse lifted, heaved, toppled, flopped into the grave . . .”—as if to integrate it in advance into the narrative as a ­whole. Indeed, the words just cited almost seem to imply that the corpse on its own did the lifting, heaving, toppling, and flopping, as if displacing the source of activity away from Lean and the adjutant to the dead body. Iw ­ ill return to this shortly.] That the protagonist’s name, Timothy Lean, invites being read as a barely disguised version of the author’s reinforces this suggestion, all the more so in that the adjutant remains nameless and the dead man is referred to only once, by Lean, as “old Bill.” All this is to read “The Upturned Face” as representing, and in a sense enacting, the writing of “The Upturned Face,” which as a general proposition about a literary work is ­today pretty much standard fare. [“­Today” in mid-1980s literary studies was still largely u­ nder the sign of the critical-­theoretical movement known as deconstruction, at least in American universities. More on



this below.] What is in­ter­est­ing to consider, however, is why this par­tic­u­lar text lends itself so fully to such a reading. . . . ­Here is a partial answer. Just as in Peale’s Graphics a primitive ontological difference between the allegedly upright or erect “space” of real­ity and the horizontal “space” of writing / drawing emerged as problematic for the graphic enterprise [i.e., drawing upright objects on a horizontal plane], and just as in Eakins’s art an analogous difference between the horizontal “space” of writing / drawing and the vertical or upright “space” of painting turned out to play a critical role with re­spect both to choice of subject m ­ atter [for example, the surface of the Schuylkill River in Eakins’s boating pictures or patterned carpets in vari­ous interiors or indeed, the sheet of parchment or vellum on which Eakins’s ­father is shown carefully writing] and to all that is traditionally comprised u­ nder the notion of style, so in the production of ­t hese paradigmatic texts by Crane an implicit contrast between the respective “spaces” of real­ity and of literary representation—of writing (and in a sense, as we ­shall see, of writing / drawing)—­required that a h­ uman character, ordinarily upright and so to speak forward-­looking, be rendered horizontal and upward-­facing so as to match the horizontality and upward-­facingness of the blank page on which the action of inscription was taking place. Understood in t­ hese terms, Crane’s upturned ­faces are at once synecdoches for the bodies of ­those characters and singularly concentrated meta­phors for the sheets of writing paper that the author had before him. (RWD, 98–100)

Or consider, briefly, the horrific passage from The Monster referred to earlier. A black man, Henry Johnson, attempting to rescue a child from a fire in a h­ ouse, is overcome by fumes and falls unconscious to the floor. The crucial paragraphs read: Johnson had fallen with his head at the base of an old-­fashioned desk. ­There was a row of jars upon the top of this desk. For the most part, they ­were ­silent amid this rioting, but ­t here was one which seemed to hold a scintillant and writhing serpent.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? Suddenly the glass splintered, and a ruby-­red snakelike ­t hing poured its thick length out upon the top of the old desk. It coiled and hesitated, and then began to swim a languorous way down the mahogany slant. At the ­angle it waved its sizzling molten head to and fro over the closed eyes of the man beneath it. Then, in a moment, with mystic impulse, it moved again, and the red snake flowed directly down into Johnson’s upturned face. Afterward the trail of this creature seemed to reek, and amid flames and low explosions drops like red-­hot jewels pattered softly down it at leisurely intervals.6

In my reading, the fact that Johnson lies face up at the base of a desk is clearly impor­tant, as is the suggestion that the jars of chemicals on the desk (the child’s ­father is a doctor) are not unlike jars of ink. Even more to the point is the close conjunction of the words “rioting” and “writhing,” which both visually and aurally all but spell out another pres­ent participle (also a noun), “writing.” (The word “writhing” ­will come up repeatedly in passages by other authors to be cited in the pres­ent book.) That the burning chemical that destroys Johnson’s face is figured as a slow-­moving serpent is also characteristic: ­here as elsewhere in Crane, images of snakes may be understood as figures for his own handwriting, indeed for the movement of his hand and pen across the page. (As I note in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” the most elaborate treatment of the theme occurs in the sketch titled “The Snake.”7 Snakes are to be found in other writings treated in this book, as ­will be seen.) I go on to relate the obsessive thematization of the scene and the action of writing in Crane’s prose to the traditional designation of him as an “impressionist,” and in this connection quote Conrad’s famous credo from his preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus” (1897): “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see! That—­and no more: and it is every­thing!”8 (Crane and Conrad became friends in ­England in 1897, but my bringing Conrad’s preface to bear on Crane—­ like my readings of Conrad in Chapters 1, 5, 7, 9, and elsewhere in this book within a conceptual framework largely determined by my analy­sis of Crane—­has nothing to do with that fact.) I then say:



By “[making] you see” Conrad of course had in mind making the reader visualize with special acuteness scenes and events which are not literally ­t here on the page but which the letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs that are on the page somehow contrive to evoke. But what if, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Crane’s very commitment to a version of the “impressionist” proj­ect—­his attempt, before all, to make the reader see—at least intermittently led Crane himself to see, by which I mean fix his attention upon, and to wish to make the reader see, by which I mean visualize in his [or her] imagination, ­those ­things that, before all, actually lay before Crane’s eyes: the written words themselves, the white, lined sheet of paper on which they ­were inscribed, the marks made by his pen on the surface of the sheet, even perhaps the movements of his hand wielding the pen in the act of inscription? ­Wouldn’t such a development threaten to abort the realization of the “impressionist” proj­ect as classically conceived? In fact would it not call into question the very basis of writing as communication—­the tendency of the written word at least partly to “efface” itself in ­favor of its meaning in the acts of writing and reading? But now imagine that instead of recognizing the objects of his attention for what they ­were—­instead of understanding himself to be seeing and representing writing and the production of writing—­Crane unwittingly, obsessionally, and to all intents and purposes automatically meta­ phorized writing and the production of writing (and the viewing of ­these) in images, passages, and, in rare instances, entire narratives [such as “The Upturned Face”] that hitherto have wholly escaped being read in t­ hose terms. (RWD, 119–200; emphasis in original)

Indeed, I take this argument several steps further by proposing that not only Crane’s recurrent imagery of disfigured upturned ­faces and snakelike forms may be read in ­these terms but also an entire battery of specific textual effects such as alliteration that threatens to spring the repeated letters or sounds f­ ree of the meanings of the words in which they occur (“They w ­ ere always busy as bees, deeply absorbed in their ­little combats,” from The Red Badge of Courage; and, from the same passage, the figuring of the a­ ctual pro­cess of writing (“He could see knots and


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waving lines of skirmishers, who ­were ­r unning hither and thither and firing at the landscape. A dark b­ attle line lay upon a sunstruck clearing”); and the use of dialect, which at first distances the reader owing to the unfamiliar groupings of letters, but then yields surprising effects of voice, most brilliantly in the rendering of Bowery speech in Maggie (“I met a chump deh odder day way up in deh city,” Pete brags to Maggie and her younger ­brother Jimmie); and onomatopoeia (“plop” in “The Upturned Face”); and pronominal ambiguity, a seeming fault that in Crane’s prose is actually nothing of the sort, focusing the reader’s attention for a fleeting moment on a single word the application of which remains to be made out; and the frequent occurrence of words or pairs of words conspicuously featuring Crane’s initials as a hallmark of the fact that the sentences in which they turn up ­were made by him, that they bear his inimitable stylistic signature (“Sy Conklin” and “Sickles’s colt” in “The Veteran,” for example, as well as that story’s final phrase, “the color of his soul”). (And in “The Upturned Face,” the phrase “curious ­silent communication,” not to mention the key word “corpse.” “Scintillant” in the passage from The Monster is also to the point.) Other characteristic features of his prose such as an obsession with numbers, reflecting the counting of words, as in the last scene in The Monster where Dr. Truscott counts fifteen places at the t­ able (his wife’s friends who did not come); a tendency to depict diagrammatic or other­w ise “visual” repre­sen­ta­tions, usually involving a sharply downward shift in scale, such as the ­little numbered diagrams on ban­dages, illustrating the latter’s use, in “Death and the Child”; and certain effects of animism (“poor ­little shallow ­thing,” and the repeated strategic placement of the seemingly neutral noun “­thing” in contexts where it hovers between animateness and inanimateness) that express a compulsion to declare but also to disguise and in a sense to disavow both the literal circumstances and the material product of his activity as a writer. (All ­these and more are discussed in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” where I remark that the word “­thing,” said of an inanimate object, such as a grave, suggests a certain animateness, whereas the same word said of something alive nudges it t­oward deadness.) A disavowal of writerly agency—­put more strongly, a less than fully conscious defense against the recognition of what, if I am right, his prose obsessively thematizes—is



also in play in the aversiveness continually associated with figures of writing in Crane (the dead ­faces, the acts of disfigurement, the snake imagery, the very effort of Lean and the adjutant not to make physical contact with the body of their comrade), just as it is what is at stake in the displacement of the origin of act of writing away from the writer (the fiery serpent again; the intimation in “The Upturned Face” that the corpse itself did the lifting, heaving, flopping, toppling; even the flat statement in the final sentence that it was the shovelful of earth, not in any sense Lean, that “made a sound—­plop”). (Just before that, Lean swung back the shovel but “it went forward on a pendulum curve”—­again, as if on its own.) All this is to imagine Crane’s proj­ect as profoundly conflicted, even in a sense tortured—­“Go on, man,” the adjutant cries, “beseechingly, almost in a shout”—­though it is also true that vari­ous commentators near to his own time remarked on the “exquisite legibility” of his handwriting, a phrase that extant manuscripts largely confirm. Fascinatingly, eyewitness accounts of Crane actually writing also stress the extreme slowness with which he formed letters and words, a phenomenon that led one of them to won­der how Crane “could keep the story in mind while he was slowly forming the letters.”9 So deliberate a manner of working must have courted diverting the writer’s attention away from the larger flow of meaning in his prose to both the act of inscription and the material product of that act, in which event (as I wrote in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces”) “the enterprise in question [would have] become merely the drawing of letters, which of course [would have meant] that it ceased to be the enterprise of writing. Presumably, Crane worked just too quickly for that to happen” (RWD, 147; emphasis in original). (Think of the “languorous” movements of the burning serpent as it makes its downward way t­ oward Henry Johnson’s face.) In sum, I argue that in Crane’s most characteristic texts the materiality of writing [is] si­mul­ta­neously elicited and repressed: elicited ­because, ­under ordinary circumstances, the materiality precisely d ­ oesn’t call attention to itself . . . ​in the intimately connected acts of writing and reading; and repressed b­ ecause, w ­ ere that materiality allowed to come unimpededly to the surface, not only would the very possibility of narrative continuity be lost, the writing


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? in question would cease to be writing and would become mere mark. (RWD, xiv; emphasis in original)10

Again, it should be stressed that t­ here is much more than what I have just quoted and summarized to my account of Crane’s proj­ect in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces”—in par­t ic­u ­lar I discuss key passages from a wide range of texts (novels, stories, tales, sketches, newspaper articles, poems)—so that ideally, I would have the reader of this book come to it on the basis of that essay. But I hope enough has been explained to make my argument clear.

n The question now is how most fruitfully to go on from Crane, and before turning to Conrad, who ­will loom large in what follows, I want to introduce a little-­k nown text by the American naturalist writer Frank Norris, whose c­ areer, anyway, whose dates, almost exactly parallel Crane’s.11 Crane was born in 1871 and died in 1900; Norris, less precocious, was born in 1870 and died in 1902. Norris is best known for novels such as McTeague (1899), The Octopus (1900), The Pit (1903), and Vandover and the Brute (written during the 1890s but not published u­ ntil 1914); several pages in the last of t­ hese ­will be of interest to us in Chapter 2, along with passages from a lesser-­k nown novel, A Man’s ­Woman (1899 / 1900). But at this juncture I want to glance at a remarkable story by Norris (if “story” is the right generic category), “A Memorandum of Sudden Death,” published in 1902 and collected one year ­later in A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West.12 It begins by describing a manuscript left ­behind by a young and talented writer named Karslake that somehow survived his death at the hands of marauding Indians in the American Southwest. Karslake, the unnamed narrator explains, was planning a novel of military life in the Southwest and had joined the United States Cavalry to gather material; his death (along with that of three fellow cavalrymen) seems to have taken place in 1896, in his twenty-­eighth year (Crane died at age twenty-­nine). The manuscript, we are informed, was written “partly in pencil, partly in ink (no doubt from a fountain pen), on sheets of manila paper torn from some sort of long and narrow account-­book. In two or three places t­ here are smudges where the



powder-­blackened fin­ger and thumb held the sheets momentarily” (“M,” 104). (They are “powder-­blackened” from firing his ­rifle, one presumes.) The manuscript begins: “They came in sight early this morning just ­after we had had breakfast and had broken camp” (“M,” 105). “They” are a small band of Indians, and the rest of the manuscript narrates their patient stalking of Karslake and his companions over several days and then the prolonged combat in the course of which the cavalrymen are picked off one by one. (The end of the manuscript breaks off midsentence.) The crucial passage, a long one that I w ­ ill quote in its entirety, occurs shortly ­after Karslake realizes that his death is inevitable: We think now that they followed us without attacking for so long ­because they ­were waiting till the lay of the land suited them. They wanted—no doubt—an absolutely flat piece of country, with no depressions, no hills or streambeds in which we could hide, but which should be high upon the edges, like an amphitheatre. They would get us in the centre and occupy the rim themselves. Roughly, this is the bit of desert which witnesses our “last stand.” On three sides the ground swells a very ­little—­the rise is not four feet. On the third side it is open, and so flat that even lying on the ground as we do we can see (leagues away) the San Jacinto hills—­“from whence cometh no help.” It is all sand and sage, forever and forever. Even the sage is sparse—­a bad place even for a coyote. The w ­ hole is flagellated with an intolerable heat and—­now that the shooting is relaxed—­ oppressed with a benumbing, sodden silence—­the silence of a primordial world. Such a silence as must have brooded over the Face of the W ­ aters on the Eve of Creation—­desolate, desolate, as though a colossal, invisible pillar—­a pillar of the Infinitely Still, the pillar of Nirvana—­rose forever into the empty blue, ­human life an atom of microscopic dust crushed ­under its basis, and at the summit God Himself. And I find time to ask myself why, at this of all moments of my tiny life-­span, I am able to write as I do, registering impressions, keeping a fin­ger upon the pulse of the spirit. But oh! if I had time now—­time to write down the ­great thoughts that do throng the brain. They are ­t here, I feel them, know them. No doubt the supreme exaltation of approaching death is the stimulus that one


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? never experiences in the humdrum business of the day-­to-­day existence. Such mighty thoughts! Unintelligible, but if I had time I could ­ hole sespell them out, and how I could write then! I feel that the w cret of Life is within my reach; I can almost grasp it; I seem to feel that in just another instant I can see it all plainly, as the archangels see it all the time, as the g­ reat minds of the world, the g­ reat phi­los­ o­phers, have seen it once or twice, vaguely—­a glimpse ­here and ­there, a­ fter years of patient study. Seeing thus I should be the equal of the gods. But it is not meant to be. T ­ here is a sacrilege in it. I almost seem to understand why it is kept from us. But the very reason of this withholding is itself a part of the secret. If I could only, only set it down!—­for whose eyes? T ­ hose of a wandering hawk? God knows. But never mind. I should have spoken—­once; should have said the ­g reat Word for which the World since the eve­n ing and morning of the First Day has listened. God knows. God knows. What a whirl is this? Monstrous incongruity. Philosophy and fighting troopers. The Infinite and dead ­horses. ­There’s humor for you. The Sublime takes off its hat to the Ridicu­lous. Send a cartridge clashing into the breech and speculate about the Absolute. Keep one eye on your sights and the other on Cosmos. Blow the reek of burned powder from before you so you may look over the abyss of the ­Great Primal Cause. Duck to the whistle of a bullet and commune with Schopenhauer. Perhaps I am a l­ ittle mad. Perhaps I am supremely intelligent. But in e­ ither case I am not understandable to myself. How, then, be understandable to ­others? If ­these sheets of paper, this incoherence, is ever read, the ­others ­w ill understand it about as much as the investigating hawk. But none the less be it of rec­ord that I, Karslake, SAW. I reads like Revelation: “I, John, saw.” It is just that. T ­ here is something apocalyptic in it all. I have seen a vision, but cannot—­there is the pitch of anguish in the impotence—­ bear rec­ord. If time ­were allowed to order and arrange the words of description, this exaltation of spirit, in that very space of time, would relax, and the describer lapse back to the level of the average again before he could set down the t­hings he thought, the t­hings he thought. The machinery of the mind that could coin the ­great Word is automatic, and the very force that brings the die near the blank



metal supplies the motor power of the reaction before the impression is made. . . . ​I stopped for an instant, looking up from the page, and at once the g­ reat vague pa­norama faded. I lost it all. Cosmos has dwindled again to an amphitheatre of sage and sand, a vista of distant purple hills, the shimmer of scorching alkali, and in the ­middle distance t­ here, ­those figures, blanketed, bearded, feathered, ­rifle in hand. (“M,” 119–123; emphasis and ellipsis in original)13

The Indians close in and Karslake and his companions are killed. Note, to begin with, the evident and I would say fully intended analogy between the absolutely flat rectangular stretch of desert where the attack takes place and the flatness and rectangularity of a piece of writing paper, an analogy that is then underscored—­bearing in mind the recurrence of upturned ­faces as figures for sheets of paper in Crane—by Karslake’s likening the primordial-­seeming silence of that killing ground to the silence that “must have brooded over the Face of the W ­ aters on the Eve of Creation.” (To what extent Norris understood that “Face” as a figure for the sheet of paper remains an open question; to say the least, it’s not obvious that he did not.) The passage soon becomes a meditation on the act of writing, characterized at one point as “registering impressions,” but what I find particularly striking in light of the general problematic I have sketched is that ­under ­these extreme conditions, writing turns out to be equated with an exalted mode of seeing (“Be it of rec­ord that I, Karslake, SAW”), and although the author of the manuscript professes not to be able to describe the content of that seeing (“I have seen a vision, but cannot . . . ​ bear rec­ord”), he gives a power­ful clue to that content when he goes on to say that the one time he looked up from the sheet of paper, “the g­ reat vague pa­norama faded. I lost it all.” The implication is that what Karslake saw in the act of writing was, before all, the sheets of manila paper themselves (or the sheets and the act of inscription together), though a further implication would seem to be that had he known that this was what he was seeing, he would not have felt himself to be seeing exaltedly—in a visionary mode—at all. (The downward gaze at the horizontal page is also thematized in the references to the point of view of the wandering and investigating hawk, as well as to the pillar of the Infinitely Still with God Himself at its summit.)


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Even more fascinating, however, is Karslake’s account of what might be called the psychodynamics of exalted seeing / writing as he experiences it, according to him, as never before. “If time ­were allowed to order and arrange the words of description,” the manuscript reads, “this exaltation of spirit, in that very space of time, would relax, and the describer lapse back to the level of the average again before he could set down the ­things he saw, the ­things he thought.” And then: “The machinery of the mind that could coin the ­great Word is automatic, and the very force that brings the die near the blank metal supplies the motor power of the reaction before the impression is made.” Simply put, exalted seeing / writing such as Karslake evokes can only be accomplished u­ nder extreme pressure, ­here figured by the imminence of sudden death; not only that, but the a­ ctual writing, or, say, the stamping of the impression into the die (a figure both for the writer’s registering of the impression and his impressing it onto or into the page), is in some fundamental sense automatic (to repeat, “the machinery of the mind that could coin the ­great Word is automatic”) in that it takes place not entirely ­under conscious authorial control: think of Crane as I have represented him, never quite allowing the scene and the materiality of writing to surface explic­itly in his prose, and yet never quite acknowledging that that was what he was d ­ oing, indeed, so far as one can tell, never quite understanding his writerly enterprise in that light. (I have suggested that numerous features of his prose defended against such an understanding ever coming to pass.) To that extent, the scene of writing for Crane—­for literary impressionism generally—­has something “primordial” about it, being prior to a certain recognition of its very nature. (Issues of automatism and split or double consciousness—­more broadly, of hypnosis and suggestion—­will continually arise in the chapters to come.)14 In any case, Karslake stops for an instant, looks up from the page, and loses it all. “Cosmos has dwindled again to an amphitheatre of sage and sand . . .”; that is, to the merely ordinary, which in this exemplary instance includes the ordinariness of imminent extinction (in other words, the mere approach of death is no bestower of exalted seeing). To sum up: I take “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” to provide nothing less than a theory of literary impressionism such as I have anatomized the latter in connection with Crane. Indeed, “A Memorandum” would appear to have Crane the writer in its sights from the start, bearing



in mind Crane’s early authorship of The Red Badge (famously before he had even seen a shot fired in anger) and then his well-­k nown stints as a war correspondent in Greece and subsequently during the Spanish-­ American War, both of which resulted in memorable stories and tales such as “Death and the Child,” “The Price of the Harness,” and (most notably) “The Upturned Face.” In 1895 Crane also made a months-­long trip to the West and Mexico, two of the products of which are the incandescent “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and “The Blue ­Hotel.” (Norris would surely have regarded the comet-­like Crane as his foremost rival in his generation; equally surely, he would have read extensively in Crane’s works.) It c­ an’t be claimed that the name “Karslake” plainly alludes to Crane, but the two names ­aren’t exactly foreign to each other, ­either (even as the shift from hard C to K performs a certain work of masking).15 Intriguingly, too, “A Memorandum” deploys certain words and phrases that evoke the signature play of s and c that, as I show in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces,” occurs so often and so tellingly in Crane’s prose, as in the sentences, “It is all sand and sage, forever and forever. Even the sage is sparse—­a bad place even for a coyote.” (All ­those s’s and then a strategically placed hard c.) This is followed in the next sentences by a reference to a benumbing, sodden silence—­t he silence of a primordial world. ­ aters on Such a silence as must have brooded over the Face of the W the Eve of Creation—­desolate, desolate, as though a colossal, invisible pillar—­a pillar of the Infinitely Still, the pillar of Nirvana—­rose forever into the empty blue, ­human life an atom of microscopic dust crushed ­under its basis, and at the summit God Himself.

(I realize, of course, that the reader is unlikely to share my sense of the significance of the play of consonants in the sentences just quoted, culminating in the epithet “microscopic,” which may or may not have something ultimately to do with the fact that Crane’s handwriting was at times minute; indeed, Ford refers to Crane’s “pen that moved so slowly in microscopic black trails over the im­mense sheets of paper that he affected.”16 But I ask for the reader’s patience.) Consider the trio of sentences further on: “Seeing thus I would be the equal of the gods. But it is not meant to be. ­There is a sacrilege in it.” And the sentences “Send a cartridge clashing


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into the breech and speculate about the Absolute. Keep one eye on your sights and the other on Cosmos.” And, ­toward the end, “Cosmos has dwindled again to an amphitheatre of sage and sand, a vista of distant purple hills, the shimmer of scorching alkali.” Earlier I remarked that it is not clear that Norris did not understand the phrase “the Face of the ­Waters” as referring to an upturned sheet of writing paper, and of course he plainly meant the flat rectangular killing ground to be interpreted in ­those terms. The play of s and c in the sentences just glanced at has a dif­ fer­ent status. That is, even if one is prepared to take seriously the notion that such a play is operative in them, it still seems implausible that Norris consciously intended in that way to refer explic­itly to Crane; but ­there is nevertheless the possibility that Norris’s involvement with Crane’s writing, as documented in “A Memorandum,” produced a kind of autosuggestion or automimesis that issued in such signature effects without his being aware of them as such (this would be a classic instance of m ­ ental machinery working automatically, though of course the basic act of writing “A Memorandum” would have been intentional in the ordinary sense of the term). In the end, however, the question of signature effects is much less impor­tant than the vari­ous re­spects in which “A Memorandum” all but explic­itly offers an extraordinarily brilliant confirmation of my reading of Crane, as well as a further introduction to the conflictual and often excruciated psychodynamics of literary impressionism generally.

n Shortly ­a fter the publication of Realism, Writing, Disfiguration I came to a further, unexpected realization: namely, that one or another version of Crane’s impressionist proj­ect—­more precisely, one or another version of a proj­ect of writing keyed, as his was, not only to the scene of writing but specifically to what I have been calling the materiality of writing—­lay at the heart of significant texts by some of the leading English-­ language authors of the period from 1890 to 1914 (the second date in par­ tic­u ­lar is not absolutely fixed). The most eminent of ­t hose authors are Crane, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, W. H. Hudson (no longer widely read, but in his own time greatly admired by other writers, including Ford and Conrad), H. G. Wells (a special case, as ­will be seen),



Frank Norris, Jack London, and Rudyard Kipling. But impressionist or impressionism-­related writers also include R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Erskine Childers (in The Riddle of the Sands), Edgar Rice Burroughs (in Tarzan), Robert Louis Stevenson (in The Ebb-­Tide), . . . ​the list could go on. (As ­will emerge, Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle,” while not an impressionist production, is nevertheless illuminated by the impressionist problematic.) Among the impressionist writers apart from Crane, the stakes seemed highest as regards Conrad, which led me to write an essay centered on his first novel, Almayer’s Folly (finished 1894), “Almayer’s Face: On ‘Impressionism’ in Conrad, Crane, and Norris,” published in Critical Inquiry in 199017 (revised, it forms Chapter 1 of the pres­ent work). From that moment on I planned to someday write a full-­dress, multiauthor study of literary impressionism, though I kept putting off embarking on such a study b­ ecause a series of art-­historical, art-­critical, and even literary-­critical proj­ects kept taking pre­ce­dence. Eventually I wrote a second essay on Conrad, “ ‘A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against’: On Conrad’s The Secret Agent,” which was published in the journal ELH in 2012 and which constitutes Chapter 5 in the pres­ent volume.18 In addition, several years a­ fter the first article on Conrad I wrote an essay mainly dealing with Wells’s novel The Island of Doctor Moreau for a collection of essays on Frankenstein and monstrosity edited by Stephen Bann.19 I mention all this by way of indicating the long prehistory of the volume now in the reader’s hands, my attempt fi­nally to provide the comprehensive (though by no means exhaustive) overview of English-­ language literary impressionism, the path to which has lain open, as it has seemed to me, for the past twenty-­five years.20 Some remarks about the structure and character of this book are in order. First, in addition to this Introduction it comprises nine chapters, as follows: (1) on Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, and a range of other texts by him, including “The Black Mate,” Lord Jim, “The Secret Sharer,” and the exemplary story “Youth”; (2) on W. H. Hudson, in par­t ic­u ­lar Green Mansions, H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man and In the Days of the Comet, and Norris’s Vandover and the Brute and A Man’s W ­ oman; (3) on Ford Madox Ford’s The Soul of London, The Good Soldier, and several passages from a late autobiographical book, Return to Yesterday; (4) on no less than nine further examples of the central motif of highly charged


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f­aces, disfigured and not disfigured, upturned and not upturned (but often both); (5) on Conrad’s The Secret Agent, often considered his greatest novel; (6) on the impressionist motifs of maps and charts, mist and fog; (7) on Conrad’s ­Under Western Eyes; (8) on the impressionist motif of ­regression or reversion as regards writing, printing, and publication; and (9) on how literary impressionism came to a close, beginning with a short account by Ford of a June 1914 conversation with Wyndham Lewis and including a reading of Conrad’s last major novel, Victory. The shifting relations between visuality and aurality in several impressionist texts, crucially including Tarzan, The Ebb-­Tide, and two famous stories by Kipling, are also a key topic. Fi­nally, a short Coda ­w ill offer some remarks on certain aspects of literary modernism, keyed to texts by Lewis, Gertrude Stein, ­Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf. As this outline suggests, Conrad w ­ ill figure prominently in what follows, which in the first place befits his stature and in the second reflects the consistency of his involvement with the impressionist problematic, as I understand it. In fact, ­there was a moment when I thought of simply writing a study of his novels from such a perspective. But then the greater challenge of seeking to do even minimal justice to the breadth and internal variety of the impressionist proj­ect became irresistible. Second, I wish to prepare the reader for the presence throughout this book of extensive quotations, as should already be clear from my account of “A Memorandum of Sudden Death.” ­T here is no help for this: in order for my arguments to stand a chance of persuading, I need to pres­ent sufficient evidence in the form of excerpts from the texts ­under discussion, all the more so ­because a number of ­those texts ­will be unfamiliar to most readers. Again, “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” is a case in point, but beyond that, who ­today is even broadly familiar with the work of W. H. Hudson and R. B. Cunninghame Graham, or even with Erskine Childers’s masterly The Riddle of the Sands? Or for that ­matter, with N ­ orris’s A Man’s W ­ oman or Conrad’s “The Tale”? Third, a related point, dif­fer­ent chapters ­will have dif­fer­ent emphases. Some ­will focus on single authors (Conrad w ­ ill be the sole focus of three, and works by him ­will figure in three ­others as well), and throughout the book single works w ­ ill be analyzed intensively, but several chapters w ­ ill be thematic in nature, surveying impressionist motifs such as upturned



and other strongly marked f­aces, maps and charts, mist or fog, the relation of visual to aural signifiers, textual regression, and so on. This is to say that the book as a w ­ hole ­will pres­ent an inner diversity of approach, even as its basic concerns ­will remain pretty much unvarying. A fourth point, which by now scarcely needs stating, is that I have chosen not to get u­ nder way by summarizing and commenting on other, often highly intelligent and productive but in all cases very dif­fer­ent interpretations of literary impressionism. I have tried to pay my scholarly dues in this regard, but my aim in this book is not to take issue with the views of previous commentators but rather to put forward a sustained, rigorously argued, and textually fine-­grained account of what I regard as a central problematic—at once obsessive in its focus and internally ­diverse—in a large number of both major and minor English-­language novels, stories, tales, and sketches between roughly 1890 and 1914, when for all intents and purposes literary impressionism as I understand it came to an end (with the qualification that certain writers, notably Ford, Kipling, and Cunninghame Graham, continued to produce impressionist works).21 In short, if my specific readings and my overall argument cumulatively gain traction on their own terms, I ­shall consider this book a success. A fifth point, in a similar vein, is that I have not tried to locate ­those developments within a range of broader cultural or sociohistorical considerations bearing on m ­ atters of writing such as the burgeoning of illustrated journalism and its related technologies, the advent of mass literacy (impor­tant especially for Wells), the evolution of newspaper and commercial publishing in G ­ reat Britain and the United States, the rise of a market or markets for short fiction such as Crane’s, London’s, or Kipling’s, and the proliferation of blatantly visual techniques of advertising, all of which, beyond a doubt, are relevant to a fuller understanding of what took place in English-­language writing between 1890 and 1914.22 Such an attempt would have amounted to an effort to write a second book largely based on this one (in other words, I would still have had to write more or less the same book first); moreover, that second book would necessarily have been much more speculative, I would even say much more general in its claims and suggestions, than the pres­ent one. At least in my hands it would have been. The broader questions ­will be for someone ­else to investigate, should he or she think it worthwhile.23


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A further admission is that although I am clear in my own mind that the par­tic­u­lar issues dealt with in this book belong crucially to the period from 1890 to 1914, I d ­ on’t seek to establish this by detailing precisely how my overarching problematic differs in crucial regards from the thematization of writing to be found in previous authors, most importantly the Americans Poe, Melville, and Thoreau—­once again in the interest of sticking to the task at hand. I ­will say, though, that in none of them do I find even a hint of the conflictual structure keyed at once to the upturned page and the pro­cess of inscription and to the suppression of explicit awareness of t­ hese that I have tried to lay bare in Crane and that w ­ ill also characterize both major and minor texts by ­others among the impressionists.24 Still another point, perhaps most impor­tant or all, is methodological, or, say, theoretical. As is already clear, my accounts of impressionist texts ­will deploy certain concepts, in par­tic­u­lar ­those of the scene of writing and the materiality of writing, usually associated, with good reason, with the thought of the French phi­los­o­pher Jacques Derrida. And in fact my sense of indebtedness to Derrida’s writings is considerable, having studied him with par­tic­u­lar intensity during the second half of the 1970s and 1980s. But already in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces” my account of Crane’s literary activity is thoroughly intentionalist, as is also true of my early art criticism and art-­h istorical writings, which is to say that even during the years when I read Derrida most closely I remained fundamentally non-­Derridean in my basic orientation. (This even without the further influence of Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels’s 1982 essay “Against Theory” and Michaels’s subsequent writings in the same radically intentionalist vein.)25 To be as plain as pos­si­ble: throughout this book I understand myself to be trying to elucidate one or another structure of writerly intentions on the part of Crane, Conrad, Hudson, Ford, Kipling, and o­ thers, with the impor­tant proviso that I also imagine t­ hose writers to be largely unaware of crucial aspects of ­those intentions, which therefore are to be understood as having come into play as if automatically, below the threshold of conscious awareness, or at least below the threshold above which they would be recognized as what they are. (As has been seen, “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” is astonishingly lucid in its emphasis on automaticity. I ­shall return to this point more



than once in the chapters that follow.) Indeed, my further claim ­will be that the necessary suppression of or displacement away from the content of ­those intentions that is basic to the impressionist proj­ect—in the case of Crane, the suppression, for example, of conscious awareness that the “core” or “generative” subject of “The Upturned Face” is the writing of “The Upturned Face”—­turns out to have been a major source of the sheer literary intensity amounting at times to unbridled vio­lence of certain impressionist writings (the destruction of Henry Johnson’s face being an especially vivid case in point). That such a point of view is fundamentally at odds with Derrida’s emphasis on the essential drift of the signifier and his general skepticism about intentionality and meaning scarcely requires saying at this point in time. But that the pres­ent book is in a certain sense marked by deconstruction is nevertheless true. Fi­nally, Chapter 3, “Ford’s Impressionism,” w ­ ill include an extended reading of Ford’s most famous novel, The Good Soldier, by Charles Palermo, a distinguished art historian who also happens to be a superb reader of texts. As ­will become clear, the issues with which he engages are closely interwoven with ­those central to the pres­ent book.26

Chapter One

Almayer’s Face



n c ha p t e r   7 of Joseph Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly (finished 1895), a dead body is found by the edge of a river r­ unning through the Borneo jungle village of Sambir; Kasper Almayer, the novel’s protagonist, arrives just as his wife, a Malay, “threw her own head-­veil over the upturned face of the drowned man.”1 The villa­ger who found the body pleads with Almayer for a reward but is interrupted by an outburst of grief from Mrs. Almayer. “Almayer, bewildered, looked in turn at his wife,” the passage runs, at Mahmat [the villa­ger], at Balabatchi [a Malay “statesman” who has been plotting against Almayer], and at last arrested his fascinated gaze on the body lying on the mud with covered face in a grotesquely unnatural contortion of mangled and broken limbs, one twisted and lacerated arm, with white bones protruding in many places through the torn flesh, stretched out; the hand with outspread fin­gers nearly touching his foot. “Do you know who this is?” he asked of Balabatchi, in a low voice. . . . “It was fate. Look at your feet, white man. I can see a ring on t­ hose torn fin­gers which I know well.”


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Saying this, Balabatchi stepped carelessly forward, putting his foot as if accidentally on the hand of the corpse and pressing it into the soft mud. He swung his staff menacingly t­ owards the crowd, which fell back a l­ ittle. . . . “I do not understand what you mean, Balabatchi,” said Almayer. “What is the ring you are talking about? Whoever he is, you have trodden the poor fellow’s hand right into the mud. Uncover his face,” he went on, addressing Mrs. Almayer, who, squatting by the head of the corpse, rocked herself to and fro, shaking from time to time her dishevelled grey locks, and muttering mournfully. “Hai!” exclaimed Mahmat, who had lingered close by. “Look, Tuan; the logs came together so,” and h­ ere he pressed the palms of his hands together, “and his face must have been between them, and now ­there is no face for you to look at. ­There are his flesh and his bones, the nose, and the lips, and maybe his eyes, but nobody could tell the one from the other. It was written the day he was born that no man could look at him in death and be able to say, ‘This is my friend’s face.’ ” (AF, 96–98)

Note, to begin with, that unlike the passages from Crane’s “The Upturned Face” and The Monster cited in the Introduction to this book, the passage just quoted ­doesn’t actually narrate the disfiguration of a face—­that is, the drowned man’s obliterated face is revealed to the reader only at a remove, through the reported speech of Mahmat. (­Later it ­will emerge from Balabatchi’s report to the Malay raja he serves, Lakamba, that the corpse’s face was actually destroyed by Mrs.  Almayer, who “battered the face of the dead with a heavy stone, and . . . ​pushed him amongst the logs” [AF, 129] in order to pass the dead man off as Dain Maroola, a Malay pursued for murder by the Dutch authorities. ­Here, too, the reader is not “shown” that battering but merely told of it.) I see in the novel’s indirection in this regard something akin to Mrs. Almayer’s action of “[throwing] her head-­veil over the upturned face of the drowned man,” which is not to say that the dead man’s facelessness has been made less vivid on that account; my point is rather that the effect of vividness is achieved by ­these par­tic­u­lar means, which foreshadow Conradian


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narrative strategies to come and in par­t ic­u ­lar the emergence of Marlow, a Conradian staple, as an internal narrator who fulfills a similarly dual function. In any case, a relation to writing (and reading) is soon made explicit, when Almayer demands that the corpse’s face be uncovered and Mahmat describes, indeed mimes, the supposed action of the logs and replies (the exact words bear repeating), “It was written the day he was born that no one could look at him in death and be able to say, ‘This is my friend’s face.’ ” Fi­nally, another instance of veiling or covering turns up several pages ­later when Mrs. Almayer “[covers] the body with a piece of white cotton cloth” (AF, 104), an arrangement that prevails ­until Almayer, who has been led to believe that the drowned man was indeed Dain Maroola (the corpse wears the latter’s ring), defiantly exposes the faceless corpse to the Dutch naval officers who have come to arrest Dain (AF, 143). All this is suggestive as far as it goes, but the full significance of the juxtaposition of motifs of facelessness, veiling or covering, and writing plus illegibility starts to become clear only ­later on, ­toward the end of the eleventh (and next to last) chapter, when another face, Almayer’s, is made the focus of the novel’s attention. Almayer has just realized that his beautiful half-­caste ­daughter Nina—­t he center of his grandiose, unrealistic dreams of becoming rich and escaping with her to Amsterdam— is determined to go off with Dain, who has returned to claim her. The scene takes place on an islet in the mouth of the Pantai River, where Dain and Nina are waiting for the arrival of a canoe that w ­ ill carry them to safety; Almayer, who had hoped to persuade Nina to remain with him, has just sat down on the sand by Nina’s side: “I ­shall never forgive you, Nina,” said Almayer, in a dispassionate voice. “You have torn my heart from me while I dreamt of your happiness. You have deceived me. Your eyes that for me ­were like truth itself lied to me in e­ very glance—­for how long? You know that best. When you w ­ ere caressing my cheek you ­were counting the minutes to the sunset that was the signal for your meeting with that man—­there!” He ceased, and they both sat ­silent side by side, not looking at each other, but gazing at the vast expanse of the sea. Almayer’s

Almayer’s Face


words had dried Nina’s tears, and her look grew hard as she stared before her into the limitless sheet of blue that shone limpid, unwaving, and steady like heaven itself. He looked at it also, but his features had lost all expression, and life in his eyes seemed to have gone out. The face was a blank, without a sign of emotion, feeling, reason, or even knowledge of itself. All passion, regret, grief, hope, or anger—­a ll ­were gone, erased by the hand of fate, as if a­ fter this last stroke every­thing was over and t­ here was no need for any rec­ord. ­T hose few who saw Almayer during the short period of his remaining days ­were always impressed by the sight of that face that seemed to know nothing of what went on within: like the blank wall of a prison enclosing sin, regrets, and pain, and wasted life, in the cold indifference of mortar and stones. (AF, 189–90)

The passage suggests a link between two seemingly unrelated items: Almayer’s insistence to Nina that he ­will never forgive her and the blankness and impassiveness of his face, the absence from it of all signs, not just of emotion but of inner life. The nature of that link is clarified as Almayer expands on his resolve not to forgive his d ­ aughter. “I ­will never forgive you, Nina,” he repeats, “and to-­morrow I ­shall forget you!” (AF, 191). In Almayer’s confusion and pain, we are told, “only one idea remained clear and definite—­not to forgive her; only one vivid desire—to forget her. And this must be made clear to her—­and to himself—by frequent repetition” (AF, 192). But of course, the connection between the “idea” of not forgiving Nina and the “desire” to forget her is more than a ­l ittle problematic. For ­t here is an obvious sense in which not forgiving Nina necessarily w ­ ill depend on not forgetting what she did, on keeping her and her betrayal constantly in view; while forgetting Nina ­w ill involve, not forgiving her exactly, but relinquishing all awareness of the grievance that motivated the resolve to forget in the first place. Rather than explore that tension or conflict, however, the novel in its remaining pages throws all its emphasis on the side of the “desire,” or rather it emphasizes a further connection between Almayer’s proj­ect of hyperbolically forgetting Nina and the blankness and rigidity of his face. ­After the canoe has arrived and Nina and Dain have begun to leave, Almayer is described in the following terms:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? He stood very straight, his shoulders thrown back, his head held high, and looked at them as they went down the beach to the canoe, walking enlaced in each other’s arms. He looked at the line of their footsteps marked in the sand. He followed their figures moving in the crude blaze of the vertical sun, in that light violent and vibrating, like a triumphal flourish of brazen trumpets. He looked at the man’s brown shoulders, at the red sarong round his waist; at the tall, slender, dazzling white figure he supported. He looked at the white dress, at the falling masses of the long black hair. He looked at them embarking, and at the canoe growing smaller in the distance, with rage, despair, and regret in his heart, and on his face a peace as that of a carved image of oblivion. Inwardly he felt himself torn to pieces, but [Almayer’s servant] Ali who—­now aroused—­stood close to his master, saw on his features the blank expression of t­ hose who live in that hopeless calm which sightless eyes only can give. (AF, 194)

This too ­isn’t without internal tensions: the notion of “a peace [like] that of a carved image of oblivion” is at least potentially discrepant with that of a “hopeless calm,” just as the implied sharpness of visual definition of the carved image is at odds with the final figure of blindness. But what I want to stress, what indeed the passage stresses, is the contrast between Almayer’s blank expression and violent emotions raging within him, a contrast that plainly violates the “realistic” convention that facial expressions at moments of emotional crisis spontaneously and candidly represent a person’s inner state.2 The point is underscored a moment ­later as Almayer and Ali make their way back to their canoe: For all his firmness [Almayer] looked very dejected and feeble as he dragged his feet slowly through the sand on the beach; and by his side—­invisible to Ali—­stalked that par­tic­u ­lar fiend whose mission it is to jog the memories of men, lest they should forget the meaning of life. He whispered in Almayer’s ear a childish prattle of many years ago. Almayer, his head bent on one side, seemed to listen to his invisible companion, but his face was like the face of a man that has died struck from b­ ehind—­a face from

Almayer’s Face


which all feelings and all expression are suddenly wiped off by the hand of unexpected death. (AF, 196)

Such a face, like the one described at the end of the preceding passage, may be ­imagined to represent the inner state of a person who had succeeded in the proj­ect I have called hyperbolic forgetting. And in fact, the novel goes on to suggest that Almayer’s blank, expressionless face already represents the state of mind and feeling t­oward which his efforts at forgetting are directed; put more strongly, it suggests that t­ hose efforts can succeed only by making his inner state accord perfectly with an outward repre­sen­ta­tion whose uncanniness in the eyes of ­those who behold it consists in its denial of all evocation of “depths.” (What makes the denial uncanny is that the repre­sen­ta­tion in question is a face.) This is the gist of an exchange between Almayer and his friend Ford, the captain of a steamer, who visits him several times a­ fter his return to Sambir. Immediately ­after his return Almayer burned down the ­house in which he had lived with Nina and moved into another, unfinished one that he had built some time before “for the use of the f­uture engineers, agents, or settlers” of the larger com­pany he dreamed of establishing (AF, 33). (The second h­ ouse appropriately came to be called “Almayer’s Folly,” giving the novel its title.) ­There he set himself to wait in anxiety and pain for that forgetfulness which was so slow to come. He had done all he could. ­Every vestige of ­Nina’s existence had been destroyed [among ­those vestiges was her trunk, the lid of which bore the large initials “N. A.” in brass nails ­ hether the (AF, 198)]; and now with e­ very sunrise he asked himself w longed-­for oblivion would come before sunset, ­whether it would come before he died? (AF, 201)

The exchange with Ford reads as follows: One morning Ford found him sitting on the floor of the verandah, his back against the wall, his legs stretched stiffly out, his arms hanging by his side. His expressionless face, his eyes open wide with immobile pupils, and the rigidity of his pose, made him look


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? like an im­mense man-­doll broken and flung t­here out of the way. As Ford came up the steps he turned his head slowly. “Ford,” he murmured from the floor, “I cannot forget.” “­Can’t you?” said Ford, innocently, with an attempt at joviality: “I wish I was like you. I am losing my memory—­age, I suppose; only the other day my mate—” He stopped, for Almayer had got up, stumbled, and steadied himself on his friend’s arm. “Hallo! You are better to-­day. Soon be all right,” said Ford, cheerfully, but feeling rather scared. Almayer let go his arm and stood very straight with his head up and shoulder’s thrown back, looking stonily at the multitude of suns shining in ­r ipples on the river. His jacket and his loose trousers flapped in the breeze on his thin limbs. “Let her go!” he whispered in a grating voice. “Let her go. To-­ morrow I ­shall forget. I am a firm man, . . . ​firm as a . . . ​rock, . . . ​ firm . . .” Ford looked at his face—­a nd fled. The skipper was a tolerably firm man himself—as t­hose who had sailed with him could ­testify—­but Almayer’s firmness was altogether too much for his fortitude. (AF, 203–204)

What makes Almayer’s face so disturbing to Ford—­t he “firmness” of which the passage speaks—is the absence from it of all expression, and it is that absence, that expressionlessness, that invites us to think of Almayer’s proj­ect of hyperbolic forgetting as seeking above all to make his inner state coincide as if physically with his outward appearance. It seems obvious that so bizarre a proj­ect cannot be understood “psychologically,” that is, as an instance of plausible though extreme be­hav­ior on the part of the character Almayer, if only ­because it is nowhere implied that Almayer himself is in the least aware of what has happened to his features. Rather, the “long solo for Almayer” (Conrad’s phrase in a letter to his aunt, Marguerite Poradowska)3 with which Almayer’s Folly concludes all but demands to be understood as symbolic or allegorical—­but of what? To begin with, of a par­tic­u­lar repre­sen­ta­tional proj­ect, one that seeks to collapse the distinction between inner and outer (or inner and outward)

Almayer’s Face


by matching the former to the latter. In the most general terms, this is consistent with my summary account of Crane’s impressionism in the Introduction, and indeed—as the reader ­will already have surmised—­I understand the obvious affinities between recurrent images of disfigured ­faces in Crane and Conrad—in the first place, in Almayer’s Folly— as pointing to the functioning in Conrad as well as in Crane of a distinctively impressionist problematic grounded in the writer’s relation to the act and circumstances of writing. But unlike “The Upturned Face” or the passage from The Monster narrating the destruction of Henry Johnson’s face, the quotations from Almayer’s Folly we have been considering neither meta­phorize the physical act of writing nor, a fortiori, evoke the irruption and repression of the materiality of writing. Rather, they dramatize another relation to the act of writing, a relation I ­shall call, following the novel’s lead, erasure. The obliteration of the drowned man’s face earlier in the novel first announces that relation, not only b­ ecause the act of obliteration invites being read as one of erasure (this might also be said, more or less, of the burning laboratory scene in The Monster), but also by virtue of the indirect narration of that act, of the veiling and then covering of the corpse by Mrs. Almayer, and fi­nally of Mahmat’s remark to Almayer, “It was written the day he was born that no man could look at him in death and be able to say, ‘This is my friend’s face’ ”—­the invocation of writing in the first words of the sentence setting the stage for the thematization of erasure by its close. The pertinence of the notion of erasure to the descriptions of Almayer’s stricken face cited above is even more evident, and in fact t­ hose descriptions speak both of “all passion, regret, grief, hope, or anger” having been “erased by the hand of fate” and of “all feelings and expression” having been “suddenly wiped off by the hand of unexpected death,” figures of speech that soon emerge, in arguably the most impor­tant scene in the book, as determining for Almayer’s proj­ect of hyperbolic forgetting as well. ­Toward the beginning of the paragraph that describes Almayer watching Nina and Dain embark and leave, we are also told that as the lovers walked down the beach to their canoe, Almayer, standing very straight, “looked at the line of their footsteps marked in the sand” (AF, 194) ­until Ali points out in the distance the yellow triangle of a sail, which Almayer follows with his gaze u­ ntil it dis­appears. (Earlier Almayer said


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

to Nina, “It is most impor­t ant for me to see you go. Both of you. Most impor­t ant” [AF, 189]. This turns out to mean literally watching them vanish.) Ali reminds him that they should be returning to Sambir. Then: “Wait,” whispered Almayer. Now she was gone his business was to forget, and he had a strange notion that it should be done systematically and in order. To Ali’s ­great dismay he fell on his hands and knees, and, creeping along the sand, erased carefully with his hand all traces of Nina’s footsteps. He piled up small heaps of sand, leaving b­ ehind him a line of miniature graves right down to the w ­ ater. ­A fter burying the last slight imprint of Nina’s slipper he stood up, and, turning his face ­towards the headland where he had last seen the prau, he made an effort to shout out loud again his firm resolve to never forgive. Ali watching him uneasily saw only his lips move, but heard no sound. He brought his foot down with a stamp. He was a firm man—­fi rm as a rock. Let her go. He never had a d ­ aughter. He would forget. He was forgetting already. (AF, 195–196)

This is a crucial passage. In the first place, Almayer’s notion that the “business” of forgetting “should be done systematically and in order” is indeed “strange,” not just b­ ecause the idea of systematicity seems at odds with that of forgetting but also b­ ecause virtually all this w ­ ill mean—­apart from eradicating the footsteps—is burning down the h­ ouse he shared with Nina in Sambir. (On the other hand, chapters 11 and 12 are nothing if not systematic in their development of the double thematic of hyperbolic forgetting and facial blanknesss.) More impor­tant, the passage links Almayer’s proj­ect of hyperbolic forgetting with one of erasure, as if not only the imprint of Nina’s footsteps in the sand but Almayer’s entire store of memories of her, early and late, w ­ ere so much writing that now had to be undone, to use as neutral a verb as pos­si­ble. But what of the act of erasure as Conrad describes it? H ­ ere one might be tempted to argue that b­ ecause Almayer’s efforts to do away with all traces of Nina’s footsteps result not in the restoration of a perfectly smooth surface but rather in “small heaps of sand,” “a line of miniature graves right down to the ­water,” the passage shows that genuine erasure is impossible. But I think it would be

Almayer’s Face


truer to the obsessions of the text to say that the passage defines erasure as a vis­i­ble marking over of preexisting writing—­more precisely, as itself a mode of writing that renders irretrievable a prior writing (as the heaps of sand and miniature graves obscure Nina’s footprints) but whose own legibility as erasure depends on a certain material survival of the original “text” (as the heaps of sand and miniature graves may be seen as inverting the impressions Nina’s footsteps made in the sand). Not that erasure so defined is fundamentally at odds with a thematic of blankness. On the contrary, as we have seen, Almayer’s face is repeatedly described as blank and expressionless and is perceived by ­others in ­those terms. But in the first place it has been made blank, much as the faceless corpse was earlier covered by a white cloth, and in the second— an equally decisive point—it never ceases to be a face, which as I have already implied is why it makes so indelible an impression on ­those who behold it. Put slightly differently, a face ­under certain circumstances may be described as expressionless, but such a face could not therefore be said to be inexpressive: its capacity for representing “depths”—­that is, thought, emotion, feeling—is, so to speak, ineffaceable.4 But Conrad seems to be suggesting that Almayer’s face a­ fter Nina’s departure calls that distinction into question, not that the vari­ous figures Conrad uses to evoke the erasure of all expression from Almayer’s features are strictly consistent with one another. More broadly, blankness in Almayer’s Folly emerges both as the product of the repre­sen­ta­tional act the novel calls erasure and as a par­tic­u­lar repre­sen­ta­tion in its own right, not as a brute material fact signaling the collapse of repre­sen­ta­tion (as a wilderness of ice—­Norris’s version of blankness—­w ill be seen to connote such a collapse in A Man’s ­Woman). At the risk of getting ahead of myself I w ­ ill suggest that the restoration of an original—­better, an originary—­blankness that is never merely a material blankness functions as a hyperbolic ideal not just in Almayer’s Folly but throughout Conrad’s oeuvre. (One novel, The Secret Agent, is an exception to the phrase I have just italicized, but that can wait.) Indeed, a conception of erasure both as the disfiguring of a prior repre­sen­ta­tion and as the restoration of an originary blankness is implicit in the unexpected image of Almayer’s s­ ilent shout, which I read as hinting at an analogy between silence and blankness at the same time that it depends for its effect on the contrast between the absence of sound


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and the sight of Almayer’s moving lips. (Something similar takes place ­toward the end of The Nigger of the “Narcissus” when the mortally ill James Wait, at the end of his strength, rages impotently at Donkin—­“and not a word had the strength to pass beyond the sorrowful pout of ­those black lips.”) 5 By insisting that the blankness in question is not merely material I do not deny, rather I mean to affirm, that it is “before all” the blankness of the white sheet of paper that confronted Conrad when he sat down to write. A letter from Conrad to Poradowska, herself an author, written in late March or early April 1894 when he was nearing the end of Almayer’s Folly, is illuminating ­here. The letter is in French; the En­glish translation is as follows: My very dear Aunt, Forgive me for not having written sooner, but I am in the midst of struggling with Chapter XI; a strug­gle to the death, you know! If I let go, I am lost! I am writing to you just as I go out. I must indeed go out sometimes, alas! I begrudge each minute I spend away from the page. I do not say from the pen, for I have written very ­little, but inspiration comes to me while gazing at the paper. Then ­there are vistas that extend out of sight; my mind goes wandering through ­great spaces filled with vague forms. Every­thing is still chaos, but, slowly, ghosts are transformed into living flesh, floating vapours turn solid, and—­who knows?—­perhaps something ­w ill be born from the collision of indistinct ideas. I send you the first page (which I have copied) to give you an idea of the appearance of the manuscript. This I owe you, since I have seen yours. I for one like to observe the decencies. I embrace you warmly. Always yours J. Conrad (CL, 1:150–151) 6

­ here could be no more compelling “external” evidence in support of T my argument. To begin with, the letter’s occasion is significant, by which I mean that it is in chapters 11 and 12 that the problematic of blankness and erasure I have been tracing comes at last to the fore. (One has the feeling that the main task of the previous chapters was to set the stage for

Almayer’s Face


what happens ­there.) As for the letter’s substance, Conrad’s distinction between pen and page and his assertion that inspiration comes to him “while gazing at the paper” can serve to make us aware that Almayer’s Folly, like Conrad’s fiction generally, tends to minimize the role of pen imagery, especially in contrast to Crane’s, which continually thematizes the act of writing in all its scriptiveness, so to speak.7 (That Almayer erases Nina’s footprints with his bare hands perfectly expresses that tendency.) Moreover, Conrad’s emphasis on gazing rather than writing evokes a state of heightened receptivity that, if inspiration ­were not to arrive, might easily decay into passive fantasizing and anguished conviction of failure;8 commentators on the novel ­haven’t failed to recognize certain affinities between Almayer and his creator. ­There is also the suggestion that the vistas and spaces the letter evokes become “vis­i­ble” to Conrad in the very blankness of the paper, much as if the paper w ­ ere a crystal ball, then at the height of its popularity as a mediumistic device (compare the moment in Lord Jim when Marlow, sitting pen in hand over a blank page, literally sees two figures “dodge into view with stride and gestures, as if reproduced in the field of some optical toy”).9 Indeed, Conrad’s account of the advent of inspiration strongly implies that the field of boundless possibility at which or into which he represents himself gazing was for him the precondition of imaginative vision altogether, which in turn suggests that the continual restoration of blankness with each new sheet of paper, but also as a consequence of nonliteral (that is, repre­sen­ta­tional or figurative) acts of erasure was the generative—as well as the most anxious—­moment in his enterprise. (More on that anxiety further on.) Fi­nally, Conrad’s decision to send Poradowska an ­actual page of his writing testifies to his fascination with the look of his prose as it filled up or, a verb he favored, “blackened” the blank sheet.10 Not surprisingly, the page in question, which t­oday reposes in the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia, is heavi­ly revised (see Figure 5).11

n I have already intimated that I regard the problematic of erasure that lies at the heart of Almayer’s Folly as fundamental to Conrad’s impressionism. In the remainder of this chapter I want to look briefly at a range of other writings by Conrad in an attempt, first, to support that claim, and


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Fig. 5. ​Joseph Conrad, first page, first version of chapter 11 of the manuscript of Almayer’s Folly, late March or early April 1894. The Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia (Accession No. EL4.C75al).

second, to draw out a few larger implications of the argument I have been pursuing. For the most part I s­ hall restrict my comments to well-­k nown works, but I want to begin by considering “The Black Mate,” an obscure story that nonetheless holds a privileged position in Conrad’s oeuvre by virtue

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of being, according to his testimony, his first written work (a version of it is thought to have been composed as early as 1886).12 The story’s protagonist is Bunter, first mate on the Sapphire. The other mates of the ships then lying in the London Dock are characterized as “a steady, hard-­ working, staunch, unromantic-­looking set of men, belonging to vari­ous classes of society, but with the professional stamp obliterating the personal characteristics, which w ­ ere not very marked, anyhow” (“BM,” 208). In contrast, Bunter, who “was no more black than you or I” (“BM,” 209)—in fact, the narrator adds, intriguingly from my perspective, that “to call him black was the superficial impressionism of the ignorant” (“BM,” 209)—­was given his nickname by the dock laborers ­because of his strikingly black hair, heard, and bushy eyebrows. We are also told at the outset that Bunter has a secret, and by the end of the tale we learn that his hair in fact is white, and that (at the narrator’s suggestion) he dyed it black in order not to be turned down for a post at sea b­ ecause of his age. The secret is revealed ­because Bunter’s stock of hair coloring is washed away in a gale; brooding about what to do, he falls and knocks himself unconscious one night while on duty; he is put to bed, his hair shaven and his head swathed in white ban­dages; and while lying ­there he concocts a tale to the effect that he fell ­because he saw a ghost (the ship’s captain, an argumentative fool who throughout the voyage tries repeatedly to convert Bunter to his spiritualist views, is more than willing to believe his mate’s invention). When Bunter’s hair begins to grow back white it therefore seems to every­one on board as if the change in color w ­ ere the result of his terrifying experience. The story ends happily months ­later as Bunter is re­united with his wife and explains the events of the voyage to her and the narrator. The few commentators who have discussed “The Black Mate” have rightly found its prose unremarkable and the narrative not at all deftly managed, while the basic idea has seemed devoid of deeper interest.13 But considered within the framework of my reading of Almayer’s Folly, “The Black Mate” may be understood as an exploration of dif­fer­ent modalities of erasure, starting with “the professional stamp obliterating the personal characteristics” of the other mates, continuing with the denial of a­ ctual (i.e., racial) blackness and the white ban­dages swathing Bunter’s shaven head (but leaving exposed his ebony eyebrows, “more sinister than ever amongst all that lot of white linen” [“BM,” 264]), and culminating in the


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completely white-­haired older man—­virtually another person—­whom the narrator encounters at the end of the voyage: Whereas the black mate struck ­people as deliberate, and strangely stately in his gait for a man in the prime of life, this white-­headed chap seemed the most wonderfully alert of old men. I d ­ on’t suppose Bunter was any quicker on his pins than before. It was the colour of the hair that made all the difference in one’s judgment. The same with his eyes. ­T hose eyes, that looked at you so steely, so fierce, and so fascinating out of a bush of a buccaneer’s black hair, now had an innocent, almost boyish expression in their good-­humoured brightness ­u nder ­those white eyebrows. (“BM,” 279–280)

Erasure in this last instance is literally a return to an original blankness (Bunter’s naturally white hair), but of course that blankness is the product of age (it is something that happened to Bunter), and in any case the white-­ haired mate now seems more youthful in manner and expression than before, which further complicates the meta­phorics of youth and age (or originariness and secondariness) and thereby all the more inextricably defines erasure and its effects as ­matters of repre­sen­ta­tion. In “The Black Mate” the apparent triviality of the core anecdote, deceptively underscored by the reference to “superficial impressionism,” throws the problematic of erasure into quasi-­allegorical relief. And as we have seen, the “systematic” treatment of Almayer’s expressionless face in the last chapters of Conrad’s first novel, for all the differences between Almayer’s Folly and “The Black Mate,” produces a not dissimilar effect. But already in the novel that problematic functions differently: instead of constituting meaning, erasure generates it, by which I mean that on the one hand it is productive of plot, character, and theme, and on the other ­these cannot be reduced to a thematics of erasure without severely impoverishing our view of Conrad’s achievement. (I would not wish to argue that t­ here is nothing more to Almayer’s Folly, with its anguished brooding upon questions of race, than an allegory of erasure. But any reading of that novel that ignores its commitment to erasure has missed something essential.) ­There is in this re­spect a contrast between Conrad and Crane,

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in whose work, so I argue in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” the continual surfacing and repression or appearance and disappearance of the materiality of writing tend more often than not to disrupt thematic coherence, destabilize character, and foreground local effects of often searing brilliance at the expense of a grasp of overall design.14 Not that, with re­spect to the ­actual texture of his prose, Conrad is to any appreciable degree a less obsessional writer than Crane, or that would-be totalizing interpretations of his novels and stories have been able even remotely to approach their ideal. So, for example, numerous discussions of Heart of Darkness15 —­perennially a prime focus of academic interest in Conrad—­ have emphasized its re­sis­tance to univocal reading on virtually e­ very level,16 while Almayer’s Folly itself teems with vivid, often hallucinatory images of f­aces and facing, at once supported and deflected by proliferating near homonyms (e.g., “face” and “fate”), which, albeit preparing the ground for the sustained pre­sen­t a­t ion of Almayer’s face in chapters 11 and 12, defy ordinary thematic integration as radically as anything in Crane.17 My point, however, is that such obsessiveness in Conrad also, in the end more importantly, takes the form of recurrent large-­scale structures of plot, character, and theme that have no exact equivalent in Crane, and my further claim is that ­those structures reveal a common rationale when they are understood in terms of the problematic of erasure I have been developing in ­these pages. ­Here, for example, is André Gide, who knew and admired Conrad, in his Journals: “Much interested by the relationship I discover between ­Under Western Eyes and Lord Jim. . . . ​That inconsistent act of the hero, to redeem which his ­whole life is subsequently engaged. For that which has the greatest consequences is precisely the inconsistencies of a life. How to efface t­ hose?”18 And: “Noteworthy that the fatal inconsistencies of Conrad’s heroes (I am thinking particularly of Lord Jim and U ­ nder Western Eyes) are involuntary and immediately stand seriously in the way of the one who commits them. A ­whole lifetime, afterward, is not enough to give them the lie and to efface their mark.”19 Gide’s pioneering insight has been confirmed by l­ ater critics, who in turn have speculated as to the personal reasons ­behind Conrad’s attraction to the theme of self-­betrayal and attempted redemption, but my point is rather that the plot structure Gide describes is a proj­ect of erasure—in Lord Jim (1900), to speak only


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of that archetypal text, Jim’s proj­ect of ultimately erasing the appalling shame of his leap from the deck of the Patna. In this connection, it is worth noting that that novel, too, is punctuated by an imagery of f­ aces and facing that, if somewhat less relentless than in Almayer’s Folly, is no less highly charged. “­There was nothing he could not face,” Marlow says of Jim on the Patna shortly before the collision in whose confused aftermath he leaps from the ship. “He was so pleased with the idea that he smiled, keeping perfunctorily his eyes ahead; and when he happened to glance back he saw the white streak of the wake drawn as straight by the ship’s keel upon the sea as the black line drawn by the pencil upon the chart” (LJ, 58). The conjunction of motifs of facing and drawing (or writing / drawing) is hardly fortuitous; nor is the conjunction of the white streak and black line, which adumbrates an entire thematics of the production of writerly blankness. Earlier we are told: The Patna, with a slight hiss, passed over that plain, luminous and smooth, unrolled a black ribbon of smoke across the sky, left b­ ehind her on the ­water a white ribbon of foam that vanished at once, like the phantom of a track drawn upon a lifeless sea by the phantom of a steamer. (LJ, 54)

The white wake is the first in a chain of related motifs, including the delicate “white tracings” on the wings of Stein’s butterflies (LJ, 195) and Marlow’s valedictory memory of Jim: “I s­ hall never hear his voice again, nor ­shall I see his smooth tan-­a nd-­pink face with a white line on the forehead, and the youthful eyes darkened by excitement to a profound, unfathomable blue” (LJ, 296). Tan and pink ­because of the contrast between the untanned forehead protected by the brim of a naval hat and the tanned rest of the face; but why the “white line”—­between the two, presumably? Immediately a­ fter the accident, while still on board the Patna, the light of Jim’s lamp “fell upon an upturned dark face whose eyes entreated him together with the voice” (LJ, 109), whereupon he slings the lamp in that face and runs off to get at the boats. Subsequently, Jim discovers he must face a hostile world, a world of ­faces demanding facts (LJ, 63), while the facts themselves seem to him to compose something like a face,

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“a w ­ hole that had features, shades of expression, a complicated aspect that could be remembered by the eye, and something e­ lse besides, something invisible, a directing spirit of perdition that dwelt within, like a malevolent soul in a detestable body” (LJ, 65). For his part, Marlow, who first lays eyes on Jim at the hearing a­ fter the disaster, is troubled by Jim’s appearance precisely ­because he appears so sound. “I tell you I o­ ught to know the right kind of looks,” Marlow famously says. “I would have trusted the deck to that youngster on the strength of a single glance, and gone to sleep with both eyes—­and, by Jove! it ­wouldn’t have been safe. ­There are depths of horror in that thought” (LJ, 76). In a sense, Jim’s proj­ect ­will be to make the meaning of his life eventually coincide with his appearance as Marlow t­ here describes it (cf. the last chapters of Almayer’s Folly); and in fact, Marlow’s final view of Jim standing all in white on the shore as the black night comes down b­ ehind him strongly suggests that, with the narrative’s tragic denouement still to come, Jim has largely succeeded. But Marlow himself was not so sure. “He was white from head to foot,” Marlow recalls, and remained per­sis­tently vis­i­ble with the stronghold of the night at his back, the sea at his feet, the opportunity by his side—­still veiled. What do you say? Was it still veiled? I ­don’t know. For me that white figure in the stillness of coast and sea seemed to stand at the heart of a vast enigma. The twilight was ebbing fast from the sky above his head, the strip of sand had sunk already ­under his feet, he himself appeared no bigger than a child—­then only a speck; a tiny white speck, that seemed to catch all the light left in a darkened world. . . . ​A nd, suddenly, I lost him. (LJ, 291)

(“You” in this passage is the novel’s framing narrator, who is quoting from a letter from Marlow. In no rational sense can he be i­ magined to be in a position to answer Marlow’s questions—­“What do you say? Was it still veiled?”—­unless, of course, we take the crucial coordinates of the framing narrator’s position to be ­those governing his relation to the written page before him—­and which page is that, exactly?) What has baffled commentary is Marlow’s insistence, h­ ere as elsewhere, on Jim’s enigmatic quality as, or as if as, an object of vision. “He was not—if I


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may say so—­clear to me,” Marlow says of him earlier in the book. “He was not clear” (LJ, 173). In my reading, that unclarity is, before all, Conrad’s experience of the blank page as a field of boundless possibility, hence also of radical uncertainty.20 All this is in line with my argument, but the novel goes still further in the extraordinary scene, extending over three chapters, in which Marlow sits writing letter a­ fter letter (“I wrote and wrote; I liquidated all the arrears of my correspondence, and then went on writing to ­people who had no reason what­ever to expect from me a gossipy letter about nothing at all” [LJ, 169]), filling page ­a fter page, at one point—as was earlier mentioned—­even seeing two figures in the blankness of a sheet of notepaper, ­until at last he brings himself to write recommending Jim to a friend who owns a rice mill. (The friend gives Jim a job and would have made him his heir had Jim not fled from the prospect of someday having to tell him about the Patna episode.) Marlow hands the letter to Jim, who reads it, thanks him ardently, then stammers: “I always thought if a fellow could begin with a clean slate . . . ​And now you . . . ​in a mea­sure . . . ​yes . . . ​ clean slate” (LJ, 179)—in effect, transforming the ultimate product of Marlow’s ­labors from a blackened page to a blank one. (Typically, Marlow concludes, “A clean slate, did he say? As if the initial word of each our destiny ­were not graven in imperishable characters upon the face of a rock” [LJ, 179].)21 The moral / psychological significance of the scene, underscored by its length, is that from this moment on, Marlow accepts responsibility for Jim, which eventually w ­ ill lead to Stein sending Jim to Patusan. But even as we register the point our attention is drawn, as if by Marlow himself, to an act of writing that ultimately, with the phrase “clean slate,” invites being read as emblematizing the author’s proj­ect of erasure. And what is distinctively Conradian, too, is the perfect fit, expressive of an unconscious mutual accord, between the two meanings, neither of which may be understood as lying “deeper” than the other. Another much discussed Conradian structure that bears on the issues we have been tracing is that of the double, a structure which, more often than not, leads in the end to the sacrifice or disappearance of one or both members of the featured pair. (The matched fates of Jim and Dain Waris in Lord Jim is a case in point.) What­ever ­else may be at stake in this, and ­there is e­ very reason to think that Conrad’s predilection for doubling, as

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for the theme of self-­betrayal and redemption, was overdetermined, I read the many va­ri­e­ties of doubling in his work as figures for a two-­stage pro­ cess of inscription and erasure, the respective repre­sen­ta­tions of which are often indistinguishable from one another. A key text in this regard is the author’s note to Conrad’s first collection of stories, Tales of Unrest (published 1898), which begins by stating that the earliest of the stories in the volume, “The Lagoon,” was “conceived in the same mood which produced ‘Almayer’s Folly’ and ‘An Outcast of the Islands’ [Conrad’s second novel], . . . ​told in the same breath, . . . ​seen with the same vision, rendered in the same method—if such a ­thing as method did exist then in my conscious relation to this new adventure of writing for print.” Conrad continues: “I doubt it very much. One does one’s work first and theorizes about it afterwards.” He then remarks, as if expanding on his unconscious relation to that new adventure: “Anybody can see that between the last paragraph of An Outcast and the first of The Lagoon t­ here has been no change of pen, figuratively speaking. It happens also to be literally true. It was the same pen: a common steel pen.” And he goes on to say that b­ ecause he thought the pen had been a good pen and had done enough for him, he put it into his waistcoat pocket as a memento. ­Later it came to rest among other odds and ends in a wooden bowl, where Conrad would see it from time to time with satisfaction, till, one day, I perceived with horror that t­ here w ­ ere two old pens in ­there. How the other pen found its way into the bowl instead of the fireplace or wastepaper basket I c­ an’t imagine, but t­ here the two ­were, lying side by side, both encrusted with ink and completely undistinguishable from each other. It was very distressing, but being determined not to share my sentiment between two pens or run the risk of sentimentalizing over a mere stranger, I threw them both out of the win­dow into a flower bed—­which strikes me now as a poetical grave for the remnants of one’s past.22

The anecdote itself is most likely an invention (Conrad in an autobiographical mode was notoriously unreliable, as was his friend and collaborator Ford), but it expresses about as lucidly as can be i­ magined the figurative truth that not one but two pens, the second for the work of


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erasure, had been involved in the impressionist enterprise of Almayer’s Folly and the works that immediately followed it.23 As for Conrad’s ­actual narratives based on doubling, arguably the most power­ful of ­those, the ­later story “The Secret Sharer” (1909), ends with the narrator / captain’s physically similar “secret self,” the inadvertent murderer Leggatt, at last quitting the ship where he has been hiding, with the narrator’s connivance, in the latter’s cabin, which in turn enables the narrator to get his first voyage as captain ­under way.24 (­Towards the beginning of the story, Leggatt explains how on another ship he came to strangle an insolent and unwilling seaman at the height of a gale, adding that when the two of them ­were found by ­others of the crew, “He was black in the face. It was too much for them” [“SS,” 90].) Shortly before Leggatt goes over the side we encounter two mutually reinforcing figures for erasure (of that blackened face, to begin with), the first when Leggatt remarks, “What does the Bible say? ‘Driven off the face of the earth.’ Very well. I am off the face of the earth now” (“SS,” 114), and the second when the narrator describes Leggatt studying the map of the region where he ­will have to swim for it: “He looked thoughtfully at the chart as if surveying chances and distances from a lofty height—­and following with his eyes his own figure wandering on the blank land of Cochin-­China, and then passing off that piece of paper clean out of sight into uncharted regions” (“SS,” 116). But the crucial passage occurs near the end of the story: a moment earlier, the narrator impulsively snatched his floppy hat off his own head and placed it on Leggatt’s; now the narrator’s prob­lem is to bring the ship sufficiently close to shore to give Leggatt a chance of swimming to safety without ­running aground in the windless calm—­all this on an utterly black night. The passage reads: I swung the mainyard and waited helplessly. She was perhaps stopped, and her very fate hung in the balance, with the black mass of Koh-­ring [a mountain] like the gate of the everlasting night towering over her taffrail. What would she do now? Had she way on her yet? I stepped to the side swiftly, and on the shadowy w ­ ater I could see nothing except a faint phosphorescent flash revealing the glassy smoothness of the sleeping surface. It was impossible to tell—­and I had not learned yet the feel of my ship. Was she moving? What I

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needed was something easily seen, a piece of paper, which I could throw overboard and watch. I had nothing on me. To run down for it I d ­ idn’t dare. T ­ here was no time. All at once my strained, yearning stare distinguished a white object floating within a yard of the ship’s side. White on the black ­water. A phosphorescent flash passed ­under it. What was that ­thing? . . . ​I recognized my own floppy hat. It must have fallen off his head . . . ​and he ­didn’t bother. Now I had what I wanted—­the saving mark for my eyes. (“SS,” 122–123)

As Leggatt vanishes from the narrator’s life (itself an instance of erasure), the white hat, substituting for a piece of paper, provides the object for the narrator’s “strained, yearning stare” (think of Almayer watching Nina and Dain’s canoe grow smaller in the distance, of Marlow watching Jim’s tiny figure dis­appear, of Conrad gazing at the page in his letter to Poradowska) that enables him to steer his ship to safety. And as if to leave no doubt as to the story’s stake in figures of blankness, we are told at the end of the same paragraph that Leggatt not only w ­ ill be “hidden forever from all friendly ­faces, to be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth,” but also, unlike Cain, w ­ ill bear “no brand of the curse on his sane forehead to stay a slaying hand” (“SS,” 123). Once again, decisive developments with re­spect to both the narrative’s moral / psychological significance and a problematic of erasure share the same imaginative space without e­ ither being reducible to the other. Indeed, the mutual autonomy of the two meanings, or rather the indifference of the second meaning to the precise moral and / or psychological valences of the imagery that in a sense it generates, is epitomized by the fact that of the two emblems of blankness the paragraph offers—­the floppy hat and Leggatt’s unbranded brow—­the first is saving, the second potentially dooming (to the narrator’s double if not to the narrator himself). To generalize the point, in its most characteristic manifestations Conrad’s problematic of erasure first makes the paper black, then makes it blank, not just once but repeatedly, without regard for the internal consistency of the moral, psychological, epistemological, and / or ontological issues that appear to depend on, to have been developed in terms of, an obsessive symbolism of black and white.25 Though even to say this is to impose too rigid a schema upon Conrad’s prose, in which extremes of blackness and


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whiteness often produce identical effects of a blankness that si­mul­ta­ neously frustrates and exacerbates vision, and thereby suggests the primal situation of the writer staring at the unmarked page. Think of Nostromo and Decoud adrift on the dark Golfo Placido,26 of Marlow and his crew enveloped by blinding white fog as they approach Kurtz’s camp (HD, 40–44), of the late short story “The Tale,” in which, during war­ time, a commanding officer has been ordered to take his ship and cruise “along certain coasts to see—­what he could see”;27 one rocky coast is said to “[stand] out intensely black like an India-­ink drawing on grey paper” (“T,” 168), but soon a blinding white fog comes on, and the rest of the narrative takes place in its grip. (I discuss “The Tale” at some length in Chapter 6.)28 Alternatively, as I came close to suggesting earlier, blankness may be figured by absolute silence, as in the pages that narrate Decoud’s death from solitude near the end of Nostromo (N, 392–396; the entire section can be read as a barely displaced repre­sen­ta­tion of Conrad’s novelistic ­labors at their most sterile);29 or, as ­will ­later emerge, in a thematics of deafness in the climactic pages of ­Under Western Eyes or in the late story, a lesser production, “Prince Roman.” Since Nostromo has come up in this way, let me briefly note the dual thematic in that novel of the San Tomé silver, a figure for blankness, and “material interests,” a virtual oxymoron in that all such interests are shown to be fantasmatic, which is to say subject to “idealization.”30 Some remarks by Conrad in a letter of 1923 to a Swedish professor, Ernst Bendz, are pertinent: Nostromo [the character] has never been intended for the hero of the Tale of the Seaboard. Silver is the pivot of the moral and material events, affecting the lives of every­body in the tale. That this was my deliberate purpose ­there can be no doubt. I struck the first note of my intention in the unusual form which I gave to the title of the First Part, by calling it “The Silver of the Mine,” and by telling the story of the enchanted trea­sure on Azuera, which, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with the rest of the novel. The word “silver” occurs almost at the very beginning of the story proper, and I took care to introduce it in the very last paragraph, which would perhaps have been better without the phrase which contains that key-­word.31

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The last paragraph in Nostromo reads: Dr. Monygham, pulling round in the police-­galley, heard the name pass over his head. It was another of Nostromo’s successes, the greater, the most enviable, the most sinister of all. In that true cry of love and grief that seemed to ring aloud from Punta Mala to Azuera and away to the bright line of the horizon, overhung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of solid silver, the genius of the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores dominated the dark Gulf contining his conquests of trea­sure and love. (N, 447)

Typically, this final image of erasure follows closely on another, as the aged Giorgio Viola, unaware that the man he has just killed is Nostromo, falls asleep over a book, “his snow-­white head rest[ing] upon the open pages” (N, 446). Fi­nally, in The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” Conrad’s third novel and his first g­ reat achievement, a dominant effect is the sheer rapidity with which images of blackness and whiteness succeed each other, as in the amazing sentence, which no other author could ever have dreamed of writing, “On the black sky the stars, coming out, gleamed over an inky sea that, speckled with foam, flashed back at them the evanescent and pale light of a dazzling whiteness born from the black turmoil of the waves” (NN, 47). Or, more succinctly, by the fusion of euphemism and explicitness in the skulking Donkin’s exclamation, “blank his black soul!” (NN, 32)—­said of Jimmy, naturally. Euphemism, in that the verb “blank” in this context reads as a substitute for some other, harsher verb that the conventions of literary discourse disallow from appearing in propria persona; and explicitness, in that the seeming invocation of ­those conventions enables the baldest conceivable expression of Conrad’s proj­ect of erasure. Note, by the way, how Donkin’s exclamation underscores the near identity of the En­glish words “blank” and “black”; no such situation prevails in French, in which, on the contrary, the word “blanc” (or “blanche”) means both “white” and “blank.” Put slightly differently, the French language, in which Conrad read extensively and which he knew at least as well as he knew En­glish, offered no possibility of distinguishing between “white” and “blank,” whereas not only did En­g lish allow that distinction, but


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the means by which it did so enabled him to associate blankness with both whiteness and blackness, as his proj­ect of erasure as a kind of overwriting (in Lord Jim, the evocation of a clean slate) implicitly required. I mention this, of course, for its pos­si­ble bearing on the larger question of Conrad’s choice of En­glish over French as his literary vehicle.32 And in case this seems far-­fetched, let me point out that Jimmy’s dead body, having been wrapped in a white blanket, is sewn into a shroud by a sailmaker who had earlier served on a frigate called the Blanche (NN, 98)33 —­which leads me to ask w ­ hether “Blanche” might be the unnamed name of Kurtz’s Intended, whom Marlow visits at the end of Heart of Darkness and to whom he tells the lie that Kurtz’s last word “was—­your name” (HD, 79). (The lie effectively erases the real­ity of Kurtz.) Apropos of names, it might be noted that James Wait’s last name, pronounced with a Cockney accent as it would have been by Donkin and no doubt other members of the crew, would have come out “White.” (­These few remarks barely suggest the relevance of The Nigger to my argument.)

n A topic of urgent concern to post-1960s historicist criticism, imperialism, is central to the most famous of all Conrad’s narratives, Heart of Darkness, as well as to a story that has received much less attention, the superb “Youth” (1898). A passage in Heart of Darkness that ­will already have struck the reader familiar with that novella as bearing on my argument is the one in which Marlow relates how, when he was ­little, he had a passion for maps (for more on maps and charts in impressionist texts, see Chapter 6): I would look for hours at South Amer­i­ca, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration [he remarks to his auditors]. At that time t­here w ­ ere many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my fin­ger on it and say, When I grow up I w ­ ill go t­ here. The North Pole was one of t­ hose places, I remember. Well, I ­haven’t been ­there yet, and ­shall not try now. The glamour’s off. Other places ­were scattered about the Equator, and in ­every sort of latitude all over the two hemi­spheres.

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I have been in some of them, and . . . ​well, we ­won’t talk about that. But ­there was one yet—­the biggest, the most blank, so to speak—­that I had a hankering ­after.

Marlow goes on to say that by the time he grew up “it was not a blank space any more. . . . ​It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful ­mystery—­a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness” (HD, 8).34 As the story unfolds, darkness and blankness turn out to be cognate with one another in innumerable re­spects (mediated by the dire whiteness of ivory), but what I want to emphasize in this context are not the vicissitudes and transformations of that initial image but rather the analogy between the blank page as what I earlier called a field of boundless possibility (also boundless anxiety) for the writer seated before it and the white space on the map as a comparable field of imaginative self-­ realization for the young male Eu­ro­pean (i.e., white) bourgeois subject in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Understood in this light, maps of the world with their unmarked spaces, color codings, and exotic place-­names played a vital role in the technology of imperialism not only ­because they gave objective expression to the strug­gle for geopo­liti­cal domination, but also ­because they helped mobilize the youthful energies of an entire class of persons in a seemingly individualist but in fact largely collective (nationalist, racialist, “Western”) undertaking whose economic and po­liti­cal consequences, when not actually occulted, at any rate need not have been recognized as such.35 And the text of Conrad’s that more brilliantly and concentratedly than any other dramatizes the efficacy of that technology is “Youth.” Very briefly, “Youth” is Marlow’s story of his first voyage to the East as a young man, on a ship named the Judea loaded with coal for Bangkok and bearing on her stern, “below her name in big letters, a lot of scrollwork, with the gilt off, and some sort of coat of arms, with the motto ‘Do or Die’ under­neath.”36 All this, Marlow says, took his fancy im­mensely, but what more than anything fired his imagination was the ship’s destination: “Bankok! I thrilled. I had been six years at sea, but had only seen Melbourne and Sydney, very good places, charming places in their way—­but Bankok!” (“Y,” 11). In fact, the voyage turned out to consist of an unbroken series of false starts and outright disasters, through all of


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which the youthful Marlow was sustained by the prospect of fi­nally seeing the fabled East; the last disaster, an explosion and fire, eventually sank the ship, and as by now we might expect, the sinking involved an act of erasure. In Marlow’s words: As we pulled across her stern [Marlow and the crew had transferred to boats] a slim dart of fire shot out viciously at us, and suddenly she went down, head first, in a ­great hiss of steam. The unconsumed stern was the last to sink; but the paint had gone, had cracked, had peeled off, and ­there ­were no letters, ­there was no word, no stubborn device that was like her soul, to flash at the rising sun her creed and her name. (“Y,” 33–34)

Even then, Marlow explains, his enthusiasm remained undampened: “I was steering for Java—­another blessed name—­like Bankok, you know. I steered many days” (“Y,” 34). Fi­nally, one night, utterly exhausted, Marlow and his men reached land (we are never told w ­ hether in fact it was Java) and w ­ ere joined almost immediately by the other boats from the Judea. The captain dispatched Marlow to find out w ­ hether a nearby ship in the harbor was En­glish. “And then,” Marlow reports, before I could open my lips, the East spoke to me, but it was in a Western voice. . . . ​The voice swore and cursed violently; it riddled the solemn peace of the bay by a volley of abuse. It began by calling me Pig, and from that went crescendo into unmentionable ­adjectives—in En­glish. (“Y,” 36)

When the b­ earer of the voice realized that Marlow himself was En­glish its tone changed; a commitment was made to take the crew of the Judea on board, whereupon Marlow returned to the jetty and went to sleep. When he wakened it was broad day; in a flood of light, Marlow opened his eyes and lay without moving. In a long paragraph, which I ­shall quote in its entirety, the story reaches its climax: And then I saw the men of the East—­they ­were looking at me. The ­whole length of the jetty was full of ­people. I saw brown, bronze, yellow f­aces, the black eyes, the glitter, the colour of an Eastern

Almayer’s Face


crowd. And all t­ hese beings stared without a murmur, without a sigh, without a movement. They stared down at the boats, at the sleeping men who at night had come to them from the sea. Nothing moved. The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden h­ ouses peeped through the green fo­liage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise. And ­these ­were the men. I sat up suddenly. A wave of movement passed through the crowd from end to end, passed along the heads, swayed the bodies, ran along the jetty like a ­ripple on the ­water, like a breath of wind on a field—­and all was still again. I see it now—­the wide sweep of the bay, the glittering sands, the wealth of green infinite and varied, the sea blue like the sea of a dream, the crowd of attentive f­aces, the blaze of vivid colour—­the ­water reflecting it all, the  curve of the shore, the jetty, the high-­sterned outlandish craft floating still, and the three boats with the tired men from the West sleeping, unconscious of the land and the p ­ eople and the vio­lence of sunshine. They slept thrown across the thwarts, curled on bottom-­ boards, in the careless attitudes of death. The head of the old skipper, leaning back in the stern of the long-­boat, had fallen on his breast, and he looked as though he would never wake. Farther out old Mahon’s [the first mate’s] face was upturned to the sky, with the long white beard spread out on his breast, as though he had been shot where he sat at the tiller; and a man, all in a heap in the bows of the boat, slept with both arms embracing the stem-­head and with his cheek laid on the gunwale. The East looked at them without a sound. (“Y,” 37–38)

“For me,” Marlow sums up, “all the East is contained in that vision of my youth. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea—­and I was young—­and I saw it looking at me” (“Y,” 38). In this fabulous scene, a problematic of erasure, already thematized in the obliteration of the Judea’s name and device just before it sank, is further expressed in the autograph Conradian motif of Marlow’s two


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e­ xperiences of arrival—­the cursing voice and the ­silent gazes—­the second of which effectively cancels, without exactly denying, the first. It is active as well in the image of the sleeping Mahon’s upturned face with his white beard spread out on his breast, but its most power­f ul manifestation lies in the suggestion that the youthful Marlow was himself a blank page, as if the scene by the jetty ­were visualized from the position not of the writer staring at the white paper but rather of the paper ­under his eyes. And this suggests in turn that one of the fundamental mobilizing strategies of the “new imperialism” was to encourage its younger representatives to imagine, for all their prior formation in Eu­ro­pean society and the ­actual economic work they ­were carry­ing out, that they ­were engaged in a strictly personal enterprise of self-­realization that cast them in the passive role of blank surfaces on which their experiences of the East, or Africa, or South Amer­i­ca, would inscribe the first identity-­defining marks. Conrad’s singular achievement in “Youth” was, through the medium of erasure, si­mul­ ta­neously to bear eloquent witness to the success of that strategy and to allow the reader a glimpse of its merely strategic face.37 A final point. Such a reading, along with ­others in this chapter, points to the inadequacy of the traditional emphasis—­correct as far as it goes— on the Conradian text’s exceptional mobility of point of view. What I would stress instead is rather its exceptional mobility of implied subject positions relative to all aspects of the scene of writing, including both the writer himself and the originary blankness at which or into which we have been imagining the writer gazing. (This would be a further difference from Crane, in whose texts, for all their profusion of materiality effects as well as their rampant animism, the implied relation between writer and page remains relatively stable.) An especially in­ter­est­ing passage in this regard is the one in Heart of Darkness that begins with the entry of Marlow’s steamboat into an area of blinding white fog (more on mist and fog in Chapter 6) and the wounding and death of the helmsman during the attack on the steamboat (the protracted description of the ­dying helmsman’s upturned face with its “lustrous and inquiring glance” [HD, 47] is a tour de force of its genre), goes on to tell of Marlow’s impulsive casting overboard of his blood-­soaked shoes one ­after the other (a moment of distancing or counter-­identification), and concludes with Marlow breaking off his narrative to ask for tobacco, whereupon the primary narrator re-

Almayer’s Face


ports: “­There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match flared, and Marlow’s lean face appeared, worn, hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids, with an aspect of concentrated attention” (HD, 48)—­ very much as if the import of the passage as a w ­ hole ­were to produce a momentary view of Conrad himself at work on his manuscript.

Chapter Two

Invisible Writing



o me bi og r ap h y f i r st : William Henry Hudson was born on August 4, 1841, on a ranch near Buenos Aires, Argentina.1 His parents ­were Americans of British ancestry who had emigrated to Argentina in the 1830s. From his earliest years Hudson was passionately interested in birds, and starting in the 1860s he collected bird skins for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and for members of the London Zoological Society; he also began to publish vari­ous observations on birdlife in the Society’s Proceedings, as a result of which he was made a corresponding member of the Zoological Society. In 1874 he left Argentina for E ­ ngland, in the hope, it seems, of forging a ­career for himself as a writer. In 1876 he married a former singer who owned the boarding­house in which he was residing, and for years the two subsisted mainly on the proceeds of that boarding­house or another. But their income was meager, and they came close to living in poverty as Hudson strug­gled to establish himself as an author. In 1884 he published his first novel, The Purple Land that ­England Lost (­later reprinted as simply The Purple Land), which was harshly received by the critics; a second, utopian novel, A Crystal Age (1887), was likewise a failure; other fictions fell flat as soon as they appeared. Fi­nally Hudson deci­ded to focus his energies on nature writing, and t­here he found a certain success. The breakthrough came with his 1892 volume of observations in Argentina, The Naturalist in La 58

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Plata, which no less an authority than Alfred Russel Wallace declared “altogether unique among books on Natu­ral History”;2 it was followed in 1893 by Idle Days in Patagonia, perhaps his finest book, and Birds in a Village, the first of numerous studies of bird-­and wildlife in the En­glish countryside. Over time, Hudson’s nature books won him a small but elite and enthusiastic audience. In 1900, through the initiative of one of his ­admirers, the statesman Lord Edward Grey, he was awarded a civil list pension of 150 pounds a year, and a year l­ater he met the critic Edward Garnett, who in 1894, as a reader for Allen and Unwin, had discovered Almayer’s Folly, and who now as a reader for Heinemann was swept off his feet by one of Hudson’s most impressive short stories, “El Ombú.” Garnett introduced Hudson to a number of writers including Conrad, Ford (then Ford Madox Hueffer), Edward Thomas, and Walter de la Mare, in whose com­pany he enjoyed an honored place. In 1904 Hudson published his most famous work, the romance (as Hudson called it) Green Mansions; twelve years ­later, with an introduction by John Galsworthy, Green Mansions was brought out in the United States, where it became Hudson’s first financial success (he was then seventy-­five). One of his most engrossing books, the autobiographical Far Away and Long Ago, appeared in 1918. Indeed, illness and old age seem to have had l­ ittle effect on his literary activity up ­until the moment of his death in 1921. Especially in view of his pres­ent obscurity, the most striking fact about Hudson’s ­career is the extremely high regard in which he was held by his fellow writers. Ford is particularly eloquent on this score: repeatedly in his volumes of reminiscences he asserts that he and Conrad (who w ­ ere not just friends but also collaborators) considered Hudson the greatest living writer of En­glish, if not of any language. As Ford put it: Conrad—­who was an even more impassioned admirer of Hudson’s talent than am even I—­used to say: “You may try for ever to learn how Hudson got his effects and you w ­ ill never know. He writes down his words as the good God makes the green grass to grow, and that is all you ­w ill ever find to say about it if you try for ever.”3

Ford goes on to discuss the corrections Hudson made on his rough drafts that he, Ford, believes produced that special quality:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? He would substitute for the ­simple word grew the almost more ­simple word ­were. When the hedges ­were green for when the hedges grew green, not so much with the idea of avoiding alliteration as ­because ­there is an ­actual difference in the effect produced visually. You do not see hedges grow, but you do see that they are green. And I suppose t­ hese minute verbal alterations, meticulously attended to, did give his projected scenes their vividness. (Portraits, 65)

But he also insists that the secrets of Hudson’s prose ultimately defy technical analy­sis. “He shared with Turgenev the quality that makes you unable to find out how he got his effects,” Ford writes. Like Turgenev he was utterly undramatic in his methods, and his books have that same quality that [sic] have t­ hose of the author of ­Fathers and ­Children. When you read them you forget the lines and the print. It is as if a remotely smiling face looked up at you out of the page and told you ­things. And ­those ­things become part of your own experience. (Portraits, 62)

Not a disfigured upturned face with open unseeing eyes, as classically in Crane, but a smiling upturned face looking into your own and telling you ­things! And immediately Ford goes on to paraphrase a passage from Hudson’s Nature in Downland that describes (in Ford’s words) how, lying on the turf of the high sunlit downs above Lewes in Sussex, Hudson looked up into the perfect, limpid blue of the sky and saw, g­ oing to infinite distances one b­ ehind the other, the eye picking up one, then another beyond it, and another and another, ­until the ­whole sky was populated . . . ​­little shining globes, like soap ­bubbles. They w ­ ere thistledown floating in an almost windless heaven. (Portraits, 62; ellipsis in original)

­ ere the upturned face is Hudson’s own, and what characterizes Ford’s H paraphrase (and the original passage) is that the face itself is only implied, not actually described, which is about as far as you can get within a the-

Invisible Writing


matics of faciality from Crane and, apart from a few exceptional moments such as the end of “Youth,” Conrad. The basic notion that emerges from ­t hese remarks is of a prose that steadfastly avoids calling attention to itself as writing or, perhaps more accurately, that impresses and even awes as writing precisely ­because it everywhere seems strictly subordinated to, in the ser­vice of, pure description of nature. Something close to this appears to be Galsworthy’s point in his foreword to Green Mansions, where he writes: “In all his work t­ here is an indefinable freedom from any thought of after-­benefit—­even from the desire that we should read him. . . . ​He seems to touch e­ very string with fresh and uninked fin­gers.” 4 Similarly, Lord Grey, a passionate birder, in an “Appreciation” composed just two years a­ fter Hudson’s death, insists on the latter’s detachment from ordinary concerns such as “the desire for personal success, wealth or fame.”5 For Grey, Hudson’s was an essentially contemplative nature; his ­great gift was “for pure observation,” his special power “the power of being moved to think and feel, without any desire to interfere” (“Appreciation,” xii). Once again, Ford goes further than anyone ­else: “If [Hudson] stood against an old gray wall in a field,” he writes, “he was so gray that he would be almost invisible from a few feet away u­ nless you looked specially for him” 6 —as if Hudson himself in this characteristically Fordian (i.e., hyperbolic) formulation personifies the all but “invisible” prose style that made him so exemplary a writer in the judgment of his contemporaries. To put all this in terms of my impressionist problematic, we may say that for Hudson’s admirers during his lifetime the materiality of writing and indeed the act of writing in the sense of inscribing words on paper with pen and ink are not repressed (or elicited and repressed), as in Crane, but rather minimized or indeed elided—­which is why Galsworthy refers to Hudson’s fin­gers as “uninked.” (As contrasted with Norris’s reference to the dark powdery smudges on Karslake’s pages.) It is as though in the eyes of his admirers, Hudson’s prose seeks to avoid the least hint of density or opacity, as in Ford’s claim that reading him “you forget the lines and the print.” Or think of Hudson replacing the phrase “when the hedges grew green” with “when the hedges w ­ ere green”: Ford assures us that the change ­wasn’t motivated by the desire to avoid alliteration, but it’s hard not to feel that,


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at least in part, that was exactly its import; and (as is shown in detail in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces”) alliteration plays a con­spic­u­ous role in Crane’s prose, as in the typical phrase from The Red Badge “the flag fluttered,” which virtually si­mul­t a­neously calls attention to the words themselves and evokes not just the motion but, onomatopoetically, the flapping sound of the banner to which they refer—­that is, the phrase both elicits the materiality of writing and then represses that materiality by virtue of the vividness of the repre­sen­ta­tion to which it gives rise. (Hudson in his old age wrote his friend Morley Roberts asking that, ­after his death, “not a scrap of written paper or manuscript” be allowed to survive.7 The very terms of the request are revealing, all the more so if Ford is right and the manuscripts w ­ ere heavi­ly revised.) Nor is Hudsonian denial akin to Conradian erasure, even if, as I have insisted, the blankness Conrad’s prose repeatedly thematizes is never merely or brutely material (with one massive exception, The Secret Agent, to be discussed at length in Chapter 5). As the image of Almayer erasing all traces of Nina’s footsteps by “[piling] up small heaps of sand, . . . ​ a line of miniature graves right down to the ­w ater” strongly suggests, effects of erasure in Conrad characteristically involve a quasi-­material density of their own, and indeed ­t here is no equivalent in Hudson to Conradian atmosphere, which H.  G. Wells, reviewing Almayer’s Folly, presciently described as “a haze of sentences” looming between the reader and the events of the narrative. 8 (A tendency of recent criticism has been to explain that haziness or semi-­opacity by attributing to Conrad a desire to call attention to the inadequacy of language to represent ­actual experience—an explanation I find less than persuasive.) Now consider the opening sentences of a chapter titled “Concerning Eyes” from Idle Days in Patagonia (1893): White, crimson, emerald green, shining golden yellow, are amongst the colors seen in the eyes of birds. In owls, herons, cormorants, and many other tribes, the brightly-­tinted eye is incomparably the finest feature and chief glory. It fixes the attention at once, appearing like a splendid gem, for which the airy bird-­body, with its graceful curves and soft tints, forms an appropriate setting. When the eye closes in death, the bird, except to the naturalist, becomes a mere

Invisible Writing


bundle of dead feathers; crystal globes may be put into the empty sockets, and a bold life-­imitating attitude given to the stuffed specimen; but the vitreous orbs shoot forth no life-­like flames, the “passion and the fire [sic] whose fountains are within” have vanished, and the best work of the taxidermist, who has given a life to his bastard art, produces in the mind only sensations of irritation and disgust.9

The passage is of interest on several counts. First, it points to a relationship—­t hematized in Green Mansions, as w ­ ill emerge—­between Hudson’s lifelong fascination with birds and his equal fascination in his fictional writings with beautiful w ­ omen with vivid flame-­like eyes. Second, the explicit concerns of the passage are not just ornithological or naturist (I am trying to avoid the ambiguous adjective “naturalistic”) but aesthetic. When a taxidermist inserts crystal globes in a dead bird’s eye sockets and places the bird in an attitude it might actually have assumed, he is seeking to imitate life, which makes him an artist of sorts (as Hudson as much as says). But Hudson finds the result repugnant, not ­because the taxidermist ­ought to have proceeded in some other fashion but ­because his entire proj­ect is misconceived. One might say that in Hudson’s aesthetic death is absolute and irredeemable (and not only in his aesthetic; he once called death “the Monstrous Betrayal”);10 his concern is with living birds, more precisely with what in the first chapter of his book Birds and Man he calls “birds at their best,” by which he means “an unsually attractive aspect of the bird, or a very much better than the ordinary one”—­aspects that produce, as he goes on to say, especially strong “impressions” on the observer.11 Third, the contrast Hudson draws between the real and glass eyes of living and dead birds invites comparison with a passage from William James’s Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy (1890) that I first cited in the Crane chapter of Realism, Writing, Disfiguration. James is trying to characterize the way in which “if we look at an isolated printed word and repeat it long enough, it ends by assuming an entirely unnatural aspect” (it is, so to speak, rendered merely material). “Let the reader try this with any word on this page,” James writes. “He w ­ ill soon begin to won­der if it can be the word he has been using all his life with that meaning. It stares at


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him from the paper like a glass eye, with no speculation in it. Its body is indeed ­there, but its soul is fled.”12 The similarity of terms between the Hudson and James passages could hardly be more striking. But even without that similarity—­even ignoring James’s remarks—­Hudson’s revulsion against the glass eyes of stuffed birds may be read as expressing his commitment to the version of impressionism I have been calling denial. Or rather, that revulsion may be read as such once we recognize the deeper significance of Hudson’s ornithological passion. Simply put, birds constitute the ultimate descriptive challenge to Hudson the writer by virtue of their particularly vivid sort of beauty, the sheer difficulty of experiencing them “at their best,” and, not least impor­tant, the unique conjunction in them of visual and aural characteristics. Thus, in the first chapter of Birds and Man Hudson regrets that the two subjects [sight and sounds] have to be treated consecutively instead of together, since with birds they are more intimately joined than in any other order of beings; and in images of bird life at its best they sometimes cannot be dissociated;—­the aerial form of the creature, its harmonious, delicate tints, and its grace of motion; and the voice, which, loud or low, is aerial too, in harmony with the form. (BM, 20; emphasis added)

This seems to imply that the task of description is doomed from the start, and in fact, Hudson repeatedly stresses that the (necessarily brief and unanticipatable) scenes of birdlife he cherishes most “live in their loveliness only for him who has seen and harvested them: they cannot be pictured forth to another by words” (BM, 19–20). In par­tic­u­lar, trying to render birdsong in words is a vain endeavor. “We have no symbols to represent such sounds on paper,” Hudson explains in Idle Days, “hence we are as powerless to convey to another the impression they make on us as we are to describe the odors of flowers” (ID, 143). And this not only ­because our knowledge of bird language is grossly deficient but also, more fundamentally, b­ ecause we have no way of notating the “certain aerial quality which makes [bird sounds] differ from all other sounds” (ID, 146; emphasis added).13 (He especially decries “the old method of spelling bird notes and sound” [ID, 145; emphasis in original]; this in effect would be

Invisible Writing


to treat birdsong as a kind of dialect, in the manner of Crane.) But, of course, Hudson w ­ asn’t led by such considerations to give up writing about birds; on the contrary, he published book ­after book on the subject (­these more than anything e­ lse made for his exalted reputation among his contemporaries), which suggests that his repeated claims that it was impossible to capture the essence of birds should be taken less as acknowledging ultimate defeat than as indicating his view of the stakes of pos­si­ble success. What I mean is this: by Hudson’s own account, the essentially aerial nature of birds—­not only of their sounds but of their bodies as well—­ called for an equivalent volatilization or, a favorite Hudson word, “etherealization” of the prose medium as such. Accordingly, to do justice to his experience of “birds at their best,” Hudson’s prose—­the words on the page—­had to be wholly given over to the production of simultaneous effects of sight and sound; put more strongly, the words had to consume themselves in the pro­cess, in which case the reader would indeed “lose sight of the lines and the print,” as Ford said he did when he read Hudson. It follows that birds as Hudson perceived them ­were the perfect if not the sole truly fitting subject ­matter for his version of impressionism as the radical denial of the materiality of writing. Only a concentrated attempt to represent his most vivid impressions of birds and birdsong put writing ­under maximum pressure to undo its own materiality. And only u­ nder maximum pressure could the feat conceivably be managed. Just how immaterial Hudson’s scriptive / repre­sen­ta­tional ideal was can be gathered from a remarkable passage further on in the first chapter of Birds and Man. He has just quoted Sir Edward Grey as saying in a speech that the plea­sure of seeing and listening to birds was “happier than personal success.” He grants that some who heard this must have found it hard to understand. He then says: Let us imagine that in addition to this miraculous faculty of the brain of storing innumerable brilliant images of ­t hings seen and heard, to be reproduced at call to the inner sense, t­ here existed in a few gifted persons a correlated faculty by means of which ­these trea­sured images could be thrown at ­w ill into the mind of another; let us further imagine that some one in the audience who had


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? wondered at that saying, finding it both dark and hard, had asked me to explain it; and that in response I had shown him as by a swift succession of lightning flashes a score or a hundred images of birds at their best—­the unimaginable loveliness, the sunlit colour, the grace of form and of motion, and the melody—­how ­great the effect of even that brief glance into a new unknown world would have been! (BM, 37–38)

In this unreal limit case, Hudson imagines the direct thought transference of sights and sounds from his mind to another’s. (In fact, Hudson in a late book, A Hind in Richmond Park, expresses his belief in telepathic phenomena.)14 In a similar spirit, Ford, a­ fter paraphrasing the passage from Nature in Downland in which Hudson lay on his back watching balls of thistledown floating in an almost windless heaven, goes on to claim: Now that is part of my life. I have never had the patience—­the contemplative tranquillity—to lie looking up into the heavens. I have never in my life done it. Yet that is I, not Hudson, looking up into the heavens, the eye discovering more and more tiny, shining globes ­until the w ­ hole sky is full of them and t­ hose thistle-­seed globes seem to be my globes. (Portraits, 62)

Ford and other admirers also speak of the plea­sure they take in copying out Hudson’s prose. All ­these issues come to a head in one of the strangest, most unclassifiable books in modern En­glish or American lit­er­a­ture, Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1904).15 The protagonist, Abel Guevez de Argensola, flees his native Venezuela for the wilds of the Amazon ­after being involved in an abortive coup. (The narrative proper is told in the first person as if in Abel’s voice, but a brief prologue makes it clear that it has been set down by an unnamed narrator a­ fter Abel’s death, on the strength of a conversation years before. The transition from one voice to the other is marked by a single “he said,” and t­here is no return to the original narrator at the story’s end.) One day while ­exploring a par­t ic­u ­lar forest Abel hears “a low strain of exquisite bird-­ melody, wonderfully pure and expressive, unlike any musical sound I

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had ever heard before” (GM, 37). The sound recalls that of a bird called the rialejo but, he says, “was purer, more expressive, softer—so low that at a distance of forty yards I could hardly have heard it. But its greatest charm was its resemblance to the ­human voice—­a voice purified and brightened to something almost angelic” (GM, 37–38). In fact, the voice turns out to belong to a h­ uman being, the girl-­woman Rima, with whom Abel soon falls in love. But Rima is no ordinary ­human being. She is seventeen years old, tiny (“not above four feet six or seven inches in height” [GM, 65]); her face far surpasses in loveliness all the h­ uman ­faces Abel has ever seen; the color of her skin, eyes, and hair continually changes with each shift of mood and variation in the light (he ­later compares her to “a hummingbird moving about in an aërial dance among the flowers—­a living prismatic gem that changes its colour with ­every change of position” [GM, 97; emphasis added]); her expression combines ­human intelligence with the “all-­seeing, all-­hearing alertness” of a wild creature (GM, 82); and—­a characteristic touch—­her only garment is a “light sheeny” dress she turns out to have made for herself “out of the fine floating lines of small gossamer spiders” (GM, 116–118). Rima lives in the forest with Nuflo, a coarse old man whom Abel recognizes at once cannot be related to her, and indeed, it emerges that years before, he had rescued Rima’s ­mother who was then pregnant with Rima. B ­ ecause she could never be taught to speak Spanish or Indian, it was impossible to learn where she was from or who the child’s f­ ather was; instead she spoke only the wonderful melodious language with which she and her ­daughter communed by the hour during the seven years they had together before the ­mother died. (Rima herself speaks Spanish in addition to her ­mother tongue, but regards the first as hopelessly crude in comparison with the second. “That is not speaking,” she says of it. And: “I can tell you [in Spanish], but it ­will not be telling you” [GM, 242–243].) From my point of view, the crucial scene—­the one that first led me to think that Hudson belonged to my impressionist paradigm—­takes place fairly late in the book. At Rima’s insistence, Abel, Rima, and Nuflo have journeyed by foot to a region called Riolama where Nuflo discovered ­R ima’s m ­ other seventeen years before. Abel tries to persuade Rima that her m ­ other must have been part of a community that was wholly destroyed shortly before Nuflo found her, but Rima, unable to bear the thought, cries out and collapses. Her eyes are closed, her face “still and deathly white”


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(GM, 229); Abel carries her down into the cave where Nuflo had taken Rima’s ­mother and “gaze[s] with unutterable anguish into her strangely white face” (GM, 231). As Nuflo prays for her recovery, Abel thinks he detects the first signs of a return to life: Together we continued watching her face for half an hour longer, I still holding her in my arms, which could never grow weary of that sweet burden, waiting for other, surer signs of returning life; and she seemed now like one that had fallen into a profound, deathlike sleep which must end in death. Yet when I remembered her face as it had looked an hour ago, I was confirmed in the belief that the pro­gress to recovery, so strangely slow, was yet sure. So slow, so gradual was this passing from death to life that we had hardly ceased to fear when we noticed that the lips ­were parted, or almost parted, that they ­were no longer white, and that ­under pale, transparent skin a faint, bluish-­rosy colour was now vis­i­ble. (GM, 233)

Sensing that the worst is over, Nuflo stretches out and falls asleep. Alone with Rima, “the mysterious loveliness of [her] still face . . . ​, its appearance of life without consciousness,” produces in Abel “a strange feeling . . . ​, hard, perhaps impossible, to describe” (GM, 233).16 He continues to observe further changes in Rima’s face, “a more distinct advance t­oward conscious life”; her color deepens, her eyelids lift slightly, her lips, too, begin to part—­and at last, Abel tells us, “the beauty of ­those lips could no longer be resisted, and I touched them with mine.” Between kisses Abel continues to gaze into her face, which becomes more and more radiant; is she aware of his kisses or not? ­After a while ­there can be no doubt. And gazing with ­those open, conscious eyes, it seemed to me that at last, at last, the shadow that had rested between us had vanished, that we ­were united in perfect love and confidence, and that speech was superfluous. And when I spoke it was not without doubt and hesitation: our bliss in ­those ­silent moments had been so complete, what could speaking do but make it less! (GM, 236–237)

(The scene takes up no fewer than eight pages.)

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By now I need hardly stress the analogy between the scene in the cave, focused on Rima’s white, seemingly lifeless, in that sense disfigured upturned face, and analogous scenes in Crane and Conrad. But what distinguishes the scene I have just summarized from anything to be found in their works, what makes it autograph Hudson (apart from the fact that the face in question belongs to a beautiful w ­ oman), is that u­ nder Abel’s passionate scrutiny Rima’s face becomes progressively less disfigured as warmth and color return to her features, she gradually recovers consciousness, and her eyes not only open but gaze directly into his. Similarly, instead of the shock and horror with which disfigured ­faces are typically beheld in Crane and Conrad, the movement h­ ere is ­toward ever more intimate communion, culminating in the virtual exchange of kisses with which the scene concludes. Figuratively speaking, the movement ideally is ­toward blending or merger (not of the signifier with the signified but of the entranced reader with the dematerialized prose medium itself), a suggestion borne out by a grammatical ambiguity that Hudson cannot quite have intended as such. “And gazing with ­those open, conscious eyes,” I have quoted Abel as saying, “it seemed to me that at last, at last, the shadow that had rested between us had vanished, that we ­were united in perfect love and confidence, and that speech was superfluous.” Simply as regards grammar, Abel would seem to be ­doing the gazing; yet the context makes it clear that the open, conscious eyes are Rima’s, which is to say that the sentence fleetingly and inconspicuously elides the distinction between the two. Indeed, the moment of elision, rather than the exchange of kisses as such, is as near as Green Mansions comes to suggesting coitus, an act that, in its sheer physicality, is at odds with the overall logic of Hudson’s impressionism as I have defined it. (­Later, a­ fter Rima’s death, Abel likens their souls during her lifetime to “two raindrops side by side, drawing irresistibly nearer, ever nearer”; only now, ­after her death, does it seem to him that “they had touched and ­were not two, but one inseparable drop, crystallised beyond change, not to be disintegrated by time, nor shattered by death’s blow, nor resolved by any alchemy” [GM, 287].) In any case, it ­isn’t surprising that the text associates the lovers’ brief moment of perfect felicity with silence rather than speech. Throughout the narrative, ordinary h­ uman speech is contrasted to Rima’s melodious outpourings, and in fact, what soon


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introduces a note of sadness into their relations is Rima’s discovery that, despite their rapport, Abel still finds her “secret language” wholly unintelligible (GM, 241–242). In itself, the scene as I have presented it may appear to have nothing to do with writing. But certain other events in the story remove all doubt as to its relation to the problematic I have been developing. For example, immediately before Abel fi­nally sees Rima his attention falls on a curious natu­ral phenomenon: Just before me, where I sat, grew a low, wide-­spreading plant, covered with broad, round, polished leaves; and the roundness, stiffness, and perfectly horizontal position of the upper leaves made them look like a collection of small platforms or round table-­tops placed nearly on a level. Through the leaves, to the height of a foot or more above them, a slender dead stem protruded, and from a twig at its summit depended a broken spider’s web. A minute dead leaf had become attached to one of the loose threads, and threw its small but distinct shadow on the platform leaves below: and as it trembled and swayed in the current of air the black spot trembled with it or flew swiftly over the bright green surfaces, and was seldom at rest. (GM, 61–62)

Abel goes on tell how a small spider crept onto one of the leaves and mistook the erratically moving shadow for a fly, which it proceeded to stalk; but having fi­nally pounced on its imaginary prey, it of course discovered that nothing was actually ­there (Abel’s words are that the spider found “nothing ­under him” [GM, 63]). At that point Rima’s laughter rings out from somewhere b­ ehind Abel, implicitly likening him to the spider. By now it should not be surprising that I take this carefully constructed and strategically placed l­ ittle vignette as a mini-­allegory of an ideal of writing as a necessarily material practice (note the complexity of the writing device itself) that nevertheless produces a completely immaterial result (think of Ford on Hudsonian illusionism). As ­will emerge, indeed, as has already been touched on in the notes to Chapter 1 apropos of Conrad and Crane, shadows and shadow writing are a characteristic impressionist

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motif, even if Hudson’s use of that motif in this passage is like nothing ­else in the lit­er­a­ture of his time. But the most nearly explicit thematizations of writing come a­ fter the scene of Rima’s swoon and revival. Shortly a­ fter her recovery Rima decides to return in advance of Abel and Nuflo to the forest where she and Abel first met; by the time Abel arrives Rima is nowhere to be found. ­Because the forest is frequented by a tribe of Indians who had always believed Rima to be an evil spirit, Abel fears the worst, and he eventually learns from one of the Indians that a week before his arrival Rima had been forced by her pursuers to take shelter in a high tree; the tree was then set on fire, and fi­nally (in the words of the Indian), from the top of the tree, out of the green leaves, came a g­ reat cry, like the cry of a bird, “Abel! Abel!” and then looking we saw something fall; through leaves and smoke and flame it fell like a ­g reat white bird killed with an arrow and falling to the earth, and fell into the flames beneath. And it was the d ­ aughter of the Didi [an evil spirit], and she was burnt to ashes like a moth in the flames of a fire, and no one has ever heard or seen her since. (GM, 270)

Presently, Abel takes his revenge by inciting the leader of an ­enemy village to slaughter Rima’s killers to the last person. L ­ ater, living alone, he is visited one night by a moth, which, Abel reports, fluttered in and alighted on my hand as I sat by the fire, causing me to hold my breath as I gazed on it. Its fore wings ­were pale grey, with shadings dark and light written all over in finest characters with some twilight mystery or legend; but the round underwings w ­ ere clear amber-­yellow, veined like a leaf with red and purple veins; a ­thing of such exquisite chaste beauty that the sight of it gave me a sudden shock of plea­sure. (GM, 289)

Abel rises and opens the door to allow the moth to escape (it has alighted on a palm leaf directly over the fire) but instead it falls into the flames. Abel’s commentary is hardly necessary: “Even thus had Rima fallen—­fallen from


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the g­ reat height—­into the flames that instantly consumed her beautiful flesh and bright spirit! O cruel nature!” (GM, 290). Still ­later, Abel searches out the blackened tree and ­after a day of sifting through the surrounding ashes discovers Rima’s calcined bones, which he takes back to his hut and stores in an earthen jar. He then sets out to ornament the jar’s surface using only purple and black (i.e., ink-­like) juices from certain berries. “A serpent was represented wound round the lower portion of the jar,” he explains, dull-­hued, with a chain of irregular black spots or blotches extending along its body: and if any person had curiously examined ­t hese spots he would have discovered that e­ very other one was a rudely s­ haped letter, and that the letters, by being properly divided, made the following words:— Sin vos y siu dios y mi. (Without you and without God and me.) (GM, 297)

Some months a­ fter that, Abel kills a serpent he finds sleeping in his path, and begins to imagine that the creature’s severed head had grown to something monstrous and that its lidless eyes denounced him as a murderer. At last, Abel decides to return to civilization carry­ing with him the urn containing Rima’s ashes, and in the course of his exhausting journey other serpent fantasies assault him. The worst of t­ hese he describes as follows: When the sun grew hot overhead and the way was over open savannah country I would see something moving on the ground at my side and always keeping abreast of me. A small snake, one or two feet long. No, not a small snake, but a sinuous mark in the pattern on a huge serpent’s head, five or six yards long, always moving deliberately at my side. If a cloud came over the sun, or a fresh breeze sprang up, gradually the outline of that awful head would fade and the well-­defined pattern would resolve itself into the motlings [sic] on the earth. But if the sun grew more and more hot and dazzling as the day progressed, then the tremendous ophidian head would

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become increasingly real to my sight, with glistening scales and symmetrical markings; and I would walk carefully not to stumble against or touch it; and when I cast my eyes ­behind me I could see no end to its ­great coils extending across the savannah. Even looking back from the summit of a high hill I could see it stretching leagues and leagues away through forests and rivers, across wide plains, valleys and mountains, to lose itself at last in the infinite blue distance. (GM, 311–312)

The explicit parallel between Rima and the moth with the mysterious writing on its wings points to an interpretation of her as personifying not simply Hudson’s ideal of nature (the traditional view) but also, from my standpoint more impor­tant, his ideal of writing, which is to say, at once a certain quasi-­literary practice (figured by Rima’s finer songlike language) and a certain quasi-­literary object (figured by Rima’s upturned face returning to life and consciousness, and more broadly by her beauty, changeableness, etherealness). Equally, the parallel between Rima’s and the moth’s respective fates suggests that of all conceivable ends, death by fire is best b­ ecause it consumes the material body (or almost consumes it; what is left ­behind is white ash, the most inoffensive of material remains); indeed, it may well have been the commitment to dematerialization implicit in Hudson’s impressionist ideal, rather than any tragic view of life or the demands of plot as such, that made Rima’s death—­this par­tic­u­lar death—­ inevitable. (Apropos of fire and flammability ­there is in our purview the horrific scene from The Monster, while two other stories by Crane in which fire plays a decisive role are “The Veteran,” cited in its entirety at the close of “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” and the late “Manacled.”)17 In a dif­fer­ent register, Abel’s, and by implication, the first narrator’s (and therefore, Hudson’s), a­ ctual inferior or “fallen” relation to writing is intimated not only by the contrast between Abel’s language and Rima’s and by his involvement in killing (the Indians, the serpent) but also by his ­labors to ornament her funerary urn with the image of a serpent, ­every other of whose black spots was a letter spelling out a b­ itter device. (Quite apart from the serpent image as such, the integration of drawing and writing is still another impressionist motif, as has already been suggested. Examples of this include the Tibetan lama’s chart in Kipling’s g­ reat novel


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Kim, to be discussed in Chapter 6 along with other instances of maps and charts in impressionist texts. Two well-­k nown Kipling stories, “The Eye of Allah,” to be discussed in Chapter 9, note 22, and “Dayspring Mishandled,” are also to the point, as is the moment in Heart of Darkness when Marlow comes across a book on seamanship containing “illustrative diagrams and repulsive lines of figures” along with notes in cipher penciled in the margins.18 In addition, ­there are H. G. Wells’s cartoon-­ like “picshuas,” clearly relished by their creator, a generous se­lection of which are reproduced in his Experiment in Autobiography.)19 More bizarre and compelling in this regard is Abel’s fancy of being accompanied throughout much of his journey by a sinuous mark in the pattern on a huge serpent’s head (an opposite figure, one might say, to Rima’s upturned face). That the pattern was sometimes indistinguishable from mottlings on the earth may be read as a “fallen” version of Hudsonian illusionism (or camouflage, making the reader “forget the lines and the print”), just as the becoming-­visible of the head when the sun was bright and hot suggests a kind of thematization of the page; that the serpent kept pace with Abel from day to day, indeed, that looking back he could see no end to its coils, perfectly expresses the ongoingness, the sheerly scriptive continuity, of Green Mansions as a work of writing (Abel says of his endless ­labors on the funerary urn that he might have inscribed on it the words “Abel was d­ oing this” [GM, 296]).20 Fi­nally, the purely privative character of the funerary inscription itself—­“Without you and without God and me”—­epitomizes denial, but in an ironic or “fallen” mode.21

n I come now to a well-­k nown work by an author who enjoyed enormous fame during his lifetime and who w ­ ill figure more than once in the chapters that follow, H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, originally serialized in Pearson’s Weekly in 1897 and first published as a novel that same year.22 Simply put, I read The Invisible Man as something close to an allegory of the fate of invisibility as a stylistic—­specifically, a writerly—­ideal. And I take that fate to be that the ideal itself is doomed to collapse, even to betray itself, ­under the pressure of a materiality it cannot effectively deny—­more accurately, that it can only deny but cannot in the end undo or defeat. Not that I understand The Invisible Man as a response e­ ither

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to Hudson’s prose or to the widespread admiration of it on the part of writers such as Ford and Conrad, which in 1897 was scarcely ­under way. Rather, my claim is that it expresses Wells’s own far from ­simple or unambivalent relation to impressionist issues, in par­tic­u­lar to the threat that materiality as such, in the form of the materiality of writing conceived as the mere inscribing of “soulless” physical marks on a material surface, offered to the impressionist proj­ect, a threat that would have been the same had Hudson never written a word. What is decisive ­here is that the Invisible Man—­originally an albino medical student named Griffin—­achieves invisibility through a heightened mode of transparency. And that is b­ ecause the crucial point about transparency as it is represented in The Invisible Man is that it in no way undoes or suspends the protagonist’s material existence; on the contrary, ­under all sorts of ordinary circumstances it serves to make his material existence far more burdensome, indeed, far more dangerous to him, than was the case before he made himself invisible. For example, in order to maintain his invisibility the Invisible Man must go about naked in winter weather; not surprisingly, he contracts a cold, which leads him to sneeze at inopportune moments. Also, his bare feet are unused to the hard, freezing ground. And he must take care to avoid crowds: the least physical contact with the bodies of o­ thers threatens to give him away. Of course, no ­matter how much care he takes, he remains fully perceptible to dogs, for whom—as he learns to his cost—­the sense of smell takes pre­ce­dence over that of sight. (All this is said to Kemp, a former University College classmate and now a doctor in the countryside, into whose h­ ouse the Invisible Man stumbles by chance halfway through the book. He tells his story in the hope that Kemp w ­ ill help him turn the ­tables on his pursuers, but instead Kemp alerts the authorities, who eventually hunt the Invisible Man down and kill him.) But perhaps the most brilliant, ­because most “visual,” evocation of the Invisible Man’s inescapable materiality takes place in London just ­after he has managed to shake a dog who has been pursuing him. Pausing for a moment at the top of the white steps of a h­ ouse near Russell Square, he awaits the passing of a Salvation Army parade (the band, as if in tribute to an overarching impressionist problematic, plays the hymn “When S ­ hall We See His Face?”) but fails to notice two urchins who had stopped nearby.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? “See ‘em,” said one. “See what?” said the other. “Why—­them footmarks—­bare. Like what you makes in mud.” I looked down and saw the youngsters had stopped and w ­ ere gaping at the muddy footmarks I had left b­ ehind me up the newly whitened steps. . . . ​“­There’s a barefoot man gone up them steps, or I ­don’t know nothing,” said one. “And he ­a in’t never come down again. And his foot was a-­bleeding.” The thick of the crowd had already passed. “Looky t­ here, Ted,” quoth the younger of the detectives, with the sharpness of surprise in his voice, and pointed straight to my feet. I looked down and saw at once the dim suggestion of their outline sketched in splashes of mud. (IM, 105–106; emphasis in original)

The Invisible Man is forced to flee once more. In his first flush of enthusiasm at achieving invisibility, the Invisible Man is full of a sense of the “extraordinary advantage” (IM, 102) his condition gave him. But within a short time his assessment of his situation changes dramatically: “But you begin to realize now,” said the Invisible Man, “the full disadvantage of my condition. I had no shelter, no covering. To get clothing was to forego all my advantage, to make myself a strange and terrible t­ hing. I was fasting; for to eat, to fill myself with unassimilated m ­ atter, would be to become grotesquely vis­i­ble again.” “I never thought of that,” said Kemp. “Nor had I. And the snow had warned me of other dangers. I could not go abroad in snow—it would ­settle on me and expose me. Rain, too, would make me a watery outline, a glistening surface of a man—­a ­bubble. And fog—­I should be like a fainter ­bubble in a fog, a surface, a greasy glimmer of humanity. Moreover, as I went abroad—in the London air—­I gathered dirt about my ankles, floating smuts and dust upon my skin. I did not know how long it would be before I should become vis­i­ble from that cause also. But I saw clearly it could not be for long.” (IM, 114)

Hence the decision to give up invisibility for a time by covering himself with clothing and a hat and putting on a mask, dark glasses, grayish whis­

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kers, and a wig, with ban­dages to cover his ears and forehead (this is how he is clothed when he arrives at the town of Iping at the beginning of chapter 1). Even so, he soon realizes that he cannot eat without exposing his missing face (which meant that he could only eat out of the sight of ­others). As he ­later puts it to Kemp: “This invisibility, in fact, is only good in two cases: It’s useful in getting away, it’s useful in approaching. It’s particularly useful, therefore, in killing. I can walk round a man, what­ever weapon he has, choose my point, strike as I like. Dodge as I like. Escape as I like” (IM, 124). And yet, reading ­these words, we already know—­the Invisible Man has just conceded as much—­that he enjoys nothing remotely like that degree of action and movement. The force of all this is to underscore, indeed, to harp upon, the extent to which invisibility ­imagined as transparency makes materiality an insuperable prob­lem—­a prob­lem, it should be emphasized, that the materiality of the body ­doesn’t pres­ent ­under ordinary circumstances. Put slightly differently, we might think of The Invisible Man as a sustained thought experiment leading to the discovery that t­ here exists an incompatibility verging on contradiction between transparency and materiality. And if we then go on to read that discovery allegorically with re­spect to the problematic of literary impressionism I have been developing, we might say that Wells’s novel suggests that an ideal of authorial invisibility ­i magined as scriptural transparency cannot be sustained in the face of writing’s material basis, or rather of the visibility of that material basis. As we ­shall see, The Invisible Man is not the only major work by Wells that may fruitfully be read as investigating—as if by means of what I have just called thought experiments—­one or another aspect of the impressionist proj­ect, and moreover as ­doing so with considerable openness, even explicitness. But to stay with that novel, it is clearly significant that one’s first encounter with Kemp finds him in his study, surrounded by bookshelves crowded with books and scientific publications, seated at a writing ­table, pen in hand (actually, what is said is that it is in his mouth [IM, 70], an in­ter­est­ing touch in view of the ostensibly oral tenor of the story as a ­whole). (­There is also “a microscope, glass slips, minute instruments, some cultures, and scattered ­bottles of reagents,” as if to imply a connection between writing and science, about which ­there ­will be more to say shortly.) The sun has just set, and as Kemp looks out of the win­dow he notices “the l­ittle figure of a man, inky black, ­running over the hill brow ­toward him. He was


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a shortish l­ ittle man, and he wore a high hat, and he was r­ unning so fast that his legs verily twinkled” (IM, 70; emphasis added). (The man is a tramp, Thomas Marvel, and he is r­ unning to escape from the Invisible Man.) A few paragraphs further on we are told: “All [the townspeople] he passed stopped and began staring up the road and down, and interrogating one another with an inkling of discomfort for the reason of his haste” (IM, 71; emphasis added). (Note the awkwardness of the phrasing; Wells is never a graceful writer but something other than mere idiosyncrasy is at work ­here. He positively wants to work “ink-” words into t­ hese paragraphs.) When we next see Kemp he is still writing in his study; then the Invisible Man breaks into his h­ ouse, and a moment before Kemp realizes what has happened—­before he sees the ban­dage hanging in midair around the Invisible Man’s wounded invisible hand—we are given the sentence, “All men, however highly educated, retain some superstitious inklings” (IM, 78; emphasis added). (In the previous chapter a shattered mirror “came smashing and tinkling down” [IM, 74; emphasis added].) By now it goes without saying that I read all this as an announcement of the writtenness of The Invisible Man itself, not only b­ ecause the scenes in question are explic­ itly ones of writing (and so suggest a curious quasi-­identification between Kemp and Wells) but also b­ ecause the con­spic­u­ous repetition of the core word “ink” further directs our attention to the act of inscription. Indeed, the mere fact of verbal repetition was bound to compromise stylistic transparency, as was the use of words in italics or quotation marks, both of which abound in Wells’s novel; for example, the sentence following the one about how all men retain some superstitious inklings reads, “The feeling that is called ‘eerie’ came upon him” (IM, 78). And something ­else: when Kemp first sees Marvel ­running, he says vari­ous ­things to himself including the initially strange remark, “Spurted, sir” (IM, 71), and in fact, the word “spurt” recurs more than once in the pages that follow. On the face of it, “spurt” refers to a sudden burst of speed; but it also suggests an inadvertent spurt of ink from a metal pen being wielded perhaps too quickly by the writer. Again, it seems unlikely that Wells did not consciously intend the suggestion. All this may seem to have something in common with certain tendencies in Crane, the decisive difference being that Wells’s workmanlike prose, ­here as everywhere in his oeuvre, is devoid of the least hint of tension or crisis; whereas in Crane the last-­second repression of the materiality of

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writing is fully as impor­tant as the fevered eliciting of it (whence the electrifying intensity of his sentences), in Wells the declaration of writtenness is at once so emphatic and undisguised as to seem hardly worthy of notice (thus the word “eerie” with its three e’s slips by virtually unnoticed despite having been placed in quotation marks). Another impor­tant theme in the novel concerns the three big manuscript volumes of the Invisible Man’s diary—­the day-­by-­day rec­ord of the experiments that led up to his discovery of the secret of perfect transparency. The volumes are impor­tant to the Invisible Man b­ ecause they hold the clues he ­will need in order to reverse his condition, but he loses possession of them early on and makes a considerable effort to get them back, which he succeeds in d ­ oing only to lose them again for good. They are written in cipher (IM, 95), which is to say that they are the very opposite of transparent to ordinary readers. And at the end of the story, following the Invisible Man’s death, they are in the possession of Thomas Marvel, the former tramp now become the owner of an inn called “The Invisible Man” (what the text says is this: “The sign of the inn is an empty board save for a hat and boots, and the name is the title of this story” [IM, 149]). Marvel of course is wholly unable to make sense of his prize, but ­every Sunday morning and ­every night ­after ten he takes all three volumes out and looks at them. “The covers are weather-­worn and tinged with an algal green,” we are told, “for once they sojourned in a ditch, and some of the papers have been washed blank by dirty w ­ ater” (IM, 150). In an obvious sense, the blankness of the pages serves as a half-­ironic, half-­devastating commentary on invisibility as a writerly ideal, as if to say that only in this way can writing truly efface itself and the reader be made, in Ford’s words, “to forget the writer—to forget that he was reading” (Portraits, 216). But in another, equally compelling sense, I find in Wells’s image of the ciphered manuscript pages washed blank by dirty ­water a literal or, say, comic analogue (a sort of “pop” version) of what I have called Conradian erasure, the restoration of a blankness that is at once the precondition for and the product of a certain proj­ect of writing. Not that Wells would or could have characterized the intent of his narrative in anything like ­these terms. But that he seems consciously to have understood such passages as bearing in some not precisely defined way on what I have been calling the materiality of writing seems beyond question.


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Fi­nally, ­there is the obsession of so many impressionist texts with upturned disfigured f­ aces with open staring eyes, read by me as figures for the upward-­facing page of inscription (as, unforgettably, in Crane’s “The Upturned Face”). Thanks to Kemp’s ingenuity, the Invisible Man fi­nally has been trapped and surrounded; a vicious strug­gle takes place in the course of which a navvy wielding a spade “[strikes] something with a dull thud” (IM, 146). The Invisible Man falls, rises again, but is soon brought down; Kemp realizes that he is badly hurt, and in fact discovers—­ feeling with his hands the naked body that he cannot see—­t hat the Invisible Man’s heart has stopped. As the townspeople watch in horror and amazement, the Invisible Man, in death, gradually becomes vis­i­ble again before their eyes. The crucial paragraphs read: When at last the crowd made way for Kemp to stand erect, t­ here lay, naked and pitiful on the ground, the bruised and broken body of a young man about thirty. His hair and beard w ­ ere white,—­not grey with age, but white with the whiteness of albinism, and his eyes wide open, and his eyes ­were like garnets. His hands ­were clenched, his eyes wide open, and his expression was one of anger and dismay. “Cover his face!” said a man. “For Gawd’s sake, cover that face!” and three l­ ittle ­children, pushing forward through the crowd, ­were suddenly twisted round and sent packing off again. Someone brought a sheet from the Jolly Cricketers; and having covered him, they carried him into that ­house. And ­t here, on a shabby bed in a tawdry, ill-­lighted bedroom, ended the strange experiment of the Invisible Man. (IM, 148)

n The issue of materiality is also powerfully at stake in a memorable passage from Frank Norris’s Vandover and the Brute (written in 1895 but not published u­ ntil 1914).23 The protagonist, an aspiring painter, is returning by steamer to San Francisco from a brief vacation in southern California. The homeward passage proves a disaster and the steamer found­ers; in heavy seas Vandover and about forty ­others board a lifeboat built to hold thirty-­five, but just as the boat begins to pull away from the

Invisible Writing


rail of the ship, a “­little Jew” whom Vandover noticed earlier leaps from the ship into the w ­ ater near the boat. A moment l­ ater the Jew grasps one of the oar blades, and someone cries “Draw him in!” but the engineer in charge of the boat refuses: “It’s too late!” he shouted, partly to the Jew and partly to the boat. “One more and we are swamped! Let go t­ here!” “But you c­ an’t let him drown,” cried Vandover and the o­ thers who sat near. “Oh, take him in anyhow; we must risk it.” “Risk hell!” thundered the engineer. “Look h­ ere, you!” he cried to Vandover and the rest. “I’m in command ­here and am responsible for the lives of all of you. It’s a m ­ atter of his life or ours; one life or forty. One more and we are swamped. Let go t­ here!” “Yes, yes,” cried some. “It’s too late! t­ here’s no more room!” But ­others still protested. “It’s too horrible; ­don’t let him drown; take him in.” They threw their life-­preservers and the stumps of the broken oars. But the Jew saw nothing, heard nothing, clinging to the oar-­blade, panting and stupid, his eyes wide and staring. “Shake him off!” commanded the engineer. The sailor at the oar jerked and twisted it, but the Jew still held on, s­ ilent and breathing hard. Vandover glanced at the fearfully overloaded boat and saw the necessity of it and held his piece, watching the ­thing that was being done. The sailor still attempted to tear the oar from the Jew’s grip, but the Jew held on, panting, almost exhausted; they could hear his breathing in the boat. “Oh, d ­ on’t!” he gasped, rolling his eyes. “Unship that oar and throw it overboard,” shouted the engineer. “Better not, sir,” answered the sailor. “Extra oars all broken.” The Jew was hindering the pro­gress of the boat and at e­ very moment it threatened to turn broad on to the seas. “God damn you, let go ­t here!” shouted the engineer, himself wrenching and twisting at the oar. “Let go or I’ll shoot!” But the Jew, deaf and stupid, drew himself along the oar, hand over hand, and in a moment had caught hold of the gunwale of the boat. It careened on the instant. T ­ here was a g­ reat cry. “Push him off! ­We’re swamping! Push him off!” And one of the w ­ omen cried


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? to the mate, “­Don’t let my ­little girls drown, sir! Push him away! Save my ­little girls! Let him drown!” It was the animal in them that had come to the surface in an instant, the primal instinct of the brute striving for its life and for the life of its young. The engineer, exasperated, caught up the stump of one of the broken oars and beat on the Jew’s hands where they ­were gripped whitely upon the boat’s rim, shouting, “Let go! let go!” But as soon as the Jew relaxed one hand he caught again with the other. He uttered no cry, but his face as it came and went over the gunwale of the boat was white and writhing. When he was at length beaten from the boat he caught again at the oar; it was drawn in, and the engineer clubbed his head and arms and hands till the ­water near by grew red. The ­little Jew clung to the end of the oar like a cat, writhing and grunting, his mouth open, and his eyes fixed and staring. When his hands w ­ ere gone, he tried to embrace the oar with his arms. He slid off in the hollow of a wave, his body turned over twice, and then he sank, his head thrown back, his eyes still open and staring, and a silver chain of ­bubbles escaping from his mouth. “Give way, men!” said the engineer. “Oh, God!” exclaimed Vandover, turning away and vomiting over the side. (VB, 102–103)

My basic supposition is that the sadistic-­seeming destruction of the ­little Jew’s face and hands in Vandover images the irruption of mere (or brute) materiality within the scene of writing—­t hat instead of Crane’s double proj­ect of eliciting and repressing that materiality, or Conrad’s equally conflicted proj­ect of fantasmatically returning to the blank page as a field of endless scriptive possibility (such a “view” of the page elides its materiality or at least strongly tends to do so), what is figured in the shipwreck scene is a single, unstoppable pro­cess of materialization, involving both the act of repre­sen­ta­tion (the beating of the helpless Jew, the recurrence of the word “writhing’) and the marking tool and a­ ctual page (the stump of the oar, the Jew’s “white and writhing” face and then his thrown back face with open eyes just before he sinks), the result of which can only be the defeat of the very possibility of writing (as embodied in

Invisible Writing


the chilling phrase, “When his hands ­were gone,” which is to say, when they w ­ ere reduced to stumps). That the destruction of his hands is worked by the “stump” of an oar underscores the point. Significantly, in another, lesser-­known novel by Norris, A Man’s ­Woman (1899), a leading character, Richard Ferriss, loses both hands to frostbite in the course of Arctic exploration (note the closeness of the names Norris and Ferriss, suggesting a certain fantasmatic investment on Norris’s part in such a fate).24 Ferriss’s close friend Ward Bennett, also an Arctic explorer, subsequently strug­gles to write a book about the ill-­fated exhibition, but his handwriting turns out to be impossible, “not infrequently driving the point through the paper itself,” his script all “pothooks, clumsy, slanting in all directions, all but illegible” (MW, 215–216)—in other words, brutely material, like the grimly irregular, all but impassable Arctic wilderness described earlier in the book. (“In ­every direction, intersecting one another at ten thousand points, crossing and recrossing, weaving a gigantic, bewildering network of gashed, jagged, splintered ice blocks, ran the pressure ridges and hummocks. . . . ​From horizon to ­horizon ­there was no level place, no open ­water, no pathway” [MW, 4]. Nothing could be more opposite to the flat, rectangular killing ground described in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death.”) In the end, the ­woman Bennett loves, Lloyd Searight, takes up the pen, writing to Bennett’s dictation, thereby producing a text that can be read (in princi­ple; the text itself i­sn’t cited), though it may be that the materialist (more precisely, materialist-­impressionist) book A Man’s W ­ oman fi­nally asks the reader to envision is not Bennett and Searight’s composite account of the failed expedition, but rather the new expedition Bennett has just embarked on at the novel’s end, or rather the material rec­ord in the Northern ice and snow of the marks of Bennett’s passage when and if he succeeds in conquering the Pole. The two novels, Vandover and the Brute and A Man’s ­Woman, thus have an intimate bearing on each other, a bearing, moreover, that engages directly with the thematic of writing I have been pursuing, but rather than try to analyze that relationship h­ ere, which would require a detailed consideration of Norris’s par­tic­u­lar brand of naturalism (hence an engagement with still other works such as McTeague),25 what I want to stress is the difference between Norris and Wells as regards the crucial m ­ atter of


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

pain and difficulty. Simply put, Wells and Norris have in common a certain explicitness with regard to the near impossibility of the impressionist proj­ect, at least as far as Norris’s A Man’s ­Woman is concerned. (I take Lloyd Searight’s surname, with its scarcely disguised reference to the words “see” and “write,” as well as the implicit whiteness of the Arctic motif, to signal a commitment to impressionism in that book and, by extension, Vandover.) But whereas the untrammeled vio­lence of the shipwreck scene and the amputation of Ferriss’s hands, as well as the evocation of Bennett’s terrible handwriting (and the parallel between the latter and the impassable Arctic landscape), suggest that in Norris the failure of the impressionist proj­ect owing to its collision with the ultimately unelidable materiality of the scene of writing has consequences for his own practice that are hard to assess, the death of the Invisible Man, and more broadly, the failure of transparency as a mode of invisibility, culminating in the becoming-­manifest of the Invisible Man’s upturned albino face, make themselves felt as oddly exemplary—as if the point of the novel w ­ ere ultimately to rebuke the very proj­ect of invisibility, in life and lit­er­a­ture, in ­favor of the ordinary world, centered in Kemp’s study with its books, microscope, and writing ­table, to say nothing of the text’s preoccupation with terms such as “ink” and “spurt.”

n Here it is fascinating to note that Wells in his most personal book, Experiment in Autobiography, insists on the incompatibility of his literary proj­ect with that of Ford (whom he continues to call Hueffer), Conrad, and Crane—in short, the literary impressionists. (Wells also includes Henry James among the impressionists, and indeed, Ford would agree; but James is not one of my impressionists, as ­will become clear.) Specifically, Wells acknowledges his personal “indifference to intensity of effect” (EA, 527), which he attributes both to his natu­ral makeup and to the influence of his scientific education. Speaking of a schoolmate, Sidney Bowkett, who “felt and heard and saw so much more vividly” than he, Wells grants that “that gave [Bowkett] superiorities in many directions,” but goes on to say that “the very coldness and flatness of my perceptions, gave me a readier apprehension of relationships, put me ahead of him in mathe­matics and drawing (which a­ fter all is a sort of abstraction of form)

Invisible Writing


and made it easier for me ­later on to grasp general ideas in biology and physics” (EA, 528). In any course in which sense impressions ­were of primary importance (such as mineralogy) Wells experienced “an irrepressible boredom”; more broadly, his mind became what he called “an educated mind, that is to say a mind systematically unified, ­because of my relative defect in brightness of response. I was easy to educate” (EA, 528–529). Then: ­ hese vivid writers I was now beginning to encounter w T ­ ere, on the contrary, hard to educate—as I use the word educate. They ­were at an opposite pole to me as regards strength of reception. Their abundant, luminous impressions w ­ ere vastly more difficult to subdue to a disciplined and co-­ordinating relationship than mine. They remained therefore abundant but uneducated brains. Instead of being based on a central philosophy, they started off at a dozen points; they ­were impulsive, unco-­ordinated, willful. Conrad, you see, I count uneducated, Stephen Crane, Henry James, the larger part of the world of literary artistry. . . . ​A ll this talk that I had with Conrad and Hueffer and James about the just word, the perfect expression, about this or that being “written” or not written, bothered me, set me interrogating myself. . . . ​But in the end I revolted altogether and refused to play their game. “I am a journalist,” I declared, “I refuse to play the ‘artist.’ ” If sometimes I am an artist it is a freak of the gods. I am a journalist all the time and what I write goes now—­and ­w ill presently die. (EA, 529–532; emphasis in original)

(Wells also refers to his “inherent tendency to get ­things ruthlessly mapped out and consistent” [EA, 529]. The mapping meta­phor ­will be of interest to us further on, with re­spect both to Wells and to other writers; for the pres­ent I ­will simply note that flatness and mapping as Wells mobilizes them ­here are materialist tropes.) 26 What is possibly misleading about Wells’s self-­analysis, though, is that it appears to imply that his writing is consistently straightforward, nonfigurative, willfully unimaginative in the usual sense of the term. But nothing could be less true of texts such as The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

The Food of the Gods, When the Sleeper Wakes, and In the Days of the Comet—­the short novels usually characterized u­ nder the simplistic designation science fiction. In fact, my prob­lem at this point is how to convey a sense of their extraordinary inventiveness and complexity and difference from one another without devoting an entire small book to the topic. (When the Sleeper Wakes could sustain commentary virtually page by page.) But consider three short paragraphs from In the Days of the Comet (1906), the story of “the ­Great Change” that had come to the ­people of the earth owing to the near approach of a comet with a strange green line in its spectrum.27 The Change is presented as almost miraculously beneficial, bringing peace and generous feelings in its train (“a sort of intellectual gentleness that abates nothing of our vigour” [DC, 702]), cutting off a war between ­England and Germany that had begun shortly before, indeed, transforming con­temporary society across the world once and for all. (It is also twice declared to have been strictly material, lest ­there be any doubt as to its essential nature.) In the immediate aftermath of the Change, the internal narrator, Willie Leadford, and Melmount, a famous statesman, are walking on a beach and come across the body of a dead man “who had just chanced to miss this ­g reat dawn in which we rejoiced”—­a sailor from the Rother Adler, a German battleship that lay destroyed not four miles away: I remember that poor boy very vividly [Leadford reports]. He had been drowned during the anaesthesia of the green gas, his fair young face was quiet and calm, but the skin of his chest had been crinkled by scalding ­water and his right arm was bent queerly back. Even to this n­ eedless death and all its tale of cruelty, beauty and dignity had come. Every­thing flowed together to significance as we stood ­there, I, the ill-­clad, cheaply equipped proletarian, and Melmount in his ­g reat fur-­t rimmed coat—he was hot with walking but he had not thought to remove it—­leaning upon the clumsy groins and pitying this poor victim of the war he had helped to make. “Poor lad!” he said, “poor lad! A child we blunderers sent to death! Do look at the quiet beauty of that face, that body—to be flung aside like this!” (I remember that near this dead man’s hand a stranded starfish writhed its slowly feeling limbs, struggling back ­toward the sea. It left grooved traces in the sand.)

Invisible Writing


“­There must be no more of this,” panted Melmount, leaning on my shoulder, “no more of this. . . .” (DC, 801)

The dead sailor is still another corpse with an upturned face, but this time the emphasis falls not on disfigurement but on the face’s “quiet beauty,” which reads, one might think, as an ac­cep­tance of writtenness, or, say, as a view of writing that is essentially unconflicted—­except, of course, that the young man is presented by Leadford as a ­needless victim of a world in which vari­ous textural practices, specifically including journalism and advertising, had proved to have disastrous societal effects. (Leadford’s ­denunciation of “the press—­those newspapers that are now so strange to us” [DC, 745], with their clamorous headlines calling for war, is particularly emphatic. T ­ here is also a baleful description of what he calls a “newspaper day” [DC, 745–747], and, on a somewhat dif­fer­ent note, a sustained imagining of the production of a newspaper in the immediate aftermath of the Change [DC, 806–809].) This suggests a contrast between writing as such—­intrinsically good—­and journalism and advertising—­h istorically bad—­but then ­there is the short paragraph about the stranded starfish near the dead man’s hand, a sort of hand in its own right, which moreover slowly writhes, leaving “grooved traces in the sand”—­doubtless a figure for the act of writing, but is it positive or negative? (The same question might be asked apropos of Leadford’s name.) In any case, when Melmount then says, “­There must be no more of this” (twice), it is less than clear exactly what “this” should be taken to be. Significantly, though, the entire story is presented in a short framing narrative—­a prologue and epilogue in italics—as having been and indeed still being written “in an easy flowing hand . . . ​with a ­thing like a fountain pen” by a peaceful-­seeming grey-­haired man (Leadford in old age) sitting at a desk in a beautifully appointed room in a very high tower (DC, 691–693, 857–860). This would appear to imply a positive relation to the production of the text. In addition, Leadford writes late in the story: One irrelevant memory comes back to me, irrelevant, and yet by some subtle trick of quality it summarises the Change for me. It is the memory of a ­woman’s very beautiful face, a ­woman with a flushed face and tear-­bright eyes who went by me without speaking, rapt in some secret purpose. I passed her when, in the after­noon of the first


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? day, struck by a sudden remorse, I went down to Menton to send a tele­gram to my m ­ other telling her all was well with me. Whither this ­woman went I do not know, nor whence she same; I never saw her again, and only her face, glowing with that new and luminous resolve, stands out for me. . . . But that expression was the world’s. (DC, 814)

­ eedless to say, I understand the ­woman’s face as belonging to the theN matics of writing that we have been tracking, the fact that it is not lifeless and upward-­facing and but instead is upright, flushed, new, and luminous presumably marking an early effect of the G ­ reat Change on writing itself. (In comparison, the starfish and its traces in the sand are relics of the pre-­ Change world.) What remains to be noted, then, is simply the lack of agreement between the implications of In the Days of the Comet as I have just developed them and Wells’s unequivocal declaration of his journalistic identity in Experiment in Autobiography (where in fact the epithet “luminous” is associated with the impressionists)—­which is to say that Wells during his most creative years was without question a far more ­complex and divided figure than he subsequently understood himself to have been.

Chapter Three

Ford’s Impressionism


The Soul of London (1905) In 1905 Ford Madox Ford, then still Ford Madox Hueffer, brought out a slender book called The Soul of London, which in crucial re­spects epitomizes if not literary impressionism tout court, at any rate Ford’s impressionism.1 In fact, The Soul of London has become an object of considerable critical interest in recent years.2 But as so often with Ford, indeed, as so often with all the authors featured in the pres­ent study, the sheer page-­by-­page strangeness of The Soul of London seems barely to have registered with its academic readers. ­Here, to begin with, are two paragraphs from the third of five chapters, “Work in London”; Ford has just remarked on how even poets, scientists, and critics have to undertake ordinary jobs in order to support their vocations. Then: London, in fact, if it make men eminently materialist in their working hours (and that is the g­ reat cry of all idealists against the g­ reat place), makes them by reaction astonishingly idealist in their interior souls. I know a railway signalman. He spends dreadfully long hours, high up in a sort of cage of wood and glass, above the innumerable lines of shimmering rails just outside the dim cave of a London terminus. He works himself dog-­tired, pulling levers that are constantly bright



w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? with the friction of his hands; he listens to the drilling sounds of ­little bells, straining his eyes to catch the red and white placards on the breasts of distant engines. At night in a cottage “down the line” he spends hours, making out of pith and coloured paper l­ittle models, like stalactite work, of the En­glish cathedrals. His small holidays go to making trips to Bath, to Exeter, to Durham, and his small savings are spent on architectural drawings and photo­graphs of details. His ambition is to make a model of ­every cathedral in this country, and, if life holds out, of ­those at Rouen, Amiens and Notre Dame de Paris. This is an ideal: his eyes grow hazy and romantically soft at the thought of fi­nally having in his working shed all ­these small white objects. But he does not in the least care about architecture. I once met by accident a man of forty, a cashier of a London bus com­pany. He rather disliked the country, but his ambition was to cover, on his bicycle, e­ very road of the United Kingdom. He inked over on his ordnance map each road that he travelled on, and he saw, in imagination, as a glorious finale like a dream, one of the sixpenny papers publishing a half-­tone block representing this map with all its coach roads inked and distinct like the filaments of a skeleton leaf. (SL, 57–58)

Nothing could be more typical of Ford than if the railway signalman and the cashier of the bus com­pany ­were pure inventions (I assume that this is the case), created out of ­whole cloth for purely literary purposes. But the contrast between materialism and idealism is intriguing (for Ford, the practice of writing could not be sheerly materialist); the profession and situation of the signalman, working levers with his hands to make sure trains pass smoothly, straining to read distant placards, looking down on “innumerable lines of shining rails,” have their writerly aspects, while the making of l­ittle models of cathedrals is a version of the thematic of repre­sen­t a­t ion, usually involving a downward shift in scale, that I first associated with literary impressionism in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces” (as in the ­little numbered diagrams of the correct use of the ban­dages in “Death and the Child,” and the small model of an elevator shaft and elevator worked by an engineer in the 1894 article “In the

Ford’s Impressionism


Depths of a Coal Mine”).3 As for the bus com­pany cashier, the inking over of the roads on an ordnance map is a literary impressionist proj­ect with a vengeance, both the inking and the map being to the point; ­there ­will be more to say about maps in Chapter 6, but in the meantime, think of Wells’s reference in Experiment in Autobiography to his “inherent tendency to get ­t hings ruthlessly mapped out and consistent,” 4 which of course he understands as opposed to impressionism, but as w ­ ill emerge, the larger thematic of maps and mapping is not quite that s­ imple. T ­ here is also something provocative in Ford’s insistence that the signalman who made the models “does not care in the least about architecture,” and that the cashier pursuing his proj­ect of riding roads on his bicycle and then inking ­those roads on an ordnance map “rather disliked the country,” in that it suggests a pos­si­ble application to Ford himself, or rather to his relation to his ostensible subject ­matter—as if to say that his stake in London as the subject of his book is rather less than his stake in the writing of it (the writing as such, the writing as writing, so to speak). Earlier in his book, in the chapter “From the Distance,” Ford remarks that a provincial who has come to live in London only becomes a Londoner when his relation to the city has become instinctive. “He must have had squeezed swiftly into him all the impressions that the London child has slowly made his own,” Ford writes. At that point, daily details ­w ill have merged, as it ­were, into his bodily functions, and w ­ ill have ceased to distract his attention [an in­ter­est­ing choice of phrase—­distract his attention from what?]. He ­w ill have got over the habit of relying, in t­ hese t­ hings, upon personal contacts. He w ­ ill have acquired an alertness of eye that ­w ill save him from asking his way. On his “Underground” he ­w ill glance at a board rather than inquire of a porter; on bus-­routes he w ­ ill catch instinctively, on the advancing and shapeless mass of colour and trade announcements, the small names of taverns, of Crosses, of what w ­ ere once outlying hamlets; he ­w ill have in his mind a rough sketch map of that plot of London that by right of living in he w ­ ill make his own. [Another map, n­ eedless to say.] Then he w ­ ill be the Londoner, and to the mea­ sure of the light vouchsafed w ­ ill know his London. Yet, to the g­ reat majority of Londoners whose residence is not an arrière boutique


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? [a back shop] London ­w ill remain a ­matter of a central highway, a central tunnel or a central conduit, more or less long; a daily route whose two extremities are a more or less permanent sleeping place, and a more or less permanent workshop—­a ­thing, figured on a map [still another], like the bolas of certain South Americans, a long cord with balls at the extremities. At the one t­here w ­ ill gradually congregate the parts of a home, at the other, the more or less familiar, more or less hypnotising, more or less congenial, surroundings of his daily work. It w ­ ill be a ­matter of a daily life passing unnoticed. (SL, 10–11)

I find this a fascinating passage on several counts. First, t­here is the double reference to maps as well to the board in the underground and to the names of taverns, crosses, and former hamlets now presumably part of London on bus routes among or in some sense part of the “advancing and shapeless mass of colour and trade announcements,” a description that is hard to cash visually ­after all this time but which clearly exemplifies what I have called the writing / drawing aspect of the impressionist episteme. Second, ­there is the emphasis, characteristic of Ford (but think also of “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” and, indeed, of the texts by Crane and Conrad we have looked at), on a certain unconsciousness or automatism, all the daily details of ordinary life having “merged, as it w ­ ere, into [the former provincial’s] bodily functions,” the surroundings of his daily work now become “hypnotising,” his entire daily life “passing unnoticed,” as well as the idea, which on the face of it is somewhat strange, that having reached this stage of intimacy with London, the former provincial w ­ ill no longer have his attention “distracted” by the myriad facts and details of his ordinary existence. What seems strange is that one might have thought that the hypnotic state that Ford describes itself amounts to a mode of distraction, which is a typical way of characterizing the sort of loss of awareness of surroundings that he evokes; but as ­will become clear as this chapter proceeds, especially with regard to Charles Palermo’s reading of The Good Soldier, distraction and its associated literary modality, digression, are for Ford highly privileged conditions, ones ­associated with his scriptive enterprise in ways that are nothing if not

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counterintuitive. 5 (So that not being distracted by the facts and details of his ordinary existence does not mean that he is not distracted by anything ­else.) Third, the reference t­ oward the end of the excerpt to “a t­ hing, figured on a map, like the bolas of certain South Americans, a long cord with balls at the extremities,” should strike the reader as at least a ­little odd, out of place—­why should Ford be resorting to so foreign an image in a sentence meant to evoke the opposite termini, home and workplace, of a virtual tunnel or highway within which the g­ reat majority of Londoners spend their daily lives? I think ­there is a ­simple answer to this—­namely, that the bola, a throwing weapon used to trip up large ­running birds or other animals, was associated in Ford’s mind with a con­temporary writer he and Conrad admired almost above all o­ thers, a man born and raised in ­A rgentina and who had written brilliantly about the customs of the pampas, W. H. Hudson. (Hudson describes the use of the bola in vari­ous of his writings, including the autobiographical Long Ago and Far Away.) 6 The question that then arises is w ­ hether Ford intended the bola image to be understood in ­those terms by even the most alert and informed reader, or indeed ­whether he himself so understood it. On the face of it, both possibilities seem unlikely, but rather than try to ­settle the question at this juncture, I want to suggest that two other writers, Conrad and Crane, are similarly “pres­ent” in Ford’s text, Conrad by virtue of two unacknowledged citations (for that is what I take them to be) of his signature phrase, “before all,” as in “My aim which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see!” (from the preface to The Nigger of the ­“Narcissus”; emphasis in original).7 The first citation occurs early on: To see London steadily and see it w ­ hole, a man must have certain qualities of temperament so exhaustive as to preclude, on the face of it, the faculties which go to the making—or the marring—of ­great fortunes. He must, it is true, have his “opportunities.” But before all t­ hings [Ford’s variation on Conrad’s “before all”] he must have an impressionability and an impersonality, a single-­mindedness to see, and a power of arranging his illustrations cold-­bloodedly,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? an unemotional mind and a ­great sympathy, a life-­long engrossment in his “subject,” and an im­mense knowledge, for purposes of comparison, of other cities. He must have an avidity and a sobriety of intellect, an untirable physique and a delicately tempered mind. ­These ­things are anti­theses. (SL, 18)

The second citation comes several pages ­later: For London is before all ­things an incomparable background; it is always in the right note, it is never out of tone. A man may look down out of dim win­dows upon the slaty, black, wet misery of a squalid street, upon a solitary flickering lamp that wavers a sooty light upon a solitary, hurrying passer’s umbrella. He may have received a moment before the first embrace of a w ­ oman, or a moment before his doctor may have told him that he is not very long for this world. He ­w ill stand looking down; and a sudden consonance with his mood, of overwhelming and hardly comprehensible joy, of overwhelming and hardly fathomable pain, a sudden significance ­will be ­there in the black wet street, in the long wavering reflections on the gleaming paving-­stones, in the engrossed hurry of the passer-by. It w ­ ill become, intimately and rightly, the appropriate background for a beginning of, or for a farewell from life—­for the glow of a commenced love or for the dull pain of a malady ending only in death. It is that, more than anything, that London has ready for e­ very man. (SL, 22)

Notice, to begin with, how the two citations are not quite consistent with each other: the first concerns seeing London steadily and ­whole (while suggesting that that may not be pos­si­ble, it requires both impressionability and impersonality, but of course ­these together are constitutive of Ford’s literary impressionist ideal), while the second focuses on partial views keyed to the shifting moods of a man looking down as if at a page of writing from dim win­dows (nothing impersonal, unemotional, or cold-­blooded about such a figure), but h­ ere, as throughout The Soul of London, nothing could be of less concern to its author than internal consistency in the ordinary sense of the term.

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(Let me also call attention to the epithet “engrossed,” which in the sentence just quoted means self-­absorbed, but according to the dictionary can also mean “written or transcribed in a large, clear hand.”8 Ford would have known this, of course, which makes a subsequent appearance of the word particularly in­ter­est­ing. Down at the Tilbury Docks, he writes, a man emerges from a tin shed labelled “Office of the Steam Navigation Co.” Then: He slipped hastily between the black side of one of the huge sheds and a grey, rusty, and sea-­fretted liner. Her lower sides gaped in large holes screened with canvas, and from moment to moment obscured by grimy buckets of coal that r­ ose from a lighter; her square, white upper deck cabins ­were being painted more white by paint­ers in white jackets. He hurried very fast, with a masterful and engrossed step, a cheerful blue figure with pink cheeks, dodging mechanically the pools of greasy w ­ ater and the fat black mud between the sleepers. He dived into another small office. He was the chief officer of the liner that was coaling and he had a pencil ­behind his ear. He was uniting as it ­were the ­labours of the men shovelling in the buckets of coal, of the men uttering melancholy wails as they swungin a white boat, of the men hooking up long planks for the paint­ers to sit on, and of the paint­ers themselves on the upper decks. With that pencil he controlled all their ­labours, as if he ­were twisting them into an invisible rope which passed through that tin office and up, far away into town where other pencils and other pens recorded ­these t­ hings on large pages, digested them into summaries and fi­ nally read them out to Boards of Directors. [SL, 47–48]

It takes ­little imagination to see in the chief officer with a pencil ­behind his ear a surrogate for Ford, and in the imagery of black and white—­a leitmotif of the book as a whole—­a reference to ink and / or print and page. [The repetition of the word “liner” is also suggestive ­here, as is the frequent recurrence of the word “lines” throughout the book.] As if to stress the point, black and white turn up one paragraph l­ater in references to Whitechapel and Blackwall, presented as antithetical limits of


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London to two dif­fer­ent camps of workers, the first expressing themselves “with a pen on paper [and seeing] his London from the west” [SL, 48], the second, seeing from the east, comprising the paint­ers, coal haulers, and ­others of their ilk. Note that both camps of workers pursue tasks related to writing, the first explic­itly, the second at a remove—­ painting, hauling coal, as black as any ink or type.) As for Crane, in the chapter “Roads into London” Ford introduces the electric tram as a means of getting into town and remarks on its modest speed but also on the fact that ­because of its greater height than the automobile, it allows the passenger to see farther. So, for example: The other day I saw from the top of an electric tram, very far away, above the converging lines in the perspective of a broad highway of new shops, a steam crane at work high in the air on an upper storey. The thin arm stretched out above the street, spidery and black against a mistiness that was half sky, half haze; at the end of a long chain t­ here hung diagonally some baulks of wood, turning slowly in mid-­air. They w ­ ere rising imperceptibly, we approaching imperceptibly. A puff of smoke shot out, writhed very white, melted and vanished between the h­ ouse­fronts. We glided up to and past it. Looking back I could see down the reverse of the long perspective the baulks of timber turning a ­little closer to the side of the building, the thin extended arm of the crane a l­ittle more foreshortened against the haze. Then the outlines grew tremulous, it all vanished with a touch of that pathos like a hunger that attaches to all ­things of which we see the beginnings or the m ­ iddle courses without knowing the ends. It was impressive enough—­the modern spirit expressing itself in terms not of men but of forces, we gliding by, the timbers swinging up, without any vis­i­ble ­human action in ­either ­motion. No doubt men ­were at work in the engine-­belly of the crane, just as o­ thers ­were very far away among the dynamos that kept us moving. But they w ­ ere sweating invisible. That, too, is the Modern Spirit: ­great organisations run by men as impersonal as the atoms of their own frames, noiseless, and to all appearances infallible. (SL, 29–30)

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I take the steam crane (at work on a “storey”!) to refer to Stephen Crane, and would remind the reader that Ford, who had known Crane in ­England in the late 1890s, refers in Portraits from Life to “[Crane’s] pen that moved so slowly in microscopic black trails over the im­mense sheets of paper he affected,”9 a description that seems if not quite echoed, at any rate refracted in the passage just quoted, with its epithets “spidery” and “black,” its references to the “thin extended arm” of the crane, its emphasis on the extreme slowness of the raising and turning of the baulks of wood, and of course the marvelous image of the puff of smoke that “writhed very white”—­that crucial verb again—­before melting and vanishing between the h­ ouse­fronts. Indeed, the w ­ hole scene is said to vanish “with a touch of that pathos” that Ford says “attaches to all ­things of which we see the beginnings or the ­middle course without knowing the ends”— a condition that would seem to fit all serious writing, in par­t ic­u ­lar the writing of a text as conspicuously unvectored and untotalizable as The Soul of London. Fi­nally, ­there is the reference to “the modern spirit expressing itself in terms not of men but of forces, we gliding by, the timbers swinging up, without any vis­i­ble ­human action in ­either motion”—­not quite a complete denial of writerly and indeed readerly agency, as Ford goes on to acknowledge the men at work in the engine-­belly of the crane and among the distant dynamos providing electricity for the trams, but certainly a displacement in the direction of Fordian “impersonality.” ­Here we may return to the question of what Ford understood himself to be d ­ oing in t­ hese passages—­specifically, did he consciously intend them as referring to or other­wise evoking his impressionist writer friends Hudson, Conrad, and Crane? (I am assuming, perhaps optimistically, that the reader has been persuaded that all three are “pres­ent” in Ford’s text.) Or, as seems likely, did his references to and evocations of t­ hese exemplary figures—or, for that ­matter, the association of the chief officer of the liner with the writer of The Soul of London, or the imagery of black and white with the idea of print—­take place largely or indeed wholly u­ nder the sign of what I have been calling (following Ford, at least up to a point) distraction?—­whatever distraction is taken to imply in a par­t ic­u ­lar instance about the precise nature and extent of Ford’s self-­awareness in the act of writing.10


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At this point it ­will be instructive to look closely at the most famous of his novels, The Good Soldier (1915).

The Good Soldier (1915)* Carol Jacobs makes a provocative claim about passion and speech in Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier: “Language,” she explains, operates in this tale less by way of expressing passion than by creating it.”11 As an example of this power of speech, she cites a passage that is among the most impor­tant in the novel. Immediately a­ fter his account of his wife’s death, John Dowell recounts an interview between Leonora Ashburnham and himself. He says: The odd ­thing is that what sticks out in my recollection of the rest of that eve­ning was Leonora’s saying: “Of course you might marry her,” and, when I asked whom, she answered: “The girl.” Now that is to me a very amazing ­thing—­amazing for the light of possibilities that it casts into the ­human heart. For I had never had the slightest conscious idea of marrying the girl; I never had the slightest idea even of caring for her.12

It seems that Leonora has put an idea in Dowell’s head. One might even sense how alien to Dowell’s mind the idea was—he ­couldn’t even guess who Leonora meant by “her.” Given what Dowell says, Jacobs seems quite right to assert that speech among the characters, at least in this case, creates passion. Nevertheless, Jacobs’s formulation oversimplifies t­ hings a ­l ittle. ­Matters become more complicated as Dowell continues: “I must have talked in an odd way, as p ­ eople do who are recovering from an anaesthetic. It is as if one had a dual personality, the one I being entirely unconscious of the other. I had thought nothing; I had said such an ex* This section of this chapter is by Charles Palermo; see the final paragraph of the Introduction to this book.

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traordinary ­thing” (GS, 75).Dowell states that was he who suggested that he marry Nancy—or, at least, that is how he comes to understand the events of that conversation, ­after Leonora helps him reconstruct the parts of the exchange that d ­ on’t “stick out in his recollection.” Now it might seem not that talk created the passion, but that it merely made it conscious. If Dowell spoke first, then he seems to have given expression to a passion he had conceived and harbored unconsciously. If Leonora spoke first (and then permitted or persuaded Dowell to believe he had), then she ­either created a new passion within Dowell or forced into consciousness a previously unconscious one. In short, it seems that accepting Jacobs’s claim requires that we resolve questions about where and how passion arises that the text holds in suspension.13 We might, on the other hand, just chalk this prob­lem up to Dowell’s infamous unreliability, as Mark Schorer does in his classic 1948 essay on The Good Soldier.14 I think it would be a ­mistake, however, to stop so short. To satisfy our curiosity about where Dowell’s passion for Nancy originates by appealing to Dowell’s unreliability would rob his words of some revealing subtlety—­a nd at a crucial moment in the text, as well. As Dowell continues the passage from which Jacobs and I have been quoting, he suggests that much depends on “his” utterance: I ­don’t know that analy­sis of my own psy­chol­ogy ­matters at all to this story. I should say that it d ­ idn’t or, at any rate, that I had given enough of it. But that odd remark of mine had a strong influence upon what came ­after. I mean, that Leonora would prob­a bly never have spoken to me at all about Florence’s relations with Edward if I ­hadn’t said, two hours ­after my wife’s death: “Now I can marry the girl.” (GS, 75)

Is it ­really true that, by expressing his (unconscious) desire to marry Nancy Rufford, Dowell had given Leonora cause to think he had known more about the “Ashburnham tragedy” than he did, and from an earlier date than he did? Did that unconscious, but callous, reference to Florence’s death (“Now I can marry the girl”—as if he had been waiting for Florence to die) cause Leonora to assume innocently that Dowell knew


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about Florence’s adultery and suicide? Or was Leonora manipulating an unwitting, “cataleptic” (GS, 78) Dowell—­putting ideas in his head while his reason languished in grief and shock? ­T hese questions resemble the question of ­whether Dowell actually spoke first. T ­ here is no answer—­what we have is a cause for doubt about the origin of Dowell’s passion for Nancy. The search for the origin of Dowell’s impulse acquires a new importance, though: if, as Dowell claims, “Leonora would prob­ably never have spoken to [him] at all about Florence’s relations with Edward” if he ­hadn’t proclaimed his desire for Nancy, then that unconscious interjection is the cause of his hearing “the saddest story [he has] ever heard” (GS, 9). His interjection is therefore also the cause of our hearing it. And yet, we cannot securely attribute that cause to a person. It is a ­mistake to ask ­whether Dowell’s passion was already his own or ­whether it was created by talking to Leonora. The incompatibility of the alternatives, I w ­ ill claim, is only apparent. The strangeness of Dowell’s narrative is the strangeness of an inability to distinguish between unconscious impulses and t­ hose suggested from outside. That apparent incompatibility is central to The Good Soldier. In fact, the sudden irruption of thought—­and specifically of thought that defies unqualified attribution to ­either the interior workings of the unconscious or to the interpersonal space of talk—is a hallmark of consciousness in Dowell’s world. Leonora, for example, first intuits the pos­si­ble attraction of her husband to Nancy Rufford not from any be­hav­ior between the two, but upon speaking with Dowell (“she told me afterwards that, at that speech of mine, for the first time she had a vague inkling of the tragedy that was to follow” [GS, 71]). Another ambiguously spontaneous epiphany takes place in the scene of flight from the Schloss. Dowell explains: “It came to me for a moment, though I h­ adn’t time to think it, that [Leonora] must be a madly jealous ­woman—­jealous of Florence and Captain Ashburnham, of all ­people in the world!” (GS, 39; emphasis added). Presumably, he had time to have the thought. (How much time does that take, one might ask?) I take him to mean that he was unaware of having had the opportunity or the occasion to arrive at the thought. That is to say, he experienced the idea as the outcome of a train of thought that he never

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c­ onsciously pursued. Yet, on a literal reading, Dowell specifically denies originating the thought. Nancy Rufford’s education in marital strife comes about in a similar manner: she extrapolates the possibility of Edward’s unfaithfulness from a newspaper account involving a Mr. Brand. Brand denies loving his alleged mistress, Miss Lupton, provoking Nancy to think: “Well, of course he did not love Miss Lupton; he was a married man. You might as well think of U ­ ncle Edward loving . . . ​loving anybody but Leonora” (GS, 146). Her further reading in the newspaper accounts of the Brand divorce, however, permits the story to work just that effect on Nancy’s mind: “If he could love someone e­ lse than Leonora, her fierce, unknown heart suddenly spoke in her side, why could it not be herself?” (GS, 146). Again, the unthinkable becomes something like an obsession, and the transition appears sudden and takes on the character of a thought revealed rather than arrived at. Dowell describes another stage of Nancy’s growing awareness of the events around her in similar terms. Nancy, beset by shocks and voices, hears for the first time from Leonora what she had known unconsciously—­“within herself ”—­for months: that “Edward was d ­ ying for love of her” (GS, 151). The question then becomes, how could Nancy know that she had been nurturing such a conclusion in her unconscious mind for months? A ­ fter all, if the thought was unconscious, she would, presumably, not have known of it. An alternative explanation for Nancy’s realization immediately follows: And it seemed to her to be in tune with the mood, with the hour and with the w ­ oman in front of her to say: that she knew Edward was d ­ ying of love for her and that she was d ­ ying of love for Edward. For that fact had suddenly slipped into place and become real for her as the niched marker on a whist tablet slips round with the pressure of your thumb. That rubber at least was made. (GS, 152)

Does Nancy carry around the idea of Edward loving her for months in her unconscious mind, or does she pick up the idea on the spur of the moment, in response to “the mood,” “the hour,” and “the ­woman in front of her”? The opposition need not be exclusive: ­there is no reason why the


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idea Leonora voices cannot be seen as speaking to Nancy’s previously unconscious thought and as seeming to Nancy to suit perfectly the tenor of her pres­ent situation. Nevertheless, t­ here is a tension between the two accounts of Nancy’s relationship to Leonora’s suggestion. Their separation (the first paragraph ends chapter 3 of part 4 and the second begins part 4) marks the rift between the two views: one holds that the idea originated in Nancy’s unconscious mind in­de­pen­dently of Leonora’s suggestion; the other explains that the idea was a response to Leonora’s suggestion, part of a game played out among t­ hose four p ­ eople. The rift, as I have said, is not complete—it entails no contradiction. It is an apparent incompatibility, but one that Ford underscores.

n When Dowell tells us that he must have spoken the words “Now I can marry the girl” as if he “had a dual personality, the one I being entirely unconscious of the other,” he refers to a psychological phenomenon that enjoyed ­great fame in his time. The most celebrated instance of “multiple personality” was, almost certainly, that of Miss Beauchamp, whose case reached the world through Morton Prince’s The Dissociation of a Personality: A Biographical Study in Abnormal Psy­chol­ogy in 1906. Miss Beauchamp suffered from a range of ailments, and Prince’s investigation revealed—­much to his professed surprise—­t hat many of them ­were directly related to the breakup of Miss Beauchamp’s personality into several dissociated selves. Prince’s book became a tremendous success, “furnish[ing],” as he predicted in his introduction, “a multitude of plots for the dramatist or sensational novelist.”15 In fact, more than 500 plays—­including a Broadway hit—­took up the case’s offer of dramatic possibilities (RS, 232; “RMB,” 174). Prince explains “multiple personality” and its place among other known and observed psychological phenomena: The synthesis of the original consciousness known as the personal ego is broken up, so to speak, and shorn of some of its memories, perceptions, acquisitions, or modes of reaction to the environment. The conscious states that still persist, synthesized among

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themselves, form a new personality capable of in­de­pen­dent ­activity. . . . ​In the simpler forms the secondary personalities are manifested through highly synthesized “automatic” or hypnotic phenomena, and are recognized only as subconscious states through so-­called automatic writing, and kindred manifestations, or ­else as states of hypnosis. (DP, 3–4)

The kinship of hypnosis with dissociation, however, put the w ­ hole class of phenomena in doubt. Prince claims to have been a skeptic himself. He first “met” Miss Beauchamp’s other selves while she was hypnotized: “My conviction had been growing that so-­called personalities, when developed through hypnotism, as distinct from the spontaneous variety, w ­ ere purely artificial creations,—­sort of unspoken and unconscious mutual understandings between the experimenter and the subject, by which the subject accepted certain ideas unwittingly suggested by the experimenter” (DP, 26–27; emphasis in original). Prince remains defensive about the possibility that Miss Beauchamp, in her highly suggestible hypnotic sleep, produced “Chris” at her physician’s instigation or in response to his presence. He affirms more than once his refusal to grant “Chris” the status of a dissociated self u­ ntil he has satisfied himself that Miss Beauchamp was completely ignorant of multiple personality before “Chris” appeared.16 I would argue that when Dowell talks about speaking as if he had a “dual personality,” he places his exchange with Leonora ­under the sign of hypnotic suggestion. Prince’s anxiety about w ­ hether Chris is a personality of “the spontaneous variety” or a “product of suggestion” is, I think, the legitimate sibling of the quandary over “already existing passion” and passion created by talk.17 By referring repeatedly to phenomena connected with hypnotism, suggestion, multiple personality, and the unconscious, I believe that Ford meant to construct a tale in which passion seems to arise ambiguously both as if by itself and at the instigation (specifically in the form of suggestion) of an external source. I ­will also argue that, in Ford’s works, instances of suggestion take place during moments of distraction. Moreover, I w ­ ill claim that Ford i­ magined the pro­cess of writing as taking place in a similar state of distractedness and therefore as a kind of automatic utterance.


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n A number of passages in The Good Soldier underscore the susceptibility of the characters to suggestion. For example, Dowell tells us that, before the Kilsyte case, in which Edward was wrangled about by counsel with all the sorts of dirty-­mindedness that counsel in that sort of case can impute, he had not had the least idea that he was capable of being unfaithful to Leonora. But, in the midst of that tumult—he says that it came suddenly into his head whilst he was in the witness box—in the midst of t­hose august ceremonies of the law ­there came suddenly into his mind the recollection of the softness of the girl’s body as he had pressed her to him. And, from that moment that girl appeared desirable to him—­and Leonora completely unattractive. (GS, 108–109)

What I find striking ­here (and throughout The Good Soldier and other writings by Ford) is the combination of something like an openness to suggestion with a stated distraction. Edward gets his adulterous idea “in the midst of that tumult . . . ​in the midst of ­those august ceremonies of the law.”18 What might be called a hypnotic model of consciousness supplies a way of understanding the suspension of the conflict between the two pos­si­ble sources of desire. That hypnotic model also allows us to make sense, as I ­will explain, of the tumult that accompanies the (apparent) suggestion. Hypnosis places an emphasis on distraction, specifically as a condition of “automatic” phenomena (writing or speaking). Distraction and “automatic” thought are similarly—­and, I believe, pointedly—­linked in The Good Soldier as well. That is why it is crucial that Edward’s philandering impulse gets described as “in the midst.” Take, for example, another of Edward’s “unconscious” desires. Edward assures Dowell that, before he declared his feelings for Nancy Rufford, “he had had no idea what­ever of caring for the girl” (GS, 80). And Dowell believes him: And, in speaking to her on that night he w ­ asn’t, I am convinced, committing a baseness. It was if his passion for her h­ adn’t existed;

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as if the very words that he spoke, without knowing that he spoke them, created the passion as they went along. Before he spoke, ­there was nothing; afterwards, it was the integral fact of his life. Well, I must get back to my story. (GS, 83)

It is not merely that desire in The Good Soldier seems to be produced in talking. Edward speaks the apparently passion-­creating words “without knowing that he spoke them.” Then Dowell does a curious ­thing: he tells us he “must get back” to his story. Dowell’s move marks the passage—­ pointedly, if not quite justly—as a digression. I believe t­ here is a deep connection between Edward’s distraction and Dowell’s digression. More specifically, I believe that distraction was impor­tant to Ford as a mode of consciousness he found congenial, or even vital, to writing. Ford’s interest in “hypnotic” meta­phors is thus part of his tendency to thematize distractedness as an integral aspect of his characters’ m ­ ental lives and as a mode of writing. Consider Dowell’s account of the pro­cess of writing. Dowell constructs a fiction for himself, one in which an imaginary talk with a s­ ilent auditor in a cottage replaces the act of writing. Moreover, Dowell says he writes what is, at least in ­great part, the story of his life at Nauheim and Branshaw “as it reached [him] from the lips” of his companions—as if he had not been ­there, and had no conscious recollection of t­ hose years to call his own. It is almost as if Dowell imagines that Leonora and Edward speak through him. In fact, it is not just that Dowell has the story from their lips; he even tells it ­under circumstances markedly similar to ­those ­under which he heard it from them, and in the very h­ ouse as well. As Miriam Bailin points out, Dowell appears to seek some kind of identity between the hearing and the (re-)telling of the story.19 It is also impor­tant that Dowell opens his narration by distracting himself from the substance of his story and directing his thoughts to a “country cottage.” He no sooner begins envisioning the monologue that ­will distract him from the task of writing than he finds himself distracted from his monologue by the imaginary moon: From time to time we ­shall get up and go to the door and look out at the ­great moon and say: “Why, it is nearly as bright as in Provence!”


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? And then we s­ hall come back to the fireside, with just the touch of a sigh ­because we are not in that Provence where even the saddest stories are gay. Consider the la­men­ta­ble history of Peire Vidal. (GS, 15)

The moon, in turn, appears to provoke a digression on Provence. In short, Dowell’s approach to the enterprise of writing begins with a series of distractions from the task at hand, in a meditation on digression itself. Dowell’s allusion to the story of a lovesick troubadour leads him to muse briefly on his travels with Florence. Abruptly, Dowell checks himself and considers ­whether he might not be digressing: Is all this digression or ­isn’t it digression? Again I ­don’t know. You, the listener, sit opposite me. But you are so ­silent. You ­don’t tell me anything. I am at any rate trying to get you to see what sort of life it was I led with Florence and what Florence was like. (GS, 17)

He then devotes a paragraph to recounting his first meeting with Florence, before turning to explain his own role in her life: My ­whole attentions, my ­whole endeavours ­were to keep poor dear Florence on to topics like the finds at Cnossos and the m ­ ental spirituality of Walter Pater. I had to keep her at it, you understand, or she might die. For I was solemnly informed that if she became excited over anything or if her emotions ­were ­really stirred her ­little heart might cease to beat. For twelve years I had to watch e­ very word that any person uttered in any conversation and I had to head it off what the En­glish call “­things”—­off love, poverty, crime, religion and the rest of it. Yes, the first doctor that we had when she was carried off the ship at Havre assured me that this must be done. Good God, are all t­ hese fellows monstrous i­ diots, or is t­ here a freemasonry between all of them from end to end of the earth? . . . ​ That is what makes me think of that fellow Peire Vidal. ­Because of course his story is culture and I had to head her ­towards culture and at the same time it’s so funny and she h­ adn’t got to laugh, and it’s so full of love and she w ­ asn’t to think of love. (GS, 18)

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On the one hand, Dowell tells us that his attention first turns to Peire Vidal as he thinks about Provence, inspired by the moon outside the imaginary cottage where he tells his s­ ilent listener about his wife; on the other hand, Dowell claims that his mind turns to Vidal’s adventures ­because he is thinking about his wife’s restricted conversational diet. As elsewhere, at the crux of Dowell’s self-­contradiction is an under­lying question of vital importance: is Dowell’s reference to Vidal a digression or not? Viewed as a result of distraction from the task of storytelling, it is. Viewed as an elaboration on his duties ­toward Florence, it is not. The question is analogous to one we asked earlier: is desire in The Good Soldier suggested by speech or formed unconsciously? The turning of Dowell’s thoughts to Peire Vidal seems to be both the spontaneous expression of his own purpose and a response to external suggestion. The implied suggestibility that I discussed first in connection with Dowell’s passion for Nancy reappears—­t his time, associated with the very telling of his story, which is marked from this point on as progressing by digression. Digression is, indeed, Dowell’s specialty. His duty as Florence’s custodian consisted in knowing how to provoke digressions, how to “head off ” a conversation that seems bound for “­t hings.” The first t­ hing you have to consider when writing a novel is your story, and then your story—­and then your story! If you wish to feel more dignified you may call it your “subject.” Once started it must go on to its appointed end. Any digression w ­ ill make a longueur, a patch over which the mind w ­ ill pro­gress heavi­ly. You may have the most wonderful scene from real life that you might introduce into your book. But if it does not make your subject pro­gress it ­w ill divert the attention of the reader. A good novel needs all the attention the reader can give it. And then some more. Of course you must appear to digress. That is the art which conceals your Art. The reader, you should premise, w ­ ill always dislike you and your book. He thinks it an insult that you should dare to claim his attention, and if lunch is announced or ­there is a ring at the bell he ­w ill welcome the digression. So you ­w ill provide him with what he thinks are digressions—­w ith occasions on which he


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? thinks he may let his attention relax. . . . ​But ­really not one single thread must ever escape your purpose. (IWN, 211–212)

This passage, which Ford wrote years ­after The Good Soldier, is a ­little difficult to read. For example, the call to lunch and the ring at the bell—­are they to be i­ magined as in your book or as in the room with the reader? If it is the former, then it is not clear how they are meant to ameliorate that book’s tedious claims on the reader’s attention. Why should lunches and doorbells in stories herald welcome and lively digressions? If they are to be ­i magined as real distractions that compete with your book for the reader’s attention, then it is more than a ­little odd that Ford calls them “digressions” rather than, say, “diversions” or “distractions.” Certainly, the word “digression” can refer to events rather than narratives. But is hard to believe that Ford (the master stylist) would permit such an approximate use of the word to collide with precise and literal references to digression in a passage devoted specifically to the topic of digression—­unless it served his purpose to do so. I believe Ford is inviting us to imagine digressions in his narratives as being somehow equivalent or analogous to distractions in the physical environment. I think of this as part of what he is getting at when he has Dowell use hypnosis and related states and phenomena as meta­phors for his characters’ modes of experience. “Automatic writing” experiments routinely required that the subject be distracted. An 1890 paper published by Prince in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal titled “Some of the Revelations of Hypnotism” describes a number of experiments in automatic writing. In the paradigmatic experiment, the hypnotized subject is given an arithmetical prob­lem or told to write a sentence, then suddenly awakened. The subject, who has no recollection of his mission, is given a pencil “and he is told to read aloud, count backwards or do some similar task. If the experiment is successful while he is ­doing this his hand, all unconsciously to himself, ­will write the answer to the sum or what­ever has been ordered.”20 The activities of reading aloud, counting backwards, singing, or speaking ­were used to distract the hypnotized subject from the activity of writing.21 In a scene slightly ­later than the one with thoughts of the moon and Peire Vidal, in which Dowell describes the sights on the way to the Schloss at M——­­, he recounts his delight in watching two cows at a stream:

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Why, I remember on that after­noon I saw a brown cow hitch its horns ­under the stomach of a black and white animal and the black and white one was thrown right into the ­middle of a narrow stream. I burst out laughing. But Florence was imparting information so hard and Leonora was listening so intently that no one noticed me. As for me, I was pleased to be off duty; I was pleased to think that Florence for the moment was indubitably out of mischief—­ because she was talking about Ludwig the Courageous (I think it was Ludwig the Courageous but I am not an historian) about Ludwig the Courageous of Hessen who wanted to have three wives at once and patronized Luther—­something like that!—­I was so relieved to be off duty, ­because she ­couldn’t possibly be ­doing anything to excite herself or set her poor heart a-­fluttering—­that the incident of the cow was a real joy to me. I chuckled over it from time to time for the w ­ hole rest of the day. ­Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black and white cow land on its back in the ­m iddle of a stream. It is so just exactly what one d ­ oesn’t expect of a cow. (GS, 36)

Dowell finds the scene to be one of pure delight. ­There is nothing disturbing about the per­for­mance of the two cows, although he admits ­there could be. (“I suppose I o­ ught to have pitied the poor animal; but I just ­didn’t. I was out for enjoyment. And I just enjoyed myself ” [GS, 36].) The episode is marked by Dowell’s status as detached—­even amused—­ spectator. The physical distance between him and the cows seems like an extension of the psychological distance produced by his being “out for enjoyment.” It is also curious that Dowell repeatedly uses the word “drawn” in the passage from which the episode is taken (no fewer than five times in two pages [GS, 36–37]). It is as if “drawn” alludes to an act of marking and repre­sen­ta­tion not wholly unlike writing, and also puts Dowell in a passive position relative to that act of marking. He does not draw, but is himself “drawn in a sort of triumph” (GS, 37) and “drawn through brilliant green meadows” (GS, 36), and “it is so pleasant to be drawn” (GS, 36). Note that once the group reaches the Protest draft, Florence immediately calls it “the pencil draft of the Protest they drew up” (GS, 38; emphasis added). Even Dowell’s closing observation—­that what


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he saw was “just exactly what one d ­ oesn’t expect”—­works to distance him yet further from the event. In fact, it seems that the love of digression that Ford describes in It Was the Nightingale as the reader’s eagerness for relief from the story corresponds to a similar eagerness on his own account, and that such distraction manifests itself in a thematization of writing that distances writing and transfers the activity of writing to other agents. For example, Dowell’s plea­sure in the scene is made pos­si­ble by his belief that, as he enjoys the spectacle the cows offer, Florence is safely lecturing. And so, he may relax his attention. It is as if Florence’s speech becomes a kind of figure for a text 22 —­a form of narration or dictation—­from which Dowell is pleased to find himself distracted by the spectacle of the cows. The mode in which Florence (re-)produces her text, however, is another ­matter. She “impart[s] information so hard” (emphasis added), Dowell says, as if to make her speech an action with something of the manual pressure of writing. She seems to speak the way one might write—­ bearing down hard becomes part of the expression—as if Ford wants that pressure to evoke the physical immediacy of the act of writing. In short, Dowell and Florence stand in two pointedly dif­fer­ent relationships to the act of writing. He looks on at a distance or listens distractedly, untouched (that is, by the brutality of the cows’ play or by Florence’s lecture). She, like the cows, seems to embody the intensity of physical and intellectual engagement with writing—­she bears down physically and intellectually on the text of her lecture and, in ­doing so, eventually collapses both the psychological and physical distance that ensures tranquility. Dowell does not come to understand fully the deeper relevance of Florence’s speech ­until well ­after the incident. He begins to intuit something about its meaning only as he flees the Rittersaal with Leonora. The scene bears citing at length: “And ­there,” [Florence] exclaimed with an accent of gaiety, of triumph and of audacity. She was pointing at a piece of paper, like the half-­sheet of a letter with some faint pencil scrawls that might have been a jotting of the amounts we ­were spending during the day. And I was extremely happy at her gaiety, in her triumph, in her audacity.

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Captain Ashburnham had his hands upon the glass case. “­There it is—­the Protest.” And then, as we all properly stage-­managed our bewilderment, she continued: “­Don’t you know that is why we w ­ ere all called Protestants? That is the pencil draft of the Protest they drew up. You can see the signatures of Martin Luther, and Martin Bucer, and Zwingli, and Ludwig the Courageous. . . .” I may have got some of the names wrong, but I know that Luther and Bucer w ­ ere ­there. And her animation continued and I was glad. She was better and she was out of mischief. (GS, 38)

The first paragraph is marked by repetitions, or continuations, of motifs from preceding passages. References to Florence’s gaiety, which punctuate the pages leading up to this section, continue, as do mentions of the names of the signatories (particularly Dowell’s uncertainty about Ludwig of Hessen’s epithet).23 Another repetition that works to unite the above passage with the description of the approach to the Schloss that precedes it is the repeated mentions of glass. The long paragraph that separates Dowell’s account of the overturned cow from that of Florence’s history lecture remarks that “gleams come from the city—­gleams from the glass of win­dows; from the gilt signs of apothecaries; from the ensigns of the student corps high up in the mountains; from the helmets of the funny ­little soldiers moving their stiff ­little legs in white linen trousers” (GS, 36–37). Once inside the Schloss museum Dowell recalls their encounter with the contents of the Schloss, including “the old glass” (GS, 37). A ­little further on, they climb a set of stairs “im­mensely high in the air to a large old chamber, full of presses, with heavily-­shuttered win­dows all around” (GS, 37). In the first instance, glass is part of the pa­norama of the city, gleaming along with the signs of apothecaries, mixed with writing and light. Next, glass appears again, not linked with writing or any sign of its presence, but still noteworthy for its ubiquity. Fi­nally—­within this single, long paragraph—­ glass returns, implied by the shuttered win­dows and sharing pride of place with the presses. (A note in the critical edition explains that “presses” refers ­here to shelving, but in the context of the Protest as a text, the choice of words perhaps implies, on the plane of Ford’s thematization of writing, printing presses, too—as if one ­were to imagine the


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Protest draft ­going to print on the spot, and via a device named precisely for the physical pressure u­ nder which it produces writing.) 24 Florence no sooner enters the “old chamber” than she sees to opening the shutters. “She told the tired, bored custodian what shutters to open; so that the bright sunlight streamed in palpable shafts into the dim old chamber. She explained that this was Luther’s bedroom and that just where the sunlight fell had stood his bed” (GS, 37). The action of opening the shutters, of exposing the glass, comes to stand not only for making vis­i­ble the interior of the “old chamber,” but also for a tactile coming into being. At just this point, Dowell speaks out of character, to criticize Florence’s account of Luther’s stay at the Schloss (“As a ­matter of fact, I believe that she was wrong” [GS, 37]), unceremoniously revealing his attentiveness to the substance of her lecture. His new interest can be seen, I think, as signaling a change—­both of mood (from blithe unconcern to critical vigilance) and of psychological distance (from remoteness to engagement), prefiguring his dramatic encounter with writing in the climactic scene to follow. Florence throws open a final shutter, “in spite of the protest of the ­custodian,” before turning to “a large glass case” (GS, 37–38). This final mention of glass immediately precedes the passage quoted in full above, and sets the stage for the culmination of a set of movements: each reference to glass has placed it progressively closer to the party, ­until—­over the custodian’s objection—­Florence throws open the last barrier (a last shutter) and approaches the glass case. Si­mul­ta­neously, the mingling in Dowell’s narration of glass and writing—­signs and presses—­ends in their coincidence in the glass case that contains the Protest. Furthermore, ­Dowell’s cheerful delectation of the gleam of the city gives way to an ambivalent remark on the extraordinary height of the “old chamber,” which in turn is followed by his unique attack on Florence’s historical accuracy, and then by the “protest” of the “custodian.” (As a custodian, the keeper of the “old chamber” doubles the “nurse-­attendant” Dowell, just as the “chamber” alludes to a heart: e­ very heart has four of them, and Florence’s also has a custodian.) In the custodian’s “protest” are figured both Dowell’s increasingly apprehensive attention and the “piece of paper” that ­w ill provide the occasion for Florence to justify his anxiety.25 It is as if the

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closing-in on Dowell of the motifs of glass and writing cause him to become both more attentive to Florence’s lecture and anxious, even angry. At the height of this preliminary, ex­pec­tant tension, Dowell’s anxiety disperses; his simile belittles the Protest draft by comparing it to a rec­ord of the group’s expenses on the day trip. Edward even touches the glass case. Florence, however, continues. She forges for her harmless history a new relevance: She continued, looking up into Captain Ashburnham’s eyes: “It’s b­ ecause of that piece of paper that y­ ou’re honest, sober, industrious, provident, and clean-­lived. If it ­weren’t for that piece of paper you’d be like the Irish or the Italians or the Poles, but particularly the Irish . . .” And she laid one fin­ger upon Captain Ashburnham’s wrist. I was aware of something treacherous, something frightful, something evil in the day. I c­ an’t define it and ­can’t find a simile for it. It ­wasn’t as if a snake had looked out of a hole. No, it was as if my heart had missed a beat. It was as if we w ­ ere ­going to run and cry out; all four of us in separate directions, averting our heads. In Ashburnham’s face I know that t­ here was absolute panic. I was horribly frightened and then I discovered that the pain in my left wrist was caused by Leonora’s clutching it. (GS, 38)

Florence violates the rule of her custodian—or, rather, he fails to stop her. Harmless disquisition on history becomes an attack on her prospective lover’s wife. Of course, Dowell d ­ oesn’t realize that at the time. Nor does he acknowledge the insidious purpose of Florence touching Edward’s wrist with her fin­ger. Nevertheless, he becomes aware of something terrible. How does Dowell gain this insight? Nothing has happened that should cause Dowell, given what he knows at this point in his history, to see any harm in what he has witnessed. He thinks of a snake (a loaded figure in impressionist texts, as the Introduction and Chapter 2 have shown), he feels as though his heart had skipped a beat, he feels himself (along with his companions) impelled to flight, he even sees terror in Edward’s face. Suddenly, he discovers something specific that can account


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retrospectively for his discomfort: Leonora clutches his left wrist so firmly as to inflict pain. The paragraph in which Dowell intuits the crisis is framed by wrists. In fact, the horror reaches Dowell as the touch migrates, so to speak, from Edward’s wrist upon the glass over the Protest draft to his own wrist. I would suggest that the manifestation of the “evil in the day” to Dowell can be seen as accompanying—­a nd, in some sense, as being identical with—­the final step in the drawing-­near of the “piece of paper.” In other words, since Dowell recognizes Leonora’s grip on his wrist as preexisting his explicit awareness of it, and since Florence touches Edward’s wrist only moments before, the two appear to be, if not simultaneous, at least approximately so. The near coincidence of the two touches in time, as well as the similar coincidence of their locations on their objects’ bodies, suggests some kind of identity between the limbs in question (Ashburnham’s and Dowell’s). Distraction becomes self-­awareness, and the psychological distance, which made the scene of the cows and the gleams of the town so pleasant, dis­appears. When writing comes in contact with the writer, it is horrific. The trance, as it w ­ ere, is broken. ­A fter his flight with Leonora, Dowell f­aces her. Her expression is terrible: She looked me straight in the eyes; and for a moment I had the feeling that t­ hose two blue discs ­were im­mense, ­were overwhelming, ­were like a wall of blue that shut me off from the rest of the world. I know it sounds absurd; but that is what it did feel like. “­Don’t you see,” she said with a r­ eally horrible bitterness, with a ­really horrible lamentation in her voice, “­Don’t you see that that’s the cause of the w ­ hole miserable affair; of the w ­ hole sorrow of the world? And of the eternal damnation of you and me and them. . . .” Id ­ on’t remember how she went on; I was too frightened; I was too amazed. I think I was thinking of ­running to fetch assistance—­a doctor, perhaps, or Captain Ashburnham. Or possibly she needed Florence’s tender care, though of course, it would have been very bad for Florence’s heart. But I know that when I came out of it she was saying: “Oh, where are all the bright, happy, innocent beings in the world? Where’s happiness? One reads of it in books!”

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She ran her hand with a singular clawing motion upwards over her forehead. Her eyes w ­ ere enormously distended; her face was exactly that of a person looking into the pit of hell and seeing horrors ­there. And then suddenly she stopped. She was most amazingly, just Mrs. Ashburnham again. Her face was perfectly clear, sharp and defined; her hair was glorious in its golden coils. Her nostrils twitched with a sort of contempt. She appeared to look with interest at a gypsy caravan that was coming over a l­ittle bridge far below us. (GS, 39)

What we have, in Leonora’s face, is, I would argue, a figuration of writing. Her distended eyes (not exactly unseeing, but fixed as though on an apparition) indicate a kind of slackening of consciousness such as we have seen in previous chapters of this book associated with upturned f­ aces and the written page in Crane, Hudson, Norris, Wells, and Conrad. Understood in that light, the “singular clawing motion upwards over her forehead” evokes the act of writing—­both ­because it describes a motion like that of writing in cursive script and ­because the words “singular clawing” contain anagrammatically disguised within them the word “scrawling,” a form of which Ford has already used to refer to the Protest draft. Dowell then recovers from his lapse of recollection—­which is not unlike that in which he is alleged to have suggested he marry Nancy. ­Leonora also recovers, becoming “just Mrs.  Ashburnham again.” Her hand ceases its clawing motion, and gives way to “glorious” hair in “coils,” as if the act of writing ceases and is replaced by the (already) written word, formed by coils. A gypsy caravan moving, perhaps, like a trail of ink across a page, lies “far below.” The transformation of panic to calm is, it appears, associated not only with Leonora’s recovery of composure, but also with Dowell’s recovery of distance from the object of attention—­and, I would suggest, from the act of writing. And then, quite suddenly, in the bright light of the street, I saw Florence r­ unning. It was like that—­Florence ­r unning with a face whiter than paper and her hand on the black stuff over her heart. I tell you, my own heart stood still; I tell you I could not move. She rushed in at the swing doors. She looked round that place of rush chairs, cane


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? t­ ables and newspapers. She saw me and opened her lips. She saw the man who was talking to me. She stuck her hands over her face as if she wished to push her eyes out. And she was not t­ here any more. [The man Dowell was talking with had known Florence in her earlier life and in fact had seen her “coming out of the bedroom of a young man called Jimmy at five ­o’clock in the morning” (GS, 75). The implication of the scene is that Florence realized that he would tell as much to Dowell; when Dowell soon ­after went to her room, he found that she had taken poison and died.] I could not move. I could not stir a fin­ger. (GS, 74; emphasis added)

The above scene takes place on “the 4th of August, 1913” (GS, 75): the one day of the year during which Florence acts as though “hypnotised” is also her birthday (GS, 59) and the day of her death. Furthermore, she seems like a sheet of paper that is being written upon, for ­there is a “hand on the black stuff ” that covers her. And, indeed, she is surrounded by writing—­newspapers.26 Florence then covers her face (the sheet of writing) with her hands, pressing them to her eyes as though to blind herself, and she dis­appears. Ford seems to hint at an identity of seeing and being pres­ent. It is not only Florence who is affected by her actions, though—­they seem to have an effect on Dowell as well. He is unable to move. He is unable to see her. He seems to experience a disturbance in his own recollections of the eve­ning: ­after this episode, the chapter and section close, and Dowell’s narrative resumes with him speaking “as ­people do who are recovering from an anaesthetic” (GS, 75). In fact, it is just a­ fter the lapse following his wife’s death that Dowell spoke as if he “had a dual personality, the one I being entirely unconscious of the other” (GS, 75). It is, I want to say, almost as if Florence’s hands press on Dowell’s eyes. I say that b­ ecause the scene bears a striking resemblance to the one in which Florence touches Edward’s wrist and the pressure transfers to Leonora’s grip on Dowell’s wrist. The logic of The Good Soldier depends on such moments in which characters identify, even physically, with one another. The fate of each is almost more than coincidentally bound up with the ­others’. The novel’s

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resolution requires that two members of the novel’s “minuet de la cour” (GS, 11) commit suicide and that a third, Nancy, loses her status as a ­“personality,” as Dowell puts it: “What then, should they have done? It worked out in the extinction of two very splendid personalities—­for Edward and the girl ­were splendid personalities, in order that a third personality, more normal, should have a­ fter a long period of trou­ble, a quiet, comfortable, good time” (GS, 155; emphasis in original). And as he delivers his assessment, Dowell brings the time of the narration into a new pres­ent: “I am writing this now, I should say, a full eigh­teen months ­after the words that end my last chapter” (GS, 155). Dowell renounces the currentness of the pres­ent tense of his previous narrative, which recedes into the past along with the events of the story, and enters a “new” pres­ent tense, as it w ­ ere. That new presentness of narration is figured, one might say, in the person of Nancy, who, although she is “gone—oh utterly gone” (GS, 155), w ­ ill sit in front of Dowell at dinner, “enigmatic, ­silent, utterly well-­behaved as far as her knife and fork go.” Nancy becomes aligned with a certain kind of writing—in the suspension of her knife and fork while she searches for a word (GS, 168), and in the “extraordinary” quality of her face framed as it is by “her coiled black hair” (GS, 168). She is, I think, a figure for the kind of writing Ford imagines and privileges as digression. Edward, on the other hand, exits ­under other circumstances. We meet him “talking with a good deal of animation,” and he looks at Dowell “frankly and directly” (GS, 169)—­just the opposite of the abstracted Nancy staring off into space. A boy hands him a tele­gram, and, as if to repeat the transfer that takes place in the Schloss, he hands it presently to Dowell. Like the Protest draft the group had gone to see, the document seems, at first, trivial. “On the pinkish paper in a sprawled handwriting” Dowell reads: “Safe Brindisi. Having rattling good time. Nancy” (GS, 169). And, as before, Dowell fails to respond. Edward, however, “whose mind was compounded of indifferent poems and novels” (GS, 169), draws with two fin­gers a “penknife—­quite a small penknife” (GS, 169) from a pocket. (In the word “penknife,” obviously, are conjoined both the instrument of writing and the means of Edward’s suicide.) Edward sends Dowell away from the scene with a “direct, challenging, brow-­beating glare” (GS, 169) that recalls Leonora’s stare ­after Dowell’s flight with her


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from the Schloss—­the stare that marks the transition from the intensity of an immediate encounter with the stuff of writing to Dowell’s detached contemplation of the gypsy caravan snaking through the distant landscape. Just as the earlier stare permits the slackening of tension, so does Edward’s glare soften and become “almost affectionate” (GS, 169). Dowell sets off to deliver the tele­gram to a “quite pleased” Leonora, and Edward vanishes (GS, 169). The scene ends the book, but, I want to say, it also ends a fraught encounter with the scene of writing not unlike the one that takes place in the Schloss. And of course, it also marks the end of Ford’s encounter with the act of writing The Good Soldier.

From Return to Yesterday (1932) Ford’s many writings are a virtual trea­sure ­house of impressionist meta­ phors, themes, and allegories, to the extent that ­there is no point in trying to survey even a representative fraction of them. But to convey something of the extreme variety and, at times, the bizarreness of the texts and textual moments in question (qualities already suggested by the citations from The Soul of London glanced at earlier in this chapter), ­here, with a minimum of commentary, are four brief excerpts from one of Ford’s many autobiographical writings, Return to Yesterday (1932)—­a book in which recollections of Crane, Conrad, W. H. Hudson, and Henry James play a major role. (All of t­ hese excerpts might qualify as “digressions,” except for the fact that Return to Yesterday is itself “digressive” in overall form.) The first excerpt pres­ents itself as a reminiscence of a scene glimpsed while working on a life of the painter Holbein in Basel, Switzerland (according to Ford, at some unspecified date between 1903 and 1906). Ford was then residing, he reports, high up in the ­house of a Swiss professor; the upper stories of the ­houses on that street came close together, and ­immediately opposite Ford lived a chimney sweep. The reminiscence continues: He was jet black all over, wore a top hat, and carried ­behind his back a ladder and sacks of soot. His apartment, which I could see into, contained a baby and a blonde pink and white young wife. Apartment, baby, and wife ­were all spotless. On the edge of the win­dow

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sill was a ­l ittle green and white fence, on one side of the win­dow hung a canary in a cage, on the other a goldfinch. The chimney sweep never came home till dusk. By then the lights would be lit ­behind a white blind. Then I would see the silhouette of the sweep, framed by the win­dow, in the black house-­front that, itself a silhouette, stood out with crockets and crow-­steps against the dark sky and the im­mense stars. He would stride joyously into the room. His shadow would catch the shadow of the baby from the invisible cradle and, top hat, ladder, sacks all bobbing, he would throw the baby up to the ceiling, again and again and again. I used to hang out over my win­dow sill and won­der with agony why God had made it impossible to transfuse one’s soul into another being. If only I could have made my soul enter that chimney sweep’s body whilst he was absent in sleep! His could no doubt have found a home.27

The usual response of students of Ford to passages such as this (or the ones in The Soul of London) is skepticism, or even, at times, irritation—is it plausible that such and such ever r­ eally happened? And in fact, Ford in an autobiographical mode is notoriously unreliable. But as regards his ­account of the shadow images of the chimney sweep throwing his baby into the air, is it clear that Ford wished to be believed? Or was his stake in that account entirely dif­fer­ent, a ­matter of giving ­free rein to a fantasy of a kind of purely imagistic, in that sense immaterial, black-­on-­white picture writing that could have been expressed in no other way? And in fact, Ford’s shadow chimney sweep is by no means the only such figure in impressionist texts: Crane, in one of his earliest pieces of journalism, describes with relish vari­ous “shadow pictures” cast on the canvas walls of Ocean Grove’s Camp Meeting Association tents;28 Conrad has a comparable (though differently mooded) passage in his first novel, Almayer’s Folly;29 and as was noted in Chapter 2, a carefully described shadow-­ casting plant plays an emblematic role in Hudson’s Green Mansions. (See also my discussion of Conrad’s short story “The Duel” in Chapter 4.) What sets Ford’s passage somewhat apart from the ­others, though, is the note of longing with which it ends, the desire, as Ford puts it, “to transfuse [his] soul into another being”—­the chimney sweep. Ostensibly, this


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was to be done while the latter slept; ostensibly, too, though Ford does not quite say so, the desire had its origin in his sense of the attractiveness of the chimney sweep’s domestic life with his wife and child (and canary). But ­there is also, I suggest, a sense in which the desire “to transfuse one’s soul into another h­ uman being” is a response to the shadow imagery itself, or, say, to its immaterial character—as if the silhouettes of the chimney sweep and his equipment and his baby and of course his actions communicated themselves to Ford (in ­actual fact or in his imagination) with such immediacy that he found himself frustrated that the communication was less than total. At least I take this to be the essential content of his mini-­narrative, for all the likelihood that the latter was wholly or largely pure invention. (I ­will note in passing that the desire in question, or, say, the fact of such transfusion, has its equivalent in certain moments in The Good Soldier, as well as in the meta­phorics of thought transference in Hudson.) Another, briefer “recollection” occurs ­later in the book. Ford has been describing his vari­ous collaborations with Conrad and more broadly, Conrad’s agonizing over the effort to produce his novels, Nostromo in par­tic­u­lar. Then a Cockney-­talking “hospital nurse” would come in, speaking all but unintelligibly to Ford. (The presence of the nurse is never explained.) But Conrad understood her. “He had served before the mast with cockney deckhands. He would ask her how the other patients w ­ ere. That would give her an excuse to get g­ oing.” ­There follow two paragraphs of direct quotation of her Cockney speech, immediately a­ fter which Ford narrates an accident that she had previously under­gone: She had been standing on the top landing of the ­house. A servant let the green baize door swing against her. It had precipitated her down several flights of stone stairs. She lay at the bottom with her skull smashed and her brains protruding. The servants put sheets of newspaper u­ nder her head. They wanted to protect their mistress’s stair carpets. When the surgeon came he could read the imprint of the paper on her brain—an account of the dispersal of the works of art from the collection of the Hon. Matthew L. Oldroyd. That was her story—­one of hundreds. Of thousands, perhaps. Her appearance used to drive me frantic. It meant that Conrad

Ford’s Impressionism


would not get to work for hours. Neither could I. I need a certain period of quiet before words ­w ill come. (RY, 288–289)

Nothing further is said about the accident, but Ford goes on to report that the nurse seemed to stimulate Conrad, who would listen to “her singular tarradiddles for hours with an expression of the utmost interest and deference.” The story of the nurse concludes: “Perhaps Nostromo would never have got itself written but for her. Or perhaps Conrad’s next book would have borne a Pa­ri­sian imprint” (RY, 289). (Conrad had previously been quoted by Ford as complaining about the limitations of En­glish as a literary language as compared with French.) Ford’s narration of the nurse’s accident seems curiously heartless: her skull was shattered, her brain exposed, yet nothing is said about her recovery or any aftermath. The imprinting of the newspaper has something grotesque about it, and the reference to the art sale appears deliberately comic, in a chilling sort of way (as if the reader is meant to recognize or at least be amused by the somewhat odd name “the Hon. Matthew L. Oldroyd”; and how did Ford acquire so intimate a knowledge of what was imprinted?). Once again, though, it seems highly unlikely—to say the least—­that anything of the sort ever took place, which leads me to read Ford’s account as still another impressionist mini-­allegory, this one not of an immaterial writing but rather of a brutely material one—­a direct physical imprinting. Interestingly, such a writing is anything but Ford’s ideal, or indeed Conrad’s: as Ford states earlier in Return to Yesterday, he and Conrad shared the ambition to write . . . ​as only Mr. W. H. Hudson writes—as simply as the grass grows. . . . ​We wanted the reader to forget the writer—to forget that he was reading. We wished him to be hypnotised into thinking that he was living what he read—or, at least, into the conviction that he was listening to a ­simple and in no way brilliant narrator who was telling—­not writing—­a true story. (RY, 216)

But of course, the “in no way brilliant narrator” who is quoted in the l­ ittle story about the hospital nurse is the nurse herself, speaking her Cockney “taradiddle” (“Last Peetient I ‘ad wus Lord Northcliffe. Hoperishun on


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

’is leg!” [RY, 288]), which suggests a certain equivalence between the opacity of her Cockney speech and the material imprinting of the newspaper on her exposed brain. ­Here, too, I am not suggesting that Ford positively understood himself as implying any such equivalence. Rather, as with the thematization of writing in Crane or the mini-­allegory of immaterial writing in Ford’s anecdote of the shadow chimney sweep in Basel, we are dealing with a textual crux that bears the stamp of the working of an automatic m ­ ental machinery, to paraphrase Norris’s Karslake. (A similar machinery is said by Dowell to be at work in key passages of The Good Soldier.) This is further suggested, as the reader may already have noted, by the altogether unexpected and in a sense disconcerting repetition of the word “imprint” in the concluding sentence, “Or perhaps Conrad’s next book would have borne a Pa­ri­sian imprint,” which would seem to imply a further equivalence between the direct transfer of print to the nurse’s brain and the notion of Conrad’s next book appearing in French—­not that I know what to make of this (Ford loved France, read, spoke, and wrote French easily, and greatly admired writers such as Flaubert and Maupassant, a taste he shared with Conrad). My point is rather that the repetition of “imprint” should alert us to the writerly stakes of the passage as a w ­ hole, though I might add that repetition of this sort, as if done in a state of distraction, is one of the hallmarks of Ford’s impressionist prose generally. Two other passages are worth glancing at in this connection. The first: ­ here was in ­those days [the early 1900s] an eminent politician of T very wide knowledge and ability. He was then on the verge of a disagreeable affair. He honoured me by a belief, that was perhaps exaggerated, in my knowledge of life and influence in regions where he wanted influence exercised. One day he asked me to go with him to the Zoo. In the Reptile h­ ouse, which also contained cages of bright tropical finches, he gave me a most brilliant lecture on the protective colouring of birds. It remains now vivid in my mind and has been of the greatest use in helping me to form appreciations of more modern art. On the face of it, the birds we ­were looking at appeared, in their surroundings, astonishingly vis­i­ble. But at home they lived in tree-­tops above jungles and had to fear hawks above

Ford’s Impressionism


all. A finch with a scarlet stomach, sapphire blue wings, and emerald green head and back is a striking object in a dim London building. Seen from above in the tropical rays of an im­mense sun the effect of the light and shadows in the prismatic coloration of the tree-­tops is completely to break up the form of the bird. My friend exhausted this topic and we looked at some snakes. (RY, 245)

As has emerged, birds w ­ ere the ­great subject of Hudson’s writing, a fact that no doubt had a bearing on the pres­ent passage. But what I want to suggest is simply that, understood as one more mini-­allegory of impressionist practice, the anecdote brilliantly imagines a double perspective according to which, viewed u­ nder ordinary circumstances, like words in a dictionary or simply thrown together in no par­tic­u­lar order, the brilliant birds are altogether con­spic­u­ous, but viewed from above, like words on a page in a piece of Hudsonian writing (more precisely, in a piece of Hudsonian writing being read), they are for all intents and purposes invisible, a sort of impressionist writerly ideal. That the anecdote takes place in a reptile ­house and is immediately followed by Ford and his friend looking at snakes is almost too good to be true. (A further possibility: that the politician referred to by Ford is ­imagined as Lord Grey, well known as an admirer of Hudson.) The fourth and last passage I want to cite concerns Ford’s German cook, Johanna, whom he describes cooking several floors below where he and Conrad regularly ate lunch together (Conrad was then grappling with Nostromo). “Then one day,” Ford writes, “no voice from the kitchen answered mine in the speaking-­tube. Johanna was lying face downwards on the kitchen ­table with her varnished scarlet cheeks in a ­great sieve of flour” (RY, 280); apparently she had been dealing with a bout of influenza for some time. She is taken away, presumably to a hospital, and Ford assumes the chore of cooking for himself and Conrad, who notices no difference as long as Ford imitates Johanna. Ford then reports: “But once I cooked a civet de lièvre à la Parisienne. That is not jugged hare as you have it in Anglo-­Saxondom but has a sauce that is almost jet black with richness. Conrad inspected it as he always did, carefully and with his monocle screwed into his eye.” ­A fter tasting it, Conrad asks ­whether


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

perhaps he might have instead “a l­ittle of the admirable s­ addle of lamb of  the night before.” Ford serves him the lamb, and imitates Johanna from then on (RY, 280). And that is the incident, or pair of incidents—­ utterly trivial, the first in par­tic­u­lar likely to make the reader doubt its veracity. But Ford’s stake in the contrast of white and black—­flour and his sauce, paper and ink—is clear enough, and one is not surprised that the chapter concludes: I was in addition ­doing double tides of writing. I had deci­ded that I must do something of my own—­I forget what it was—in order to defray the extra costs of that barrack [the ­house that Ford was then living in]. And Conrad had to be constantly bolstered up, to dictate, to have passages written into Nostromo. It was at that time that I wrote the pages of Nostromo that Mr. Keating possesses. I also had the influenza. (RY, 280–281)

What relation, if any, is ­there between Conrad’s flinching before the blackness of the civet de lièvre sauce and his need for bolstering by Ford in his strug­gles with Nostromo? It is impossible to say. I w ­ ill only add that contrasts of black and white figure importantly throughout Ford’s writings, nowhere more intensively than in The Soul of London, which in that re­spect as in ­others is a sort of curtain-­raiser to his long literary impressionist ­career.

Chapter Four

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces



hav e a l re ady suggested that a disfigured, upward-­oriented face, often but not always of a corpse, is a master trope, if not the master trope, in literary impressionist writings. In “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces” I begin by citing a passage from The Red Badge of Courage that might be considered the archetypal example of such a motif. A young man, Henry Fleming, mainly referred to as “the youth,” encounters the first of several dead bodies that ­will draw his attention in the novel: Once the line encountered the body of a dead soldier. He lay upon his back staring at the sky. He was dressed in an awkward suit of yellowish brown. The youth could see that the s­ oles of his shoes had been worn to the thinness of writing paper, and that from a ­great rent in one the dead foot projected piteously. And it was as if fate had betrayed the soldier. In death it exposed to his enemies the poverty which in life he had perhaps concealed from his friends. The ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse. The invulnerable dead man forced a way for himself. The youth looked keenly at the ashen face. The wind raised the tawny beard. It moved as if a hand ­were stroking it. He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.1



w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

In my commentary on this passage I note the way in which the succession of brief sentences seems almost to imply that the youth was acting on the corpse through the medium of the wind, and I also remark on the quasi-­elision of the distinction between living and dead both by virtue of the initial ambiguity of the pronoun “he” in the last sentence of the passage and ­because staring is precisely the action attributed to the corpse in the second sentence of the first paragraph. I also stress the salience in both paragraphs of a par­tic­u­lar bodily position, that of the corpse lying flat on its back . . . ​; second, the characterization of the corpse’s face as an object of another character’s keen attention and the related fact that something, in this case seemingly gentle, is done to the face or at least to a metonym for it (the tawny beard); and third, the dramatization, through the image of the protruding foot, of an unexpected detail—­that the ­soles of the dead soldier’s shoes “had been worn to the thinness of writing paper.” (RWD, 94)

(­Later I note that the ostensibly benign verb “raised” has implicit in it a more violent one, “razed.”) By now I hardly need restate the obvious, that I take this first corpse with its ashen face and staring unseeing eyes as a figure for a sheet of paper in the pro­cess of being written on, indeed, for the very sheet of paper on which Crane was writing when he composed ­those deceptively simple-­seeming paragraphs. Already in this book other upturned ­faces have been adduced in similar connections: the dead officer’s chalk-­blue visage in “The Upturned Face”; Henry Johnson’s face receiving the burning serpent that ­will destroy it in The Monster; the dead Malay in Almayer’s Folly; Rima’s pale face slowly returning to life and consciousness in Green Mansions; the face of the ­little Jew being beaten with the stump of an oar in the shipwreck scene in Vandover and the Brute; the Invisible Man’s lifeless albino face at the end of The Invisible Man; the dead German sailor’s face and body in In the Days of the Comet; and, figuratively, the Face of the W ­ aters brooded over by a primordial silence in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” (all but explic­itly a figure for the page on which the doomed Karslake is i­ magined writing). Plus, t­ here are “old Mahon’s face with the

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


white beard spread out on his breast” and young Marlow’s sleeping upturned face in the climactic scene of Conrad’s “Youth,” and of course Almayer’s startlingly expressionless face—­not upturned, but plainly relevant to my notion of Conrad’s writing as a practice of erasure—in Almayer’s Folly. (Other such f­ aces, not upturned but other­wise marked, w ­ ill be of interest in what follows.) I might also mention that in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces” I discuss a particularly brilliant New York City sketch, “When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers,” that belongs absolutely to our series.2 My aim in this chapter is s­ imple: I want to adduce another half dozen examples by vari­ous authors by way of demonstrating beyond all doubt the primordiality (to adapt a term from “A Memorandum”) and obsessiveness of the motif of the (for the most part) upturned, often disfigured, at all events strongly focalized face for impressionist writing, along with two major-­author instances of the same motif turned to dif­fer­ent ends. I ­will keep my commentaries to a minimum; the citations w ­ ill be of dif­fer­ent lengths (the first in par­tic­u­lar ­will be extensive).

n R.  B. Cunninghame Graham, a Scottish politician of diverse and brilliant gifts who went to Harrow, spent years c­ attle ranching in Argentina, travelled widely in Morocco and Mexico, and was throughout his life a brilliant ­horse­man, published no less than seventeen collections of short tales and “sketches,” among other writings; he was a friend of Hudson, Conrad, and Ford, so perhaps it is not surprising that at least some of his pieces have affinities with their work. 3 (In a late essay, Ford compares Cunninghame Graham to Crane as regards the keying down of drama and a certain aristocratic negligence.)4 An especially vivid instance of this is his sketch “The Orchid-­Hunter,” set in the backcountry in Colombia, most of which takes place on the deck of a river steamer; the orchid-­hunter, British in origin, is described by the unnamed narrator as a slight, grave figure with hair touched by gray, and most of the sketch is delivered in his voice.5 His story begins: Yesterday, about two o­ ’clock, in a heat fit to boil your brain, a canoe came slowly up the stream into the settlement. The Indian paddlers walked up the steep bank carry­ing the body of a man wrapped in a


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? mat. When they had reached the l­ ittle palm-­thatched hut over which floated the Colombian flag, that marked it as the official residence of the Captain of the Port, they set their burden down with the hopeless look that marks the Indian, as of an orphaned angel. “We found this ‘Mister’ on the banks,” they said, “in the last stage of fever. He spoke but ­little Christian, and all he said was, ‘Doctor, American doctor, Tocatalaima; take me ­there.’ “­Here he is, and now who is to pay us for our work?” (“OH,” 54)

The orchid-­hunter pays them, and goes to see the body, which has begun to putrefy. His narrative continues: I stood and looked at the man’s body in his thin linen suit which clung to ­every ­angle. Beside him was a white pith helmet, and a pair of yellow-­tinted spectacles framed in celluloid to look like tortoiseshell, that come down from the States. I never wear them, for I find that every­thing that you can do without is something gained in life. His feet in his white canvas shoes all stained with mud sticking up stiffly and his limp, pallid hands, crossed by the pious Indians, on his chest gave him that helpless look that makes a dead man, as it w ­ ere, appeal to one for sympathy and protection against the terror, that perhaps for him is not a terror ­after all; but merely a long rest. No one had thought of closing his blue eyes; and as we are but creatures of habit ­after all, I put my hand into my pocket, and taking out two half-­dollar pieces was about to put them on his eyes. Then I remembered that one of them was bad, and you ­will not believe me, but I could not put the bad piece on his eyes; it looked like cheating him. So I went out and got two ­little stones, and ­after washing them put them upon his eyelids, and at least they kept away the flies. I ­don’t know how it was, for I believe I am not superstitious, but it seemed to me that t­ hose blue eyes, sunk in the livid face to which three or four days’ growth of fair and fluffy beard gave a look of adolescence, looked at me as if they still ­were searching for the American doctor, who no doubt must have engrossed his last coherent thought as he lay in the canoe.

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


As I was looking at him, mopping my face, and now and then killing a mosquito—­one gets to do it quite mechanically, although in my case neither mosquitoes nor any other kind of bug annoys me very much—­t he door was opened and the authorities came in. (“OH,” 55–56)

The authorities include a stout Colombian dressed in white clothes, though the hut soon fills up with Indians, who stand staring at the dead man, ­until the orchid-­hunter felt “that the dead eyes would turn in anger on them and shake off the flat stones.” Then: The man clothed in authority and dusky white returned, accompanied by one of t­ hose strange out-­at-­elbows nondescripts who are to be found in e­ very town in South Amer­i­ca, and may be best described as “penmen”—­t hat is, persons who can read and write and have some far-­off dealings with the law. (“OH,” 57)

A soldier is ordered to have a grave dug immediately, and the “penman,” Perez, is told to search the corpse for papers. (The appearance of a “penman” at this moment in the narrative is suggestive, to say the least.) ­There follows a search of the dead man’s pockets; the orchid-­hunter remarks on Perez’s “­g reat dread of touching a dead body” (“OH,” 57), which of course recalls Lean’s and the adjutant’s comparable feelings, and goes on to describe the discovery of a pocketknife, a box of matches, and a b­ ottle of quinine, “but still no pocket-­book, card-­case, letter, or any paper with the name of the deceased” (“OH,” 58). Fi­nally, Perez extracts from an inside pocket a letter case containing 2,000 American dollars, which the commissary confiscates. At this point the search is done, which leads the orchid gatherer to breathe more freely, “as ­every time the dirty hands of Perez fumbled about the helpless body I felt a shudder ­running down my back” (“OH,” 59). The orchid-­hunter is left alone with the body. The sketch proceeds: Thus left alone with my compatriot (if he had been one), I took a long look at him, so as to stamp his features in my mind. I had no


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? camera in my possession, and cannot draw—­a want that often hinders me in my profession in the description of my rarer plants. I looked so long that if the man I saw lying upon that canvas scissor-­bed should ever rise again with the same body, I am certain that I should recognise him amongst a million men. His hands w ­ ere long and thin, but sunburnt, his feet well ­shaped, and though his face was sunken and the heat was rapidly discolouring it, the features w ­ ere well-­cut. I noted a brown mark upon the cheek, such as in Spanish is called a “lunar,” which gave his delicate and youthful face something of a girlish look, in spite of his moustache. His eyebrows, curiously enough, ­were dark, and the ­incipient growth of beard was darker than his hair. His ears ­were small and set on close to the head—­a sign of breeding—­and his eyes, although I dared not look at them, having closed them up myself, I knew w ­ ere blue, and felt they must be staring at me, under­neath the stones. (“OH,” 60)

The description continues ­until the orchid-­hunter takes the stones off the dead man’s eyes and is relieved to find that the latter do not open. He smokes and goes on sitting for perhaps “not above half an hour. Still,” he reports, in that time I saw the life of the young man who lay before me. His voyage out; the first sight of the tropics; the landing into that strange world of swarthy-­coloured men, dank vegetation, thick, close atmosphere, the metallic hum of insects, and the peculiar smell of a hot country—­things which we see and hear once in our lives, and but once only, for custom dulls the senses, and we see nothing more. Then the letters home, ­simple and child-­like in regard to life. (“OH,” 61)

The orchid-­hunter’s imaginative recapitulation of the young man’s life extends to the latter’s first words in broken Spanish, his first walk by the harbor or through alleys, then a voyage up the river to the mine or rubber station, the long and weary days, the fevers, “the rare letters, and the cher-

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


ished newspapers from home—­those, too, I knew of, for I had waited for them often in my youth.” Most of all, as I looked on him and saw his altering features, I thought of his snug home in Mas­sa­chu­setts or North­u mberland, where his relations looked for letters on thin paper, with the strange postmarks, which would never come again. How they would won­der in his home, and t­ here I was looking at the features that they would give the world to see, but impotent to help. (“OH,” 62)

Fi­nally, the body is wrapped in a white cotton sheet, for which the orchid-­ hunter pays, and it is carried to a plot of ground with an open grave. The latter looks hard and uninviting, but the body is lowered into it by a rope. The orchid-­hunter takes “a last look at the white sheet which showed the ­a ngles of the frail body under­neath it” and says simply “Good-­bye” (“OH,” 63). The grave is filled in and the party returns to the settlement; the orchid-­hunter waits ­there for the steamer, on the deck of which the story has just been told. The steamer arrives at its destination and the orchid-­hunter departs on a further expedition into the jungle; he is last seen in the com­pany of a small group of Indians, “walking quietly along, a pace or two b­ ehind” (“OH,” 64). Detailed commentary on “The Orchid-­Hunter” seems almost beyond the point. What interests me, or rather, what drew my attention to it in the first place, is its obvious relation to the passages cited at the start of this chapter, in par­tic­u­lar to “The Upturned Face,” though in Cunninghame Graham’s sketch the emphasis is not on the excavating and then the filling in of the grave—­the act of burying the dead man—­but rather on the protracted description of the corpse itself (which twice is said to reveal “­angles” ­under its white sheet) and in par­tic­u­lar its discoloring face (above all its eyes), as the orchid-­hunter attempts to “stamp” the dead man’s features in his mind (a kind of printing, one might say); among t­ hose features is the brown mark on the dead man’s cheek. He also mentions killing mosquitoes “automatically,” a notion—­automatism—­that belongs to the network of tropes that I have been pursuing. This leads to the orchid-­hunter’s imagining, or imaginative “seeing,” of the young man’s


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

life in Colombia up ­until the latter’s death; and among ­those imaginings, in effect bringing them to a climax, is the orchid-­hunter’s thought, observing the corpse’s “altering features,” of the letters on thin paper with strange postmarks that now would never be written, and which his relations in Mas­sa­chu­setts or North­umberland would now never receive. In the orchid-­hunter’s summary: “How they would won­der in his home, and ­here I was looking at the features that they would give the world to see, but impotent to help.” The implication, of course, is that the letters and the features are equivalent, and a further implication may be that Cunninghame Graham’s sketch understands itself, I mean is understood by him, not only to be unequivocally posing that equivalence but also to be offering itself as if in compensation for a double loss, a scriptive and indeed an ocular stand-in for both the upward-­facing, dead young man and the letters on thin paper he would henceforth never write. More broadly, putting f­ aces and corpses aside for the moment, a basic strategy in Cunninghame Graham’s stories and sketches is to narrate a journey, often a funeral pro­cession, which the reader soon comes to realize is to be understood as paralleling, progressing, as it ­were, alongside and si­mul­t a­neously with, the writing of the text itself, which in effect emerges as, is recognized by the reader to be, a journey of another sort. Such narratives include the fine first-­person “A Hegira,” in which the ­narrator’s journey is in effect doubled by that of eight escaped Mescalero Indians, all of whom are killed by the time the tale reaches its conclusion (the last image is that of a small dog squatting dejectedly on a freshly made grave); “Andorra”; “An Arab Funeral”; “Bu Gidri”; “Ave Caesar,” featuring not one but two funeral pro­cessions; “The Gold Fish,” which concludes with an Arab runner having almost reached his destination but having lost his way, lying dead beside the trail; and “Tschiffely’s Ride,” a true story of one of the g­ reat personal feats of the 1920s (a three-­year journey on ­horse­back from Buenos Aires to Washington, D.C.).6 Another variant on this structure is “Beattock for Moffat,” singled out for praise by Ford,7 which narrates still another journey, of a d ­ ying Scotsman by train in the com­pany of his wife and ­brother, seeking to reach his hometown of Beattock before he draws his last breath (he succeeds, barely). The entire trip, that is to say, the narrative, is punctuated and broken by patches

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


of speech in all but unreadable Scots dialect, which has the effect of continually distancing the reader, making him or her aware of the task of journeying through or rather along with the text. This by no means exhausts the interest of Cunninghame Graham’s writings, though it ­will not be pos­ si­ble to deal with them as they deserve in the pres­ent study.

n In chapter  15 of Jack London’s Martin Eden (1909), the young aspiring writer sits in his “mean l­ ittle room” surrounded by a heap of manuscripts returned by the magazines to which he had sent them. Burying his face in his arms as he sat at his work t­ able, he is reminded of his first fight, when he was six years old, when he punched away with the tears ­r unning down his cheeks while the other boy, two years his elder, had pounded and beaten him into exhaustion. He saw the ring of boys, howling like barbarians as he went down at last, writhing in the throes of nausea, the blood streaming from his nose and the tears from his bruised eyes. “Poor ­little shaver,” he murmured. “And ­you’re just as badly licked now. Y ­ ou’re beaten to a pulp. ­You’re down and out.”8

(The word “writhing” is of interest, as is “pulp,” a word that ­w ill occur twice more within a page or two. More on that in Chapter 8.) Six months ­later the older boy, Cheese-­Face, whips Martin again, but this time has his eye blacked. ­There was more to come: Next, he saw a narrow alley, between ramshackle frame buildings. The end of the alley was blocked by a one-­story brick building, out of which issued the rhythmic thunder of the presses, ­running off the first edition of the Enquirer. He was eleven, and Cheese-­Face was thirteen, and they both carried the Enquirer. That was why they ­were ­there, waiting for their papers. And, of course, Cheese-­Face had picked on him again, and ­there was another fight that was indeterminate, b­ ecause at quarter to four the door of the press-­room was thrown open and the gang of boys crowded in to fold their papers.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? “I’ll lick you tomorrow,” he heard Cheese-­Face promise; and he heard his own voice, piping and trembling with unshed tears, agreeing to be t­ here on the morrow. (ME, 175)

What followed was a seemingly endless series of brutal fistfights between the two: The next day and the next, days without end, witnessed the after­ noon fight. When he put up his arms, each day, to begin, they pained exquisitely, and the first few blows, struck and received, racked his soul; ­a fter that ­t hings grew numb, and he fought on blindly, seeing as in a dream, dancing and wavering, the large features and burning, animal-­like eyes of Cheese-­Face. He concentrated upon that face; all e­ lse about him was a whirling void. T ­ here was nothing ­else in the world but that face, and he would never know rest, blessed rest, ­until he had beaten that face into a pulp with his bleeding knuckles, or ­until the bleeding knuckles that somehow belonged to that face had beaten him into a pulp. And then, one way or the other, he would have rest. But to quit,—­for him, Martin, to quit,—­that was impossible! (ME, 177)

One day Cheese-­Face fails to show up, but it turns out that that was ­because his ­father had died suddenly. At this point the narrative jumps forward; Martin is seventeen “and just back from the sea”; he encounters Cheese-­Face again and they agree to fight ­later that eve­ning; both have a gang of friends supporting them, and Martin hears himself say, “They ­ain’t no hand-­shakin’ in this. Understand? They ­ain’t nothin’ but scrap. No throwin’ up the sponge. This is a grudge-­fight an’ it’s to a finish. Understand? Somebody’s goin’ to get licked” (ME, 178–179). The fight begins and it is brutal; Martin in his workroom watches its pro­gress: It was to him, with his splendid power of vision, like gazing into a kinetoscope. He was both onlooker and participant. His long months of culture and refinement shuddered at the sight; then the pres­ent was blotted out of his consciousness and the ghosts of the

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


past possessed him, and he was Martin Eden, just returned from sea and fighting Cheese-­Face on the Eighth Street Bridge. He suffered and toiled and sweated and bled, and exulted when his naked knuckles smashed home. (ME, 180)

The fight goes on and on; at one point Cheese-­Face uses brass knuckles, opening Martin’s cheek to the bone, but Martin demands the knuckles and throws them into the w ­ ater. They fight on, Cheese-­Face having become “a grisly monster out of whose features all likeness to Cheese-­Face had been beaten” (ME, 181). Sometime ­later, Martin’s right arm breaks and drops to his side, but he fights on with his left arm only, battering away at a bloody something before him that was not a face but a horror, an oscillating, hideous, gibbering, nameless ­thing that persisted before his wavering vision and would not go away. And he punched on and on, slower and slower, as the last shreds of vitality oozed from him, through centuries and eons and enormous lapses of time, ­until, in a dim way, he became aware that the nameless t­ hing was sinking, slowly sinking down to the rough board-­ planking of the bridge. And the next moment he was standing over it, staggering and swaying on shaky legs, clutching at the air for support, and saying in a voice he did not recognize— “D’ye want any more? Say, d’ye want any more?” (ME, 182)

At that point, the seventeen-­year-­old Martin passed out, as does the twenty-­one-­year-­old Martin in his workroom; waking, he shouts, “I licked you, Cheese-­Face! It took me eleven years, but I licked you!” Then: His knees w ­ ere trembling ­under him, he felt faint, and he staggered back to the bed, sinking down and sitting on the edge of it. He was still in the clutch of the past. He looked about the room, perplexed, alarmed, wondering where he was, ­until he caught sight of the pile of manuscripts in the corner. Then the wheels of memory slipped ahead through four years of time, and he was aware of the pres­ent, of the books he had opened and the universe he had won from their pages, of his dreams and ambitions, and of his love for a pale wraith


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? of a girl, sensitive and sheltered and ethereal, who would die of horror did she witness but one moment of what he had just lived through—­one moment of all the muck through which had waded. (ME, 182–183)

The chapter ends with Martin “confronting himself in [a] looking-­ glass.” “A bit of hysteria and melodrama, eh?” he queried. “Well, never mind. You licked Cheese-­Face, and you’ll lick the editors if takes thrice eleven years to do it in. You ­can’t stop ­here. ­You’ve got to go on. It’s to a finish, you know” (ME, 183). Nothing could be plainer than the association between the dreadful fights with Cheese-­Face (the name itself is unpleasant, disfiguring) and a thematic of writing, though in this case the face undergoing disfiguration is not upward facing except (it would seem) at the very end of the last fight, and the issue is not writing as such but rather publication, the ac­cep­tance of his work by the editors to whom he regularly submits it. (That the early fights take place accompanied by the “rhythmic thunder” of newspaper presses already suggests as much.) Even that is not quite right: as eventually becomes clear, indeed, as Martin himself comes to realize, when success and money arrive and he is on his way to being recognized as a famous author, he ­will not be satisfied to have work accepted for publication ­after it has been written, as strange as that may sound; all such ac­cep­ tances of what he repeatedly calls “work performed” strike him as hollow, trivial, in any case less than fully satisfying. (“Work performed. The phrase haunted his brain,” we read at one point [ME, 445; emphasis in original].) What he discovers he requires if he is to realize his enormous ambition is something hyperbolic, impossible: he wants writing and publication to be a single action, willed and executed by him, in no way subject to the decisions of editors, the laws of chance, or more broadly—in Walter Benn Michaels’s terms—­the logic of the market.9 More precisely, in Michaels’s reading of Martin Eden it is the existence of the market that makes pos­si­ble a successful literary ­career—­the very concept of a ­career makes no sense outside that context. What Martin comes to require is a ­career entirely ­under his control, willed and executed by him without intervention from outside, or for that ­matter, interference from “within.” The plain impossibility of actualizing such an ambition accounts for the

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


sustained extreme vio­lence in the pages given over to his fights with Cheese-­Face, a level of vio­lence approached in the other passages we have considered only by the shipwreck scene in Vandover. (The destruction of Henry Johnson’s face is equally terrible, but it ­doesn’t involve sustained battering as do the other two scenes.) But ­there are crucial differences, as well. For one t­ hing, the fights with Cheese-­Face, although having taken place in the past, are consistently presented as being witnessed, viewed, by Martin Eden in the pres­ent. “He watched the youthful apparition of himself, day ­after day, hurrying from school to the Enquirer alley,” we are told. And: “It was to him, with his splendid power of vision, like gazing into a kinetoscope. He was both onlooker and participant.” (Several times, too, Martin is said to hear his former self make vari­ous remarks to Cheese-­Face.) ­Later in the novel ­there is a reference to “Martin’s trick of vision,” which is glossed by the statement that “what­ever occurred in the instant pres­ent, Martin’s mind immediately presented associated antithesis or similitude which ordinarily expressed themselves to him in vision. It was sheerly automatic, and his visioning was an unfailing accompaniment to the living pres­ent” (ME, 290–291). The stress on vision is an impressionist one, of course, and so, more interestingly, is the notion that Martin’s visioning was “automatic” (what­ever precisely that means ­here) and the further suggestion of a kind of doubling or paralleling of pres­ent experience with such visioning, which would be one way of describing, more or less, Crane’s pro­cess of automatically displacing his perception of the page and the act of writing with narratives drawn from his imagination. (Conrad’s proj­ect of erasure clearly fits such a description, while Ford’s distractive / digressive procedures are also to the point. So, of course, is Norris’s “A Memorandum.”) Beyond even that t­here is more than an intimation of a kind of psychic splitting, in the first place between the young fighter of years ago and the twenty-­one-­year-­old Martin Eden, then between Martin in the pres­ent and his image in the looking glass (an aptly named object), and fi­nally, it may seem counterintuitively, between Martin and Cheese-­Face, who emerges from ­these pages as more nearly a surrogate for the author than a ­simple opponent. That is, the emphasis throughout the account of the fights is less and less on any battering received by Martin, even if at one late point his right arm snaps, and more and more on the tremendous punishment


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

he administers to his opponent, “a grisly monster out of whose features all likeness to Cheese-­Face had been beaten” and, a paragraph or so l­ ater, “a bloody something . . . ​that was not a face but a horror, an oscillating, hideous, gibbering, nameless t­hing that persisted before his wavering vision and would not go away.” As we have seen, vio­lence on this order is not foreign to impressionist texts, but what I take from ­these descriptions is a certain inexplicit sense not just of empathy for but also, unmistakably, of identification with Cheese-­Face (or with his massively disfigured face), as if as the chapter moves t­ oward its conclusion that face (or non-­face) comes to represent some part or version of Martin that he longs at once to disavow and embrace—­with his fists, so to speak. (Cf. the battering of the Jew’s hands to stumps by the “stump” of an oar in the shipwreck passage from Vandover. Note, too, the recurrence of the loaded word “­thing,” ­here chillingly applied to Cheese-­Face’s hideous visage.) This is why the words spoken by Martin to his reflection in the looking glass seem banal, simplistic, a­ fter what has preceded them. And in light of what is to come: Martin’s suicide by drowning, which, as Michaels puts it, satisfies what is by then a desperate desire for “work to do.”10

n Now consider the next-to-last paragraph from a strange but oddly riveting story W. H. Hudson wrote late in life, “Dead Man’s Plack (1920).11 The story is set in Saxon E ­ ngland, roughly a thousand years ago; its protagonist, Elfrida, a ­great beauty, had collaborated in the murder of her husband, Earl Athelwold, in her ambition to be King Edgar’s queen; years ­later, having married Edgar, and following his sudden death from fever and the ascension of Edward, his son by a previous marriage, to the throne, she takes advantage of a visit from Edward to contrive his murder as well; eventually she retires to an abbey and thinks back bitterly though not quite repentantly on her proud, violent life. Then one day she is found lying drowned in a stream along the banks of which she had often walked. The paragraph reads: It was a hot, dry summer and the stream was low, and in stooping to dip her hand in the w ­ ater she had lost her balance and fallen in, and although the ­water was but three feet deep she had in her fee-

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


bleness been unable to save herself. She was lying on her back on the clearly seen bed of many-­coloured pebbles, her head pointing downstream, and the swift, fretting current had carried away her hood and pulled out her long abundant silver-­white hair, and the current played with her hair, now pulling it straight out, then spreading it wide over the surface, mixing its silvery threads with the hair-­like green blades of the floating water-­grass. And the dead face was like marble; but the wide-­open eyes that had never wholly lost their brilliance and the beautiful lungwort-­blue colour ­were like living eyes—­l iving and gazing through the crystal-­clear ­r unning ­water at the group of nuns staring down with horror-­struck ­faces at her. (“DMP,” 98–99)

Another corpse with an upturned face, in other words. But what is distinctively Hudsonian is, first, that the face is that of a beautiful ­woman, and second, that Elfrida’s upturned face, although “like marble,” seems barely if at all disfigured by death: in par­tic­u­lar her eyes, still beautiful, still “lungwort-­blue,” appear alive and gazing—as if what horrifies the nuns is precisely her seeming liveness despite being dead. Equally Hudsonian is the quiet assertion of the crystal clarity of the shallow stream with its sharp-­focus bed of colored pebbles; the effect is somewhat as if the stream itself figures the transparency, the flowingness, that Hudson’s admirers—­R ichard Aldington, for example—­held to be one of the signal qualities of his ostensibly artless prose. “I felt,” Richard Aldington wrote, as if I ­were sitting by a small stream of silvery ­water tumbling over brown mossy stones among green reeds on a sunny day, so that in one place the w ­ ater seemed dark ochre, in another green, in another blue where the sky was reflected, and white where the w ­ ater splashed over a l­ittle rock and gold when the sunlight touched the r­ ipples. Only in this way can I express the feeling of fresh vivid colour and of harmonious language beautifully clear.12

Indeed, if we bear in mind that in Crane and Conrad, to mention only ­t hose two g­ iants, disfigured ­faces are meta­phors for the upward-­facing page of inscription, the fact that Elfrida’s relatively undisfigured face is


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seen through a flowing transparent medium suggests a kind of displacement of emphasis away from the face (that is, from the page) ­toward the disembodied prose medium itself; or if this feels too strong (the paragraph, ­after all, climaxes with the image of the face), the combination of the transparency of the medium and the seeming liveness of the face nevertheless emblematizes the difference between Hudson’s “invisible” impressionism and that of his more famous contemporaries. Fi­nally, the account of Elfrida’s silver-­white hair as “mix[ing] . . . ​with the hair-­like green blades of the floating water-­g rass” suggests another, complementary figure, according to which Hudson’s writing virtually merges with, all but becomes, the objects it describes. In fact, the two figures themselves flow together in the operations of the stream’s “swift, fretting current,” which, having swept away Elfrida’s hood, now plays with her “long abundant silver-­white hair”—­m ixing it with the water-­g rass—as if responding to what remains of her once dazzling beauty. The rhetorical illusion h­ ere is that the current does this on its own—in Lord Grey’s terms cited earlier, that the author looks on but does not interfere. And in fact, Hudson claims in a preamble to his story—­like Martin Eden in his recollection of the fistfights with Cheese-­Face—­that he “actually saw and heard” every­ thing he is about to relate “as an event, or series of events . . . ​re-­enacted before [his] very eyes” (“DMP,” 9); while in a postscript he suggests that the “revelation” he received came to him from Elfrida herself, whose ghost, he further says, continues to haunt the place where she died (“DMP,” 135). My point in citing this is not to suggest that Hudson in fact hallucinated the events he narrates (though he elsewhere claims to have experienced telepathic phenomena on two occasions, both times in the form of a familiar face appearing before him, as if in the wind), but rather to show the extent to which he himself was inclined to participate in the fiction that as a writer he was nothing more than an observer.

n In another of Ford’s autobiographical books, Portraits from Life (1937), he discusses having edited the En­glish Review and remarks, characteristically, on how s­ imple it is to spot good writing from an unknown author. “In the year [presumably 1909] when my eyes first fell on words

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


written by Norman Douglas, G. H. Tomlinson, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and o­ thers,” he explains, upon a day I received a letter from a young schoolteacher in Nottingham. I can still see the handwriting—as if drawn with sepia rather than written in ink, on grey-­blue notepaper. It said that the writer knew a young man who wrote, as she thought, admirably but was too shy to send his work to editors. Would I care to see some of his writing? In that way I came to read the first words of a new author: The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston with seven full waggons. It appeared round the corner with loud threats of speed but the colt that it startled from among the gorse which still flickered indistinctly in the raw after­ noon, outdistanced it in a canter. A ­woman walking up the railway line to Underwood, held her basket aside and watched the footplate of the engine advancing.

Ford continues: I was reading in the twilight of the long eighteenth-­century room that was at once the office of the En­glish Review and my drawing-­ room. My eyes w ­ ere tired; I had been reading all day so I did not go any further with the story. It was called Odour of Chrysanthemums. I laid it in the basket of accepted manuscripts. My secretary looked up and said: “­You’ve got another genius?” I answered: “It’s a big one this time, and went upstairs to dress.”13

The genius, of course, was the twenty-­four-­year-­old D. H. Lawrence, and the story is t­ oday regarded as one of the strongest in his early oeuvre.14 Based in part on his ­family, it is set in Nottinghamshire near the Brinsley Colliery; a miner’s wife with two c­ hildren, Elizabeth Bates, is waiting for the arrival of her husband Walter at the end of a day. He is late, and she assumes he is drinking in one pub or another; evidently, he does this often, and her anger grows as the hours pass; eventually her anger, as we read,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

becomes tinged with fear, and at half past ten, sitting in her ­house with Walter’s m ­ other, she learns that he was killed, smothered, in a cave-in at the mine. Two miners accompanied by a man­ag­er arrive bearing the dead man’s body on a stretcher, which they set down in the tiny room. “Never knew such a t­ hing in my life, never! . . . ,” the man­ag­er says. “Fell over him clean as a whistle, an’ shut him in. Not four foot of space, ­there ­wasn’t—­yet it scarce bruised him.” Then: “He looked down at the dead man, lying prone, half naked, all grimed with coal-­dust” (“OC,” 2:297). The men leave the h­ ouse, and the miner’s wife and m ­ other are left alone with his body. At this point, “Odour of Chrysanthemums” veers away from the impressionist poetics it seems on the verge of embracing (of necessity, the next quotations are long): “We must lay him out,” the wife said. She put on the k­ ettle, then returning knelt at the feet, and began to unfasten the knotted leather laces. The room was clammy and dim with only one candle, so that she had to bend her face almost to the floor. At last she got off the heavy boots and put them away. “You must help me now,” she whispered to the old ­woman. Together they stripped the man. When they arose, saw him lying in the naïve dignity of death, the ­woman stood arrested in fear and re­spect. For a few moments they remained still, looking down, the old ­mother whimpering. Elizabeth felt countermanded. She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in himself. She had nothing to do with him. She could not accept it. Stooping, she laid her hand on him, in claim. He was still warm, for the mine was hot where he had died. His ­mother had his face between her hands, and was murmuring incoherently. The old tears fell in succession as drops from wet leaves; the ­mother was not weeping, merely her tears flowed. Elizabeth embraced the body of her husband, with cheek and lips. She seemed to be listening, inquiring, trying to get some connection. But she could not. She was driven away. He was impregnable. She ­rose, went into the kitchen, where she poured warm ­water into a bowl, brought soap and flannel and a soft towel.

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


“I must wash him,” she said. Then the old m ­ other ­rose stiffly, and watched Elizabeth as she carefully washed his face, carefully brushing the big blond moustache from his mouth with the flannel. She was afraid with a bottomless fear, so she ministered to him. The old ­woman, jealous, said: “Let me wipe him!”—­and she kneeled on the other side drying slowly as Elizabeth washed, her big black bonnet sometimes brushing the dark head of her daughter-­in-­law. They worked thus in silence for a long time. They never forgot it was death, and the touch of the man’s dead body gave them strange emotions, dif­fer­ent in each of the w ­ omen; a ­g reat dread possessed them both, the ­mother felt that the lie was given to her womb, she was denied; the wife felt the utter desolation of the h­ uman soul, the child within her [she is pregnant] was a weight apart from her. At last it was finished. He was a man of handsome body, and his face showed no traces of drink. He was blond, full-­fleshed, with fine limbs. But he was dead. (“OC,” 2:299–300)

The story continues with the realization of the miner’s wife that she had never r­ eally known him, nor he her. What the story says is, she knew she had never seen him, he had never seen her, they met in the dark and had fought in the dark, not knowing whom they met nor whom they fought. And now she saw, and turned ­silent in seeing. For she had been wrong. She had said he was something he was not; she had felt familar with him. Whereas he was apart all the while, living as she never lived, feeling as she never felt. (“OC,” 2:300–301)

The two w ­ omen proceed to clothe him again, with difficulty. The story ends: At last it was finished. They covered him with a sheet and left him lying, with his face bound. And she fastened the door of the l­ittle parlour, lest the c­ hildren should see what was lying t­here. Then, with peace sunk heavy on her heart, she went about making tidy the


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? kitchen. She knew she submitted to life, which was her immediate master. But from death, her ultimate master, she winced with fear and shame. (“OC,” 2:302)

I was led to read “Odour of Chrysanthemums” in the first place ­because of Ford’s reference to it in Portraits from Life, on the chance that it might bear in some way on my impressionist concerns. And of course, I was immediately struck by the introduction of the dead miner’s upward-­facing body, disfigured with coal dust and gazed upon by his ­w idow and his ­mother. But what Lawrence goes on to make of that basic situation is something e­ lse entirely. For one ­thing, the two ­women engage physically with the body in the most direct way, with l­ ittle suggestion of repulsion in their actions and feelings. And for another, the story’s emphasis shifts from the sight of the body as such, or indeed, its uncanniness, to the complex emotions of Elizabeth as she realizes that she had never seen him, nor he her—­almost a repudiation of impressionist priorities. Nevertheless, it is striking that so central an impressionist motif should play a crucial role, albeit not an impressionist one, in the story that Ford singles out to illustrate his claim that reading no more than an opening paragraph is sufficient to judge the quality of the ­whole. It is striking, too, that Ford begins by referring to his “eyes falling on words” by vari­ous writers, and then remarks that he “can still see” the sepia-­toned handwriting and the gray-­blue notepaper of the letter from a schoolteacher friend of Lawrence’s that was meant to bring the young genius to Ford’s attention—­ Ford’s impressionism, h­ ere, as always, is not in doubt. Two further points. First, I cannot help registering a resemblance between the first two sentences of Lawrence’s story—­“The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston with seven full waggons. It appeared round the corner with loud threats of speed, but the colt that it startled from along the gorse, which still flickered indistinctly in the raw after­noon, out-­distanced it at a canter.”—­and the first three of Crane’s The Monster—­“­Little Jim was, for the time, engine Number 36, and he was making the run between Syracuse [one of Crane’s s / c words] and Rochester. He was fourteen minutes ­behind time, and the throttle was wide open. In consequence, when he swung around the curve at the flower-­bed, a wheel of his cart destroyed a peony.” (Law-

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


rence’s phrase “loud threats of speed” seems pure Crane to me.) Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but if it is something more, it would represent another hidden if indirect link with Ford. And is it not the least bit odd that Lawrence twice uses the sentence, “At last it was finished,” which ­recalls—at least to me—­“The Upturned Face” ’s “The grave was finished”? Second, Lawrence’s story deploys a device mentioned in passing in the Introduction to this book and just noted at work in London’s account of Martin’s ­battles with Cheese-­Face—­the strategic use of the word “­thing.” Said of an inanimate object, “­thing” can imply a kind of animacy (“poor ­little shallow t­ hing,” said of the open grave in “The Upturned Face”); but said of something animate, a person, for example, it can imply the opposite, a kind of diminishing or deadening (as when the miner’s ­mother calls Elizabeth “you poor t­ hing!”). In both cases t­ here is a hint of the uncanny, which comes to the fore when the miner’s m ­ other then says, “it’s a ­thing, it is indeed!” (at that moment she knows only that her son has been in an accident). And somewhat l­ater, as the body is brought in on the stretcher, we read: “The horror of the t­ hing bristled upon them all.” I think of this as an impressionist trope precisely b­ ecause in texts such as “The Upturned Face” (“poor l­ ittle shallow ­thing”) it hovers between the materiality of the page (and pen, and ink, and written script) and the agency of the writer, at once acknowledging and displacing attention away from both. W ­ hether this is how it functions in Lawrence’s story is an open question.

n Just how resourceful the upward-­facing motif could turn out to be is suggested by Conrad’s long short story, “The Duel” (1908), set in the early nineteenth ­century during and immediately ­a fter the Napoleonic wars.15 To summarize the plot as briefly as pos­si­ble, two young officers in the French army, both lieutenants at the outset, Gabriel Feraud, a hotheaded, indeed barely sane Gascon duellist, and Armand D’Hubert, the story’s protagonist, fight a series of duels with varying results (Feraud is wounded in the first, D’Hubert in the second, Feraud again in the third). The origin of the personal combats was Feraud’s sense of outraged honor simply ­because D’Hubert had conveyed a message from a superior officer confining Feraud to his quarters for having earlier that day gravely


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wounded or perhaps killed a civilian in a duel with swords. ­After each encounter, Feraud might have considered his sense of honor to be satisfied, but his desire for vengeance proves insatiable, in addition to which he had developed an idée fixe to the effect that D’Hubert “does not love the Emperor” (“D,” 217). Eventually, D’Hubert becomes a general, as does Feraud. Sometime a­ fter Waterloo, a wounded D’Hubert recuperates at his married ­sister’s estate in Provence, where he becomes engaged to a much younger w ­ oman, the niece of a returned émigré nobleman. T ­ here he is discovered again by Feraud, now compulsorily retired and an object of suspicion ­because of his loyalty to Napoleon. Feraud challenges him to a further duel; D’Hubert is appalled, but agrees to meet his tormentor near a wood on the estate, proposing a ­simple arrangement: each man ­will have two pistols (i.e., two shots), each ­will enter the wood at opposite ends, and they ­will fight to the death. Feraud agrees (he knows he is a better shot than D’Hubert). At the duel, the two men make their respective ways ­towards one another; Feraud fires at a distance and misses; D’Hubert stands b­ ehind a tree but cannot see Feraud, then “something white fluttered in his sight” (“D,” 251), and D’Hubert becomes aware that Feraud is coming straight ­toward him from one tree to another, but he knows himself to be no marksman, and stays his hand. The story now reaches its uniquely Conradian denouement. (In fact, my impulse is to say that Conrad wrote this story precisely in order to reach this moment, just as in writing Almayer’s Face the aim in view was what takes place in chapter 11. Once more, lengthy citation is necessary.) At first, D’Hubert lies on his stomach b­ ehind the tree; this protects him, but it is also physically awkward—­“to keep his chin raised off the ground was irksome, and not much use e­ ither” (“D,” 252). Meanwhile, Feraud flits from tree to tree, coming closer. Then D’Hubert does something surprising: he lays his pistols down, takes from his pocket an elegant l­ ittle leather folding-­case containing a small ivory comb, and fitted with a piece of looking-­glass on the outside . . . ​and then with the utmost coolness and promptitude turned himself over on his back. In this new attitude, his head a l­ittle raised, holding the ­little looking-­glass just clear of his tree, he squinted into it with his left eye, while the right kept a direct watch on the rear of his posi-

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


tion. Thus was proved Napoleon’s saying, that “for a French soldier, the word impossible does not exist.” He had the right tree [i.e., the one b­ ehind which Feraud was standing] nearly filling the field of his ­little mirror. (“D,” 253)

He then glimpses Feraud on the move, and shifts position, albeit without realizing that now “his feet and a portion of his legs” are in plain sight of his ­enemy (“D,” 253). For his part, Feraud is struck by D’Hubert’s cleverness in remaining out of sight b­ ehind his tree, though he has no idea that D’Hubert is lying on the ground—he has been looking for him at standing height. But then he catches sight of D’Hubert’s feet and legs, and staring at them, becomes convinced that he must have killed D’Hubert with his first, distant shot. The next paragraphs read: General Feraud gazed at the motionless limbs, the last vestiges of surprise fading before an unbounded admiration of his own deadly skill with the pistol. “Turned up his toes! By the god of war, that was a shot!” he exulted mentally. “Got it through the head, no doubt, just where I aimed, staggered ­behind that tree, rolled over on his back, and died.” And he stared! He stared, forgetting to move, almost awed, almost sorry. But for nothing in the world would he have had it undone. Such a shot!—­such a shot! Rolled over on his back and died! For it was this helpless position, lying on the back, that shouted its direct evidence at General Feraud! It never occurred to him that it might have been deliberately assumed by a living man. It was inconceivable. It was beyond the range of sane supposition. T ­ here was no possibility to guess the reason for it. And it must be said, too, that General D’Hubert’s turned-up feet looked thoroughly dead. General Feraud expanded his lungs for a stentorian shout to his seconds but, from what he felt to be an excessive scrupulousness, refrained for a while. “I ­will just go and see first ­whether he breathes yet,” he mumbled to himself, leaving carelessly the shelter of his tree. This move was immediately perceived by the resourceful General D’Hubert. He


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? concluded it to be another shift, but when he lost the boots out of the field of the mirror he became uneasy. General Feraud had only stepped a ­little out of the line, but his adversary could not possibly have supposed him walking up with perfect unconcern. General D’Hubert, beginning to won­der at what had become of the other, was taken unawares so completely that the first warning of danger consisted in the long, early-­morning shadow of his ­enemy falling aslant on his outstretched legs. He had not even heard a footfall on the soft ground between the trees! It was too much even for his coolness. He jumped up thoughtlessly, leaving the pistols on the ground. The irresistible instinct of an average man (­u nless totally para­lyzed by discomfiture) would have been to stoop for his weapons, exposing himself to the risk of being shot down in that position. Instinct, of course, is irreflective. It is its very definition. But it may be an inquiry worth pursuing ­whether in reflective mankind the mechanical promptings of instinct are not affected by the customary mode of thought. In his young days, Armand D’Hubert, the reflective, promising officer, had emitted the opinion that in warfare one should “never cast back on the lines of a ­m istake.” This idea, defended and developed in many discussions, had settled into one of the stock notions of his brain, had become a part of his m ­ ental individuality. W ­ hether it had gone so inconceivably deep as to affect the dictates of his instinct, or simply b­ ecause, as he himself declared afterwards, he was “too scared to remember the confounded pistols,” the fact is that General D’Hubert never attempted to stoop for them. Instead of g­ oing back on his m ­ istake, he seized the rough trunk with both hands, and swung himself b­ ehind it with such impetuosity that, g­ oing right round in the very flash and report of the pistol-­shot, he reappeared on the other side of the tree face to face with General Feraud. This last, completely unstrung by such a show of agility on the part of a dead man, was trembling yet. A very faint mist of smoke hung before his face which had an extraordinary aspect, as if the lower jaw had come unhinged. (“D,” 254–256)

Feraud has used his two shots and D’Hubert neither of his; accordingly, Feraud expects to be shot, but D’Hubert has another idea: by the rules of

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


single combat, Feraud’s life belongs to him, and he elects not to take it, but to keep it, as he says, at his disposal for as long as he chooses. Feraud protests, but D’Hubert overrides him decisively: “ ‘Not one word more,’ he added hastily. ‘I ­can’t ­really discuss this question with a man who, as far as I am concerned, does not exist’ ” (“D,” 258). In effect, then, D’Hubert succeeds by ­these means in erasing Feraud from his life, an interpretation given added point—in effect, made incontrovertible—by a series of events slightly earlier in the story. ­After the fall of Napoleon, D’Hubert goes to Paris, where he learns that Feraud is due to go before a special commission and is likely to face a firing squad; ­there is a list of twenty general officers to be made an example of in this way. D’Hubert at once feels honor bound to try to save his opponent from this fate, and uses all his influence to procure an audience with the notorious minister of police, Joseph Fouché, the duke of Otranto. Fi­nally, Fouché produces the list itself and says, “Take one of ­these pens, and run it through the name yourself. This is the only list in existence. If you are careful to take up enough ink no one w ­ ill be able to tell which was the name struck out” (“D,” 229). D’Hubert does so, and Feraud is spared—by an other­wise unmotivated act of Conradian erasure. Again, extensive commentary is perhaps not necessary, but several points are worth underscoring. First, not only does D’Hubert adopt the position of an upward-­facing corpse, but Feraud erroneously takes him to be exactly such. Second, the sheer oddness of that bodily position ­under the circumstances is driven home by the first five sentences, three in style indirect libre, in the paragraph beginning, “For it was this helpless position, lying on the back, that shouted its direct evidence at General Feraud!” Note especially the sentence, “­There was no possibility to guess the reason for it”—­which on the one hand (in terms of the narrative) captures the extreme unlikelihood of Feraud’s divining D’Hubert’s basic strategem, but on the other hand (as regards what I have been calling the “primordiality” of Conrad’s proj­ect of erasure) invites being understood in quite dif­fer­ent terms. Third, ­there is the extraordinary detail of “the long, early-­morning shadow of [D’Hubert’s] ­enemy falling aslant on his outstretched legs”—­a nother example of shadow writing to go with ­those already considered, and one that reinforces the notion that D’Hubert’s outstretched legs and, by implication, his entire body, are in this instance a figure for the upward-­facing page. (What makes this


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detail particularly uncanny is the sense it conveys that D’Hubert somehow felt the shadow falling on his legs.) And fourth, the ruminations on instinct and mechanism recall Karslake’s claim in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” that “the machinery of the mind that would coin the ­great Word is automatic,” with the proviso that Conrad won­ders ­whether ­there might be an influence on instinct by one’s “customary mode of thought,” in this instance by D’Hubert’s opinion, defended by him in his younger days, “that in warfare one should ‘never cast back on the lines of a ­mistake.’ ” In terms of the narrative, this has to do with not stooping to pick up his pistols, it having been a “­mistake” to leave them lying on the ground; but the very choice of words—­“never cast back on the lines of a ­mistake”—­appears governed by a textual or scriptive figure of speech, as if to say, never literally go back and write over or erase a sentence or a passage that you now see requires correction, but do so virtually, by what follows, what you do now (with a second pen, so to speak), in this case, declaring to Feraud in the starkest pos­si­ble language that henceforward his life is not his own, indeed, that he has been erased. (Preparing for this, the first duel ends with D’Hubert slashing Feraud’s “shortened arm,” following which Feraud passes out and lies “perfectly still, his face to the sky” [“D,” 181]. A ­ fter a time, he opens his eyes but does not move, “[staring] without any expression at the eve­ning sky” [“D,” 182]. Like a blank page, harbinger of the more radical acts of erasure to come. One might even say that something of the ferocity of Feraud’s dueling madness is conveyed by the fact that it takes three such acts to fi­nally neutralize him.)16

n Three other upturned ­faces and / or bodies are worth remarking by way of bringing this chapter to a close. The first is Mark Tietjens’s throughout the ­whole of The Last Post (1928), the final novel in Ford’s g­ reat tetralogy Parade’s End.17 Mark, of course, is the older ­brother of the series’ protagonist Christopher Tietjens; earlier, Mark had taken the word of a caddish acquaintance, Ruggles, to the effect that Christopher was corrupt, even living off the profits from ­women, which was wholly untrue. For this, Christopher ­will never forgive him, an attitude of which Mark thoroughly approves. Mark and his longtime French mistress and now

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


wife Marie Léonie are living with Christopher and his pregnant mistress Valentine Wannop (Christopher would like nothing more than to marry Valentine, but he is still bound to the dreadful Sylvia and does not believe in divorce) in a cottage in West Sussex as Christopher works to establish himself as a seller of British antiques (one of his areas of expertise). Mark has had a stroke, though as we are taken into his confidence through a long and brilliant interior monologue we learn that he understands himself to be refusing to move or speak, perhaps in penance for having failed Christopher. In any case, he lies propped up in a ­simple bed in an outdoor shelter without sides. “He lay staring at the withy b­ inders of his thatch shelter,” the first sentence begins (LP, 677); and a bit further on, For a man who never moved, his face was singularly walnut-­ coloured; his head, indenting the skim-­milk white of the pillows, should have been a gypsy’s, the dark, silvered hair cut extremely close, the w ­ hole face very carefully shaven and completely immobile. The eyes moved, however, with unusual vivacity, all the life of the man being concentrated in them and their lids. (LP, 677)

Much, indeed most of the narrative to follow is refracted through the acute consciousness of this man, whose physical circumstances the reader is never allowed to forget.

n Then ­t here is Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), a dystopian novel set in the f­ uture, the central character of which is a man named Graham who falls into a trancelike sleep for 200 years before waking into a new society in which the institution of compound interest has made him supremely wealthy.18 The novel begins with an artist named Isbister visiting Cornwall coming across a desperate man who cannot sleep and indeed is contemplating suicide to bring his condition to an end. From the first, emphasis falls on the man’s face; thus we read, “He turned his head and showed a ghastly face, bloodshot pallid eyes, and bloodless lips” (S, 8). That eve­ning the man falls into a trance; Isbister bends over to look up into his face and starts violently: “The eyes ­were void spaces of white.


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He looked again and saw that they ­were open and with the pupils rolled ­under the lids” (S, 11). Isbister fears that he is dead and sends for a doctor. The second chapter is called “The Trance” and takes place twenty years ­later; Isbister, his hair gray and his complexion ruddy, is talking with Warming, a London solicitor next of kin to Graham, the man who had fallen into the trance. The scene takes place in a room in a h­ ouse in London: It was a yellow figure lying lax upon a water-­bed and clad in a flowing shirt, a figure with a shrunken face and a stubby beard, lean limbs and lank nails, and about it was a case of thin glass. This glass seemed to mark off the sleeper from the real­ity of life about him, he was a ­t hing apart, a strange, isolated abnormality. The two men stood close to the glass, peering in. “The t­ hing gave me a shock,” said Isbister. “I feel a queer sort of surprise even now when I think of his white eyes. They w ­ ere white, you know, rolled up. Coming h­ ere again brings it all back to me.” “Have you never seen him since that time?” asked Warming. “Often wanted to come,” said Isbister; “but business nowadays is too serious a ­thing for much holiday keeping. I’ve been in Amer­ i­ca most of the time.” “If I remember rightly,” said Warming, “you w ­ ere an artist?” “Was. And then I became a married man. I saw it was up with black and white, very soon—at least for a mediocre man and I jumped on to pro­cess. ­Those posters on the cliffs at Dover are by my ­people.” “Good posters,” admitted the solicitor, “though I was sorry to see them ­there.” “Last as long as the cliffs, if necessary,” exclaimed Isbister with satisfaction. “The world changes.” (S, 13–14)

By now a scene such as this ­will be familiar to the reader, down to the repetition of the word “­thing.” Nor ­will the reader be surprised to learn that a page or so l­ater, Graham’s body is said by Isbister to be “not dead a bit, and yet not alive” (S, 15). What might be noted, though, is the refer-

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


ence to Isbister having given up black and white and taken up “pro­cess,” the making of colored posters that now partly cover the cliffs of Dover—­a reference to the rise of advertising posters. Indeed, further on, ­after he has awakened and begun to explore the transformed London in which he has found himself, Graham becomes aware of the proliferation of large public inscriptions (S, 35, 172), huge advertisement dioramas proclaiming “the most remarkable commodities” (S, 175), and g­ reat fleets of advertisement balloons and kites (S, 116), t­ hese last to be viewed from aeroplanes, as Wells presciently imagines them. One group of inscriptions, all touting Chris­tian­ity in grossly vulgar terms, leads Graham to say, “But this is appalling! . . . ​Surely the essence of religion is reverence.” His companion, Asano, explains: “Oh that! Does it shock you? I suppose it would, of course. I had forgotten. Nowadays the competition for attention so keen, and p ­ eople simply h­ aven’t the leisure to attend to their souls, you know, as they used to do” (S, 172; emphasis in original). (Another feature of the new London is the disappearance of books.) Wells’s attitude ­toward advertising is far from ­simple; the key text is doubtless Tono-­Bungay (1909), with its explicit denunciation of advertising as a means of attributing value to worthless commodities.19 But Tono-­Bungay also illustrates three ideas for posters clearly based on the sorts of “picshuas” mentioned in Chapter 2 (TB, 150–152; Figures 6, 7, and 8), examples of which are reproduced in Experiment in Autobiography, where Wells also declares his disdain for what he calls “the aesthetic valuation of lit­er­a­ture” in ­favor of a commitment to the values of journalism.20 In any case, the “competition for attention” Asano refers to is clearly meant by Wells to be understood as marking the economic and literary culture of his own time. As one of the two epigraphs to this book goes to show, Henry James would agree. Much more might usefully be said about When the Sleeper Wakes in relation to literary impressionism, but I ­will ­settle for a few remarks about two brief excerpts. At a crucial moment, a young w ­ oman, Helen Wotton, who goes on to play a decisive role in Graham’s po­liti­cal awakening, asks him: “Have you not heard our proverb, ‘When the Sleeper wakes?’ While you lay insensible and motionless ­there—­thousands came.

Figs. 6–8. ​H. G. Wells, Tono-­Bungay: A Novel (New York: Duffield & Com­pany, 1908), sketches for advertisement posters for Tono-­Bungay reproduced in the novel. In this order: “Greek scene” with Discobolus; image with man in small stovepipe hat; “The Happy Phagocyte.”


Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


Thousands. E ­ very first of the month you lay in state with a white robe upon you and the ­people filed by you. When I was a ­little girl I saw you like that, with your face white and calm.” She turned her face from him and looked steadfastly at the painted wall before her. Her voice fell. “When I was a ­little girl I used to look at your face . . . ​it seemed to me fixed and waiting, like the patience of God.” “That is what we thought of you,” she said. “that is how you seemed to us.” She turned shining eyes to him, her voice was clear and strong. “In the city, in the earth, a myriad myriad men and ­women are waiting to see what you w ­ ill do, full of strange incredible expectations.” (S, 156–157)

In an impor­t ant sense, then, the dramatic developments that follow as Graham, inspired by Helen, seeks to overthrow an unjust and exploitative set of social arrangements, stem from the earlier experience of ­those “myriad myriads” gazing down at the Sleeper’s upturned face. The second excerpt has nothing to do with ­faces but is anyway irresistible; it concerns a scene that takes place earlier, shortly ­after Graham has escaped from his first official minders. Accompanied by a guide, Graham hastens through a snowstorm past a maze of vast windmills shrilling mechanically; suddenly, lights atop vast masts go on as far as the eye can penetrate; the two men dart into the cover of a shadow and stare out: The scene upon which Graham looked was very wild and strange. The snow had now almost ceased; only a belated flake passed now and then across the picture. But the broad stretch of level before them was a ghastly white, broken only by gigantic masses and moving shapes and lengthy strips of impenetrable darkness, vast ungainly Titans of shadow. All about them, huge metallic structures, iron girders, inhumanly vast as it seemed to him, interlaced, and the edges of wind-­wheels, scarcely moving in the lull, passed in g­ reat shining curves steeper and steeper up into a luminous haze. Wherever the snow-­spangled light struck down, beams and girders, and


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? incessant bands ­r unning with a halting, indomitable resolution, passed upward and downward into the black. And with all that mighty activity, with an omnipresent sense of motive and design, this snow-­clad desolation of mechanism seemed void of all ­human presence save themselves, seemed as trackless and deserted and unfrequented by men as some inaccessible Alpine snowfield. (S, 64–65)

The scene is obviously a nightmare vision of the impressionist page, h­ ere dazzling white but traversed by gigantic impenetrable shadows (Isbister may have given up “black and white” but clearly Wells has not)—­a vision not so much of writing as of printing run amok, the production of something like text or perhaps merely images, suggestive of a certain intelligence but nevertheless utterly trackless and alien.

n Finally, something might be said about a story by Henry James, arguably his greatest, which I do not consider an impressionist text but which nevertheless is illuminated at least a ­little by the issues we have been considering—­“The Beast in the Jungle” (1903).21 The basic narrative: ­after a lapse of some ten years, John Marcher meets May Bartram again at a British country ­house; he barely recalls her (their first meeting had been in Naples), but she remembers not just Marcher the man but also a fact about himself that he confided in her on that first occasion. As she tells him: You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest t­ hing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or l­ ater to happen to you, that you had in your bones the foreboding and conviction of, and that would perhaps overwhelm you. (“BJ,” 503)

Marcher confesses that the conviction is still with him, and before their meeting is over she agrees to watch with him for the ­thing that ­will or ­will not happen. This leads to their seeing each other frequently, and the reader is given to understand that May Bartram would be prepared to marry him (I am putting this crudely), while for Marcher the very basis

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces


of their relationship—­waiting for what­ever lay in wait for him, “like a crouching Beast in the Jungle,” seemed to him to rule marriage out (“a man of feeling d ­ idn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-­ hunt” [“BJ,” 508–509])—at least, so he tells himself. They grow older together, u­ ntil one day, at the end of a long intense conversation about the situation, it emerges that May feels she knows what is to happen, though as she says to him, “You’ll never find out” (“BJ,” 515). Eventually, May falls ill. By this time it has become amply clear that Marcher’s concern is exclusively for himself (again, I am being crude, but the denouement ­will spell this out); long conversations between the two subtly but devastatingly reveal the limitations of his self-­understanding, not to say the dimensions of his egoism. In the course of another conversation, May, by now gravely ill, indicates to him that t­ here is still time for something ­else to happen. “The door i­ sn’t shut. The door’s open,” she says, “It’s never too late.” They stand facing each other; gazing at her “wasted face” he sees that she has something more to give him—­something that “glittered almost as with the white lustre of silver, in her expression” (“BJ,” 526). The treatment of this protracted moment is James at his finest; the meaning of the moment (left unstated, but unmistakable) is that it is still open for Marcher to declare his love for her, and the further, magical implication is that if he w ­ ere to do that she might yet be saved. Characteristically, he stands t­ here waiting for some further revelation, which fails to arrive. Something ­else took place instead, which seemed to consist at first in the mere closing of her eyes. She gave way at the same instant to a slow, fine shudder, and though he remained staring—­though he stared, in fact, but the harder—­she turned off and regained her chair. It was the end of what she had been intending, but it left him thinking only of that.

“What then has happened?” he asks her as her maid prepares to help her from the room. “ ‘What was to,” is the answer (“BJ,” 527; emphasis in original). One last conversation takes place some time l­ater—it is by now clear that May w ­ ill shortly die—in the course of which she explains to him that


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the t­ hing he has been dreading has in fact taken place. He understands nothing, of course. May dies, and still nothing is clear to him. He decides to go on a long journey, but before leaving, visits May’s grave. “He stood for an hour,” we read, powerless to turn away and yet powerless to penetrate the darkness of death; fixing with his eyes her inscribed name and date, beating his forehead against the fact of the secret they kept, drawing his breath, while he waited as if, in pity of him, some sense would rise from the stones. He kneeled on the stones, however, in vain; they kept what they concealed; and if the face of the tomb did become a face for him it was b­ ecause her two names ­were like a pair of eyes that ­didn’t know him. He gave them a last long look, but no palest light broke. (“BJ,” 535)

All this is arresting, to say the least, but t­ here is more to come. Marcher travels for a year, but with a sense of ordinariness—of himself, of every­ thing he saw. The day following his return he revisits May’s grave, and resolves to do so regularly. This he does, and with a growing sense that ­these few square feet of earth are where “he could still most live,” a spot “he could scan like an open page. The open page was the tomb of his friend, and ­there w ­ ere the facts of the past, t­ here the truth of his life, t­ here the backward reaches in which he could lose himself ” (“BJ,” 537; emphasis in original). This goes on for months, then something untoward happens. It is autumn, and Marcher encounters another man visiting a nearby grave, a man whose face, “one grey after­noon when the leaves ­were thick, looked into Marcher’s own, at the cemetery, with an expression like the cut of a blade” (“BJ,” 538). The expression, that is, is one of rawest grief, and ­there is the further implication that the man is offended by Marcher’s very dif­fer­ent relation to the scene—­that, as James puts it, the image of scarred passion presented to [Marcher] was conscious too—of something that profaned the air. . . . ​The stranger passed, but the raw glare of his grief remained, making our friend won­der in pity what wrong, what wound it expressed, what injury not to be

Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) ­Faces

healed. What had the man had, to make him by the loss of it so bleed and yet live? Something—­a nd this reached him with a pang—­t hat he, John Marcher, ­hadn’t; the proof of which was precisely John Marcher’s arid end. No passion had ever touched him, for this was what passion meant; he had survived and maundered and pined, but where had been his deep ravage? . . . ​He gazed, he drew breath, in pain; he turned in his dismay, and, turning, he had before him in sharper incision than ever the open page of his story. The name on the ­table smote him as the passage of his neighbour had done, and what it said to him, full in the face, was that she was what he had missed. . . . ​ The fate he had been marked for he had met with a vengeance—he had emptied the cup to the lees; he had been the man of his time, the man, to whom nothing on earth was to have happened. . . . ​This the companion of his vigil had at a given moment made out, and she had then offered him the chance to baffle his doom. One’s doom, however, was never baffled, and on the day she told him her own had come down she had seen him but stupidly stare at the escape she offered him. (“BJ,” 539–540; emphasis in original)

The final paragraph is justly famous: The escape would have been to love her; then, then he would have lived. She had lived—­who could say now with what passion?—­since she had loved him for himself; whereas he had never thought of her (ah, how hugely it glared at him!) but in the chill of his egotism and the light of her use. Her spoken words came back to him—­the chain stretched and stretched. The beast had lurked indeed, and the beast, at its hour, had sprung; it had sprung in that twilight of the cold April when, pale, ill, wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, she had risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess. It had sprung as he ­didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall. He had justified his fear and achieved his fate; he had failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of; and a moan now ­rose to his lips as he remembered she



w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? had prayed he ­mightn’t know. This horror of waking—­this was knowledge, knowledge ­under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze. Through them, none the less, he tried to fix it and hold it; he kept it ­there before him so that he might feel the pain. That at least, belated and ­bitter, had something of the taste of life. But the bitterness suddenly sickened him, and it was as if, horribly, he saw, in the truth, in the cruelty of his image, what had been appointed and done. He saw the Jungle of his life and saw the lurking Beast; then, while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to s­ ettle him. His eyes darkened—it was close; and, instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, on his face, on the tomb. (“BJ,” 540–541; emphasis in original)

Like “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” “The Beast in the Jungle” is not an impressionist text; that is, it is not engaged in one or another version of the sort of engagement with the blank page and the act of inscription that I have claimed to find in the works of Crane, Conrad, Hudson, Norris, and ­others. (More broadly: in my construal of the term, James was not an impressionist, though of course in other re­spects it makes perfect sense to include him ­under such a rubric.) But more than Lawrence’s story, it bespeaks a certain adjacency to impressionism—­does it not?—­that James expressly characterizes May’s tomb with its two names becoming a pair of eyes as composing a face, that the passages in question conspicuously juxtapose the words “face” and “fate” (also “fall” and “fail”), that Marcher’s climactic revelation in the graveyard takes place when he encounters the “scarred passion” (a phrase worthy of Crane) on another man’s face, that the grave offers him “in sharper incision than ever the open page of his story,” that May’s name on the t­ able smites him “full in the face” with the knowledge that she is what he had missed, and that when the lurking Beast, huge and hideous, fi­nally springs to claim him, he flings himself, “on his face, on the tomb.”22

Chapter Five

“A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against”



hi s cha pt e r ­will be given over to considering a single novel, J­ oseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), one of the most admired and intensely studied works in his entire corpus. I want to approach it by taking seriously what Conrad himself tells us about its relation to the protracted and tortuous ­labor of writing that went into the composition of its immediate pre­de­ces­sor, the stupendous Nostromo (1904).1 I have in mind Conrad’s author’s note of 1920, in which he informs us that the origin of The Secret Agent “may be traced to a period of ­mental and emotional reaction.”2 “The inception of The Secret Agent,” he explains, followed immediately on a two years’ period of intense absorption in the task of writing [Nostromo; also The Mirror of the Sea]. . . . ​It was a period . . . ​in which my sense of the truth of ­things was attended by a very tense imaginative and emotional readiness [note that he stresses not the act of writing as such, but rather a state of something like sustained attention] which, all genuine and faithful to facts as it was, yet made me feel (the task once done) as if I ­were left b­ ehind, aimless amongst mere husks of sensations and lost in a world of other, of inferior, values. (SA, 3)



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Conrad continues: “I d ­ on’t know ­whether I r­ eally felt that I wanted a change, change in my imagination, in my vision and in my ­mental attitude. I rather think that a change in the fundamental mood had already stolen over me unawares” (SA, 4). One expression of that change of mood was the shift of canvas from the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, with its spectacular settings and highly differentiated dramatis personae, to the relentlessly dingy and claustrophobic London of the hapless secret agent (actually a ­triple agent) Adolph Verloc and his wife Winnie, whose twin consciousnesses, each as limited as the other, govern the narrative perspective of much of the book. Another, equally impor­ tant expression of the change of mood to which Conrad alluded in 1920 was the adoption of an unremittingly “ironic method” or “treatment”—­a mode of writing designed to secure the author’s “detachment” (his term in the author’s note) from the characters, setting, and narrative—­and ultimately, I ­shall suggest, from the blank page itself.3 The Secret Agent is the unique instance in Conrad’s oeuvre of the application of such a method, and in fact, that novel quickly proved to be easier for him to write than Nostromo had been, which I take to have been the essential point of adopting an “ironic” approach in the first place.4 What must be stressed, however, is that much more was at stake in what Conrad meant by “irony” and “detachment” than considerations of literary style, as the latter are usually understood. What I mean is this. Of all Conrad’s novels and stories, The Secret Agent goes farthest ­toward imagining the workings of a strictly materialist universe, in the face of which the novelist’s traditional tools (also traditional tasks) of imaginative projection and sympathetic evocation are not only useless, but inappropriate. And my further claim is that that strict materialism in the pres­ent context must be understood as oriented “before all” (to adapt Conrad’s famous credo) 5 to the blank sheet of paper understood or ­imagined or “experienced” in this one case (this lone text in Conrad’s entire corpus) as a strictly material entity, a mere blank surface, one that would rebut imaginative projection and sympathetic evocation, indeed, one that bore no “natu­ral” or privileged relation to writing in any form (what this means w ­ ill become clearer as we proceed). It is as if the proj­ect of composing The Secret Agent involved an attempt to maintain and preserve that resistant blankness, to keep it, and the materialism it epito-

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mized, the relentless focus of the narrative. So, for example, individual characters are continually compared to dummies or automata, as if to suggest that insofar as they may seem to have “inner” lives at all, t­hose lives are entirely determined ­either by external ­factors (the Assistant Commissioner wants above all not to make his highborn wife unhappy by allowing Michaelis, the darling of her aristocratic patroness, to be arrested) or by internal drives, call them instincts, which are as good as mechanical in their mode of operation (Winnie is, in effect, hardwired to feel “maternally” protective of her mentally defective younger ­brother Stevie). (The Professor’s hatred of society is another case in point.) Verloc is shown to have been impelled in his failed attempt to blow up the Greenwich Observatory (in the course of which Stevie, whom Verloc had entrusted with the bomb, is blown to bits when it accidentally goes off ) by an interview with Mr. Vladimir, an official at the (unnamed) Rus­sian embassy, whose large, white, cleanly shaven face—­a significant motif from an impressionist point of view—­haunts Verloc, which is to say, “materially” dominates his consciousness (if we may call it that), throughout the rest of the novel.6 ­Later, ­after the failed attempt on the observatory, Verloc is likened to “an automaton whose face had been painted red” (SA, 149). The next sentence, a tour de force of Conrad’s “ironic” method, reads: “And this resemblance to a mechanical figure went so far that he had an automaton’s absurd air of being aware of the machinery inside him” (SA, 149). I call it a tour de force b­ ecause although from the perspective of the novel Verloc is an automaton, he is in fact not aware of the machinery inside him—or, fatally for him, inside his wife (he never suspects that Winnie married him solely b­ ecause he was prepared to care for Stevie, or that now that Stevie is dead b­ ecause of him, she w ­ ill kill him). Still l­ater, Verloc, confronted in his Soho shop by Inspector Heat with the discovery of his guilt, responds to Heat’s remark that he must have been mad with the words, “I have been mad for a month or more, but I am not mad now. It’s all over. It ­shall all come out of my head, and hang the consequences.” The passage continues: “­There was a silence, and then Private Citizen Heat murmured: ‘What’s coming out?’ ‘Every­t hing,’ exclaimed the voice of Mr Verloc, and then sank very low” (SA, 158)—­phrasing that implies what is now to come out of Verloc’s head (the revelation of his being the tool at once of the Rus­sians and the British) is itself material. In a similar


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vein, but at greater length, we are told of Winnie ­after she has learned that her husband was responsible for the death of her adored Stevie: Mrs Verloc’s m ­ ental condition had the merit of simplicity; but it was not sound. It was governed too much by a fixed idea. E ­ very nook and cranny of her brain was filled with the thought that this man, with whom she had lived without distaste for seven years, had taken the “poor boy” away from her in order to kill him—­the man to whom she had grown accustomed in body and mind; the man whom she had trusted, took the boy away to kill him! In its form, in its substance, in its effect, which was universal, altering even the aspect of inanimate ­things, it was a thought to sit still and marvel at for ever and ever. Mrs Verloc sat still. And across that thought (not across the kitchen) the form of Mr Verloc went to and fro, familiarly in hat and overcoat, stamping with his boots upon her brain. He was prob­ ably talking too; but Mrs Verloc’s thought for the most part covered the voice. (SA, 188)

­ ere, too, the statement that ­every nook and cranny of her brain is filled H with the thought of what Verloc did to Stevie implies that the thought is material, an implication that is then confirmed by the image of the form of Mr. Verloc g­ oing to and fro across that thought and stamping with his boots upon her brain, as if what was taking place within Winnie’s mind ­were far more physically immediate to her than the ostensibly primary real­ity of her husband ­going to and fro across the kitchen (and “prob­ably” talking—­but the thought “covers” his voice, again, as if the thought ­were something material).7 More broadly, the protagonist of The Secret Agent is neither Verloc nor Winnie, but rather what the novel calls “inorganic nature, . . . ​­matter that never dies” (SA, 17)—­presumably ­because it was never alive. Indeed, the novel is at pains to suggest that life itself is nothing more than a par­tic­ u­lar state of m ­ atter, or to put this slightly differently, that inanimate m ­ atter is all t­ here is. (Hence the irony of saying in the above passage that the effect of Winnie’s thought is to alter “even the aspect of inanimate t­ hings.”) One figure for inanimateness in the novel is the fatness of several of the characters, notably Verloc himself (early on, he is described as “a soft kind

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of rock” [SA, 17]) and the grotesquely obese Michaelis (whose elbow is described as “presenting no appearance of a joint, but more like a bend in a dummy’s limb” [SA, 37]). Sir Ethelred, too, is said to be “vast in bulk and stature” (SA, 105). In fact, a further relation to rocks is implied in the vari­ous references to “seven years hard” (SA, 74)—­short for “seven years hard ­labor,” a prison sentence typically spent breaking stones. The elision of the word “­labor” suggests that the years themselves are ­imagined as rocklike. Another, more elaborate materialist figure occurs in the scene in which Winnie’s ­mother removes herself from the Verloc ­house­hold to charity housing. T ­ here we are told, first, that “her big cheeks glowed with an orange hue u­ nder a black and mauve bonnet” (SA, 123), which seems straightforward enough. But we are then informed that her complexion “had become yellow by the effect of age and from a natu­ral predisposition to biliousness,” with the result that “­under the influence of a blush [it] would take on an orange tint” (SA, 123)—in other words, her complexion changes according to the laws of the additive mixing of colors (yellow plus red produces orange), a material operation if t­ here ever was one. Just a few pages earlier, the Assistant Commissioner is struck by the way in which all the habitués of an Italian restaurant (ironically described as “a peculiarly British institution”) “had lost in the frequentation of fraudulent [i.e., not ­really Italian] cookery all their national and personal characteristics,” the implication being that regularly filling themselves with “denationalized” dishes has had a matching effect on their very identities (SA, 115).8 And in Verloc’s final (non-)confrontation with Winnie, he becomes so outraged thinking of Vladimir’s treatment of him that he “pour[s] three glasses of ­water down his throat to quench the fires of his indignation” (SA, 181), as if t­ hose fires ­were literal, not figurative. But by far the most vivid and extreme evocation of the deathlessness of the inorganic is the scene at the hospital in which Chief Inspector Heat looks over Stevie’s disintegrated remains, which the narrative begins by comparing to “an accumulation of raw material for a cannibal feast” (SA, 70). As Heat stands his ground before the heaped hospital t­ able, a local constable says, “He’s all ­there. ­Every bit of him. It was a job” (SA, 70). Heat notices that “a sprinkling of small gravel, tiny brown bits of bark, and particles of splintered wood as fine as n­ eedles” are intermixed with the bodily remains (suggesting that ­there is no fundamental difference


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between the two) and remarks to the constable, “You used a shovel.” “ ‘Had to in one place,’ said the stolid constable. ‘I sent a keeper to fetch a spade. When he heard me scraping the ground with it he leaned his forehead against a tree, and was sick as a dog’ ” (SA, 71). And compounding the effect of nausea, as if to pass it on to the reader (a materialist effect on the plane of reader response), the narrative goes on to inform us that “the Chief Inspector went on peering at the ­t able with a  calm face and the slightly anxious attention of an indigent customer bending over what may be called the by-­products of a butcher’s shop with a view to an inexpensive Sunday dinner” (SA, 71). Fi­nally, the constable bursts out again: “Well, ­here he is—­all of him I could see. Fair. Slight—­slight enough. Look at that foot ­there. I picked up the legs first, one ­after another. He was that scattered you d ­ idn’t know where to begin” (SA, 72). “At any rate,” Marlow says to Jim near the end of the ­great letter-­ writing scene in Lord Jim, “I am able to help what I can see of you. I d ­ on’t 9 pretend to do more.” But what can be seen of Stevie is beyond help, and the point of the scene in the hospital is to compel the acknowl­edgment that the remains on the ­table, which have almost nothing recognizably ­human about them, are the truth about h­ uman beings. In a somewhat dif­fer­ent register, the triumph of materialism in the form of mechanism or automatism (or rather, a strictly mechanical form of automatism), which is to say, of an absolute causal determinism, comes to a head in the remarkable scene, comprising all of chapter 4, in the anarchist tavern, and in par­tic­u­lar in the superb invention of “an upright semi-­grand piano near the door, flanked by two palms in pots, [executing] suddenly all by itself a valse tune with aggressive virtuosity” (SA, 52)—­and then, just as abruptly, falling ­silent. (It erupts again several pages ­later, “clang[ing] through a mazurka with brazen impetuosity, as though a vulgar and impudent ghost ­were showing off ” [SA, 56].) The effect is of an act of pure volition (an acte gratuit, Conrad’s admirer André Gide might have said) on the part of the piano, but of course the fact that the latter is a mechanical device par excellence has the further effect of subsuming all suggestion of volition u­ nder the sign of an unremitting determinism. Equally significant and explicit is the Professor’s ambition, expressed in the same scene, to make a perfect detonator. As that dedicated maker of terrorist bombs explains to Ossipon (another anarchist): “The worst is

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that the manner of exploding is always the weak point with us. I am trying to invent a detonator that would adjust itself to all conditions of action, and even to unexpected changes of conditions. A variable and yet perfectly precise mechanism. A r­ eally intelligent detonator” (SA, 56). Such a detonator would, in effect, have f­ ree w ­ ill as part of its mechanism (it would decide for itself ­under precisely what circumstances to set off the explosive material), which is the impression conveyed by the seemingly autonomous player piano, whose “­human” qualities Conrad “ironically” underscores in the last sentence in which it is described in chapter 4: “The lonely piano, without as much as a ­music stool to help it, struck a few chords courageously, and beginning a se­lection of national airs, played [Ossipon] out at last to the tune of ‘Blue Bells of Scotland” (SA, 64–65). Significantly, the chapter comes to an end with a paragraph evoking the world just outside the tavern, and in a certain sense, outside the novel, in which a relentless griminess figures materiality, and soiled newspapers and filthy posters figure a material or, better, a materialist writing as well (SA, 65; more on this below). It is in this context that we can begin to appreciate the force of The Secret Agent’s leitmotif, Winnie Verloc’s “tragic suspicion that ‘life ­doesn’t stand much looking into.’ ” The words in quotation marks are from the author’s note (SA, 7), but starting near the beginning of chapter 8 the novel repeatedly makes the same point. Winnie’s “philosophy consisted in not taking notice of the inside of facts” (SA, 120); she “put her trust in face-­ values” (SA, 133); she was “disinclined to look u­ nder the surface of t­ hings” (SA, 141); in short, “she felt profoundly that t­ hings do not stand much looking into” (SA, 136), a virtual oxymoron that is still another triumph of Conrad’s “ironic” method. I read t­ hese formulations in the light of The Secret Agent’s materialist weltanschauung, which is to say that I take Winnie’s tragic suspicion as an altogether fitting gloss on the universe of the novel, Stevie’s exploded remains being a stark revelation of what the “inside of facts” amounts to. In par­tic­u­lar, I take that suspicion as a response to the insistence throughout the text on an ontology of blank and unreadable (unreadable b­ ecause essentially blank) surfaces, an ontology that receives its most explicit and protracted development in chapter 11, in the final, fatal encounter between Verloc and Winnie that F. R. Leavis called “one of the most astonishing triumphs of genius in fiction.”10 The


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chapter is far too densely pertinent to my argument for me to do full justice to it ­here, but for example, it begins with Verloc prepared at last to face Winnie’s grief but with Winnie hiding her face in her hands (SA, 175–177). (We are also told that ­after the rush of events, “Mr Verloc felt terribly empty physically”—no comment necessary—­a nd helped himself to beef and bread, which he cut with a knife [SA, 176]. The knife w ­ ill be impor­tant shortly.) ­After a short strug­gle (which is said to have “the appearance of a strug­gle for the possession of a chair” [SA, 178]), Winnie flees from the shop to the kitchen, where Verloc finds her seated at the ­table with her head lying on her arms (SA, 179). In this position, her back is turned ­toward him, though as he begins to speak of Vladimir, she sits up—­with her back turned to him still. Elsewhere in the novel, backs function as blank surfaces of the sort I have just indicated,11 but chapter 11 takes that device to a new extreme. “Mr Verloc watched at her back,” we are told, “as if he could read t­here the effect of his words” (SA, 180)—­but of course, he can do nothing of the sort. Alternatively, we might say that her impassive, unrevealing back perfectly expresses the absence of all such effect up to this point; the ambiguity would be still another small triumph of Conrad’s “ironic” mode. In any case, Verloc goes on to try to convey to Winnie the impact of Vladimir’s treatment of him, which has the incidental result of driving “Stevie’s fate clear out of [his] mind” (SA, 181): For that reason [Conrad writes], when he looked up, he was startled by the inappropriate character of his wife’s stare. It was not a wild stare, and it was not inattentive, but its attention was peculiar and not satisfactory, inasmuch that it seemed concentrated upon some point beyond Mr Verloc’s person. The impression was so strong that Mr Verloc glanced over his shoulder. ­There was nothing ­behind him: ­t here was just the whitewashed wall. The excellent husband of Winnie Verloc saw no writing on the wall. (SA, 181)

Verloc grotesquely suggests that what she wants is “a good cry.” But the circumstances of her ­brother’s death dried her tears at their very source. It was the effect of a white-­hot iron drawn across her eyes; at the same time her heart, hardened

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and chilled into a lump of ice, kept her body in an inward shudder, set her features into a frozen, contemplative immobility addressed to a whitewashed wall with no writing on it. (SA, 182)

A page or so l­ ater, the situation remains unchanged: Mrs Verloc gazed at the whitewashed wall. A blank wall—­perfectly blank. A blankness to run at and dash your head against. Mrs Verloc remained immovably seated. She kept still as the population of half the globe would keep still in astonishment and despair, w ­ ere the sun suddenly put out in the summer sky by the perfidy of a trusted providence. (SA, 184–185)

The blankness of the whitewashed wall, reflected (if that is the word) by Winnie’s inexpressive gaze, is the novel’s culminating figure for a radically material version of Conradian erasure, a figure given added force by the suggestion of something like “blackening” in the notion of the extinction of the sun. (­There is also the white-­hot iron drawn across her eyes. Almost none of Conrad’s figures of speech are without some ultimate impressionist rationale.) And in fact, the chapter goes on to narrate something very like a meta­phorical or allegorical act of writing, in which Verloc assumes the position of the upturned page and Winnie is cast as the determined author. The triggering events are again described in mechanistic terms: Verloc speaks of lying low abroad, whereupon “this last word, falling into Mrs Verloc’s ear, produced a definite impression. This man was talking of g­ oing abroad. The impression was completely disconnected, and such is the force of m ­ ental habit that Mrs Verloc at once and automatically asked herself: ‘And what of Stevie?’ ” Stevie, she at last realizes, is dead, or rather she realizes that her tie to Verloc is irrevocably broken: “She was a f­ree ­woman” (SA, 189). She goes to her bedroom, dresses as if to go out, “down to the tying of a black veil over her face” (SA, 191). Verloc, frustrated by her silence and impenetrability (“One c­ an’t tell ­whether one is talking to a dummy or to a live w ­ oman”), tears the veil off, “unmasking a still, unreadable face, against which his ner­vous exasperation was shattered like a glass ­bubble flung against a rock” (SA, 193).


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Fi­nally, an exhausted Verloc—­“He was tired. A man ­isn’t made of stone”—­lies down on a sofa, “wallow[ing] on his back” (SA, 195). From that position, he growls that he wishes he had never seen Greenwich Park or anything belonging to it, whereupon t­ here follows: The veiled sound filled the small room with its moderate volume, well adapted to the modest nature of the wish. The waves of air of the proper length, propagated in accordance with correct mathematical formulas, flowed around all the inanimate ­things in the room, lapped against Mrs Verloc’s head as if it had been a head of stone. [As if it had been a head of stone? The novel’s rock and stone imagery, one of its materialist tropes, is nowhere thicker than in ­these pages.] And incredible as it may appear, the eyes of Mrs Verloc seemed to grow still larger. The audible wish of Mr Verloc’s overflowing heart flowed into an empty place in his wife’s memory. Greenwich Park. A park! That’s where the boy was killed. A park—­smashed branches, torn leaves, gravel, bits of brotherly flesh and bone, all spouting up together in the manner of a firework. She remembered what she had heard, and she remembered it pictorially. (SA, 195–196)

­ nder the impact of that rush of terrible ­mental pictures, “[Winnie’s] U wits, no longer disconnected, w ­ ere working ­under the control of her ­will” (SA, 196), though of course, the entire logic of the novel undercuts the possibility that her ­will is truly ­free (despite the fact that with Stevie dead, she now understands herself to be a f­ree ­woman for the first time since her marriage [SA, 189]). Verloc, altogether unaware of what has been g­ oing on inside his wife, calls her name in a way characteristic of his initiating the “marital” relation of sex; seemingly docile, she answers “Yes”; and when Verloc summons her to him she comes, but on the way, her right hand “skimmed slightly the end of the t­ able, and when she had passed on t­owards the sofa the carving knife had vanished without the slightest sound from the side of the dish” (SA, 196–197). With e­ very step, we are told, her face more closely resembles that of her ­brother, which on the one hand may seem consistent with their relationship, but on the other, perhaps suggests a blurring of identity ­under the pressure of the

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pictorial memory of Stevie (and indeed, her face w ­ ill lose that resemblance to Stevie’s following Verloc’s murder). “But Mr Verloc did not see that,” the decisive passage reads. He was lying on his back and staring upwards. [That is, he assumes the “primordial” literary impressionist position, g­ oing back to Crane.] He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a carving knife. It flickered up and down. Its movements w ­ ere leisurely. They ­were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise the limb and the weapon. . . . ​But they ­were not leisurely enough to allow Mr Verloc the time to move ­either hand or foot. The knife was already planted in his breast. (SA, 197)12

(The shadow is ­imagined as a quasi-­material entity, barely removed from Winnie’s ­actual arm and hand; just as the t­ riple “leisurely” can be read as indicating a mechanical movement, not one expressing personal feelings of a violent kind.) Verloc dies muttering “­Don’t” (SA, 197), which happens to be what Stevie earlier said to a hackney driver whipping an infirm h­ orse (SA, 121), a repetition implying a resemblance between Verloc and Stevie, not at all something their relationship would lead one to expect— as if the material image of Stevie passed from Winnie into Verloc as she stabbed him to death. The chapter ends by asserting the affinity between the dead Verloc and the live but ­silent and immobile Winnie (still another touch undercutting the very idea of personal identity, one of the novel’s obsessions)13 and then by drawing Winnie’s attention to a loud ticking, which at first she takes for the sound of a clock before realizing that it is made by the fall of drops of blood from her husband’s body (SA, 198–199). (Throughout The Secret Agent clocks signify a materialist, even atomistic conception of time, as opposed to a subjective conception à la Conrad’s contemporaries Proust and Bergson. The association between the ticking of a clock and the fall of Verloc’s blood is therefore one more index of the novel’s thoroughgoing materialism.) At that point, Winnie bolts to the door, leaving b­ ehind her in the ­middle of the floor Verloc’s hat “rock[ing] slightly on its crown in the wind of her flight” (SA, 199)—­a final, haunting image of the end result of


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the causal chains sinewing the novel as a ­whole. Verloc’s corpse, it goes without saying, is another such end result, and the closing focus on his barely moving hat makes it seem more alive than he, which in a sense it is. Two more chapters remain, but I ­shall let them go mostly uncommented on ­here.14 What I hope has emerged from my discussion of chapter 11, however, is, first, a sense of the extraordinary consistency of the novel’s materialist ontology; and second, a feeling for the climactic importance of a meta­phorics of blankness, a blankness that although vis­i­ble, brings seeing to its limit, that frustrates reading (or reading into), that defeats identification, projection, merger—in short, imaginative expansion of any sort—­that might well be described as a blankness to run at and dash your head against. (This is the literal truth b­ ehind Conrad’s seemingly self-­ deprecating characterization of the novel to John Galsworthy: “The ­whole ­thing is superficial and is but a tale.”)15 It is as though in the aftermath of Conrad’s prodigious, all but soul-­consuming ­labors on Nostromo, in which he tried continually to draw the materials for his narrative out of an engagement with the blank page (almost as if the latter w ­ ere a recalcitrant crystal ball), a blank page to which the narrative also continually had to find a way to return, in both cases without for a moment recognizing the page as such, such a sheerly material blankness emerges in The Secret Agent as a positive value for the ­simple reason that it is the antithesis of blankness understood as a field of boundless imaginative possibility, a field within which (adapting a famous early letter from Conrad to his aunt Marguerite Poradowska) “vistas extend out of sight, ­great spaces fill with vague forms.” Such vistas, of course, are thrilling and productive, though even then not devoid of anxiety, so long as chaos eventually yields to clarification—so long as “ghosts are transformed into living flesh, floating vapors turn solid, and something is born from the collision of indistinct ideas.”16 But they are depressing and sterile if in the end (adapting a somewhat ­later letter to his friend Edward Garnett) his efforts “seem unrelated to anything in heaven and every­thing ­under heaven remains impalpable to the touch like shapes of mist. . . . ​­Every image floats vaguely in a sea of doubt—­and the doubt itself is lost in an unexpected universe of incertitudes.”17 What­ever ­else is true of the universe of The Secret Agent, its materialist ontology means that it is anything but that, which is also to contrast it with the universe of Nostromo as experienced by the “dil-

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letantish” writer and authorial surrogate Martin Decoud undergoing in solitude “the exile of utter unbelief,” and in consequence, merging with— in effect, dissolving into—­his surroundings, leading in due course to his suicide (N, 393).18 (Typical of the antithesis between the two novels—­more broadly, between Conrad’s usual anguished efforts to draw his fictions from the blank page and his “ironic” proj­ect in The Secret Agent, with its continual assertion of material blankness—it is in the solitude of his room that the Professor, troubled by crowds, shakes off the doubts they awaken in him.)19 Another way of framing the difference I am trying to evoke is to contrast the continual strug­gle or tension in Nostromo between “material interests,” as figured by the silver of the Gould mine, and the efforts of vari­ous characters, most prominently Charles Gould himself, to cast ­those interests in an “ideal” light, with the obduracy, the absolute non-­ideality, of materiality as such in The Secret Agent. That Conrad’s (may we say ideal?) reader is invited to register that contrast is implied by the “ironic” repetition of Nostromo’s leitmotif in Vladimir’s crucial speech to Verloc in chapter 2. Vladimir’s aim is to compel Verloc to bring about a terrorist act, specifically a bombing, which would cause such public indignation that the British government would be forced to crack down on the anarchists who u­ ntil now have enjoyed a comfortable refuge in ­England. The target of that act, he explains, should be the British national fetish—­ science. “All the damned professors are radicals at heart,” he says. Let them know that their ­g reat panjandrum has got to go too, to make room for the ­Future of the Proletariat. . . . ​They ­will be writing to the papers. Their indignation would be above suspicion, no material interests being openly at stake, and it ­w ill alarm ­every selfishness of the class which should be impressed. (SA, 30; emphasis added)

Not that the attack on science would be in the realm of the immaterial; as Vladimir says, “it would be ­really telling if one could throw a bomb into pure mathe­matics,” but that being impossible, he is prepared to s­ ettle for the next best t­ hing—an assault on astronomy in the form of the Greenwich Observatory, or as he also puts it, “the blowing up of the first meridian”


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(SA, 31–32). (The erasure of a line, in a manner of speaking.) As was suggested earlier, it is tempting to identify the Gould mine’s silver if not with erasure as such, then at any rate with the blank pages that w ­ ere the arena of Conrad’s strug­gles, an identification that gives added point to the late Edward Said’s acute characterization of the silver as embodying “the ego’s nearly limitless capacity for extension.”20 (Said also wrote that “the novel reposes on the impregnation of silver with an imaginative conception of its power” [“PN,” 45].) The formally analogous material substance or ­thing in The Secret Agent is Stevie’s disintegrated body mixed with bits of bark, gravel, and dirt, and once again, the contrast with Nostromo points up the ­later novel’s systematic refusal of all but the most tenuous and minimal hints of identification, imaginative projection, and egoic extension. (This is the force of Conrad’s calculated courting of readerly nausea—­detachment with a vengeance—in the scene at the hospital.) Indeed, the formal analogy, hence also the contrast, between silver and Stevie’s remains as signifiers of erasure or blankness is underscored by the evocation of t­ hose remains in terms of a meta­phorics of the “clean sweep” (recalling Jim’s reference to a “clean slate” in Lord Jim). The phrase occurs several times in the novel, but two instances are enough to make its import plain. “You anarchists should make it clear that you are perfectly determined to make a clean sweep of the ­whole social creation” (SA, 30), Vladimir says to Verloc before explaining precisely what he wants him to do. ­Later, in the scene in the anarchist tavern, the Professor tells Ossipon that “what’s wanted is a clean sweep and a clear start for a new conception of life,” which is why he works at “perfecting a r­ eally dependable detonator”—to which Ossipon replies: “Yes. Your detonators. I ­shouldn’t won­der if it w ­ eren’t one of your detonators that made a clean sweep of the man in the park” (SA, 61). (Note the juxtaposition in both citations of the materially similar signifiers “clean” and “clear.”) That it would never occur to the reader to think of Stevie’s remains u­ nder the sign of erasure or blankness outside the par­tic­u­lar verbal network of the novel as a ­whole only points up the exceptionalness of The Secret Agent within Conrad’s oeuvre.21 Still another difference between the two novels concerns the absence from The Secret Agent of an authorial “double” or surrogate comparable to Decoud in Nostromo or, Leavis further implies (and I agree, albeit with

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serious reservations, as w ­ ill emerge in Chapter 9), Axel Heyst in Victory. More precisely, the difference concerns the absence from The Secret Agent of such a figure along with the presence of a number of lesser, partial, and ironic surrogates, as if that novel’s commitment to materialism is such as to diffuse (explode?) a thematics of authorship throughout the text, rather than to concentrate it in a single personage (this, too, is anti-­identitarian in its way). So, for example, Verloc himself for years has earned his keep from the foreign power that employs him as a secret agent by writing reports (SA, 19); Michaelis in the solitude of his country retreat writes “night and day in a shaky, slanting hand that Autobiography of a Prisoner that was to be like a book of Revelation in the history of mankind” (SA, 94); the Assistant Commissioner hates his pres­ent job ­because it consists in nothing but “desk work, which was the bane of his existence ­because of its confined nature and apparent lack of real­ity” (SA, 104)22 (think of Conrad’s early letters to Garnett); Sir Ethelred in an intense vignette is presented apparently taking a rest from writing— The Assistant Commissioner entering saw at first only a big pale hand supporting a big head, and concealing the upper part of a big pale face. An open dispatch-­box stood on the writing-­table near a few oblong sheets of paper and a scattered handful of quill pens. ­There was absolutely nothing e­ lse on the flat surface except a ­little bronze statuette in a toga, mysteriously watchful in its shadowy immobility (SA, 164);23

it is Winnie who, by writing “32 Brett Street” in marking ink on a square piece of calico which she then sews onto the underside of the lapel of Stevie’s overcoat, eventually brings the police to Verloc’s door (SA, 98– 99, 156); and of course it is she who, near the end of chapter 11, stabs the upward-­facing Verloc to death in a passage that I read, in keeping with the atypicality of The Secret Agent within the Conradian corpus, as an allegory of the act of erasure (in this novel, “successful” erasure can only be a form of murder). (The upside-­down hat on the floor would then be the image of a ­bottle of ink.) More striking than all of ­these, however, is the much commented on figure of Stevie, seated at a ­table with pencil and compass,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? drawing circles, circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form, and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable. The artist never turned his head; and in all his soul’s application to the task his back quivered, his thin neck, sunk into a deep hollow at the base of the skull, seemed ready to snap. (SA, 40)

Edward Said was right to suggest that “Conrad ­imagined Stevie as a kind of writer viewed in extremis” (“PN,” 35; emphasis in original), though what he d ­ idn’t quite say is that the kind of writer Stevie represents is the writer of The Secret Agent; that is, the practitioner of a rigorously materialist version of Conradian impressionism which, in its implications for literary repre­sen­ta­tion, might fairly be characterized as “a mad art attempting the inconceivable.” (Said did note that Stevie’s circles “enclose blankness even as they seem partly to be excluding it,” and that being page-­bound, “they tie him to a blank white space, and . . . ​exist no place ­else” [“PN,” 34–35].) It is also twice said that before Winnie married Verloc, Stevie had “blacked” the boots of gentlemen in the rooming ­house run by Winnie and her m ­ other (SA, 14, 183). This recalls Conrad’s frequent meta­phor of “blackening” pages,24 thereby underscoring the association between Stevie and his creator, though obviously the novel’s insistence on Stevie’s m ­ ental deficiency means that that association can only be “ironic.” Beyond all t­ hese, something like a sheerly materialist writing—­one not immediately subject to erasure—is figured ­here and ­there in The Secret Agent by images of badly printed texts, as in Vladimir’s denunciation of anarchist newspapers as “blunt type on . . . ​filthy paper” (SA, 26), and the strategically sited paragraph that ends chapter 4 with its “eruption of damp, rubbishy sheets of paper soiled with printer’s ink” and “posters maculated with filth” (SA, 65).25 We are also told that in the correspondence of the late Baron Stott-­Wartenheim, Vladimir’s pre­de­ces­sor, Verloc was “never designated other­wise but by the Greek letter or mathematical symbol Δ” (SA, 26)—­v isually, a triangle, or perhaps better, a pyramid, which I see as resisting “readerly” incorporation by its object-­like form

“A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against”


and “stony” connotations. (The Greek letter ∆ is also the mathematical symbol for change, which would be “ironic” as applied to the unchanging Verloc.) 26 T ­ here is an obvious congruence, too, between Stott-­ Wartenheim’s symbol for Verloc and the triangular piece of broadcloth Heat picks out of Stevie’s remains, on the underside of which is the rectangular label bearing the Verlocs’ address, as well as the triangular shape of Brett Place, off of which Brett Street runs.27 And is t­ here not something upside-­down pyramid-­like about the material form of the letters W and V for Winnie, Verloc, Vladimir—­not to mention the N’s and M’s in two of the three names, and the W’s in ­those of Privy Councillor Wurmt (Verloc’s first interviewer at the embassy) and Baron Stott-­Wartenheim (his first employer ­there)? (The A in Adolph, ­needless to say, is pyramidal in its own right.) Plus, ­there is the fact that Stevie’s remains, the product of an act of erasure, of an attempt at a “clean sweep,” are heaped between two “waterproof sheets” on the hospital t­ able (SA, 70); both the word “sheets” (as in sheets of paper) and the letter w (in “waterproof ”) are conceivably to the point. But more impor­tant than such pos­si­ble imagery of materialist writing in The Secret Agent is the question (the last to be treated in this chapter) of the practice of writing, insofar as that practice turns out to be figured in or other­wise inferable from the novel itself. Conrad’s epithet for that practice was “ironic,” and irony, it seems clear, presupposes control, distance, detachment—in short, w ­ ill.28 But all t­ hese are at least implicitly in conflict with the universe of The Secret Agent, in which, as I have tried to show, genuinely ­free ­will—­that is, ­will that is truly self-­determining—is unimaginable. (The Professor, seemingly an epitome of ­w ill, exercises that faculty precisely by not triggering an explosion; hence his need for a r­ eally intelligent detonator.) Not surprisingly, perhaps, the issue of w ­ ill versus necessity actually is raised in the author’s note, where Conrad, before explaining that he began writing The Secret Agent following his ­labors on Nostromo, assures the reader: “It’s obvious that I need not have written [The Secret Agent]. I was u­ nder no necessity to deal with the subject; using that word subject both in the sense of the tale itself and in the larger one of a special manifestation in the life of mankind” (SA, 4). In other words, Conrad freely willed to write The Secret Agent—­but within a few pages, ­after explaining how the story of Winnie Verloc’s life had become clear to him,29 he continues:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? This book is that story reduced to manageable proportions, its ­whole course suggested and centred round the absurd cruelty of the Greenwich Park explosion. [“Centred round”—is ­there just a hint ­here of Stevie with his compass? Which is to say, of a non-­“ironic” writerly identification with Stevie?]30 I had ­there a task I ­w ill not say arduous but of the most absorbing difficulty. But it had to be done. It was a necessity. The figures grouped around Mrs Verloc and related directly or indirectly to her tragic suspicion that “life ­doesn’t stand much looking into” are the outcome of that very necessity. (SA, 7)

Is this seemingly contradictory pair of avowals merely a sign of Conrad’s own retrospective confusion? Or is ­there a sense in which both avowals are true—in which although from a certain perspective Conrad “need not have written” The Secret Agent, the task of writing that novel, or say, the writing itself, nevertheless bears the stamp not just of “the most absorbing difficulty” but also, as Conrad states, of “necessity”? By way of resolving ­these questions, I want to consider four representative instances of Conrad’s prose in The Secret Agent that seem to me to throw light on the topic. 1. The first passage is short and ­simple. The name of Conrad’s Chief Inspector is “Heat” (no first name given), which immediately invokes “a form of energy associated with the motion of atoms or molecules in solids and capable of being transmitted through solid and fluid media by conduction, through fluid media by convection, and through empty space by  radiation”31—­a materialist idea, obviously. (“Heat” is also modern slang for the police; it seems to have been American in origin and to have come into general use in the 1930s.) 32 In a confrontation with the Assistant Commissioner, his immediate superior, Heat attempts not to divulge every­thing he knows about the Greenwich explosion; the Assistant Commissioner, for his part, senses that Heat has not been forthcoming, and at a certain point slams his hand on the writing ­table at which he is seated and says: “What I want to know is what put it out of your head till now.” (“It” is the notion that Michaelis is somehow b­ ehind the explosion, which Heat in fact knows is unlikely.) “Put it out of my head,” repeated the Chief Inspector very slowly. “Yes. Till you ­were called into this room—­you know.”

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The Chief Inspector felt as if the air between his clothing and his skin had become unpleasantly hot. It was the sensation of an unpre­ ce­dented and incredible experience. (SA, 97)

The notion of something having put the idea of Michaelis’s involvement out of Heat’s head belongs to the larger meta­phorics of the materiality of thought that was noted earlier in connection with Verloc and Winnie. But what I want to stress is the statement that (to put it baldly) Heat felt ­unpleasantly hot, and the further remark that this was “the sensation of an unpre­ce­dented and incredible experience”—­t he experience, we might say, of becoming his name, or rather of becoming the material state that his name signifies. This, too, is obviously a materialist trope, but what distinguishes it from the o­ thers we have considered is that it implies a kind of exchange or “contagion” between a textual signifier (the name “Heat”) and the action of the novel (Heat’s “sensation of an unpre­ ce­dented and incredible experience”). 2. My second example ­isn’t a single passage but rather concerns the relative proximity of two phrases. In the last paragraph of chapter 9, immediately a­ fter Winnie has learned of Stevie’s death (by overhearing a conversation between Heat and Verloc), she is described not only as immobile but as somehow spreading immobility to her surroundings, “as if her attitude had the locking power of a spell.” The next sentence reads: “Even the butterfly-­shaped gas flames posed on the ends of the suspended T-­bracket burned without a quiver” (SA, 161). (It is that “suspended T-­bracket” that is mainly of interest ­here.) Chapter 10 begins with the Assistant Commissioner’s traveling by hansom to Westminster, where he is to meet for a second time with Sir Ethelred; first, though, he speaks with the latter’s young secretary, known familiarly as Toodles, explaining euphemistically that the personage he is ­after—­Vladimir—is more like a dogfish than a w ­ hale. He then adds: “You ­don’t know perhaps what a dog-­fish is like.” “Yes; I do. . . . ​It’s a noxious, rascally looking, altogether detestable beast, with a sort of smooth face and moustaches.” “Described to a T,” commended the Assistant Commissioner. “Only mine is clean-­shaven altogether. ­You’ve seen him. It’s a witty fish.” (SA, 163)


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What I want to call attention to is the juxtaposition, separated by about two pages, of the reference to the T-­bracket and the phrase “Described to a T”: given the materialist ontology of the novel as a w ­ hole, the two phrases together suggest another form of “contagion” involving a textual signifier, in this case the letter T, which might be described as migrating from the first phrase to the second, and in both instances seems more like a material object than a signifier, properly speaking. (migrating also into the epithet “witty” with its two t’s and the sound “tee”; also, it may be, into the name “Toodles.”33 Note, by the way, the sonic and graphic affinity between “witty” and “Winnie.”) And my question both ­here and with re­spect to the passage about Heat’s sensation of the air between his clothing and his skin becoming unpleasantly hot is ­whether or not the reader of The Secret Agent is intended to notice t­hose instances of “contagion.” If the answer is taken to be yes, presumably the reader is also invited to imagine them as having been deliberately put ­there by the author. But in fact, no commentator on The Secret Agent, and they have been legion, has found them worth remarking. And this suggests—­does it not?—­that they ­were not intended to be noticed, which in turn invites thinking of them, once they are noticed, as having been produced unintentionally, mechanistically, in that sense, as the result of a kind of necessity. A third alternative, of course, is that they are the product of the working of an unconscious intention on the part of the author, which would align them with similar automatistic phenomena in texts by Crane and literary impressionist writings generally. But the starker, two-­ alternative version—­intended or unintended—­may be more in keeping with the materialist ethos of the novel. (A further complication arises if one seeks to distinguish between Conrad’s readers in his own time and con­temporary readers, presumably alerted to the play of the signifier by deconstruction and related theoretical developments—­not that deconstruction has quite succeeded in laying a hand on Conrad, in my view. But as I remarked in the Introduction, my own approach has doubtless been influenced by it.) 3. Now consider the following sequence of sentences and phrases from chapter 7, specifically from the account of the first meeting between the Assistant Commissioner and Sir Ethelred. While the Assistant Commissioner briefs Sir Ethelred on what he has learned, “the hands on the face

“A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against”


of the clock b­ ehind the g­ reat man’s back—­a heavy, glistening affair of massive scrolls in the same dark marble as the mantelpiece, and with a ghostly, evanescent tick—[move] through the space of seven minutes” (SA, 106–107). Somewhat further on in their discussion, the Assistant Commissioner suggests that Heat be replaced, b­ ecause, as he twice remarks, “He’s an old police hand” (SA, 108), meaning that Heat’s protection of Verloc as a private source of information is ultimately unproductive. A page ­later, he remarks that “the a­ ctual perpetrator [Stevie] seems to have been led by the hand to the spot” (SA, 109), and when, having explained that he himself intends to visit Verloc’s shop on Brett Street, he is asked by Sir Ethelred, “Why not leave it to Heat?” he replies (for the third time), “­Because he is an old departmental hand.” (By now it should be clear I am tracking the “contagiousness” of the word “hand.”) “Besides,” the Assistant Commissioner adds slightly ­later, “I want a ­free hand—­a freer hand than it would be perhaps advisable to give Chief Inspector Heat” (SA, 110). ­After some further exchanges (involving a flurry of repetitions of the word “time”), Sir Ethelred turns his gaze on the “ponderous marble timepiece” ­behind him, to discover that “the gilt hands had taken the opportunity to steal through no less than five and twenty minutes b­ ehind his back” (SA, 111). Nevertheless, he asks the Assistant Commissioner, “What first put you in motion in this direction?” (a typically materialist expression)—to which the answer is, “A new man’s antagonism to old methods. A desire to know something at first hand” (SA, 112). Satisfied, the ­great man gives the Assistant Commissioner his blessing, “extending his hand, soft to the touch, but broad and power­ful like the hand of a glorified farmer. The Assistant Commissioner shook it, and withdrew” (SA, 112). Altogether, the word “hand” (or “hands”) occurs no less than eleven times in five pages, and once again, my question is not just what is The Secret Agent’s stake in references to hands, but also (not quite the same question) what is the reader—in Conrad’s day or in our own—­supposed to make of the fact of such frequent repetition of a single word in so few pages? For what it is worth, my sense of the ­matter is that by twice using the word “hand” in a single sentence (the penultimate one in the sequence) Conrad signals his own awareness of what is ­going on. But the sequence as such nevertheless at the very least mimes the appearance of unintendedness, an impression entirely consistent, again, to say the least, with the


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materialist ontology of the novel as a whole—as if the writer, not simply his characters, ­were operating in a materialist mode. Once again, too, it may or may not be relevant that commentators pursuing diverse approaches such as Leavis, Said, Albert  J. Guerard, Ian Watt, J. Hillis Miller, Aaron Fogel, Mark Wollaeger, and Geoffrey Galt Harpham never regarded t­ hese and similar repetitions as significant enough to mention, much less to discuss.34 The question is all the more pressing in that the h­ uman hand, or rather, the absence of one, makes a shocking appearance elsewhere in the novel: in chapter  8, Winnie’s m ­ other, together with Winnie and Stevie, is conveyed to her new charity lodgings in a hackney pulled by an infirm ­horse and driven by a disreputable-­looking character with “a hooked iron contrivance protruding from the left sleeve of [his] coat” (SA, 121)— in other words, by a driver with a missing hand. (It is when the driver whips his pathetic nag that Stevie says, “­Don’t.”) This raises the further topic of the meaning of the motif of vio­lence against hands in Conrad’s fiction, a motif that goes back as early as the scene in Almayer’s Folly in which Balabatchi deliberately stands with one foot on the hand of the faceless corpse by the bank of the Sambir, and that reaches a bizarre extreme in the 1914 story “­Because of the Dollars,” in the personage of a murderous Frenchman who, lacking hands with which to kill, improvises a lethal weapon by having a seven-­pound iron weight tied to one stump.35 More could be said about “­Because of the Dollars,” but for the moment I ­will simply remark that hands in Conrad’s fiction typically play a secondary role to figures for the page, and that the thematization of the word “hand” (if I may put it that way) in The Secret Agent may be read as an expression of the novel’s deliberate writtenness (that is, of the author’s “irony” and “detachment”) even as the repetitiveness or “contagiousness” ­behind that thematization, although in one sense consistent with writtenness, invites being seen as on the side of mechanicity as opposed to w ­ ill in the reader-­centered sense specified above (therefore as unironic and not at all “detached”; in short, as materialist on a scriptive level). At the same time, the hackney driver’s “hooked iron contrivance” in the place of a hand, which carries the notion of vio­lence against hands farther than in any other work by the author except “­Because of the Dollars,” may be understood as acknowledging the ele­ment of violation of

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the norms of Conrad’s art implicit in the novel’s emphasis on its own “ironic” and “detached” manner. In sum, it is one more ele­ment that announces The Secret Agent’s exceptionalness within the Conradian oeuvre. (Vio­lence against hands is not confined to texts by Conrad, of course, as the destruction of the ­little Jew’s hands in the shipwreck scene in Vandover and the Brute and the amputation of Ferriss’s hands in A Man’s ­Woman go to show. In another, less destructive register, no novel of the period makes more of hands than Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage [1912].) In the last chapter, a­ fter Winnie has killed herself by leaping overboard from a cross-­Channel boat, her wedding ring is found by “one of the steamer’s hands” on a seat on the deck. Moreover, “­t here was a date, 24th June 1879, engraved inside” (SA, 230)—­which is to say, the ring is one more specimen of materialist writing (it is also, ­under the circumstances, a supremely “ironic” one). What I want to stress, though, is the surprising return of the word “hand” at this climactic moment. 4. The fourth and final instance of what I have been calling “contagion” is somewhat dif­fer­ent from ­those we have considered ­until now. Simply put, three graphically similar words function throughout The Secret Agent as a compound leitmotif: “material,” “marital,” “maternal.” (Cf. “clean” and “clear.”) The first, “material,” occurs frequently in the first half of the novel, and the second, “marital,” dominates in the second, especially in chapters 10 and 11, where it increasingly comes to function (ironically, as ­things turn out) as a euphemism for “sexual.”36 The third word, “maternal,” occurs only twice in the novel itself, first as applied to Winnie’s ­mother’s fears about Stevie (SA, 126) and second in a sentence that describes the “exigencies” of Winnie’s temperament as “maternal and violent” (SA, 182),37 but Conrad retrospectively underscores its importance when in his author’s note he reports that ­after having received the vision of “an enormous town” (London) as the background of his novel, and ­after “endless vistas opened before [him] in vari­ous directions” (all this in advance of actually sitting down before a blank sheet of paper, which is where such vistas w ­ ere ordinarily to be found), “Slowly the dawning conviction of Mrs Verloc’s maternal passion grew up to a flame between me and that background, tingeing it with its secret ardour and receiving from it in exchange some of its own sombre colouring” (SA, 6–7). A page or so earlier, Conrad remarks of the genesis of the subject of The Secret Agent


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(by which he means “the tale”) that it came to him “in the shape of a few words uttered by a friend [as it happens, Ford] in a casual conversation about anarchists or rather anarchist activities, how brought about I ­don’t remember now” (SA, 4). The shape of a few words: according to Conrad, Ford said of the victim of the explosion, “Oh, that fellow was half an idiot. His ­sister committed suicide afterward” (SA, 5).38 But the few words whose distinctly similar shapes recur throughout The Secret Agent and which indeed form a kind of secret armature for the text as a w ­ hole are the three I have just enumerated—­and of course, the first of them, “material,” is arguably the most impor­tant single word in the book, thematically speaking. But ­there is a fourth word that belongs to the series, and with re­spect to the novel’s genesis, it may be the most decisive of all: “martial” (an anagram for “marital”). Unlike the other three words, this one bears no obvious relation to the story or theme, and what is even stranger, the single time it occurs in the novel, it does so in a seemingly gratuitous way. ­Toward the end of chapter 5, in the midst of an account of the interview with Heat, we are told (irrelevantly, it would seem) that it was the Assistant Commissioner’s practice to play whist at his club ­every day from five to seven. “His partners,” the text continues, “­were the gloomily humorous editor of a celebrated magazine; a s­ ilent, el­derly barrister with malicious ­little eyes; and a highly martial, simple-­m inded old Col­o­nel with ner­ vous brown hands” (SA, 82). The conjunction of “martial” with “hands” suggests that something of interest may be taking place (though the ­virtual explosion of hands in the interview with Sir Ethelred is still to come), all the more so in that the last sentence of the chapter ends with a reference to the Assistant Commissioner’s “sudden and alert mistrust of the weapon in his hand,” namely, Heat (SA, 82). What is the significance of this? I make the following suggestion. The central incident of the novel, an attempt on the Greenwich Observatory, was based on an ­actual event, which took place in 1894, when Conrad himself was living in London. “Briefly, the facts ­behind the so-­called Greenwich Bomb Outrage ­were ­these,” Martin Seymour-­Smith writes. A young man called Martial Bourdin was found in Greenwich Park, on a hill near the Royal Observatory “in a kneeling posture, terribly mutilated” on the eve­ning of 15 February 1894. T ­ here had been an

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explosion; Bourdin had set it off, and in so d ­ oing had killed himself. He had blown off one of his hands, and his guts ­were spilling from his body; he died in hospital very soon a­ fter.39

Somehow the proper name “Martial,” together with the extraordinary detail of the blowing off of Bourdin’s hand, gave rise, by a kind of materialist “contagion,” to the other three words and, by elaboration, to the novel as a ­whole. To what extent was this, too, deliberate, or at least something of which Conrad himself was aware—­from which he was “detached”? Or was he, even when looking back on the novel’s genesis, less than fully cognizant of the dynamic I have just sketched? It is impossible to say. As Conrad remarks in his author’s note of the “concentrated purpose” with which he wrote The Secret Agent: “I was simply attending to my business. I have attended to it with complete self-­surrender. And this statement too is not a boast. I could not have done other­wise. It would have bored me too much to make believe” (SA, 8).40

Chapter Six

Maps, Charts, and Mist



n 18 95 , when H. G. Wells began writing The War of the Worlds, he was living in Woking in Surrey, about twenty-­three miles from Charing Cross in London.1 From the first, Wells planned to locate the first invasion site of the Martians at Horsell Common, not far from his home, and then to follow the pro­gress of the invaders ­toward London virtually town by town. And in fact, the first of ten space cylinders fired on successive nights from an im­mense gun on the planet Mars lands near sandpits at Horsell Common; it is first seen by Ogilvy, an astronomer who had detected the flashes on Mars as the gun was fired (without knowing what the flashes meant), but soon the unnamed narrator, a friend of Ogilvy who also witnessed the flashes, learns from a newspaper boy of the crash landing of what he repeatedly calls “the ­Thing,” and hastens to the sandpits. A crowd of onlookers has gathered and continues to grow; a­ fter a while, one end of the cylinder slowly unscrews itself, and ­a fter a time, something stirs within the shadow: “greyish billowy movements, one above the other, and then two luminous discs—­like eyes. Then something resembling a l­ ittle grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing m ­ iddle, and wriggled in the air t­ owards me—­and then another” (WW, 63). Presently, a deputation of men, Ogilvy among them, approach the cylinder waving a white flag; o­ thers follow, whereupon a flash of light accompanied by greenish smoke fires out from the pit, 186

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f­ollowed by flashes of a­ ctual flame, and the deputation is annihilated. (This is the narrator’s first experience of the Martians’ Heat-­R ay, a laser-­l ike weapon of im­mense destructiveness.) For a moment the narrator is stunned, but then, overcome by fear, he runs back to his ­house and tells his wife what has happened. The next day he remains in the neighborhood talking to soldiers and ­others, none of whom know anything useful; the Martians remain out of sight at work in their pit, with sounds of hammering and a streamer of smoke. Around 3:00 p.m. the narrator hears the thud of a gun from Chertsey or Addlestone, which he ­later learns was the sound of firing on the second cylinder that had landed in a pinewood in that vicinity, and then around six he hears a muffled detonation and a gust of firing from the nearby common, followed by “a violent, rattling crash quite close to [him and his wife]” (WW, 79) that turns out to be another extraordinarily devastating blast from the Heat-­R ay. At this point he realizes that he and his wife are in danger, and he flees Woking in a cart rented at nearby Maybury to remove her to what he hopes ­will be the safety of Leatherhead. (The proliferation of place-­names turns out to be significant, as ­will be seen.) Once he has done that, however, he leaves to return the cart (through Ockham, he explains, not as he had come, through Send and Old Woking), and beyond Pyrford, he becomes aware of flashes of destruction near Maybury (in fact, he soon discovers the dead body of the innkeeper from whom he had rented the cart). He also gets his first sight of the ­Thing— A monstrous tripod, higher than many ­houses, striding over the young pine-­trees, and smashing them aside in its ­career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of its thunder. (WW, 84)

(Each tripod, he l­ater realizes, is operated from within by a physically ­unprepossessing Martian.) He makes his way back to his own ­house in Woking and looks out on three such “gigantic black t­ hings” (WW, 88) moving in the glare about the sandpits at Horsell Common. He also gives shelter to an artilleryman, and the next morning they quit the ­house,


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which they consider unsafe—­the artilleryman to rejoin his battery in London, the narrator to return to Leatherhead to take his wife to New­ haven and thence out of the country. The two men start out together, the narrator aiming to make a big detour by Epsom so as to avoid further Martians. They pass through several villages and then are almost caught up in a destructive river ­battle, in the course of which one of the tripods is felled but Weybridge and Shepperton are largely destroyed. The Martians retreat to Horsell Common, secure in the knowledge that as new cylinders arrive from Mars they ­will be reinforced, while the narrator, separated from the artilleryman, encounters a curate, with whom he ventures “northward” (the last word of chapter 13). At this point, unexpectedly, a second narrative line is opened up by the narrator’s account of his younger, medical student b­ rother’s more or less simultaneous experiences in London, which at first receives refugees from the countryside but then becomes a very dif­fer­ent scene as the Martians approach and a frenzied exodus from the city gets u­ nder way. H ­ ere, too, place-­names play a prominent role. A characteristic passage reads: At the station [my ­brother] heard for the first time that the Windsor and Chertsey lines w ­ ere now interrupted. . . . ​One or two trains came in from Richmond, Putney, and Kingston, containing p ­ eople who had gone out for a day’s boating. . . . ​A man in a blue-­and-­white blazer addressed my b­ rother, full of strange tidings. “­There’s hosts of p ­ eople driving into Kingston in traps and carts and t­ hings, with boxes of valuables and all that,” he said. “They come from Molesey and Weybridge and Walton, and they say ­there’s been guns heard at Chertsey, heavy firing, and that mounted soldiers have told them to get off at once b­ ecause the Martians are coming.” (WW, 108)

And a few pages l­ ater: And all about him—in the rooms below, in the h­ ouses on each side and across the road, and ­behind in the Park Terraces and in the hundred other streets of that part of Marylebone, and the Westbourne Park district and St. Pancras, and westward and northward in Kilburn and St.  John’s Wood and Hampstead, and eastward in

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Shoreditch and Highbury and Haggerston and Hoxton, and, ­indeed, through all the vastness of London to Ealing and East Ham—­people ­were rubbing their eyes, opening win­dows to stare out and ask aimless questions, and dressing hastily as the first breath of the coming storm of Fear blew through the streets. It was the dawn of the g­ reat panic. (WW, 113)

Such passages, indeed, the continual reference throughout the novel to towns and other physical locations, give the overall narrative a strongly topographical character, as commentators have not failed to observe; a recent critical edition of the novel (cited in note 1) lists no fewer than 187 specific places—­towns, districts, streets, parks, bridges, monuments, and the like—­that are mentioned by name in the text, and in fact, the same critical edition provides two small maps, one of Woking and its environs, the other of the Thames Valley, with eigh­teen towns specifically indicated; ­these scarcely seem adequate. Nothing could be clearer, in fact, than that Wells must have relied heavi­ly—­that is, continually—on maps throughout his l­ abors on the book; no doubt, he made use of the superb one-­inch-­to-­the-­mile ordnance maps covering all of G ­ reat Britain, the fruit of a government proj­ect begun in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and completed, as regards the maps just mentioned, in 1891.2 (See Figure 9 for a portion of the map for Aldershot that includes Woking and nearby towns.) In itself, this is in­ter­est­ing. But Wells has other than simply narrative ends in view. Chapter 17 of part 1, “The ‘Thunder Child,’ ” begins: Had the Martians aimed only at destruction, they might on Monday have annihilated the entire population of London, as it spread itself slowly through the home counties. Not only along the road through Barnet, but also through Edgware and Waltham Abbey, and along the roads eastward to Southend and Shoeburyness, and south of the Thames to Deal and Broadstairs, poured the same frantic rout. If one could have hung that June morning in a balloon in the blazing blue above London, e­ very northward and eastward road r­ unning out of the tangled maze of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming fugitives, each dot a h­ uman agony

190 Fig. 9. ​Ordnance Survey, map for Aldershot (detail focused on Woking) (Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1891), Sheet 285.

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of terror and physical distress. I have set forth at length in the last chapter my b­ rother’s account of the road through Chipping Barnet, in order that my readers may realise how that swarming of black dots appeared to one of ­those concerned. Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of ­human beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march, it was a stampede—­a stampede gigantic and terrible—­w ithout order and without a goal, six million ­people, unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind. Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of streets far and wide, ­houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens—­a lready derelict—­spread out like a huge map, and in the southward blotted. Over Ealing, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart. Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-­found valley, exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper. And beyond, over the blue hills that rise southward of the river, the glittering Martians went to and fro, calmly and methodically spreading their poison-­cloud over this patch of country and then over that, laying it again with their steam-­jets when it had served its  purpose, and taking possession of the conquered country. (WW, 131–132; emphasis in original)

The poison cloud is the Martian Black Smoke, an inky black poison gas that the Martians discharge in order to suffocate all who breathe it; in use, it sinks to the ground and spreads “in a manner rather liquid than gaseous” (WW, 118). Once it has done its work, the Martians for the most part dissolve it with jets of steam, hence the last sentence of the passage just quoted. What is striking, in light of the larger argument of this book, is the explicitness with which the narrator invites the reader to visualize the landscape as a huge map or chart displayed horizontally before him or


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her (as if seen from a balloon), across which a monstrous pen continually flings large splashes of black ink which themselves grow and spread and ramify in all directions, “exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.” This recalls the repeated use of the word “spurt,” as of ink from a pen, in the pages where Dr. Kemp first observes the “inky-­ black” figure of Thomas Marvel ­running away from the Invisible Man, but it goes much further in the direction of spelling out the theme of writing, at least to the extent of invoking pen and ink and indeed blotting paper. Put slightly differently, Wells’s text invites, or perhaps one should say, requires, the reader to envision the ongoing writing of the narrative precisely in terms of places on a map, the latter i­magined as being not only perfectly familiar to the reader, but also, in some never quite fully ­explained sense, spread out before his or her eyes. The result, h­ ere as elsewhere, is a palpable tension between the narrative as such and the scene of writing (and map reading) it continually evokes, as if by virtue of the profusion of place-­names and the continual reference to the Black Smoke, not to mention the frequent citing of newspapers and their headlines, the reader is never allowed to forget his or her situation vis-­à-­vis, which is to say, looking down on, both map and page (or pages: the page of print and the not quite pres­ent page of script). (The narrator’s reference to streets “stippled black” with fleeing Londoners and to “the swarming of black dots” may also have something to do with the new popularity of the halftone pro­cess as a means of reproducing photo­graphs in newspapers in the early 1890s.) 3 In an obvious sense, the continual, at times positively disruptive evocation of the ordnance maps of Surrey and London, and the almost comic allusion to the scene of writing with its pen and ink and blotting paper, are impressionist motifs; indeed, The War of the Worlds goes as far as any literary text of the period t­oward foregrounding, drawing continual attention to, what might be called the surface production of the text. A highly charged moment in that regard occurs in part 2, chapter 7, “The Man on Putney Hill,” in which the narrator makes contact with an artilleryman he had briefly encountered much earlier. At first the narrator is impressed by the artilleryman’s braggadocio, as the latter describes the plans he has made for ­going underground with a group of survivors in re­sis­tance to the Martians, though he soon realizes how empty ­those plans

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are and that the self-­deceived artilleryman has not the slightest intention of trying to carry them out. The crucial passage reads: For a while the imaginative daring of the artilleryman, and the tone of assurance and courage he assumed, completely dominated my mind. I believed unhesitatingly both in his forecast of h­ uman destiny and in the practicability of his astonishing scheme, and the reader who thinks me susceptible and foolish must contrast his position, reading steadily with all his thoughts about the subject, and mine, crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by apprehension. We talked in this manner through the early morning time, and ­later crept out of the bushes, and, ­after scanning the sky for Martians, hurried precipitately to the ­house on Putney Hill where he had made his lair. It was the coal-­cellar of the place, and when I saw the work he had spent a week upon—it was a burrow scarcely ten yards long, which he designed to reach the main drain on Putney Hill—­I had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers. (WW, 176–177)

I take this scene as intended, above all, to exacerbate the reader’s awareness of his or her subject position relative to that of the narrator, and more importantly, relative to the printed narrative before his or her eyes, as well as, implicitly, to the pages of script that would have “preceded” it. (The word “inkling” is suggestive, too, of course.) One way of describing this is as a difference in points of view, which in itself is or can be an impressionist topos, and in fact, The War of the Worlds calls attention to that notion twice over, in addition to the passage we have just glanced at. First, as mentioned, it covers the events in and around London in the course of four chapters in which the narrator breaks off his own story to tell of the experiences of his medical student b­ rother, who, like every­one in that city, is slow to learn what was already happening in the countryside and suburbs; for a time, the emphasis is wholly on the fragmentary information conveyed by newspapers, tele­grams, and word of mouth. (Like the narrator, the narrator’s ­brother is never named.) A quasi-­proclamation by authorities assuring the public that London was safe “was printed in enormous type on paper so fresh that it was still


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wet” (WW, 110); p ­ eople scramble off buses to obtain copies, their interest is so intense. Meanwhile: “The shutters of a map-­shop in the Strand w ­ ere being taken down, my ­brother said, and a man in his Sunday raiment, lemon-­yellow gloves even, was vis­i­ble inside the win­dow hastily fastening maps of Surrey to the glass” (WW, 110). (Lest the map motif be forgotten for a moment.) Subsequently, the narrator’s ­brother takes part in the exodus from London, meeting up by chance with two ­women whom he rescues from being dragged from their pony chaise by a pair of toughs, and with whom he then travels by chaise, himself taking the reins or leading the pony to allow it to rest, in an attempt to find a train somewhere outside of London. But the fleeing crowds are enormous, the chaos unmanageable; a man falls to the ground and is crushed ­under the wheels of a carriage (the narrator’s b­ rother sees “the face of the ­dying man in the ditch ­under the privet, deadly white and drawn, and shining with perspiration” [WW, 129]); still they pro­gress through Hadley and pause for the night near East Barnet. ­T here follow the paragraphs about the balloonist, the maplike ground below, and the flung and blotted ink. Afterward, the narrator’s ­brother and his charges make their way to Chelmsford, then push on to the coast; near Tillingham they come within sight of the sea. A place is found for them on a steamboat bound for Ostend, from which, unexpectedly, they witness an extraordinary combat between a British warship, the Thunder Child, and several Martians in their machines. In the course of the ­battle two of the Martians are destroyed, but so, apparently, is the Thunder Child. A bit l­ater, as the sun goes down, other British warships engage the surviving Martian; the outcome is obscure, but fi­nally the narrator’s ­brother sees something flat and broad and very large rush slantingly into the western sky. “And as it flew,” the chapter ends, “it rained down darkness upon the land” (WW, 137). (Another splash of ink, in other words.) Second, the issue of point of view comes to the fore when the narrator and the curate, starting out once more for Leatherhead, are forced to take shelter together in a ruined ­house in Sheen, their only access to the outside world being a triangular gap in the kitchen wall through which they observe a Martian standing guard over still another cylinder (the fifth) that had landed on a nearby ­house, totally destroying it. The narrator spends no fewer than fifteen days in the ruined h­ ouse, temporarily bringing the

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invasion narrative to a standstill, but the significance of this episode in the larger logic of the novel consists in the fact that throughout their time together in t­ hose close quarters, the narrator and the increasingly hysterical curate strug­gle for possession of the peephole and what the narrator calls “that horrible privilege of sight” (WW, 154), as if only when actually looking through it can the narrator be said to occupy a point of view at all. Eventually the narrator decides it is safe to leave the ­house, and makes his way to London, where he discovers the Martians in their machines, dead from bacterial infection on Primrose Hill. The earth is saved, in short. Commentators on The War of the Worlds have been divided in their critical judgments of the shift of points of view from the narrator to his ­brother and back again, some considering it “a technical feat of some brilliance,” o­ thers finding in it a mark of Wells’s failure to control the narrative;4 in effect, the former see the shift as enhancing the verisimilitude of the narrative, the latter as undermining it. But both judgments ­mistake Wells’s purpose, which is, crucially, to thematize point of view as such, in the first place to underscore an impressionist or, say, Jamesian protocol, namely, that every­thing reported is as registered by a par­tic­u­lar consciousness (not that such a protocol was systematically adhered to by impressionist authors); and in the second place, as the passage contrasting the “steadily reading” reader and the narrator crouching in the bushes explic­itly states, to throw into relief a third point of view—­neither that of the narrator nor that of his b­ rother, but that of the reader looking down at the printed page—­and beyond or “before” that, a fourth point of view—­that of the writer, pen in hand and (in this case) ordnance map open before him, as if somehow laid over or showing through from ­beneath—in effect, coinciding with—­the page on which he writes. (One might also say that the strug­gle between the narrator and the curate for possession of the peephole in the ruined h­ ouse has the effect of literalizing the issue of point of view as one exclusively of seeing.) All this is to suggest that The War of the Worlds is an impressionist text in a wholly conscious register, one that illustrates perfectly what Wells in  Experiment in Autobiography ­later characterized as his “inherent tendency to get ­things mapped out and consistent”5 (a more mapped out and consistent book than The War of the Worlds could hardly be


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i­ magined). Wells also speaks in Experiment of the “coldness and flatness” of his impressions as opposed to the vividness and intensity of t­ hose of Crane, Conrad, James, and o­ thers (EA, 528), terms that bring to mind the strangeness of the narrator’s references to his wife in Leatherhead throughout much of the novel, the emphasis falling always on the place, indeed, the place-­name—on the map, so to speak—­rather than on the person, who remains nameless and featureless. This, too, was clearly deliberate on Wells’s part—in fact, just before encountering the curate the narrator remarks, “It is a curious t­ hing that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead worried me excessively” (WW, 102). (The par­tic­u­lar oddness, not to say ugliness, of the name “Leatherhead” makes the story’s many references to it all the more obtrusive.) Much ­later, ­after leaving Primrose Hill, the narrator w ­ ill learn that Leatherhead was destroyed by the Martians, with the loss of life of every­one t­ here. This casts him down, and he begins to return to Woking; at the corner of Waterloo Bridge he sees one of the common contrasts of that grotesque time—­a sheet of paper flaunting against a thicket of the red weed, transfixed by a stick that kept it in place. It was the placard of the first newspaper to resume publication—­the Daily Mail. I bought a copy for a blackened shilling I found in my pocket. Most of it was in blank, but the solitary compositor who did the t­hing had amused himself by making a grotesque scheme of advertisement stereo on the back page. The ­matter printed was emotional; the news organ­ization had not as yet found its way back. I learned nothing fresh except that already in one week the examination of the Martian mechanisms had yielded astonishing results. (WW, 188–189)

It turns out, though, that his wife survived, and in the end they are re­ united. But t­ here is nothing emotional about the novel’s treatment of this event—in any case, the narrator’s interest in the newspaper with its blank spaces and “stereo” advertisement outweighs any sense of grief for what he then believed was his loss. Fi­nally, in the epilogue to the book, the narrator remarks that one Lessing, presumably an astronomer, recently suggested that ­there is reason to believe that the Martians succeeded in landing on Venus:

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Seven months ago now, Venus and Mars ­were in alignment with the sun; that is to say, Mars was in opposition from the point of view of an observer on Venus. Subsequently a peculiar luminous and sinuous marking appeared on the unillumined half of the inner planet [Venus], and almost si­mul­ta­neously a faint dark mark of a similar sinuous character was detected upon a photo­graph of the Martian disk. One needs to see the drawings of ­these appearances to appreciate fully their remarkable resemblance in character. (WW, 192)

Sinuous marks of this sort are a literary impressionist figure for writing, and the reference to drawings recalls other references to the conjoining of writing and drawing, as for example in Green Mansions when Abel decorates the funerary urn containing Rima’s ashes with a serpent bearing a chain of irregular black spots or blotches extending along its body, ­every other one of which was a letter spelling out the words Sin vos y siu dios y mi. (In 1895 Green Mansions was not yet written, of course.) And a page or so ­later, the narrator adds: “I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my study writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valley below set with writhing flames” (WW, 193). No won­der, then, that The War of the Worlds has struck certain readers, such as J. D. Beresford, author of the first critical study of Wells (1915), as singularly “detached”;6 in all the re­spects just canvassed, it is indeed a sustained exercise in detachment and, adapting a term from Experiment, systematicity in the interest of spelling out, presenting as lucidly as pos­si­ble, its double relation—at once critical, at times almost parodistic, and yet oddly affirmative (or should it be the other way round)—to the impressionist nexus. This gives the book a very dif­fer­ent affective atmosphere from that of the roughly contemporaneous The Invisible Man, with the latter’s harassing air of implacableness and desperation as the protagonist discovers one aspect a­ fter another of his hopeless predicament. But the two books share a single epistemological-­literary weltanschaunng, much as if the unmoved Kemp who coldly brings about the death of the protagonist in The Invisible Man did double duty as the narrator of The War of the Worlds.7



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Maps and charts play an even more essential role in the greatest “spy” novel of the period, Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands (1903).8 Briefly, Childers was born in London and the ­family moved to Ireland when he was six (the f­amily was both En­glish and Irish). Both parents died from tuberculosis while he was still young, but he attended private school and then Trinity College, Cambridge; upon ­going down, he moved to London and found a job as a clerk in the House of Commons, a position that give him insight into the workings of the empire, as a modern writer has said.9 When the Boer War broke out he went to South Africa and served in a volunteer artillery unit; his first book was based on a series of letters home. Back in London, he returned to his position at the House of Commons, and also wrote The Riddle of the Sands, which very quickly became a huge literary success and, to his surprise, was widely read within the Admiralty and Parliament. In the years that followed he wrote other books on po­liti­cal topics; when the First World War broke out, he served in a number of capacities; at the same time, however, he became involved in the Irish strug­gle for Home Rule, ­going so far as to run guns more or less openly to the Irish Volunteers, with consequences he had not anticipated (the guns, Mauser ­r ifles, ­were used in the 1916 Easter Rising). But the situation in Ireland was extremely complex, and the outbreak in 1922 of civil war between supporters and opponents of the treaty of partition led to Childers’s capture and execution by the Irish ­Free State. So curt a summary of Childers’s life and activities gives almost no indication of his brilliance and resourcefulness, of the numerous civic and military positions he held and assignments he fulfilled, or of the fraught and shifting politics he tried, and in the end, tragically failed to negotiate. Something ­else that should be mentioned is that he was, from early on, a passionate and accomplished sailor, which of course is one key to the writing of The Riddle of the Sands. A brief summary of the narrative might read as follows: a young En­ glishman, Carruthers, a minor official in the Foreign Office, receives an unexpected invitation from an acquaintance named Davies to join him on a late-­season yachting holiday in the Baltic Sea. Carruthers accepts, joining Davies in Flensburg, to find, to his chagrin, not a proper yacht of the sort he is used to, but a relatively small and ungainly sailing boat, the Dulcibella (the name of one of Childers’s ­sisters). Barely concealing his

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disappointment, he joins Davies in sailing around vari­ous Frisian islands, and in par­tic­u ­lar paying close attention to numerous small channels between shifting sandbanks that make the entire area a challenge to seamanship. Gradually it emerges that Davies, a fierce patriot who longs to make up for having been rejected for naval ser­vice, is convinced that the German government is pursuing some sort of sinister proj­ect among the shallow tidal ­waters of the Frisian islands; fueling this suspicion is an earlier incident in the course of which a German yacht captain named Dollmann offered to lead him to safety in dangerous weather, but in fact lured him into a shoal and abandoned him ­there, assuming he would be wrecked and killed. (The name of Dollmann’s yacht is the Medusa, a face that kills.) But Davies found his way to safety, and subsequently sent for Carruthers to join him so that they could investigate the area together. (Carruthers also divines that Davies has fallen in love with Dollmann’s ­daughter, Clara. The entire narrative, it is impor­tant to remark, purports to be a first-­person account by Carruthers himself.) Davies’s theory, as he explains it to Carruthers, is that if and when war breaks out between Germany and ­England, the entire region would be what Carruthers, paraphrasing Davies, calls “an ideal hunting-­ground for small free-­lance marauders” (RS, 116),that is, for torpedo boats and the like. The Germans, Davies is convinced, are aware of this and are taking steps—­the nature of which remains obscure, but which must have something to do with “­those channels in the sand”—to prepare for such a war, whereas the En­glish, to his chagrin, are d ­ oing nothing. The two men proceed to explore the region, making continual use of highly detailed German maps and charts (RS, 125), about which t­ here w ­ ill be a g­ reat deal more to say. At one point they are visited by a German officer, von Brüning, captain of a German warship called the Blitz, whom Davies had met before sending for Carruthers; they agree to meet in an inn in Bensersiel, where von Brüning questions them with ­g reat intelligence, uncovering much of the story about Dollmann’s near murder of Davies (which ­Davies tries his best to mitigate). He also explains to Davies and Carruthers that efforts w ­ ere being made to recover gold from a French frigate that had gone down off nearby Juist in 1811; this would account for the presence of another ship, the Kormoran, which the two En­glishmen suspect has been keeping an eye on them, and also for the suggestion of some sort of


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activity centered on Memmert, a location that becomes extremely impor­ tant to the story, at least for a time. In addition, von Brüning strongly suggests to Carruthers, as their meeting breaks up, that he and Davies should not make contact with Dollmann, though without saying why. My summary is becoming long, but the complexity of the narrative makes that unavoidable. ­Later, Carruthers and Davies are towed to the open ­water by von Brüning, and the next day set sail ­toward Norderney and Memmert. A day or so ­later they spot a white sail in the distance, which turns out to belong to the Medusa’s dinghy, being sailed by his ­daughter Clara; evidently, she saw them and is on her way to renew contact with Davies. She comes aboard the Dulcibella and a lively conversation follows (she had visited Memmert and the gold salvage operation), but suddenly, her composure vanishes, she rises, announces that she must leave, and does so, pausing only to add that they must not visit the Medusa ­because her ­father, who dislikes foreigners, ­will not wish to see them. The two men are stunned, but Davies presciently realizes that what disconcerted Clara was the sight of a nondescript book on sailing (a guide to an obscure estuary) in their small library, or more precisely, the author’s name on the book—­because when Davies opens the book to the frontispiece he finds an illustration of the author, which he recognizes to be an image of a much younger Dollmann. The author, he also learns, was then a lieutenant in the En­glish navy, which suggests that Dollmann not only lost that position but also went on to assume a dif­fer­ent identity. And something e­ lse: shortly before Dollmann led Davies into what he hoped would be a death trap, he, too, had been on board the Dulcibella, where, Davies and Carruthers realize, he, too, must have seen the book and at once have recognized the potential danger that Davies represented. (The implication is that the other Germans know nothing of his En­glish past.) At this point the narrative reaches one of its several climaxes. The two friends decide to row ten miles from the harbor at Norderney to Memmert through a blinding fog, using a chart and a compass to guide their way, their reasoning being that no one who had seen them in their pres­ent harbor would imagine such a feat pos­si­ble. At Memmert Carruthers goes ashore and discovers four men—­von Brüning, Dollmann, a sinister figure named Grimm, and one other—­meeting in a hut, and hears scraps of conversation, including a reference to the En­glish port of Chatham and a

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series of letters from A to G, each followed by a number (possibly of meters of depth). Then they row back, again through the fog, arriving at the Dulcibella to find Dollmann, von Brüning, and an engineer named Böhme (the fourth man) on board—in effect, waiting for them. By then the fog has cleared and Davies and Carruthers claim to have been rowing about for a short while in pursuit of ducks (their improbable cover story from the first). They are invited to dinner at Dollmann’s villa in Norderney, they accept, and their visitors leave so that they can change; once alone, they see that Dollmann shoved the incriminating book back in the bookshelf in such a way as to partly obscure it, which further suggests that he wants to keep his true identity hidden from his German companions. At dinner, von Brüning conducts another of his penetrating, ostensibly highly civilized inquisitions, trying to establish the purpose of their explorations, which Carruthers seeks to c­ ounter by a highly risky charade of confessing to an excessive interest in Memmert and, in fact, asking to be taken ­there to witness the salvage operation. In the end, Carruthers decides to return to London, where he would launch an inquiry into Dollmann, and then rejoin Davies. At Norddeich he sets out for Amsterdam, continually changing trains and creeping slowly from station to station (Emden, Leer, Rheine, Hengelo, Apeldoorn) with vari­ous delays; reflecting on the situation, he decides not to return to London ­after all (too much time would be lost) and instead, ­after a night in a h­ otel, makes his way back t­ oward Norderney disguised at first as an En­glish seaman, then he changes trains at Rheine and becomes a German seaman. At Emden he glimpses a German torpedo boat in a canal, and in a bookstall buys a pocket ordnance map of Friesland on a much larger scale than anything he had used before, and from Emden northwards he makes intensive use of the map to aid his explorations (more on this shortly). The pages that follow defy easy summary. Suffice it to say that Carruthers, making use of information gleaned on Memmert, trails von Brüning and the ­others to Bensersiel, where they board a tugboat towing a barge partly filled with coal. Carruthers sneaks on board, hiding in a lifeboat, and is surprised when the tug heads out to sea, and even more so when three of the men on board jump down to the barge and remain ­there for the rest of the short voyage, but he soon realizes that the trip is


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a trial run for an ambitious plan to invade ­England by ferrying barges full of soldiers to the En­glish coast (near Chatham, for example)—in other words, that the German riddle that Davies and he had been trying to crack involved dredging passages through the sands and in general improving the passage from the small ports to the open sea. The tug and barge head for the landing stage at Norddeich; Carruthers daringly replaces the helmsman and grounds the tug just outside the harbor, and escapes in the lifeboat to return to the Dulcibella, safely moved in the harbor at Norderney and in effect, waiting for him. Carruthers explains the situation to Davies, and the two men go to Dollmann’s villa and persuade Dollmann and his d ­ aughter to return with them to ­England (Dollmann agrees ­because he fears arrest by the Germans when the invasion scheme is exposed). They set sail across the North Sea, and when no one is looking, Dollmann leaps overboard and dis­appears. Carruthers, Davies, and Clara reach Holland and from ­there make their way to London. An epilogue reproduces a confidential memorandum by Dollmann to the German government (said to have been found by Carruthers at the villa in Norderney) proposing the scheme in the first place, and in the pro­cess explaining the riddle of the sands in further detail. ­Needless to say, such an account does not begin to suggest e­ ither the continuously gripping character of Childers’s narrative or the tensile brilliance of his writing; ­after more than a ­century, The Riddle of the Sands has lost none of its ability to hold the reader in its thrall. But what further sets Childers’s novel apart is its remarkably resourceful use of maps and charts, four of which, Map A and Chart A, followed by Map B and Chart B, are reproduced in the book (Figures 10–13), to be consulted by the reader at numerous points in the narrative, in order to make sense of, almost literally to follow, the action on the page. Moreover, the reader is often instructed to turn to the maps, ­either by footnotes (“See Map A” and the like) or, increasingly as the novel goes on, by moments of explicit encouragement or instruction in the body of the text. In addition, the narrative contains a host of unfamiliar place-­names—­not towns in Surrey or parts of London, as in The War of the Worlds, but tiny towns, islands, canals, streams, and sands in East Friesland, a part of the world in which

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no En­glish reader could reasonably be ­imagined to feel at home (and so would be likely to have resort to the maps and charts). But the maps and charts are provided not merely to show the reader where the action is taking place (they are not simply informative, any more than are the place-­names in The War of the Worlds); they also give an indication of the maps and charts on which Davies and Carruthers constantly rely, which is to say that they provide a kind of bond between the reader and the characters, a bond that the novel ­will deliberately strengthen as the narrative proceeds. Indeed, Davies’s interest in the maps and charts of the region (the German maps and charts; the En­glish ones he dismisses as hopeless) plays a crucial role in the story, as when he explains to Carruthers exactly how Dollmann almost killed him by leading him into a shallow channel called the Telte in a blinding storm (RS, 60–64), or when, a few chapters l­ ater, he first expounds his idea that in the event of war with ­England, the shallow channels r­ unning through the shifting sands of the region could assume tremendous military importance (­whether for offense or defense is not entirely clear). But the first serious appeal to the maps occurs t­oward the end of chapter  11, “The Pathfinders.” “Like most landsmen I had a w ­ holesome prejudice against ‘­r unning aground,’ ” Carruthers states, so that my mentor’s turn for breezy paradox [Davies has just said that ­r unning aground gives an excuse for a sit-­down lunch] was at first rather exasperating. A ­ fter lunch the large-­scale chart of the estuaries was brought down, and we pored over it together, mapping our work for the next few days. ­There is no need to tire the general reader with its intricacies, nor is ­there space to reproduce it for the benefit of the instructed reader. For both classes the general map should be sufficient, taken with the large-­scale fragment (Chart A), which gives a fair example of the region in detail. It ­will be seen that the three broad fairways of the Jade, Weser, and Elbe split up the sands into two main groups. (RS, 101–102)

And a bit further on, apropos the channels through the sands, in par­tic­ u­lar the ones which lose their ­water at low tide:


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Figs. 10–13. ​Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands: A Rec­ord of Secret Ser­vice Recently Achieved (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1903), illustrations of map and chart engravings by Walker & Cockerell reproduced in the novel. In this order: Map A, Chart A, Map B, Chart B.

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w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? Davies explained that the latter would take most learning, and w ­ ere to be our main concern, ­ because they ­ were the “through-­ routes”—­the connecting links between the estuaries. You can always detect them on the chart by rows of l­ ittle Y-­shaped strokes denoting “booms,” that is to say, poles or saplings fixed in the sand to mark the passage. The strokes, of course, are only conventional signs, and do not correspond in the least to individual “booms,” which are far too numerous and complex to be indicated accurately on a chart, even of the largest scale. The same applies to the course of the channels themselves whose minor meanderings cannot be reproduced. (RS, 102–103)

In both passages what is striking, of course, is the direct address to the reader, who is also assumed to be a viewer of the maps. And note the insistence in the second quotation upon the conventional nature of the maps, as regards both the signs for “booms” and the approximateness of the recording of the channels (setting the stage for a very dif­fer­ent relation to a map near the end of the book). In a l­ ater chapter, “Clearing the Air,” a paragraph begins, The reader can see Memmert [supposedly the site of the gold recovery effort, which Carruthers suspects is merely a front for something sinister] for himself. South of Juist* [*See Map B.], abutting on the Ems delta, lies an extensive sandbank called Nordland, whose extreme western rim remains uncovered at the highest tides; the effect being to leave a C-­shaped island, a mere paring of sand like a boomerang, nearly two miles long, but only 150 yards or so broad. . . . Such was Memmert, as I saw it on the chart. . . . ​(RS, 149–150)

Again, the reference to the reader (“The reader can see . . .”) followed by the footnote to the map is noteworthy, as is the further remark, “as I saw it on the chart,” linking reader and narrator / protagonist to quiet effect. But all this is preliminary to the novel’s major set piece, a tour de force of literary impressionism (also of sheer stamina), the episode told in chapter 21, “Blindfold to Memmert,” in which Davies and Carruthers row in their dinghy from Norderney to Memmert and back again, a total of

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twenty-­ eight miles, in a blinding fog that totally obscures their surroundings. They did this, of course, with the aid of a chart and a compass (also a clock), with Carruthers rowing, therefore facing ­toward the stern, while Davies sat vis-­à-­vis to me on the stern seat, his left hand ­behind him on the tiller, his right forefinger on a small square of paper which lay on his knees; this was a section cut out from the big German chart (Chart B). On the midship-­thwart between us lay the compass and a  watch. Between ­these three objects—­compass, watch, and chart—­his eyes darted constantly, never looking up or out, save occasionally for a sharp glance over the side at the flying b­ ubbles, to see if I was sustaining a regular speed. My duty was to be his automaton, the h­ uman equivalent of a marine engine whose revolutions can be counted and used as data by the navigator. (RS, 197–198)

The route they must follow is complex, with shifting tides, depth of ­water, and potential blockages; Davies studies the chart with ­great concentration. “What struck me most about him,” Carruthers adds, “was that he never for a moment strained his eyes through the fog; a useless exercise (for five yards or so was the radius of our vision) which, however, I could not help indulging in, while I rested” (RS, 199). Davies has the situation in hand, and a first stage is successfully navigated. Carruthers (that is, Childers) writes: We had reached the eastern outlet of Memmert Balje, the channel which runs east and west b­ ehind Juist Island, direct to the south point of Memmert. How we had reached it was incomprehensible to me at the time, but the reader ­w ill understand by comparing my narrative with the dotted line on the chart. [Chart B gives their route.] I add this brief explanation, that Davies’s method had been to cross the channel called the Buse Tief, and strike the other side of it at a point well south of the outlet of the Memmert Balje (in view of the northward set of the ebb-­tide), and then to drop back north and feel his way to the outlet. (RS, 200; emphasis in original)


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­ here is still a considerable distance to go, but at a certain point Davies T announces that success is assured; as he puts it, “It’s a mere question of muscle” (RS, 202). Carruthers explains: Note the spot marked “second rest” (approximately correct, Davies says) and the course of the channel from that point westward. You ­w ill see it broadening and deepening to the dimensions of a g­ reat river, and fi­nally merging in the estuary of the Ems. Note, too, that its northern boundary, the edge of the now uncovered Nordland Sand, leads with one interruption (marked A), direct to Memmert, and is boomed throughout. You ­w ill then understand why Davies made so light of the rest of his prob­lem. Compared with the feats he had performed it was child’s play. (RS, 202–203)

The return from Memmert is much more summarily narrated, but as they reach the Dulcibella something untoward happens. They realize that Dollmann and von Brüning are on board, and as Davies and Carruthers pull up to their yacht, Dollmann, looking down at them, has his features illuminated by the oblique rays of the green sidelight of von Brüning’s launch. From Carruthers’s point of view, the meeting of Davies and Dollmann could not have been better arranged: No lineament of [Davies’s] face could have been vis­i­ble to the latter, while ­those pitiless green rays—­you know their ravaging effect on the ­human physiognomy—­struck full on Dollmann’s face. It was my first fair view of it at close quarters, and, secure in my background of gloom, I feasted with a luxury of superstitious abhorrence on the living smiling mask that for a few moments stooped peering down ­towards Davies. One of the caprices of the crude light was to obliterate, or at any rate so penetrate, beard and moustache, as to reveal in outline lips and chin, the features which defects of character are most surely betrayed, especially when your victim smiles. Accuse me, if you ­will, of stooping to melodramatic embroidery; object that my own prejudiced fancy contributed to the result; but I can, nevertheless, never efface the impression of malignant perfidy and base passion, exaggerated to caricature, that I received in

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t­ hose few instants. Another caprice of the light was to identify the man with the portrait of him when younger and clean-­shaven, in the frontispiece of his own book. (RS, 220)

Not an upturned face, rather the opposite, but malignant and disfigured (virtually shaven: cf. Crane, “The wind raised [razed] the tawny beard”), and with the verb “efface” also in play, but what is equally fascinating about the passage is Carruthers’s, that is to say, Childers’s, seeming awareness that such an image sits oddly in his narrative, in which maps and charts rather than f­ aces and corpses are the operative terms. “Enough! I ­shall never offend again in this way,” the next paragraph begins (RS, 220). What makes the row to Memmert and back the tour de force that I have called it is the fact that it is conducted in a dense fog, which means that the two men in the dinghy can see nothing beyond their immediate situation, which for all intents and purposes is equated with the piece of the chart from which Davies barely lifts his eyes (and when he does so, it is only to glance at the compass and the clock)—­a chart that is also available to the reader and which the reader is repeatedly directed to peruse. This has the effect, or at least the intent, of placing the reader and Davies (or, say, the narrative) epistemologically on the same footing, and also of associating the act of reading even more intimately than usual with that of seeing—in this case, seeing the maps and charts on which Davies is relying (cf. Conrad: “My task which I am trying to achieve . . .”). In obvious re­spects, this is a much more sophisticated resort to maps than Wells’s in The War of the Worlds (which conceivably influenced Childers), but t­ here is a further development that goes beyond even the Memmert adventure. It takes place a­ fter Carruthers has broken off his journey to London and started back t­oward Friesland; more precisely, it begins in Emden, where at a bookstall Carruthers buys a pocket ordnance map of Friesland on a much larger scale, he remarks, than anything he had used before. Surprisingly, the reader may feel, the new, superior map is not reproduced; instead, t­ here is this: From Emden northwards [Carruthers is on a train] I used the same map to aid my eyesight, and with its help saw in the gathering gloom


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? more heaths and bogs, once a ­great glimmering lake, and at intervals cultivated tracts; a watery land as ever; pools, streams and countless drains and ditches. Extensive woods w ­ ere marked also, but farther inland. We passed Norden at seven, just dark. I looked out for the creek, and sure enough, we crossed it just before entering the station. Its bed was nearly dry, and I distinguished barges lying aground in it. (RS, 253)

In other words, the map is used by Carruthers to enable him to see vari­ous features of the world around him that other­wise he might have missed, including some, such as the “countless drains and ditches,” that one cannot help but feel might be too small or incidental to be indicated on the map (and in any case, the map surely did not indicate the glimmering of the lake, which the syntax of the first sentence leaves open as a grammatical possibility). In the meantime, Carruthers reviews his earlier conversation with von Brüning (just before leaving for E ­ ngland), and then searches the ordnance map again, standing up to get a better light and less jolting. T ­ here was the road northwards from Esens to Bensersiel, passing through dots and chess-­board squares, the former meaning fen, the latter fields, so the reference said. Something ­else, too, immediately caught my eye, and that was a stream ­r unning to Bensersiel. I knew it at once for the muddy stream or drain we had seen at the harbour, issuing through the sluice or siel from which Bensersiel took its name. But it arrested my attention now ­because it looked more prominent than I should have expected. Charts are apt to ignore the geography of the mainland, except in so far as it offers sea-­marks to mari­ners. On the chart this stream had been shown as a rough ­little corkscrew, like a sucking-­pig’s tail. On the ordnance map it was marked with a dark blue line, was labelled “Benser Tief,” and was given a more resolute course; bends became ­angles, and ­there ­were what appeared to be artificial straightnesses at certain points. One of the threads in my skein, the canal thread, tingled sympathetically, like a wire charged with current. [Carruthers means that he had earlier become interested in the canals, and now felt that that interest was justified.]

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Standing astraddle on both seats, with the map close to the lamp, I greedily followed the course of the “tief ” southward. (RS, 253–254)

Further on, hiding in an empty barge, he studies the map by match light, discovering more villages ending in -­siel, seven of which particularly attract his attention—as he puts it, “seven blue lines on land, seven dotted lines on the sea, seven islands in the offing” (RS, 259). In the morning he decides to walk to Dornum for breakfast: “Then I should find a blue line called the Neues Tief, leading on to Dornumersiel, on the coast. That explored I could pass on to Nesse, where t­here was another blue line to Nessmersiel. All this was on the way to Norden” (RS, 260). ­T here is more, but by now the point should be clear. In t­ hese passages, the map no longer supplements or helps describe, but actually ­replaces the outside world (where Carruthers, ­going on with his explorations, ­will find blue lines rather than canals). ­Because no illustration of the ordnance map is provided, it would also be true to say that the map has been entirely absorbed by or into Carruthers’s narrative and Childers’s text—­a feat of integration of map and writing, seeing and reading, that makes The Riddle of the Sands not only a masterpiece of early spy fiction but also a brilliantly creative contribution to the impressionist proj­ect.

n A late story by Conrad, “The Tale” (1926), makes arresting reading in the pres­ent connection.10 The narrative, far simpler than the two we have just considered, begins with the image of a man and a w ­ oman in conversation in a long room (no further details provided); the man is whispering urgently, presumably pressing his love for the ­woman, whose murmured answers, it seems, are “of infinite sadness” (“T,” 155). She is reclining on a couch; he, standing, wears some sort of uniform (naval, it turns out). She asks him for a tale, recalling that before the war (presumably the First World War) he had “a sort of art” in telling them (“T,” 158). He obliges, explaining that in the early days of the war ­there was a commanding officer—­himself, obviously—­who was assigned to sail along certain coasts “to see—­what he could see” (“T,” 164–165). (A Conradian motif if t­ here ever was one: the theme of seeing—­what he could see—­runs through the story from beginning to end. What Conrad could always see,


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of course, was the page lying before him.) The man further explains that night, blinding one “frankly,” was a relief; “but thick weather, though it blinded one, brought no such relief. Mist is deceitful, the dead luminosity of the fog is irritating. It seems that you ­ought to see” (“T,” 168; emphasis in original). The next paragraphs read: One gloomy, nasty day the ship was steaming along her beat in sight of a rocky, dangerous coast that stood out intensely black like an India-­ink drawing on gray paper. Presently the second in command spoke to his chief. He thought he saw something on the w ­ ater, to seaward. Small wreckage, perhaps. “But ­there ­shouldn’t be any wreckage ­here, sir,” he remarked. “No,” said the commanding officer. “The last reported submarined ships ­were sunk a long way to the westward. But one never knows. T ­ here may have been o­ thers since then not reported nor seen. Gone with all hands.” (“T,” 168–169)

The two men sailed close to the wreckage, and indeed, it was suspicious; specifically, it suggested the presence in the vicinity of a neutral vessel that had replenished the stores of an ­enemy submarine. ­After a short time a heavy fog settled over the ship, or, as the narrator says, “A blind white stillness took possession of the world” (“T,” 175)—­a nother Conradian motif, n­ eedless to say, erasing the India ink drawing, though this is not spelled out. Nevertheless, it proved pos­si­ble to bring the ship to safety in a cove, where ­after a few minutes it emerged that another ship was already lying at anchor. The commanding officer and his mate w ­ ere struck by the fact that the latter ship had not signaled in any way as they had entered the cove (the two vessels could easily have collided), and the commanding officer sent a boarding party to check on the situation. The boarding officer returned with the information that the mysterious ship was a neutral, carry­ing a cargo for an En­glish port, “Papers and every­thing in perfect order. Nothing suspicious to be detected anywhere” (“T,” 182). But the commanding officer could not escape the thought that this might be the very ship that had been supplying some submarine or other, and deci­ded to go over himself and speak with the neutral master. He did

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so, meeting on the afterdeck a bearded Northman, a round leather cap on his head and his hands “rammed deep into the pockets of his short leather jacket.” Then we read: “He kept them t­ here while he explained that at sea he lived in the chart-­room, and led the way ­there, striding carelessly” (“T,” 185). The two men proceed to the chart room, which is described as follows: The place was stuffy and hot. The usual chart-­rack overhead was full, and the chart on the t­ able was kept unrolled by an empty cup standing on a saucer half-­f ull of some spilt dark liquid. A slightly-­ nibbled biscuit reposed on the chronometer-­case. ­There w ­ ere two settees, and one of them had been made up into a bed with a pillow and some blankets, which w ­ ere now very much tumbled. The Northman let himself fall on it, his hands still in his pockets. (“T,” 186)

(The hands-­in-­pocket theme perhaps suggests that the Northman is not to be understood as any sort of writer; the tale belongs to the captain.) The Northman explained that he d ­ idn’t know where he was, that the fog had been ­after him for more than a week, and that his engines had broken down (presumably they w ­ ere now repaired), but throughout the conversation the commanding officer was filled with suspicion, above all ­because no sign of life had been given when his own ship entered the cove. Fi­nally, he had the foreign crew mustered for inspection, but this, too, proved inconclusive. Then: He returned to the chart-­room. The Northman had lingered ­behind ­there; and something subtly dif­fer­ent in his bearing, more bold in his blue, glassy stare, induced the commanding officer to conclude that the fellow had snatched at the opportunity to take another swig at the b­ ottle he must have had concealed somewhere. (“T,” 194)

As their conversation continued, the commanding officer became more than ever convinced that he was “faced by an enormous lie, solid like a wall, with no way round to get at the truth, whose ugly murderous face he seemed to see peeping over at him with a cynical grin” (“T,” 195). The


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Northman repeated that he ­didn’t know where he was. The next paragraph reads: “He looked around as if the very chart-­room fittings ­were strange to him. The commanding officer asked him ­whether he had not seen any unusual objects floating about while he was at sea” (“T,” 195). At this point the conversation became almost explicit, but the foreign captain “never faltered. At that moment [the commanding officer] had the certitude. The air of the chart-­room was thick with guilt and falsehood braving the discovery, defying s­ imple right, common decency, all humanity of feeling, ­every scruple of conduct” (“T,” 198). More was said, deepening the commanding officer’s intuition of the Northman’s guilt, ­until at last—­“walking along the deck with the Northman at his elbow” (“T,” 201)—he ordered the latter to leave with his ship within half an hour. The Northman protested that he did not know where he was, whereupon the commanding officer gave him his course: “Steer south-­by-­east-­ half-­east for about four miles and then you ­w ill be clear to haul to eastward for your port. The weather ­will clear up before very long” (“T,” 202). Before the commanding officer had made it back to his ship, he heard the foreign steamer preparing to leave. Then “The Tale” reverts to the initial situation of the man speaking to the ­woman; he explains that the course given to the Northman would lead his ship to a deadly ledge of rock, which, in fact, it struck, with the result that it sank. The man had thought of this, he further remarks, as a “supreme test,” but in fact it proved nothing—­the Northman and his crew might have been guilty, but then again, they might not. “They all went down; and I ­don’t know ­whether I have done stern retribution—or murder; ­whether I have added to the corpses that litter the bed of the unreadable sea the bodies of men completely innocent or basely guilty. I ­shall never know” (“T,” 204). The w ­ oman, moved, embraces him, but he disengages himself, presses her hands to his lips, and departs. So much for the events of the story. What I find more than a l­ ittle uncanny, in the light of the impressionist motif of the map or chart (already made unforgettable use of by Conrad in Heart of Darkness, as mentioned earlier in connection with “Youth”), is the fact that the greater portion of the commanding officer’s narrative is set in the foreign vessel’s chart room, which not only is described in some detail (down to the open chart on

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the t­able) but also, as has been seen, is rather pointedly referred to throughout the narrative (the sentence about the chart room fittings looking strange to the Northman is particularly striking). And yet, when ordered to leave the safety of the cove despite the enveloping fog, the Northman never asks the commanding officer to show him the path to safety on one of the charts. Conrad tries to cover this inexplicable omission by having the order given not in the chart room but on the deck, and indeed, to the best of my knowledge, no commentator on “The Tale” has ever thought this worthy of remark. (Also to the point, perhaps, is the suggestion that the Northman has been drinking.) Nonetheless, the omission is glaring, as Conrad must have been well aware. Put slightly differently, I am suggesting that up to a point, Conrad knew exactly what he was ­doing: had the Northman asked to be shown his route on a chart, a request that could not have been refused, it would instantly have been clear that ­there ­were lethal rocks waiting for him, hence the need to have him respond simply to the commanding officer’s verbal directions. But the strategic decision to situate almost all their conversation in the chart room, and moreover to call attention to that highly charged locale in vari­ous ways, invites the reader, as it w ­ ere, over Conrad’s shoulder, to imagine the chart that is never called for—­the chart, to put it simply, that “The Tale” silently and effectively erases.

n A major novel of the period we have not yet considered, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), gets ­under way in front of the Lahore Museum, called by the natives the Won­der House.11 Kim (Kimball O’Hara), a thirteen-­ year-­old Irish orphan who has virtually raised himself, is at home in Urdu, and can pass as native, is sitting astride a cannon when an ancient Tibetan lama arrives by foot. Kim goes with him into the museum, where the lama is warmly welcomed by the white-­bearded En­glish Curator; the lama is greatly struck by the riches of the museum as well as by the Curator’s knowledge. The lama explains that he is on a pilgrimage in search of a sacred river, and that his disciple, or chela, died in Kulu of a fever (Kim, of course, w ­ ill take his place). The Curator is obviously taken by the lama, and without preamble, offers him a gift of “white En­glish paper” plus “sharpened pencils two and three—­t hick and thin, all good for a


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scribe” (K, 59). He then asks to see the lama’s spectacles, which turn out to be heavi­ly scratched; by coincidence, his own spectacles are almost exactly the same power, and he gives them to the lama, who puts them on and is delighted. “How clearly do I see!” he exclaims, to which the Curator responds, “They be bilaur—­crystal—­and ­w ill never scratch” (K, 60). In return, the lama gives the Curator his ancient iron pen case (which also, we learn much l­ ater, can serve as an offensive weapon), and then adds: “When I return, having found the River, I w ­ ill bring thee a written picture of the Padma Samthora such as I used to make on silk at the lamassery.” The Curator, we read, would have detained him; “­there are few in the world who still have the secret of the conventional brush­pen Buddhist pictures which are, as it w ­ ere, half written and half drawn” (K, 60). But the lama is anxious to resume his quest, and strides out, followed by Kim. Note, though, how certain themes have been broached without explanation: the good En­g lish paper and the pencils, the crystal spectacles providing superb clarity of vision, the pen case (of a scribe, evidently), the half-­written and half-­drawn Buddhist pictures— all impressionist motifs simply as they stand. (In addition, the lama is shown “a mighty map, spotted and traced with yellow,” on which the curator points with his pencil to the location of vari­ous Buddhist holy places, ending with “Kusinagara, sad place of the Holy One’s death” [K, 56–57].) In fact, the written picture to which the lama refers is a diagram, one might say a map (it ­will ­later be called a chart), of the Buddhist universe, featuring what the novel characterizes as the Wheel of Life (a phrase in­ ven­ted by Kipling, apparently); when the lama is not actually journeying he “writes pictures” of the Wheel of Life, “three days to a picture,” as he says at one point (K, 240). L ­ ater, ­toward the end of the novel, two foreign agents—­one “visibly French” (K, 285), the other a Rus­sian, both in the ser­vice of Russia—­encounter Kim and the lama in the hills, studying the lama’s drawing that is spread out before them. The two agents are scouting the region for a l­ater incursion by Rus­sian or Russian-­backed forces in the strug­gle between ­England and Rus­sia for Af­ghan­i­stan in the last de­ cades of the nineteenth ­century, which the novel repeatedly calls “the ­Great Game.” The Frenchman decides that he wants the lama’s picture, and offers to buy it; the lama refuses, saying that it is being used for the

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initiation of a novice, and also that he “may” draw him another. The lama is offered money. Then: The lama shook his head slowly and began to fold up the Wheel. The Rus­sian, on his side, saw no more than an unclean old man haggling over a dirty piece of paper. He drew out a handful of rupees, and snatched half-­jestingly at the chart, which tore in the lama’s grip. A low murmur of horror went up from the coolies—­ some of whom ­were Spiti men and, by their lights, good Buddhists. The lama r­ ose at the insult; his hand went to the heavy iron pencase that is the priest’s weapon, and the Babu danced in agony. “Now you see—­you see why I wanted witnesses. They are highly unscrupulous p ­ eople. Oh, sar! sar! You must not hit holy man!” [said by the babu, an En­glish agent who had ingratiated himself with the Rus­sian and Frenchman in the hope of stealing their papers]. “Chela! He has defiled the Written Word!” [said by the lama to Kim]. It was too late. Before Kim could warn him off, the Rus­sian struck the old man full on the face. Next instant he was rolling over and over downhill with Kim at his throat. (K, 291; emphasis in original)

Without question, this is the novel’s climactic moment, the one episode of unbridled vio­lence, and what I want to emphasize is that the vio­lence is directed against both the lama’s written drawing (a kind of map or chart, as I have said) and against his face, as if in this startling scene a certain impressionist problematic comes to the fore with tremendous vividness. A day ­later, we learn that once, when he was young, the lama had taken part in a fight between Buddhist abessaries; the monks had wielded their pencases, and an opponent had laid open the lama’s forehead to the bone. A silvery scar remains, which the lama shows to Kim. As he reports, “Yesterday the scar itched, and ­after fifty years I recalled how it was dealt and the face of him who dealt it” (K, 309). He goes on to explain that the span of life in his body is almost spent. “Is it plain, chela?” he asks. Kim stared at the brutally disfigured chart. From left to right diagonally the rent ran—­from the Eleventh House ­were Desire gives


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? birth to the Child (as it is drawn by Tibetans)—­across the ­human and animal worlds, to the Fifth House—­t he empty ­house of the Senses. The logic was unanswerable. (K, 311)

So the lama’s face was disfigured even before the preceding day’s blow, and the chart is seen by Kim to be “brutally disfigured”—­again invoking a motif, disfiguration, that we first encountered in “The Upturned Face,” The Monster, and The Red Badge of Courage, as well as in texts by Conrad, Wells, Norris, London, and Cunninghame Graham.12 I should also mention—it is wholly to the point—­that much earlier in the novel, Kim, the son of a sergeant in the En­glish army, is in effect recruited to the En­glish secret ser­vice (the babu is well known to him), and that an impor­tant part of his training involves the drawing of maps. “Thou must learn how to make pictures of roads and mountains and rivers—to carry t­ hese pictures in thine eye till a suitable time comes to set them upon paper,” Kim is instructed by his chief mentor, Col­o­nel Creighton (K, 166). And ­later, he is ordered by Creighton to make a map of the city of Bikanir, and by using a compass mainly a­ fter dark (so as not to be observed) “and by the help of his ­little Survey paintbox of six colour-­cakes and three brushes” (K, 218), he succeeds in d ­ oing so. For their part, the foreign agents have been engaged in making maps of the territory they traversed. In short, maps and charts play a significant role throughout the novel, if by no means as continually pres­ent a one as in The War of the Worlds (for the most part implicitly), or The Riddle of the Sands (with stunning explicitness), or, for that ­matter, “The Tale” (as it ­were, by omission).

n Another major novel that should be mentioned at this point is Norris’s The Octopus: A Story of California (1901), which has for a frontispiece a rather complexly detailed and notated map “of the country described in ‘The Octopus,’ ” with vari­ous towns, ranches, ­houses, roads, trails, a creek, trees of dif­fer­ent species, boundary lines, telephone lines, a saloon and grocery store, a railroad track, high and low ground, an irrigation ditch, a watering tank, and an artesian well all marked clearly upon it (Figure 14).13 The original of the map was drawn by Norris, who had trained as an artist, and it immediately conveys a sense of the complicated

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Fig. 14. ​Frank Norris, The Octopus: A Story of California (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1901), illustration of “Map of the country described in ‘The Octopus,’ ” engraving by L. L. Poates Eng’g Co., New York.

nature of the narrative to come; it seems pos­si­ble that Norris ­imagined the reader often turning from the narrative back to the map, in order to visualize precisely the locale where the action about which he or she was reading was taking place. Put perhaps too strongly, it is as though one function of the narrative is continually to reactivate the map, which in a certain sense, though of course only in a sense, contains in germ much of the narrative to come. Equally to the point is a second map in the novel, one that implicitly gives The Octopus its name. At the start of book 2, not quite halfway


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through the narrative, Lyman Derrick, a scion of the power­ful Derrick ­family, receives a ­great bundle of maps, one of which he spreads out on a ­table and studies thoughtfully: It was a commissioner’s official railway map of the State of California completed to March 30th of that year. Upon it the dif­fer­ent railways of the State w ­ ere accurately plotted in vari­ous colours, blue, green, yellow. However, the blue, the yellow, and the green ­were but brief traceries, very short, isolated, unimportant. At a ­little distance ­these could hardly be seen. The ­whole map was gridironed by a vast, complicated network of red lines marked P. and S.W.R.R. [for the Pacific and South Western Railroad]. ­T hese centralised at San Francisco and thence ramified and spread north, east, and south, to ­every corner of the State. From Coles, in the topmost corner of the map, to Yuma in the lowest, from Reno on one side to San Francisco on the other, ran the plexus of red, a veritable system of blood circulation, complicated, dividing, and reuniting, branching, splitting, extending, throwing out feelers, off-­shoots, tap roots, feeders—­ diminutive l­ittle blood suckers that shot out from the main jugular and went twisting up into some remote county, laying hold upon some forgotten village or town, involving it in one of a myriad branching coils, one of a hundred tentacles, drawing it, as it w ­ ere, ­toward that centre from which all this system sprang. The map was white, and it seemed as if all the colour which should have gone to vivify the vari­ous counties, towns, and cities marked upon it had been absorbed by that huge, sprawling organism, with its ruddy arteries converging to a central point. It was as though the State had been sucked white and colourless, and against this pallid background the red arteries of the monster stood out, swollen with life-­blood, reaching out to infinity, gorged to bursting; an excrescence, a gigantic parasite fattening upon the life-­ blood of an entire commonwealth. However, in an upper corner of the map appeared the names of the three new commissioners: Jones McNish for the first district, Lyman Derrick for the second, and James Darrell for the third. (O, 805–806)

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As the remainder of the novel makes clear, the imagery of this passage graphically expresses the implacable rapaciousness of the railroad mono­ poly that goes on to dominate the wheat farmers of the region, and my point is simply that this could not have been done with comparable force and economy in the absence of the i­ magined map. Indeed, it seems pos­ si­ble that one function of the literal map immediately preceding the narrative is to key the reader to the importance of maps, hence to prepare the ground for the paragraphs just quoted.

n One somewhat odd feature of the pres­ent book is that although it gets ­under way by summarizing vari­ous aspects of Stephen Crane’s impressionism, and indeed, suggests that Crane’s writerly practices are not only representative of, but in a sense definitive for, the understanding of literary impressionism generally, only a few examples of his work—­mainly, the upturned face passages from “The Upturned Face,” The Monster, and The Red Badge of Courage—­are cited and discussed. The reason for this, of course, is that What Was Literary Impressionism? is anchored in the long chapter titled “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces” in my 1987 book on Eakins and Crane, which includes numerous, often long quotations from a wide range of Crane’s texts, and concludes by reprinting verbatim an entire story, “The Veteran.” It seems appropriate, therefore, to introduce several paragraphs from a late story by Crane, “Death and the Child,” loosely based on Crane’s experience as a correspondent covering the Greco-­Turkish war of 1897.14 The protagonist of the story is Peza, a correspondent for an Italian newspaper who has a Greek f­ ather, who yearns to get involved in the fighting; the other key “character” is a child, too young to understand what he is witnessing, whose parents apparently left him ­behind when they fled in terror. The last paragraph of the second section (of seven) of the story reads: The ­battle lines writhed at times in the agony of a sea-­creature on the sands. ­These tentacles flung and waved in a supreme excitement of pain, and the strug­gles of the ­great outlined body brought it nearer and nearer to the child. Once he looked at the plain [from the elevation where he was playing] and saw some men ­r unning wildly


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? across a field. He had seen p ­ eople chasing obdurate beasts in such fashion, and it struck him immediately that it was a manly ­t hing which he would incorporate in his game. Consequently, he rushed furiously at his stone sheep, flourishing a cudgel, crying the shepherd calls. He paused frequently to get a cue of manner from the soldiers fighting on the plain. He reproduced, to a degree, any movements which he accounted rational to his theory of sheep-­ herding, the business of men, and traditional and exalted living of his ­father. (“DC,” 950–951)15

Not a map but a horizontal plane, with writhing lines and a g­ reat outlined body moving nearer to the child. Note, by the way. the similarity of the sea creature image to the “stranded sea-­creature writhing its slowly feeling limbs,” leaving “grooved traces in the sand,” perceived by Willie Leadford in the immediate aftermath of the Change in In the Days of the Comet—­“sea-­creature” being an exemplary instance of the s / c doublet in Crane. The other paragraphs I wish to cite come from section  5, which begins with Peza climbing slowly to the high infantry position, which is to say, to the same viewpoint occupied by the child. Thus we read: At the top of the hill he came immediately upon a part of the line that was in action. Another battery of mountain guns was h­ ere firing at the streaks of black on the plain. ­There ­were trenches filled with men lining parts of the crest, and near the base ­were other trenches, all crashing away mightily. The plain stretched as far as the eye could see, and from where silver mist ended this emerald ocean of grass, a ­great ridge of snow-­topped mountains poised against a fleckless blue sky. Two knolls, green and yellow with grain, sat on the prairie confronting the dark hills of the Greek position. Between them ­were the lines of the e­ nemy. A row of trees, a village, a stretch of road, showed faintly on this ­great canvas, this tremendous picture; but men, the Turkish battalions, ­were emphasized startlingly upon it. The ranks of troops between the knolls and the Greek position ­were black as ink. The first line, of course, was muffled in smoke, but at the rear of it battalions crawled up and to and fro

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plainer than beetles on a plate. Peza had never understood that masses of men w ­ ere so declarative, so unmistakable, as if nature makes ­every arrangement to give information of the coming and the presence of destruction, the end, oblivion. The firing was full, complete, a roar of cataracts, and this pealing of connected volleys was adjusted to the grandeur of the far-­off range of snowy mountains. Peza, breathless, pale, felt that he had been set upon a pillar and was surveying mankind, the world. In the meantime dust had got in his eye. He took his handkerchief and mechanically administered to it. (“DC,” 957–958)

And a page or so ­later: “Look, sir,” cried an officer once to Peza. Thin smoke was drifting lazily before Peza, and, dodging impatiently, he brought his eyes to bear on that part of the plain indicated by the officer’s fin­ger. The ­enemy’s infantry was advancing to attack. From the black lines had come forth an inky mass, which was s­ haped much like a ­human tongue. It advanced slowly, casually, without apparent spirit, but with an insolent confidence that was like a proclamation of the inevitable. The impetuous part was all played by the defensive side. Officers called, men plucked each other by the sleeve; ­there ­were shouts, motions; all eyes ­were turned upon the inky mass which was flowing ­toward the base of the hills, heavi­ly, languorously, as oily and thick as one of the streams that ooze through a swamp. (“DC,” 959)

Again, not quite a map (“a g­ reat canvas,” it is called), but certainly a vista seen largely from above (in perspective, so to speak), and what is immediately striking is the consistent meta­phorics of black lines and ink, as well as the characterization of the masses of men viewed from on high as “so declarative, so unmistakable,” as if nature ­were ­doing its best to convey the relevant information about the destruction in train. I would further suggest that the insistence on slowness—­the battalions “crawl[ing] up and to and fro,” the slowly advancing inky mass (­shaped like a ­human tongue!)—is keyed to the pace of writing, specifically, to the reportedly


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slow rhythm with which Crane, pen in hand, produced the “microscopic black trails over the im­mense sheets of paper that he affected” (the report is by Ford, but is confirmed by ­others).16 (“Languorous,” it ­will be remembered, is an epithet that describes the downward pro­gress of the burning chemicals that destroy Henry Johnson’s face in The Monster.) One further point, already made explicit in the Introduction but worth spelling out once more, is that according to my account of Crane’s proj­ect, he himself was unaware of the continual reference and relation in his prose to what I have called the scene of writing, as counterintuitive as that may seem in the context of the paragraphs I have just cited. Let me be more precise: of course Crane would have been aware that his reference to the “lines” of Turkish infantry related meta­phor­ically to lines in a drawing or painting and presumably also a piece of writing, just as his image of the oily thickness of the inky mass in the last of the paragraphs may be taken as an allusion to the thickness and texture of printer’s ink, with which he would have been familiar. By the same token, ­there is no reason to think that he would not have been conscious to a greater or lesser degree of his frequent resort to alliteration, his relish for onomatopoeia, his feeling for dialect, his passion for effects of black and white (especially black), his fascination with snakes and fire, his interest in numbers, the emphasis on e­ very page of his work on the most superlative visual acuteness and graphic clarity, and possibly even his predilection for upward-­facing corpses with disfigured ­faces, or indeed, living persons in a similar bodily position—­Henry Johnson, for example. (Would he, though, have been aware of his predilection for word pairs beginning with s and c? It is impossible to be sure.) But ­there is a difference between his being more or less aware of t­ hese and related aspects of his inimitable “style” and his fully recognizing the terms and nature of his larger proj­ect, a recognition that I suggest is always in his writing, I mean virtually everywhere, threatening to break through to surface consciousness, if I may so put it; and yet, the sustaining of his proj­ect, the continued production of his amazing texts, depends on his never quite acknowledging to himself that (for example) the true subject and meaning of “The Upturned Face” is nothing other than the writing sentence by sentence of “The Upturned Face.” Crane’s literary enterprise therefore differs fundamentally from Wells’s in this regard, quite apart from the enormous difference in tone between their respective texts, along with the consider-

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able disparity in level of achievement, Crane being, in my estimation, one of the supreme masters of En­glish / American prose. This is what makes Norris’s “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” such an astonishing critical per­for­mance: he ­really does seem to have understood what Crane was up to “better” than Crane himself. For that m ­ atter, Norris’s “colossal invisible pillar” that Karslake imagines rising over the Face of the W ­ aters on the Eve of Creation may owe more than a l­ittle to Peza’s sense of having been “set on a pillar . . . ​surveying mankind, the world” (in other words, I take Norris to have been intimately familiar with “Death and the Child”). Note, too, that Peza tends to his eye “mechanically,” another loaded notion in “A Memorandum” (where the key term is “machinery”) and related impressionist texts.

n One last map, taking up a half dozen or more intense pages in chapter 11 of Hudson’s Green Mansions, should be mentioned.17 We are roughly halfway through the book. Rima leads the narrator up the g­ reat hill or mountain Ytaioa, which turns out to have a flat top with only a l­ ittle vegetation. Then she walks to the center of the level area; he follows and gazes round at the wide prospect spread out around him. “The day was windless and bright,” he reports, with only a few white clouds floating at a ­g reat height above and casting travelling shadows over that wild, broken country, where forest, marsh, and savannah w ­ ere only distinguishable by their dif­ fer­ent colours, like the greys and greens and yellows on a map. At a ­great distance the circle of the horizon was broken ­here and ­there by mountains, but the hills in our neighbourhood ­were all beneath our feet. (GM, 150)

Rima turns to him and excitedly waves her hand to indicate “the ­whole cir­cuit of earth,” and says, “Do you see how large it is?”—­and starts to name the mountains, a river, hills, “all the mountains and rivers within sight.” She says, That is all. B ­ ecause we can see no further. But the world is larger than that! Other mountains, other rivers. Have I not told you of Voa,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? on the River Voa, where I was born, where ­mother died, where the priest taught me, years, years ago? All that you cannot see, it is so far away—so far. (GM, 150–151)

The narrator replies: “The world is so large, Rima, that we can only see a very small portion of it from any one spot. Look at this,” and with a stick I had used to aid me in my ascent I traced a circle six or seven inches in circumference on the soft stone and in its centre placed a small pebble. “This represents the mountain we are standing on,” I continued, touching the pebble; “and this line encircling it encloses all of the earth we can see from the mountain-­top. Do you understand?—­the line I have traced is the blue line of the horizon beyond which we cannot see. And outside of this ­little circle is all the flat top of Ytaioa representing the world. Consider, then, how small a portion of the world we can see from this spot!” “And do you know it all?’ she returned excitedly. “All the world?” waving her hand to indicate the ­little stone plain. “All the mountains, and rivers, and forests—­a ll the ­people in the world?” “That would be impossible, Rima; consider how large it is.” “That does not ­matter. Come, let us go together—we two and grand­father, and see all the world; all the mountains and forests, and know all the p ­ eople.” (GM, 151–152)

What this leads to is a demand from Rima that he make clear to her what is “­there—­and ­there—­and ­there—” (GM, 153), pointing in dif­fer­ent directions. And he does his best, at one point using his own back with its spine as a kind of map, but fi­nally “walking about and . . . ​moving and setting up stones and tracing boundary and other lines” (GM, 155), marking out Venezuela, showing by means of a long line how it is divided by the Orinoco, and using the stones to represent Caracas and other large towns. Then, in a burst of inspiration, he describes the “world-­long, stupendous chain” of the Cordilleras and the sea of Titicata—at last showing her Cuzco, “the city of the sun, and the highest dwelling-­place of men on earth” (GM, 156). Much more remained, of course, including “all that

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unimaginable space east of the Andes; the rivers—­what rivers!—­the green plains that are like the sea—­the illimitable waste of ­water where ­there is no land—­and the forest region” (GM, 157). Fi­nally, ­after reaching the Atlantic coast with its thundering waves, he remarks: Never prob­a bly since old ­Father Noah divided the earth among his sons had so ­g rand a geo­g raph­i­cal discourse been delivered; and having finished, I sat down, exhausted with my efforts, and mopped my brow, but glad that my huge task was over, and satisfied that I had convinced her of the futility of her wish to see the world for herself. (GM, 158)

Of course, Rima’s wish to see and learn more is not satisfied, but the narrator’s inspired efforts, which I have had to summarize, produce one of the most original maps in the impressionist lit­er­a­ture, keyed explic­itly as it is to vision and its physical limits, and utilizing as it does the world itself as a means of representing the world’s extent—­the latter a Hudsonian trope, it hardly needs pointing out.18

Chapter Seven

The Writing of Revolution



s us ua l f or C on r ad, sales of The Secret Agent ­were modest (in ­England, fewer than 3,000 copies in five years). For a time, he worked on another novel, Chance, begun long before and which he fi­nally put by in order to concentrate on the fiction that became ­Under Western Eyes. Like Nostromo, U ­ nder Western Eyes—­which began as a short story called “Razumov”—­caused Conrad im­mense difficulties; reading the detailed account of his ­labors on dif­fer­ent drafts and revisions in the recent Cambridge Edition volume is excruciating.1 (He seems to have averaged about 400 words per day. The editors comment, “This is so few words that he must have spent much of ­every day gazing at what he had just written” [UWE, 318]—or indeed, at the other­wise blank page.) With characteristic determination he persisted to the end, at the cost of a ner­vous breakdown; ­Under Western Eyes began to appear in installments in both the En­glish Review and the North American Review in December 1910 and was published in book form in ­England and the United States in October 1911. In fact, it was highly praised by numerous reviewers, though Conrad was frustrated by aspects of the commentary it drew, and in any case, its sales ­were unimpressive. (When Chance came out in 1913, Conrad at last found the success he craved; I ­shall have something to say about a key scene in Chance in a footnote to the last chapter of this book.)


The Writing of Revolution


Structurally, ­Under Western Eyes is Conrad’s most ambitious and in many re­spects his most challenging book; although the story line is generally known, a fairly detailed summary is nevertheless called for. The protagonist is Kyrilo Sidorovitch Razumov, a university student in Saint Petersburg of obscure parentage and slender means; it emerges that he is the illegitimate son of Prince K—­—­, to whom he was introduced on one occasion by the ­lawyer managing his “modest but very sufficient allowance” (UWE, 13), and to whom he turns at a crucial moment in the narrative. Razumov is a loner and taciturn, a good listener, regarded as trustworthy by his fellows; he has ambitions to compete for a silver medal and thus to lay the foundation for a c­ areer, when one eve­ning, another student whom he barely knows, Victor Haldin, appears in his room and reveals that it is he who had committed a po­liti­cal assassination (of a Mr. de P—­—) that had taken place earlier that day. On the basis of nothing more than Razumov’s reserved demeanor, Haldin had persuaded himself that Razumov must share his radical views and would aid him in escaping the authorities. (Something about Razumov’s manner inspires “confidence,” Haldin tells him; this w ­ ill be a central motif in what follows.) Razumov is appalled, but agrees to go to the dwelling of one Ziemianitch, “a sort of town-­peasant who had got on” (UWE, 21) and who had agreed to take Haldin out of Saint Petersburg in a sledge; however, when Razumov arrives he finds Ziemianitch in a drunken stupor and, venting his rage and frustration, beats him savagely. (One of Conrad’s tremendous novelistic strengths is to make scenes like this thoroughly credible, without seeking to explain his characters’ precise motivations.) On the way back to his room through falling snow, Razumov broods on the situation in which he has been placed; fired with resentment, he decides to go to the palace of Prince K—­—­and lay the facts before him, understanding perfectly well that this almost certainly ­will lead to Haldin’s arrest. The prince quickly takes him to the office of a general, a government official, where Razumov explains what has happened. When he returns to his room, an intense conversation leads Haldin to recognize that Razumov is not sympathetic, and he takes himself off into the snowy night. Razumov writes a few lines on a piece of paper and stabs the paper to the wall. The next day he learns that Haldin has been captured, and he himself is sent for by a government


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official, one Councillor Mikulin. Their conversation, which strongly recalls t­ hose between Raskolnikov and Porphyry in Crime and Punishment (as has always been recognized), leads to Razumov saying that he wishes “to retire”—to which Mikulin softly asks, “Where to?” (UWE, 82). This brings the reader to the novel’s part second, where the setting shifts abruptly to Geneva. In fact, part first began with the novel’s narrator, an older En­glishman resident in Geneva who had been for many years a teacher of languages, introducing himself to the reader and explaining that the narrative to follow is based on a document written in Rus­sian and “something in the nature of a journal, a diary, yet not exactly that in its ­actual form” (UWE, 11). (The journal or diary is Razumov’s, of course.) Now, in part second, the narrator steps forward once more, and in fact begins to play an active role in the narrative, for Geneva is temporary home to Haldin’s m ­ other and his s­ ister Natalia, whom the teacher of languages knows and admires (his feelings for Natalia are especially strong). Razumov turns up t­ here as well, and though it is never stated in so many words, the reader divines that he has accepted a mission from Mikulin to spy on the vari­ous revolutionaries who are gathered in the city, including, above all, the burly, black-­coated, and bearded Peter Ivanovitch (no surname given), famous throughout Eu­rope owing to a book relating his escape from prison, as well as for his professed feminism. Others are Madame de S—­—­, a mystically inclined hysteric who forms a public ­couple with Peter Ivanovitch; eventually, Sophia Antonovna, the one dedicated revolutionary we meet, and a deeply sympathetic character; and eventually, too, the dreadful Nikita / Necator, a notorious assassin who ­will l­ater be revealed to have been a double agent. (The center of their activity is the Château Borel. A basic appurtenance of Peter Ivanovitch is his dark blue glasses hiding his eyes; they are mentioned often throughout the novel.) At the beginning of the chapter, Haldin’s ­mother and ­sister believe he is still alive, but then the teacher of languages sees the announcement of his arrest in an En­glish newspaper and feels he must inform them of that fact. It also turns out that Natalia received a letter from her b­ rother written before the killing of the government official, in which Razumov was mentioned as a man of “unstained, lofty, and solitary existence” (UWE, 109); ironically, the description somewhat fits Razumov, but not in the way that Haldin imagines. Razumov turns up in Geneva, and

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without seeking out Haldin’s ­sister—it is clear that he would much prefer not to confront her—­makes her acquaintance at the Château Borel, where she has gone in the hope of meeting him. She naturally wishes to speak with him about her ­brother, and is puzzled by his failure to meet with her again or visit her and her ­mother. ­Toward the end of part second, a long and intense conversation takes place between Razumov and the teacher of languages, in the course of which the latter urges Razumov to visit the two w ­ omen “fairly often” (UWE, 153), much to the latter’s consternation— it is plainly (the reader understands) the last ­thing he wishes to do, and his seeming reluctance, his fierce mood, is unreadable to the older man, who nevertheless senses that t­ here is something e­ lse ­under his “scorn and impatience” (UWE, 154). Part second ends with Razumov having turned his back on the teacher as he stares at the rushing w ­ ater ­under the parapet of the bridge. Part third opens ­there, but presently, Razumov takes a streetcar to the Château Borel, where he encounters Peter Ivanovitch in his black coat and dark glasses and has a series of conversations with him, then with his Egeria, Madame de S—­—­, ­toward whom he feels nothing short of abhorrence, then with Peter Ivanovitch once more, e­ very word of which on the conspirators’ part is based on a fundamental misapprehension of Razumov’s role in the Haldin affair and indeed of his po­liti­cal commitments. Leaving, Razumov encounters an older w ­ oman with frightened eyes and puckered face, the so-­called lady companion, Tekla, who also serves to take dictation from Peter Ivanovitch, a dreadful ordeal by her account (it has already emerged that Peter Ivanovitch and Mme. de S—­— ­treat her foully). More conspirators arrive, including, crucially, Sophia Antonovna, an older ­woman with vivid black eyes and thick white hair (as the reader is repeatedly informed) with whom Razumov had earlier spent a few days in Zu­rich, and the monstrous, squeaky-­voiced Nikita, nicknamed Necator. ­There follows a very long and marvelously i­ magined conversation between Razumov and Sophia Antonovna, a dedicated revolutionary, as well as a threatening exchange with the hostile Nikita; among other ­things, Sophia Antonovna informs Razumov that word has reached them of the beating of Ziemianitch (she thinks by “some police-­hound in disguise” [UWE, 217]) and of Ziemianitch’s having hanged himself (in remorse, she suggests). Razumov leaves, and walking t­oward the town, encounters


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another figure, the diminutive editor Julius Laspara, who apropos of nothing urges him to write (“Write in Rus­sian. ­We’ll have it translated,” Laspara says [UWE, 221]). Coming ­after his exchanges with Sophia Antonovna, this has a galvanic effect on Razumov, and structurally speaking, it represents a decisive moment in the novel. Thus, we read: The insistence of the celebrated subversive journalist rankled in his mind strangely. Write. Must write! He! write! A sudden light flashed upon him. To write was the very t­ hing he had made up his mind to do that day. He had made up his mind irrevocably to that step and then had forgotten all about it. That incorrigible tendency to escape from the grip of the situation was fraught with serious danger. He was ready to despise himself for it. What was it? Levity, or deep-­ seated weakness? Or an unconscious dread? . . . ​(UWE, 221)

The thought of writing evokes the thought “of a place to write in, of shelter, of privacy” (UWE, 222), and this leads him to cross another bridge to the islet where Rousseau lived and wrote, and where t­ here is indeed a bronze statue of Rousseau seated on its pedestal. He drops down into a garden seat, takes out of his pocket a fountain pen and a small notebook, and begins to write; when he is done, he tears out the pages. It is only now that the reader is in a position to understand that the manuscript (a kind of diary or journal) that the teacher of languages has been basing his narrative upon was most likely composed by Razumov in that notebook, though it is never made clear exactly when and where the bulk of the composition is to be i­ magined as having been done. Part fourth begins by flashing back to the moment in his office when Mikulin asked, “Where to?” and narrates the events of the next several weeks, culminating in a note from Mikulin (in effect, countersigned by Prince K—­—) inviting Razumov to meet him “at a certain address in town which seemed to be that of an oculist” (UWE, 232). (A sheerly impressionist detail, consistent with the ultimate title of the novel.) The upshot is that Razumov agrees to leave Saint Petersburg for Geneva, which is where we next find him, “pacing to and fro u­ nder the trees of the ­little island, all alone with the bronze statue of Rousseau” (UWE, 241). He goes on to buy an envelope in which to post the torn-­out pages to Mikulin (this

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­ ill be his first report on the conspirators), and as he leaves the shop, the w teacher of languages catches sight of him and is struck by his expression. In the teacher’s words: The Westerner in me [a major theme of the novel] was discomposed. ­There was something shocking in the expression of that face. Had I been myself a conspirator, a Rus­sian po­liti­cal refugee, I could perhaps have been able to draw some practical conclusion from this chance glimpse. As it was it only discomposed me strongly, even to the extent of awakening an indefinite apprehension in regard to Natalia Haldin. (UWE, 242)

The teacher of languages calls on the Haldins and discovers Natalia wearing a black veil and about to go out to find Razumov. It emerges that she has been meeting daily with Razumov, and that just that eve­ning she had told her m ­ other that Razumov was in Geneva, at which news her ­mother insisted that “this friend of her Victor” (UWE, 247) be brought to them. Together, Natalia and the teacher go to the ­Hotel Cosmopolitan, where Peter Ivanovitch has rooms on the top floor, the idea being that he would know how to find Razumov; they go up in a lift, she knocks on the door, and the door is opened “by a short, black-­eyed ­woman in a red blouse with a g­ reat lot of nearly white hair” (UWE, 249)—­Sophia Antonovna, evidently. The conspirators are waiting for Peter Ivanovitch, who enters, wearing his dark glasses, and takes Natalia’s hand in both of his (they have been wanting to draw Natalia into their circle, but she has fastidiously stood aloof). The most striking feature of the room is a large map of Rus­sia spread on a ­table ­under an electric bulb with a porcelain shade pulled down low over it (the map, also said to be of “the Baltic provinces” (UWE, 251), is mentioned four times). A ­ fter Natalia and the teacher leave, they seek Razumov unsuccessfully at the shop above which he lives (Natalia having been given the address by Sophia Antonovna), and when they return to her and her m ­ other’s apartment they learn that Razumov is t­here. He has been closeted with Natalia’s m ­ other, but now he returns to the anteroom, where the teacher of languages is struck by a change in Razumov’s face from its appearance earlier that day— in par­t ic­u ­lar, his eyes now bear “the shadow of something consciously


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evil” (UWE, 257). At this point a long and painful conversation between Razumov and Natalia takes place, Razumov for the most part fixing his eyes on the floor, Natalia speaking throughout on the assumption that Razumov was faithful to her ­brother. It emerges that Razumov from the first was strongly attracted to her, and that his feelings ­were perhaps reciprocated (again, this is indicated rather than spelled out, but the teacher of languages divines it), and fi­nally, Razumov, unable to bear the situation, says: “An hour ­after I saw you first I knew how it would be. The terrors of remorse, revenge, confession, anger, hate, fear, are like nothing to the atrocious temptation which you put in my way the day that you appeared before me with your voice, with your face, in the garden of that accursed villa.” She looked utterly bewildered for a moment, then with a sort of despairing insight went straight to the point. “The story, Kirylo Sidorovitch, the story!” “­There is no more to tell!” He made a movement forward, and she actually put her hand on his shoulder to push him away but her strength failed her and he kept his ground though trembling in ­every limb. “It ends ­here—on this very spot.” He pressed a denunciatory fin­ger to his breast with force, and became perfectly still. (UWE, 269)

Natalia rises, totters, and the teacher of languages leads her into the drawing room, where Mrs. Haldin is sitting. “Miss Haldin stopped,” we are told, “and pointed mournfully at the tragic immobility of her ­mother, who seemed to watch a beloved head lying in her lap” (UWE, 269). (This is the second time within a few pages that she is described in ­those terms.) Back in the white anteroom, the teacher sees Razumov stooping to snatch up the black veil dropped by Natalia, press it to his face with both hands, and almost instantly vanish. Back in his room, Razumov takes “the book of his compromising rec­ord” (UWE, 271) from a locked drawer and sits down to write. The next several pages are a verbatim transcription of what he wrote, all of which is addressed to Natalia. They include the remarks,

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You ­were appointed to undo the evil by making me betray myself back into truth and peace. You! And you have done it the same way, too, in which [your ­brother] ruined me: by forcing upon me your confidence. Only what I detested him for, in you ended by appearing noble and exalted. (UWE, 272)

And: Suddenly you stood before me! You alone in all the world to whom I must confess. You fascinated me—­you have freed me from the blindness of anger and hate—­the truth shining in you drew the truth out of me. Now I have done it; and as I write h­ ere, I am in the depths of anguish, but t­ here is air to breathe at last—­air. (UWE, 274)

Fi­nally, he stops, wraps the book in the black veil, makes up a parcel to be sent to Miss Haldin, and then flings the pen away. Outside, a storm is in pro­gress, but he goes to Laspara’s ­house, where he knows the conspirators are to be found, and explains—­confesses—­his role in Haldin’s capture. The denouement follows quickly: Nikita nicknamed Necator has him seized, then bursts his ear­drums in both ears with tremendous blows and has him thrown into the street. Deaf and confused, he fails to hear the bell of a tramcar and is run down and severely injured; “Je suis sourd,” he says, just before passing out. Tekla finds him and takes his head on her lap; “her scared faded eyes avoided looking at his deathlike face” (UWE, 281). Two weeks ­after Mrs. Haldin’s death (no date given), the teacher of languages has a last conversation with Natalia, who is about to return to Rus­sia; she hands him the book sent to her by Razumov, which the teacher ­will use to write his narrative. He tells us that two years ­after that, his information was brought up to date through a conversation with “a much trusted ­woman revolutionist” (UWE, 286), Sophia Antonovna, who tells him that Natalia is living in a town in the center of Rus­sia ­doing what good she can in overcrowded jails and bereaved homes, and that Razumov, in declining health, is in an obscure town in the south, being looked a­ fter by Tekla. She also tells him that Nikita turned out to be a betrayer, and that Peter Ivanovitch has united himself to a peasant girl. The teacher


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expresses his scorn for Peter Ivanovitch, to which Sophia Antonovna replies, “Peter Ivanovitch is an inspired man” (UWE, 289)—­the last words in the novel. My commentary ­will be pursued ­under three broad headings: erasure, a key word, and the relation of the reader to the page (also f­ aces, eyes, seeing, black and white). Erasure. As is perhaps already clear, the proj­ect (or arche proj­ect) of erasure is at work throughout ­Under Western Eyes on a number of dif­fer­ent levels. Most obviously, ­there is the need for Razumov to confess—­above all, to Natalia Haldin, and thereby achieve a kind of peace and equanimity ­after his betrayal of her b­ rother. (­Needless to say, the islet of Rousseau evokes the thought of the phi­los­o­pher’s Confessions.) And in fact, ­after denouncing himself to Natalia, he returns through heavy rain to the shop above which he lives. As the man in the shop is about to pass him the key to his room, “he only observed, just to say something—­‘­You’ve got very wet.’ ‘Yes, I am washed clean,’ muttered Razumov, who was dripping from head to foot” (UWE, 271). Not surprisingly, given the force and momentum of the narrative, and indeed, the strength of Conrad’s obsession with erasure, such a washing—­a mere drenching—is not enough to provide the desired climax. Thus, Razumov proceeds to Laspara’s h­ ouse and denounces himself once more, ostensibly to remove suspicion from Ziemianitch; ­after some brief discussion among the conspirators, Razumov is seized and pinned against a wall, while Nikita, taking up a position a ­little on one side, deliberately swung off his enormous arm. Razumov looking for a knife in his hand saw it come at him open, unarmed—­and received a tremendous blow on the side of his head over his ear. At the same time he heard a faint, dull, detonating sound as if someone had fired a pistol on the other side of the wall. . . . “Turn his face the other way,” the paunchy terrorist directed, in an excited, gleeful squeak. Razumov could strug­gle no longer. He was exhausted; he had to watch passively the heavy open hand of the brute descend again in a degrading blow over his other ear. It seemed to split his head in two—­and all at once the men holding him became perfectly ­silent—­soundless as shadows. In silence they pulled him brutally

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to his feet, rushed with him noiselessly down the staircase and opening the door flung him out into the street. He fell forward and at once rolled over and over helplessly, g­ oing down the short slope together with the rush of ­r unning rain ­water. He came to rest in the roadway of the street at the bottom, lying on his back with a ­great flash of lightning over his face—­a vivid, ­silent flash of lightning which blinded him utterly. (UWE, 279–280)

Conrad’s solution, in other words, is to use deafness, or rather the act of making deaf—­bursting Razumov’s eardrums—to achieve a truly power­ful effect of erasure, and for the first time in Conrad’s fiction, I cannot escape the suspicion that possibly—­prob­a bly—he himself understood Nikita-­ Necator’s action in t­ hese terms. I mean, I cannot escape the feeling that in the course of writing ­Under Western Eyes (or perhaps somewhat earlier, by the time he had finished The Secret Agent), Conrad might well have come to some sort of explicit or semi-­explicit understanding that figures and effects of erasure w ­ ere impor­tant to him. And of course, if this was the case, it would have been a momentous development with re­spect to his activity as a writer. T ­ here ­will be more to say about the nature of Conrad’s self-­understanding as we proceed. The name “Necator,” I need hardly add, is about as close as Conrad could come to the word “Negater,” an apt designation for a figure who stands for nothing but assassination and betrayal for their own sakes, which further suggests that possibly Conrad thought of his loathsome creation as a virtual personification of erasure, which he surely is. ­There is a further dimension to the choice of deafness as the climactic figure for erasure. Normally, if such a notion makes sense in this context, Conrad would have found a visual image to stand for erasure—­A lmayer’s expressionless face, or the small piles of sand obliterating Nina’s footprints, or Marlow’s last sight of Jim, all in white with the stronghold of the night ­behind him, or Leggatt’s floppy hat in the ­water (that “saving mark”), or Bunter with his black hair turned white, or the whiteness of a wall with no writing on it, or, in the last sentence of Nostromo, the cloud like a mass of solid silver overhanging the Golfo Placido—so why not ­here? The answer goes back to part first, specifically, to Razumov’s nighttime trek through falling snow to Ziemianitch’s dwelling, and then his visit to Prince K—­—­, interview with the General, and eventual return to his


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rooms. (Once again, as often in this book, it becomes necessary to quote at considerable length. Only by ­doing so is it pos­si­ble to sufficiently exhibit the evidence required for certain interpretive claims to be persuasive.) Just before Razumov embarks on his mission, Haldin “threw himself full length on Razumov’s bed and putting the backs of his hands over his eyes remained perfectly motionless and s­ilent. Not even the sound of his breathing could be heard” (UWE, 26). Razumov leaves, locking the door and putting the key in his pocket. The next section begins, “The words and events of that eve­ning must have been graven as if with a steel tool on Mr Razumov’s brain since he was able to write his relation with such fulness and precision a good many months afterwards” (UWE, 26)—­further proof that we are to think of the diary or journal as having been written over some period of time. ­There follows an account of his thoughts and feelings as he proceeds through the falling snow, with sledges gliding past “phantom-­like and jingling through a fluttering whiteness on the black face of the night,” and rare passersby who “came upon him suddenly looming up black in the snowflakes close by, then, vanishing all at once—­without footfalls” (UWE, 28)—­t his last phrase like the image of Haldin’s silence, perhaps anticipating the motif of deafness at the climax so much ­later. Fi­nally, Razumov finds Ziemianitch, who is in a drunken sleep; furious, Razumov beats him savagely with the ­handle of a stable fork, then plunges back into the snowy night. As he walks along he thinks of Haldin in his room. “What was he ­doing now?” Razumov won­ders (all this presumably was reported in Razumov’s diary or journal). Lying on the bed as if dead, with the back of his hands over his eyes? Razumov had a morbidly vivid vision of Haldin on his bed—­t he white pillow hollowed by the head, the legs in long boots, the upturned feet. And in his abhorrence he said to himself: “I’ll kill him when I get home.” (UWE, 32)

Further on: Razumov stamped his foot—­and ­under the soft carpet of snow felt the hard ground of Rus­sia, inanimate, cold, inert, like a sullen and

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tragic m ­ other hiding her face u­ nder a winding-­sheet—­h is native soil!—­his very own—­w ithout a fireside, without a heart! . . . He cast his eyes upwards and stood amazed. The snow had ceased to fall, and now as if by a miracle, he saw above his head the clear black sky of the northern winter, decorated with the sumptuous fires of the stars. It was a canopy fit for the resplendent purity of the snows. Razumov received an almost physical impression of endless space and of countless millions. He responded to it with the readiness of a Rus­sian who is born to an inheritance of space and numbers. ­Under the sumptuous immensity of the sky, the snow covered the endless forests, the frozen rivers, the plains of an im­mense country, obliterating the landmarks, the accidents of the ground, levelling every­thing ­under its uniform whiteness, like a monstrous blank page awaiting the rec­ord of an ­inconceivable history. It covered the passive land with its lives of countless ­people like Ziemianitch and its handful of agitators like this Haldin—­murdering foolishly. It was a sort of sacred inertia. Razumov felt a re­spect for it. A voice seemed to cry within him, “­Don’t touch it.” It was a guarantee of duration, of safety, while the travail of maturing destiny went on—­a work not of revolutions with their passionate levity of action and their shifting impulses—­but of peace. What it needed was not the conflicting aspirations of a ­people, but a ­w ill strong and one: it wanted not the babble of many voices, but a man—­ strong and one! Razumov stood on the point of conversion [to an ideal of autocracy]. (UWE, 32–33)

I do not claim to be the sole commentator to find ­these passages striking in the extreme. But it is only in the light of Conradian erasure that they disclose their ambivalent significance, for the “blank page” of the snow-­covered land is itself the product of a certain pro­cess of erasure (by  the falling of the snow), even as the page calls for a further act of writing—­and then, though this is not said, still another, in fact, the decisive act of erasure. But first, the writing.


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Nearer town, two sledges collide, jolting Razumov from his thoughts; one driver shouts at another; then: This coarse yell let out nearly in his ear disturbed Razumov. He shook his head impatiently and went on looking straight before him. Suddenly on the snow, stretched out on his back right across the path, he saw Haldin, solid, distinct, real, with his inverted hands over his eyes, clad in a brown close fitting coat and long boots. He was lying out of the way a ­little, as though he had selected that place on purpose. The snow round him was untrodden. This hallucination had such a solidity of aspect that the first movement of Razumov was to reach for his pocket to assure himself that the key of his rooms was t­ here. But he checked the impulse with a disdainful curve of his lips. He understood. His thought, concentrated intensely on the figure left lying on his bed, had culminated in this extraordinary illusion of the sight. Razumov tackled the phenomenon calmly. With a stern face, without a check and gazing far beyond the vision, he walked on, experiencing nothing but a slight tightening of the chest. ­After passing he turned his head for a glance and saw only the unbroken track of his foot-­steps over the place where the breast of the phantom had been lying. (UWE, 35–36)

He decides to give Haldin up, and in effect, does. Then he returns to his rooms, which are dark. In his bedroom, he feels all over the ­table for his matchbox. He struck a light and looked at the bed. Haldin was lying on his back as before, only both his hands w ­ ere ­under his head. His eyes ­were open. He stared up at the ceiling. Razumov held the match up. He saw the clear-­cut features, the firm chin, the white forehead and the top-­k not of fair hair against the white pillow. ­T here he was, lying flat on his back. Razumov thought suddenly, “I have walked over his chest.” (UWE, 49)

The recurrent image of Haldin lying on his back, in the last instance, with his hands no longer over his eyes, is a version of what I have suggested

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from the first is the primal figure of literary impressionism, a corpse or living person lying in that position with an upturned face (note the reference to Haldin’s upturned feet early on in the passages just quoted). And of course, the climactic image of the deafened Razumov lying on his back in the roadway “with a g­ reat flash of lightning over his face,” blinding him utterly, is another, the culminating, version of that figure. In sum, Razumov leaves Haldin lying on his back; that the latter has the backs of his hands over his eyes suggests a certain qualification of the primal figure (as if the page ­were not yet ready to be written on). Then snow falls on the ground, on Rus­sia, erasing every­thing ­there, preparing that page for further writing, a figure almost instantly confirmed by the remarkably convincing hallucination of Haldin’s body lying on its back and covered with snow, though once again, Haldin’s inverted hands are over his eyes. That Razumov does not hesitate to walk across the body, leaving footprints in the snow, marks a new writing, the writing of autocracy to come, as it w ­ ere, despite the inverted hands. And when he arrives back in his rooms, he finds Haldin in exactly the same position, but with his eyes open and his hands ­behind his head, as if in tacit ac­cep­tance of what Razumov has done.2 (All this explains why the novel’s climactic scene of erasure—­the deafening of Razumov—­has to resort to something other than a figure of blankness.) But ­there is more to come. ­After Haldin leaves, Razumov takes a square sheet of paper: It was like the pile of sheets covered with his neat minute handwriting, only blank. He took a pen brusquely and dipped it with a vague notion of ­going on with the writing of his essay—­but his pen remained poised over the sheet. It hung ­there for some time before it came down and formed long scrawly letters. Still-­faced and his lips set hard Razumov began to write. When he wrote a large hand his neat writing lost its character altogether—­became unsteady, almost childish. He wrote five lines one u­ nder the other. History not Theory. Patriotism not Internationalism. Evolution not Revolution. Direction not Destruction.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? Unity not Disruption. He gazed at them dully. Then his eyes strayed to the bed and remained fixed ­there for a good many minutes, while his right hand groped all over the t­ able, for the penknife. He r­ ose at last and walking up with mea­sured steps stabbed the paper with the penknife to the lath and plaster wall at the head of the bed. This done he stepped back a pace and flourished his hand with a glance round the room. (UWE, 57)

He lies down on the sofa at the other side of the room (avoiding the bed, in other words) and at once falls asleep, dreaming of “an im­mense wintry Rus­sia which somehow his view could embrace in all its enormous expanse as if it w ­ ere a map” (UWE, 57). When his room is searched by the authorities following his interview with the General, the sheet of paper with its five lines ­will suggest to Mikulin Razumov’s potential usefulness as a spy against the conspirators. A key word. The next section of part first begins with the self-­described old teacher of languages acknowledging the difficulty of his task, which involves the rendering . . . ​of the moral conditions ruling over a large portion of this earth’s surface; conditions not easily to be understood, much less discovered in the limits of a story till some key word is found; a word that could stand at the back of all the words covering the pages; a word which if not truth itself may perchance hold truth enough to help the moral discovery which should be the object of ­every tale. (UWE, 58)

The teacher continues: I turn over for the hundredth time the leaves of Mr Razumov’s rec­ord, I lay it aside, I take up the pen—­and the pen being ready for its office of setting down black on white I hesitate. For the word that persists in creeping u­ nder its point is no other word than Cynicism. (UWE, 58)

­ here is such a key word, but it is not “cynicism.” Rather, it is “confiT dence,” as when Razumov says to Haldin, “ ‘But ­pardon me, Victor

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Victorovitch. We know each other so l­ittle . . . ​I ­don’t see why you . . . ?’ ‘Confidence,’ said Haldin” (UWE, 22). That same night, ­after Prince K—­—­has taken Razumov to meet the government official called only the General, the Prince requests that his and Razumov’s intervention should remain private. “He is a young man of promise—of remarkable aptitudes,” he adds, to which the General replies: “I ­haven’t a doubt of it. He inspires confidence” (UWE, 43). But several paragraphs l­ ater, the General expresses a certain suspicion by the words, “And you say [Haldin] came in to make you this confidence like this—­for nothing—­à propos des bottes” (UWE, 44). (French phrases are frequent in the novel.) Razumov senses danger, but the Prince comes to his rescue by explaining that some months before, Haldin and Razumov had had “some sort of idle speculative conversation,” which Haldin evidently had misinterpreted, at which point the General asks Razumov ­whether he often indulged in speculative conversation. “No, excellency,” answered Razumov, coolly, in a sudden access of self-­confidence. “I am a man of deep convictions. Crude opinions are in the air. They are not always worth combating. But even the ­silent contempt of a serious mind may be misinterpreted by headlong utopists.” The General stared from between his hands. Prince K—­—­ murmured— “A serious young man. Un esprit supérieur.” “I see that, mon cher Prince,” said the General. “Mr Razumov is quite safe with me. I am interested in him. He has it seems the ­great and useful quality of inspiring confidence.” (UWE, 44)

A l­ ittle further on, Razumov adds that he d ­ oesn’t know why Haldin sought him out. “I said nothing. I was overcome. I provoked no confidences—­I asked for no explanations—” (UWE, 45). Fi­nally, the General proposes that Razumov should return to his rooms lest Haldin suspect that something has gone wrong. “Mr Razumov inspires confidence. It is a ­great gift. I only suggest that a more prolonged absence might awaken the criminal’s suspicions and induce him perhaps to change his plans” (UWE, 47). In the carriage taking them away, the Prince, too, says, “I have a perfect confidence in you, Mr Razumov.” And Razumov thinks, “ ‘They all, it


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seems, have confidence in me.’ . . . ​He had an indulgent contempt for the man sitting shoulder to shoulder with him in the confined space. Prob­ably he was afraid of scenes with his wife. She was said to be proud and violent” (UWE, 47). As they part, the Prince extends an ungloved hand and says, “I hope you are perfectly reassured now as to the consequences . . . ,” to which Razumov responds, “­After what your Excellency has condescended to do for me, I can only rely on my conscience” (UWE, 47). At which point, Razumov returns to his rooms where Haldin is still lying on the bed. The tally: the phrase “inspires confidence” or a variant occurs three times. The word “confidence” as Haldin introduces the term, and then as it is used by the Prince and Razumov himself (“They all, it seems, have confidence in me”), another three times. All this in roughly a half dozen pages. But then ­there is the General’s use of “confidence” to mean a secret (“And you say he came in to make you this confidence”), and, further on, Razumov’s use of the term in the same sense (“I provoked no confidences”). Plus, Razumov’s suddenly feeling what the text (i.e., the teacher, based on Razumov’s document) describes as “a sudden access of self-­confidence” brings us to a total of nine appearances of, if not exactly the same word, let us say, essentially the same sequence of letters. At this point it is hard not to notice something else—­the occurrence of other words beginning with the prefix “con-”, such as “conversation” (twice), “contempt” (twice), “convictions,” “confined,” “consequences,” “condescended,” and “conscience,” not to mention one “com-” word—­ “combatting.” And not in t­ hese pages, but down the road, t­ here w ­ ill be the thematic words “confess” and “confession,” as when a­ fter Razumov at Laspara’s has revealed himself late in the book, Nikita-­Necator screams, “Confession or no confession, you are a police spy” (UWE, 278). In an obvious sense, we are in the same general territory as that explored in the last pages of Chapter 5, where I consider four significant instances of what I call exchange or “contagion” between words and / or signifiers in The Secret Agent. In that novel, which I take to be by far the most determinedly materialist production in Conrad’s entire corpus (along with, on a much smaller scale, the story “­Because of the Dollars”), I treat “contagion” as on the side of the appearance of mechanism, understood as a kind of necessity, though I also suggest, in relation to the proliferation of the words “hand” and “hands” in the course of a relatively

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brief conversation between the Assistant Commissioner and Sir Ethelred, that the occurrence of the word “hand” twice in a single sentence at the end of the interview signals Conrad’s awareness of what he has done (and equally to the point, invites the reader to share that awareness as well). In contrast, ­after noting that three graphically similar words—­“material,” “marital,” and “maternal”—­function throughout The Secret Agent as what I call a “compound leitmotif,” I go on to remark that the incident that gave rise to the novel took place in February 1894 when a young man named Martial Bourdin accidentally blew himself up while seeking to detonate a bomb near the Royal Observatory, and that when Conrad more than ten years ­later became interested in the attempted bombing as a pos­si­ble basis for a novel, the proper name, “Martial,” in tandem with the detail of the blowing off of the would-be terrorist’s hand, produced as if by “contagion” the other three words and, ramifying beyond them, the entire novel. It remains a question, I suggest, w ­ hether or not Conrad was aware of this, though I note that the word “martial” occurs just once in a sentence that also includes the significant word “hands.” So it is not altogether certain that the connection escaped his notice. ­Under Western Eyes, the next ambitious novel to be finished, moves away from The Secret Agent’s materialist ontology by deliberately and significantly complicating the reader’s relation to the text. This is one major function (not the only one) of the complex narrative, or, say, scriptive layering of the ­later novel. In the first place (we are told by the teacher of languages), ­there is a handwritten document, a diary or journal, written by Razumov in Geneva; then t­here is the text we read, ostensibly composed by the teacher of languages on the basis of Razumov’s document, which is quoted verbatim for several pages near the end of the novel but other­wise is made available to the reader only indirectly, in the teacher’s retelling of it (which, as has emerged, is remarkably detailed as regards both the events it relates and the precise and often conflicted thoughts and feelings of its author and protagonist); and fi­nally, ­there is the novel as such, which on the one hand coincides exactly—­that is, word by word—­ with the teacher of languages’s narrative (except for the title of the novel and further typographical details), but which on the other hand is fully understood by the reader to have been written by the author Joseph Conrad, for whom both Razumov and the teacher of languages, like all


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the other personages in the story, are imaginative creations. This last distinction is, one might say, a profoundly nonmaterialist one, as the difference between the teacher’s narrative and Conrad’s novel is almost entirely conceptual, or, indeed, conventional.3 In any case, the layering allows the reader to notice that the teacher’s claim that the key word, the one “that could stand at the back of all the words covering the pages,” is “cynicism” not only is mistaken on the basis of the evidence so far presented (though from the point of view of the teacher of languages, who has already read the ­whole of Razumov’s document and who knows all too well how the narrative w ­ ill end, “cynicism” aptly characterizes the conspirators, except for Sophia Antonovna), but also fails to acknowledge the operation of a true or at least strongly probable key word, “confidence,” in the passages in question. (Of course, the shifting meaning of the signifier “confidence” in the dif­fer­ent contexts, even in the short span of pages we have considered, has something “cynical” about it.) And not only that—­the layering also encourages the reader who has noticed the “contagion” effects I have pointed out, the proliferation of “con-” words, and even the “com-” word “combatting,” to attribute ­those to the teacher of languages rather than to the novel’s author Joseph Conrad, who emerges in contrast as very much in control of the text—­impersonally, as it ­were. (I mean, the reader is encouraged to read the “con-” and “com-” words as having been intended by Conrad to suggest the operation of mechanical, or at least not consciously intended, i.e., automatic, effects of “contagion” on the part of the teacher of languages.) Nor is the conversation between Razumov, the Prince, and the General the only locus in the novel where something like “con-”–­based echoing and re-­echoing is in play. Two further examples occur early on in part second, the second of the two when the teacher of languages, having returned to Geneva ­after two weeks away, catches sight of Natalia in conversation with the famous revolutionary Peter Ivanovitch, of whom we are then told, “At one time all Eu­rope was aware of the story of his life written by himself and translated into seven or more languages” (UWE, 98). (The teacher of languages plainly detests him.) The story crucially involves Peter Ivanovitch’s escape from imprisonment and in par­tic­u ­lar, his

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carry­ing into the woods a chain riveted on his limbs that is eventually removed by a blacksmith, brought to him by the latter’s sympathetic wife. Without quoting the pages in question, let me note that they include the words (in order) “conspire,” “condemned,” “continents,” “concealing,” “convicts,” “conferred,” “confused,” “conviction,” “confessed,” “conversion,” “convict,” “converted,” “unconscious,” and “conferring”; also “compassion,” “common” (as in “common criminals”), and “compatriots”; plus, as if to set the “con-” words off, late in the sequence, the phrase “on the edge of cynicism.” (A virtual chain of “con-” and “com-” words, one might say.) The second example, in two parts, occurs slightly earlier, ­a fter the teacher of languages sees the announcement of Mr. de P—­—’s assassination in an En­glish newspaper and informs Mrs. Haldin and her ­daughter. Mrs. Haldin says, “­T here ­w ill be more trou­ble, more persecutions for this. They may be even closing the University. ­T here is neither peace nor rest in Rus­sia for one but in the grave” (UWE, 86)—­a statement that comes pointedly close to Dr. Monygham’s remark to Mrs. Gould near the end of Nostromo, “­There is no peace nor rest in the development of material interests.” 4 Then: “Yes. The way is hard,” came from the d ­ aughter, looking straight before her at the Chain of Jura covered with snow, like a white wall closing the end of the street. [A deliberate echo of the whitewashed wall “to run at and dash your head against,” from chapter 11 of The Secret Agent.] “But concord is not so very far off.” “That is what my ­children think,” observed Mrs Haldin to me. I did not conceal my feeling that t­ hese ­were strange times to talk of concord. (UWE, 86)

And a page or so l­ater, Natalia says that Westerners do not understand the impulses of Rus­sians, or, as she also puts it, “their mouvements d’âme.” To which the teacher of languages replies: “But still we are looking at a conflict. You say it is not a conflict of classes and not a conflict of interests. Suppose I admitted that. Are


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? antagonistic ideas then to be reconciled more easily—­can they be cemented with blood and vio­lence into that concord which you proclaim to be so near?” She looked at me searchingly with her clear grey eyes, without answering my reasonable question—my obvious, my unanswerable question. “It is inconceivable,” I added, with something like annoyance. “Every­thing is inconceivable,” she said. “The ­whole world is inconceivable to the strict logic of ideas. And yet the world exists to our senses, and we exist in it. T ­ here must be a necessity superior to our conceptions. It is a very miserable and a very false ­thing to belong to the majority. We Rus­sians ­shall find some better form of national freedom than an artificial conflict of parties—­which is wrong ­because it is a conflict and contemptible ­because it is artificial. It is left for us, Rus­sians, to discover a better way.” (UWE, 87)

Twelve “con-” words in four short paragraphs. The second example is of special interest to me not simply b­ ecause of its profusion of “con-” words, but also ­because of the way in which its obviously deliberate, not to say slightly strained allusions to Nostromo and The Secret Agent, the two major novels immediately preceding U ­ nder Western Eyes, all but compel the recognition that the author Joseph Conrad—as distinct from Natalia (assuming her words have been correctly reported) or the teacher of languages—is in total, fine-­grained control of the exchange from beginning to end. In this connection, it is worth noting—it may already have struck the reader—­that “Conrad,” that authorial invention replacing “Korzeniowski,” is still another “con-” word, possibly the most impor­tant of all.5 Interestingly, Conrad wrote in his author’s note of 1920, “I had never been called before to a greater effort of detachment; detachment from all passions, prejudices and even from personal memories. ­Under Western Eyes on its first appearance in E ­ ngland was a failure with the public, perhaps b­ ecause of that very detachment” (UWE, 6). It has always been hard to know exactly what to make of this claim; my suggestion is that it chiefly concerns the form of the work, specifically Conrad’s authorial separation, indeed, his structural detachment, from both Razumov and the

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teacher of languages (the two “writers” apart from Conrad himself). Also in the author’s note Conrad remarks of the teacher of languages that he has been much criticised; but I ­w ill not at this late hour undertake to justify his existence. He was useful to me and therefore I think that he must be useful to the reader both in the way of comment and by the part he plays in the development of the story. In my desire to produce the effect of actuality it seemed to me indispensable to have an eye-­ witness of the transactions in Geneva. I needed also a sympathetic friend for Miss Haldin who other­w ise would have been too much alone and unsupported to be perfectly credible. (UWE, 6)

No doubt this is true as far as it goes, but my sense of the old teacher’s “usefulness” to Conrad rests on other, essentially structural grounds. The relation of the reader to the page (also ­faces, eyes, seeing, black and white). No serious reader of ­Under Western Eyes, at least since the publication in 1980 of Frank Kermode’s influential essay “Secrets and Narrative Sequence,” 6 can have failed to notice the proliferation in the novel of the words “eyes,” “face,” “black,” “white,” and “see” (or “saw”); by the same token, the title has been understood to refer not just to the teacher of languages’ eyes, but more importantly, to t­ hose of Conrad himself, whom Boris Ford describes as “a Pole who looked to the West, who felt himself a cultural citizen of Western Eu­rope, and who became as En­glish as a Pole could then be.” He continues: “Not only are Conrad’s eyes not the professor’s; they are far more penetrating, and their moral scope and subtlety are infinitely greater.”7 This is plainly true, though to insist on this point is to remain on the level of the story, as if the crucial role of the teacher of languages is to pres­ent a limited point of view that the sophisticated reader ­w ill see beyond to the further or deeper meaning that Conrad intended (almost all the competing readings of the novel operate u­ nder some such assumption). Again, my point is that this is not exactly wrong, but it fails to grasp a vital dimension, I would even say, the vital dimension, of Conrad’s impressionist proj­ect, which as we have seen, concerns the relation between the reader (and before the reader, the writer) and the written page, or indeed, the page of print—as if in


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­ nder Western Eyes the structural layering, as I have called it, is to be U thought of as that which, before all, the reader is called upon to see. Put slightly differently, the basic idea of literary impressionism, I have argued, involves an all but explicit but also for the most part ultimately suppressed or displaced relation between the writer (and afterward or secondarily, the reader) and the scene of writing, in par­tic­u­lar, the upward-­facing page and the act of inscription, typically with pen and ink. In Crane, as I argue at length in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” the archetypal figures of the upturned face, not necessarily of a corpse, as well as certain acts of disfiguration (the wind razing the tawny beard of the first corpse in The Red Badge, the earth shoveled onto the upturned face of “old Bill,” the devastation of Henry Johnson’s face by burning chemicals), plus an entire host of motifs (not just upturned ­faces but also snakes, sticks, shadows, lines, numbers, fire, e­ tc.) and devices (dialect, alliteration, onomatopoeia, the use of the words “writhing” and “­thing,” ­etc.) at once thematize the scene of writing in the strongest pos­si­ble terms, and yet never entirely declare themselves as such, never become fully explicit, and this ultimate constraint (as suggested in the Introduction to this book) is what allows his narratives to achieve and sustain their characteristic, often tremendous force and momentum. In Norris, Crane’s almost exact con­temporary, we find, first, a quite astonishing exposé of the under­lying logic of Crane’s writing in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death,” and second, in the shipwreck scene in Vandover and the Brute and still more emphatically in A Man’s W ­ oman, a hyperbolic ideal of a totally material or materialist writing, as if in the production of t­hese texts the materiality both of the page and of the act of inscription asserted itself against any possibility of “idealization” or subsumption or indeed, transcendence of the sort associated with the image of the pillar or even the viewpoint of the wandering hawk in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death,” and yet did so in such a way that an extreme version of writing somehow remained in force. (Further investigation of this issue would require coming to terms with Norris’s “naturalism,” a larger topic than can be dealt with ­here.) W. H. Hudson, in contrast, represented for his contemporaries a fervently admired ideal of total transparency (also, it was sometimes suggested, of perfect camouflage or unobtrusiveness), a virtually invisible

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writing, which only makes sense as an ideal in the context of the larger impressionist undertaking and its tendency to foreground writing as such; while Wells’s The Invisible Man, perhaps the most gripping of his early texts, conducts a systematic demonstration that mere transparency is itself hopelessly material, a conclusion Wells may be said to embrace in the interests of a sweeping and unapologetic embrace of surface scriptive explicitness unlike anything to be found in the work of the other writers in this book. The unstated but very nearly ubiquitous presence of ordnance maps of the En­glish countryside in The War of the Worlds is also to the point, though it should be noted that for all the seeming explicitness of Wells’s procedures in both novels, the implication of ­those procedures for the issues at stake in the pres­ent study has gone unremarked ­until now. Put slightly differently, Wells’s relation to literary impressionism was in impor­tant re­spects critical, as he himself aggressively asserts in Experiment in Autobiography. But it was not therefore simplistic or indeed unambiguous in its rejection of impressionist ideals, as we have had occasion to remark.8 As for Ford Madox Ford, a key figure as well as a somewhat difficult one, the question of writing is crucially entangled with issues of distraction and digression, of a kind of absent-­or double-­m indedness, that receives its subtlest, aesthetically most significant treatment in his justly admired novel The Good Soldier, as analyzed in this book by Charles Palermo. The sort of prose that can result, when the constraints of having to construct a coherent narrative are removed and digression is fully given its head, is exemplified by the passages cited in Chapter 3 from The Soul of London and Return to Yesterday, with their obsessive thematization of extreme aspects of the scene of writing (and, in the case of the former, allusions e­ ither conscious or, more likely, not, to Hudson, Conrad, and Crane). Jack London’s Martin Eden also has its place in the impressionist corpus, along with vari­ous stories and sketches by the ­today ­little known R. B. Cunninghame Graham, most obviously “The Orchid-­Hunter,” with its corpse and upturned face, but also other short narratives of journeys and the like that seek to promote the reader’s awareness of the a­ ctual writing of the texts in question. Then t­here is Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands, the ­great spy novel of the period, in which the impressionist motifs of maps, charts, and mist are deployed with consummate brilliance


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in one protracted passage, the fulcrum of the entire narrative, to place the reader in a relation to the page—­more precisely, to a par­tic­u­lar map or chart—­that is epistemologically homologous to that of the characters in the book. Conrad in some re­spects is closest to Crane, but with the difference that his proj­ect turns on what I have called erasure; that is, the “blackening” of pages in and by the act of writing, and then, absolutely crucially, returning to a blankness that is not quite an originary blankness, which itself seems to have been experienced by Conrad as a field of imaginative possibility from which, by an agonizing pro­cess of visualization equivalent to a man staring into a crystal ball, the settings, characters, and plots of his fictions w ­ ere somehow to be drawn. The proj­ect first emerged in his earliest novel, Almayer’s Folly, assumed its most agonizing form in Nostromo, and, partly in reaction against the effort required to bring that novel to fruition, was in a certain sense simplified in The Secret Agent, in which blankness comes to be understood sheerly materially (“a blankness to run at and dash your head against”), and indeed, the entire world of the novel is rendered as a radically materialist one consistent with the mechanistic norms of nineteenth-­century science. (Not that Conrad endorses such a worldview; rather, he savagely critiques it, even as he memorializes it as in no comparable work of fiction. And I have also suggested that the world of The Secret Agent is closed to the l­ater nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century science of statistical dynamics.) With ­Under Western Eyes, Conrad’s proj­ect undergoes a further development in and through the structural layering I have just described, which as I understand it, has two principal effects. First, as we have seen, it quietly asserts Conrad’s authorial control over ­every aspect of the text, including, for the first time, the thematization of erasure. And second, the point I now want to emphasize, it throws into relief—by which I mean, it seeks to charge with special intensity, to make all but palpable to the reader—­the “vertical” space (or “space”) between his or her (presumably Western) eyes and the printed page and its lines of type (originally, the “blackened” written page and its lines of script). This is harder to demonstrate than the layering per se, and indeed, it often seems to work by a kind of deliberate transposition from the “vertical” axis to a “horizontal” one involving intense encounters and exchanges between par­tic­u ­lar

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characters as well as, a point Kermode was perhaps the first to underscore, the proliferation of words such as “eyes,” “face,” “black,” “white,” “see,” and so on, all of which, it is by now perfectly clear, refer in one way or another to what I have been calling the scene of writing (also of reading). In fact, I would like to be able to claim that such words play a greater role in ­Under Western Eyes than in other novels by Conrad such as Almayer’s Folly, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, and Victory, but the a­ ctual numbers ­don’t bear this out—­all ­those words figure importantly in the novels I have just named, and indeed, throughout Conrad’s oeuvre, which on reflection is hardly surprising, given the ubiquitousness of the proj­ect of erasure in his writing (blackening, then making white or blank). Nevertheless, the way they are deployed in ­Under Western Eyes continually produces an effect of what I want to call layered intensity of vision, a kind of writerly and readerly absorption not simply in the narrative (for all the latter’s momentum) and not simply in the play of figures and images, including f­ aces, eyes, seeing, black, and white (not to mention the oculist’s shop in which Razumov and Mikulin meet), but in the very multiplicity, or perhaps, more accurately, the simultaneous “presence” of writers (and readers) by and through whom the story gets told. A brief consideration of three such moments from part third w ­ ill help make my meaning clear. The first: at the Château Borel, Razumov and Peter Ivanovitch have been engaged in a difficult conversation. At last, the latter opens the door to the room in which Razumov w ­ ill encounter Madame de S—­—, whom he already knows he ­will detest. Peter Ivanovitch pauses a moment as he informs Madame de S—­— that he is bringing her “a proved conspirator—­a real one this time. Un vrai celui là” (UWE, 166). The text continues: This pause in the doorway gave the “proved conspirator” time to make sure that his face did not betray his angry curiosity and his ­mental disgust. ­T hese sentiments stand confessed in Mr Razumov’s memorandum of his first interview with Madame de S—­—. The very words I use in my narrative are written where their sincerity cannot be suspected. The rec­ord which could not have been meant for any one’s eyes but his own, was not, I think, the outcome of that strange


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? impulse of indiscretion, common to men who lead secret lives, and accounting for the invariable existence of “compromising documents” in all the plots and conspiracies of history [three “con-” and two “com-” words, ­needless to say]. Mr Razumov looked at it, I suppose, as a man looks at himself in a mirror, with won­der, perhaps with anguish, with anger or despair. Yes, as a threatened man may look fearfully at his own face in the glass, formulating to himself reassuring excuses for his appearance marked by the taint of some insidious hereditary disease. (UWE, 167)

What I find striking is the claim that Razumov’s rec­ord—­that is, his very words—­could not have been meant for anyone’s eyes but his own, when we know that fictively, the words have been read by the teacher of languages (and before him, by Natalia) and that we are now reading them (“the very words”), and before us, they w ­ ere also read and reread by Conrad, who indeed wrote them in the first place. And I am equally struck by the figure of the mirror, of Razumov “look[ing]”—­a strange verb, ­under the circumstances—at his rec­ord “as a man looks at himself in a mirror,” a mirror being precisely a device for allowing one to see not simply one’s own features, which is what is being said ­here, but also objects or persons positioned ­behind one, which in this instance would figuratively mean the other writers and readers involved in the production and reception of ­Under Western Eyes (the teacher of languages, Joseph Conrad, the reader himself or herself). The second moment: somewhat ­later, in the course of the interview between Razumov and Madame de S—­—, we read: Her shiny eyes had a dry intense stare, which, missing Razumov, gave him an absurd notion that she was looking at something which was vis­i­ble to her ­behind him. He cursed himself for an impressionable fool and asked with forced calmness: “What is it you see? Anything resembling me?” She moved her rigidly set face from left to right, negatively. “Some sort of phantom in my image?” pursued Razumov slowly. “For, I suppose, a soul when it is seen is just that. A vain ­thing. ­There are phantoms of the living as well as of the dead.” (UWE, 174)

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­ ere the notion of something or someone vis­i­ble b­ ehind Razumov is made H explicit, along with the question of w ­ hether what or who is ­there resembles him; Madame de S—­—’s negative answer is also to the point, as is Razumov’s introduction of the idea of a phantom, a term that first appeared much earlier in the novel in connection with the hallucination of Haldin lying in his path covered with snow (an image of a page). The word “impressionable” is also suggestive, ­under the circumstances, as well as, perhaps, the word “­thing,” with its ambiguous status as between living and dead, as Razumov as much as says. And the third moment, following his interview with Madame de S—­—­, and coming at the end of his tortuous exchange with Peter Ivanovitch: He thought to himself (it stands confessed in his hand writing): “I ­won’t move from ­here till he ­either speaks or turns away. This is a duel.” Many seconds passed without a sign or a sound. “Yes, yes,” the ­g reat man said hurriedly in subdued tones as if  the ­whole ­thing had been a stolen breathless interview. “Exactly. Come to see us h­ ere in a few days. This must be gone into deeply—­deeply, between you and me. Quite to the bottom. To the . . . ​A nd, by the bye, you must bring along Natalia Viktorovna; you know? The Haldin girl. . . .” (UWE, 178)

And a bit further on: [Razumov] felt, bizarre as it may seem, as though another self, an in­de­pen­dent sharer of his mind, had been able to view his ­whole person very distinctly indeed. “This is curious,” he thought. A ­ fter a while he formulated his opinion of it in the ­mental ejaculation: “beastly.” This disgust vanished before a marked uneasiness. “This is an effect of ner­vous exhaustion,” he reflected with weary sagacity. “How am I to go on day ­a fter day if I have no more power of resistance—­moral re­sis­tance.” (UWE, 178)

The rhe­toric of ­going into ­matters “deeply—­deeply,” even in the mouth of Peter Ivanovitch, further evokes the notion of a third or “vertical” dimension, but what is most arresting in the light of my argument is Razumov’s


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feeling that “another self, an in­de­pen­dent sharer of his mind, had been able to view his ­whole person very distinctly indeed”—my suggestion being, of course, that not just one such in­de­pen­dent sharer of his mind but no less than three (the teacher of languages, the author of U ­ nder Western Eyes, and the reader) have been able to do exactly that. (Eventually, t­ here ­will be a fourth, Natalia Haldin, when she reads his journal.) Again, it is hard to imagine that Conrad was not aware of the cumulative implication of t­ hese successive passages. What gives all three moments further resonance is the recurrent characterization of Madame de S—­— in terms of the “strong effect [produced] by the deathlike immobility of an obviously painted face” and also “the rigidity of the upright attitude with one arm extended along the back of the sofa, the white gleam of the big eyeballs setting off the black fathomless stare of the enlarged pupils” (UWE, 167). A few sentences ­later: “At close quarters the rouged cheek bones, the wrinkles, the fine lines on each side of the vivid lips astounded him. He was being received graciously with a smile which made him think of a grinning skull” (UWE, 167). Further on: “Her rigidity was frightful, like the rigour of a corpse galvanized into harsh speech and glittering stare by the force of murderous hate. The sight fascinated Razumov” (UWE, 173). And again: At that very moment he hated Madame de S—­—. But it was not exactly hate. It was more like the abhorrence that may be caused by a wooden or plaster figure of a repulsive kind. She moved no more than if she w ­ ere such a figure; even her eyes whose unwinking stare plunged into his own, though shining ­were lifeless as though they ­were as artificial as her teeth. (UWE, 175)

And from the second of the moments cited above, t­ here is the sentence, “She moved her rigidly set face from left to right, negatively” (UWE, 174)—­ left to right being the direction of writing in the West (in Rus­sia, too, for that ­matter), a point I take as indicating, along with the other descriptive passages just cited, that Madame de S—­— is to be understood as a figure for what might be called dead writing—­writing which, for all its seemingly vital touches, is, in the end, irredeemably corpse-­like, which in this case would mean writing radically deficient in the careful “layering,” not

The Writing of Revolution


simply of narratives, but more importantly, of “lookers” or “seers,” of pairs of eyes, indeed, of writers and readers, that Conrad meticulously built into his text. (We might say that her corpse-­like character amounts to something like a parody of that basic figure for the page, just as the fact that she moved her face “negatively” amounts to a parody of negation—­that is, of erasure.) All this goes quite far, but t­ here is still more to be said. For in the sharpest imaginable contrast to the pre­sen­ta­tion of Madame de S—­— in ­t hese terms is the altogether dif­fer­ent, not to say antithetical treatment of the no longer young revolutionist Sophia Antonovna, who emerges from the l­ater stages of the novel as deeply committed, highly intelligent, and psychologically penetrating, even if at the very end of part fourth she reveals herself still to be entranced by Peter Ivanovitch. As Kermode and ­others have noted, she is repeatedly described as possessing vivid black eyes and a mass of white or almost white hair (she also wears a crimson silk blouse, a rare coloristic accent no doubt connoting revolution as well as, perhaps, “life”). Equally to the point, she pays intense and sustained visual attention to Razumov, as in the sentence, “She had been looking at him all the time not as a listener looks at one but as if the words he chose to say ­were of only secondary interest” (UWE, 187). This enables her to see, perfectly accurately, that he d ­ oesn’t like the conspirators (“What’s the ­matter with you is that you ­don’t like us” [UWE, 188]), though she fails to perceive in him the betrayer of Haldin. And further on: “He noticed the vacillation of surprise passing over the steady curiosity of the black eyes fastened on his face as if the ­woman revolutionist received the sound of his voice into her pupils instead of her ears” (UWE, 198)—­a brilliant figure for reading, in par­tic­u­lar for reading ­Under Western Eyes. Still l­ ater she gives him a short account of her life, interrupting herself by saying, “And—­look at my white hair.” In ­these last words t­ here was neither pride nor sadness. The bitterness too was gone. “­There is a lot of it. I always had magnificent hair even as a chit of a girl. Only at that time we w ­ ere cutting it short and thinking that ­there was the first step t­oward crushing the social infamy. Crush the infamy! A fine watchword, I would placard it on the walls of


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? prisons and palaces, carve it on hard rocks, hang it out in letters of fire on that empty sky for a sign of hope and terror—­a portent of the end. . . .” “You are eloquent, Sophia Antonovna,” Razumov interrupted suddenly. “Only, so far you seem to have been writing it in ­water. . . .” She was checked but not offended. “Who knows? Very soon it may become a fact written all over that g­ reat land of ours,” she hinted meaningfully. “And then one would have lived long enough. White hair ­won’t ­matter.” Razumov looked at her white hair: and this mark of so many uneasy years seemed nothing but a testimony to the invincible vigour of revolt. It threw out into an astonishing relief the unwrinkled face, the brilliant black glance, the upright compact figure, the ­simple, brisk, self possession of the mature personality as though in her revolutionary pilgrimage she had discovered the secret not of everlasting youth but of everlasting endurance. (UWE, 202–203)

With this succinct, complex description of Sophia Antonovna, I have come pretty much to the end of my reading of ­Under Western Eyes. That is, I take it as evident by now that what­ever ­else is at stake in the language in which she is rendered, she stands for a positive relation to writing and reading (and looking and seeing, which is to say, to practices of writing and reading in which looking and seeing play a crucial role), as opposed to the entirely negative relation to ­these embodied by the immobile, corpse-­like, painted, and grotesque Madame de S—­—. Sophia Antonovna’s black eyes and eyebrows evoke the ­actual writing of the novel (in another crucial passage “the very spirit of ruthless revolution” is seen as “embodied in that ­woman with her white hair and black eyebrows, like slightly sinuous lines of Indian ink, drawn together by the perpendicular folds of a thoughtful frown” [UWE, 201–202]), while her white hair, hair that has gone from black to white in the ser­vice of the revolution, stands for what I have been calling erasure, the crucial difference between herself and Conrad being that she still imagines a further writing, the writing of revolution “all over that g­ reat land of ours,” making her white hair beside the point (“White hair w ­ on’t ­matter”). Possibly, though, this is to

The Writing of Revolution


draw too absolute a contrast between the two ­women, as if in the end Conrad himself ­were of two minds with re­spect to this extraordinarily attractive and formidable creation of his, whose po­liti­cal commitments Conrad cannot be ­imagined to have shared. In any case, Sophia Antonovna’s closing words, “Peter Ivanovitch is an inspired man”—­the last in the novel—­are readable as a final gesture on Conrad’s part to separate himself from her, and perhaps also from ­Under Western Eyes, once and for all.9

n By way of a postscript: in the course of the long campaign on ­Under Western Eyes, Conrad took a break from his manuscript to redistribute the semes “snow,” “whiteness,” “deafness,” and “writing” so as to personify Polish (i.e., anti-­Russian) naturalist purity of motive in and through a meta­phorics of blankness in the heroic protagonist of the short story “Prince Roman.”10 The contrast between novel and story in this regard points ­toward a certain structural indifference on the part of Conrad’s obsessional procedures to the moral and / or psychological, and in this case, also the po­liti­cal meaning of the imagery, characters, and plots in which they issue. The same point in a dif­fer­ent key emerges from his characterization of Rus­sia in his 1905 essay “Autocracy and War,” in which he takes up Bismarck’s scathing description of Rus­sia as néant (nothing, or nothingness), and writes: Néant! In a way, yes! And perhaps Prince Bismarck has let himself be led away by the seduction of a good phrase into the use of an inexact term. The form of his judgment had to be pithy, striking, engraved within a ring. If he erred, then, no doubt, he erred deliberately. The saying was near enough to the truth to serve: and perhaps he did not want to destroy utterly, by a more severe definition, the prestige of the sham that could not deceive his genius. Prince Bismarck has been r­ eally complimentary to the useful phantom of the autocratic might. ­There is an awe, inspiring the idea of infinity, conveyed in the word “Neant”—­and in Rus­sia ­there is no idea. She is not a Néant: she is and has been simply the negation of every­thing worth living [sic]. She is not empty void, she is a yawning chasm open between East and West; a bottomless abyss


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? that has swallowed up e­very hope of mercy, ­every aspiration t­ owards personal dignity, ­towards freedom, ­towards knowledge; ­every ennobling desire of the heart, ­every redeeming whisper of conscience. T ­ hose that have peered into that abyss—­where the dreams of Panslavism, of universal conquest, of hate and contempt for Western ideas, drifted impotently like shapes of mist—­ know well that it is bottomless; that ­there is in it no ground for anything that could in the remotest degree serve even the lowest interest of mankind—­and certainly no ground ready for a revolution.11

The yawning chasm and, even more, the bottomless abyss that swallows up every­t hing amount to quasi-­personifications of erasure, as does, of course, the idea of negation, which is to say that in this highly in­ter­est­ing text, Conrad’s Rus­sia has much in common with Conrad the writer. The same cannot quite be claimed of ­Under Western Eyes, but ­there, too, nowhere more so than in the figure of the indomitable Sophia Antonovna, the relation of Rus­sia to the overarching problematic of writing followed by erasure is anything but clear-­cut.

Chapter Eight

Versions of Regression



n a l i t t l e - k­ n ow n story by Rudyard Kipling, “A ­Matter of Fact,” published in his 1893 collection Many Inventions, three newspaper men on a tramp steamer from Capetown to Southampton undergo a horrific experience.1 One morning their l­ittle vessel, the Rathmines, is buffeted by a series of tidal waves generated by the eruption of an undersea volcano; then, in a blinding white fog, they hear what they take to be the steam siren of another ship, frighteningly close to them; at the same time, they become aware of an appalling smell, as of something from the bottom of the sea; and then ­there is this: Some six or seven feet above the port bulwarks, framed in fog, and as utterly unsupported as the full moon, hung a Face. It was not ­human, and it certainly was not animal, for it did not belong to this earth as known to man. The mouth was open, revealing a ridiculously tiny tongue—as absurd as the tongue of an elephant; t­here ­were tense wrinkles of white skin at the ­angles of the drawn lips; white feelers like t­ hose of a barbel sprang from the lower jaw, and ­there was no sign of teeth within the mouth. But the horror of the face lay in the eyes, for t­hose ­were sightless—­white, in sockets as white as scraped bone, and blind. Yet for all this the face, wrinkled as the mask of a lion is drawn in Assyrian sculpture, was alive with



w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? rage and terror. One long white feeler touched our bulwarks. Then the face dis­appeared with the swiftness of a blind worm popping into its burrow, and the next t­ hing that I remember is my own voice in my own ears, saying gravely to the mainmast, “But the air-­bladder ­ought to have been forced out of its mouth, you know.” (“MF,” 190–191)

A moment ­later, the fog blows away and the men see the sea, “gray with mud, rolling on ­every side of us and empty of all life.” ­There follows a long passage that I give in its entirety: Then in one spot it bubbled and became like the pot of ointment the Bible speaks of. From that wide-­ringed trou­ble a T ­ hing came up—­a gray and red ­Thing with a neck—­a ­Thing that bellowed and writhed in pain. Frithiof [the boatswain] drew in his breath and held it till the red letters of the ship’s name, woven across his jersey, straggled and opened out as though they had been type badly set. Then he said with a ­little cluck in his throat, “Ah, me! It is blind. Hur illa! That ­thing is blind,” and a murmur of pity went through us all, for we could see that the ­thing on the ­water was blind and in pain. Something had gashed and cut the g­ reat sides cruelly and the blood was spurting out. The gray ooze of the undermost sea lay in the monstrous wrinkles of the back and poured away in sluices. The blind white head flung back and battered the wounds, and the body in its torment r­ ose clear of the red and gray waves till we saw a pair of quivering shoulders streaked with weed and rough with shells, but as white in the clear spaces as the hairless, nameless, blind, toothless head. Afterwards came a dot on the horizon and the sound of a shrill scream, and it was as though a shut­tle shot all across the sea in one breath, and a second head and neck tore through the levels, driving a whispering wall of w ­ ater to right and left. The two ­T hings met—­t he one untouched and the other in its death throe—­male and female, we said, the female coming to the male. She circled round him bellowing, and laid her neck across the curve of his g­ reat turtle-­back, and he dis­appeared ­under ­water for an instant, but flung up again, grunting in agony while the

Versions of Regression


blood ran. Once the entire head and neck shot clear of the w ­ ater and stiffened, and I heard Keller [one of the newspaper men] saying, as though he was watching a street accident, “Give him air. For God’s sake give him air!” Then the death strug­gle began, with crampings and twistings and jerkings of the white bulk to and fro, till our l­ittle steamer rolled again, and each gray wave coated her plates with the gray slime. The sun was clear, ­there was no wind, and we watched, the w ­ hole crew, stokers and all, in won­der and pity, but chiefly pity. The ­Thing was so helpless, and, save for his mate, so alone. No ­human eye should have beheld him; it was monstrous and indecent to exhibit him ­t here in trade ­waters between atlas degrees of latitude. He had been spewed up, mangled and ­dying from his rest on the sea-­floor, where he might have lived till the Judgment Day, and we saw the tides of his life go from him as an angry tide goes out across rocks in the teeth of a landward gale. The mate lay rocking on the ­water a ­little distance off, bellowing continually, and the smell of musk came down upon the ship making us cough. At last the ­battle for life ended, in a batter of coloured seas. We saw the writhing neck fall like a flail, the carcase turn sideways, showing the glint of a white belly and the inset of a gigantic hind­leg or flapper. Then all sank, and the sea boiled over it, while the mate swam round and round, darting her blind head in e­ very ­direction. . . . ​Then she made off to the westward, the sun shining on the white head and the wake b­ ehind it, till nothing was left to see but a l­ittle pin point of silver on the horizon. We stood our course again, and the Rathmines, coated with the sea-­sediment, from bow to stern, looked like a ship made gray with terror. (“MF,” 192–194)

In light of the previous chapters, several points all but suggest themselves. First, a point so obvious it scarcely needs stating: the passages are another instance (an early instance, as a ­matter of fact) of the impressionist fascination with a horrific or other­wise disfigured face. Indeed, our first glimpse of the monster is only of its face, an effect that is registered typographically by the use of a capital F, and stylistically, if that is the word,


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by con­spic­u­ous alliteration (“Some six or seven feet above the port bulwarks, framed in fog, and as utterly unsupported as the full moon, hung a Face”). Second, both the description of the face and the unfolding of the action thematize a violent disturbance of seeing. The monster itself is blind, with white eyes, “in sockets as white as scraped bone,” but equally impor­tant is the narrator’s sense that looking at it ­under ­these conditions (and ­there is, of course, no possibility of not looking at it, for the men on the steamer but also in a sense for the reader, for us) involves violating a quasi-­ethical norm or law. In Kipling’s words: “No ­human eye should have beheld him; it was monstrous and indecent to exhibit him t­ here in trade ­waters between atlas degrees of latitude.” But who was d ­ oing the exhibiting if not the writer himself? Third, a related point, no h­ uman eye should have beheld the monster ­because he belonged somewhere else—­not exposed to view above the surface of the ocean, but “on the sea-­floor, where he might have lived till the Judgment Day.” What is monstrous, in other words, is not just his appearance but also the fact that he has been displaced from his normal habitat far below the world of light and vision (hence his sightless eyes) to another world, described as one of “atlas degrees of latitude”—­a phrase that brilliantly evokes both the notion of surface as opposed to depth (of lateralness, so to speak) and the image of a specific printed book, an atlas, a collection of maps and charts that precisely image the surface of the earth (an impressionist motif, as has been shown). Fourth, the point that most interests me: the second passage contains a brief piece of narration worth lingering over. Let me quote two sentences again: From that wide-­ringed trou­ble a ­Thing came up—­a gray and red ­Thing with a neck—­a ­Thing that bellowed and writhed in pain. Firthiof drew in his breath and held it till the red letters of the ship’s name, woven across his jersey, straggled and opened out as though they had been type badly set.

Note, in the first place. the repetition of the word “­Thing” (­here capitalized), a word that consistently plays a prominent role in impressionist

Versions of Regression


writing owing to its serving as a switch point between effects of animateness and ones of deathliness, or, say, mere materiality. And note, too, the highly charged verb “writhed” (“a T ­ hing that bellowed and writhed in pain”), which ­toward the end of the second passage ­will be followed by the pres­ent participle “writhing” (“We saw the writhing neck fall like a flail”)—­another word that occurs with remarkable frequency in impressionist texts, where it comes as close as pos­si­ble to spelling out the almost identical word “writing” (as in Crane’s astonishing sentence, already cited more than once, “For the most part, they ­were ­silent amid this rioting, but ­there was one which seemed to hold a scintillant and writhing serpent”). But what I want to emphasize in the sentences I have just quoted a second time is the apparently gratuitous detail of the letters of the ship’s name on the boatswain’s jersey straggling and opening out as he took and held a deep breath, “as though they had been type badly set.” This not only confirms the claim that a thematics of writing is at work in Kipling’s story, it also combines with the notion that the monster has emerged from another dimension (also, it is implied, from an earlier epoch) to suggest that the ultimate source of the sense of monstrosity is a certain reversion or regression with re­spect to writing—­from the printed page (as in an atlas, or a story in a journal or a book), itself not meant to be focused on as such, to the a­ ctual, material pro­cess of printing, as imaged by the letters of the ship’s name moving apart, like a line of type breaking up, on the boatswain’s jersey. It is as if Kipling’s story, or at least this par­tic­u­lar image, thematizes an inherent instability in the printed text, or, rather, a certain fear or dread of such an instability—as if one concomitant of the impressionist thematization of the materiality of writing was an uneasy sense of the several states of materiality a given text passes through in the journey from the written to the printed page. Or even before that. Thus, we glimpsed a version of such instability much earlier, in the protracted episode in London’s Martin Eden narrating the young Martin’s repeated fistfights with the dreadful Cheese-­ Face, which are explic­itly analogized to his pres­ent efforts to find a publisher for his manuscripts. The fistfights come back to him as intensely visual and aural memories as he buries his face in his arms on his writing ­table; he wants to cry, and is reminded of his first fight, when he was six years old, and Cheese-­Face, two years older,


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? had beaten and pounded him into exhaustion. He saw the ring of boys, howling like barbarians as he went down at last, writhing in the throes of nausea, the blood streaming from his nose and the tears from his bruised eyes. “Poor ­little shaver,” he murmured. “And ­you’re just as badly licked now. Y ­ ou’re beaten to a pulp. ­You’re down and out.”2

The fights continue in a narrow alley next to the building where a newspaper, the Enquirer, is printed; indeed, they go on day ­after day, with hallucinatory intensity. For Martin, he recalls, ­ here was nothing e­ lse in the world but that face, and he would T never know rest, blessed rest, ­until he had beaten that face into a pulp with his bleeding knuckles, or ­until the bleeding knuckles that somehow belonged to that face had beaten him into a pulp. And then, one way or the other, he would have rest. But to quit,—­for him, Martin, to quit,—­that was impossible! (ME, 177)

Eventually, as emerged in Chapter 4, Martin reduces Cheese-­Face’s face to “a bloody something before him that was not a face but a horror, an oscillating, hideous, gibbering, nameless ­thing that persisted before his wavering vision and would not go away” (ME, 182)—­until the horror sinks to the ground and Martin has won. Coming out of his virtual trance, Martin in the pres­ent looks about his room, perplexed, alarmed, wondering where he was, ­until he caught sight of the pile of manuscripts in the corner. Then the wheels of memory slipped ahead through four years of time, and he was aware of the pres­ent, of the books he had opened and the universe he had won from their pages. (ME, 183)

In Chapter 4 I claim that the ­battles with Cheese-­Face express a fantasy at once of writing and of publication, or more precisely, an obsession with the thought of writing as publication (an unrealizable thought, as ­matters turn out), and I further suggest that the pages in question may be read as implying a kind of identification with Cheese-­Face, as if his suffer-

Versions of Regression


ings rather than Martin’s are made most vivid to the reader. Now I want to propose that the descriptions of the fistfights, and in par­tic­u­lar the repeated stress on the word “pulp,” introduce a third term into the story—­not just the manuscripts seeking a publisher and the desired publications (newspapers, magazines, books) but wood pulp itself, the raw material out of which paper, newsprint especially, had fairly recently come to be manufactured.3 Read in that light, the fistfights in their very ferocity make a highly problematic analogy for Martin’s efforts to achieve publication, figuratively veering as they do in exactly the opposite direction— in effect, threatening to reduce the manuscripts themselves to an inchoate condition. ­W hether or not London in his account of the ­battles with Cheese-­Face suspected that this was one implication of his choice of language remains an open question. But t­ here is, in any case, a striking lack of fit between the all but formless ­thing that Cheese-­Face’s visage had been reduced to and the very idea of publication.4 A little-­k nown but fascinating text with re­spect to the notion of regression from the printed condition to earlier ones is R. B. Cunninghame Graham’s long sketch “Pro­g ress,” from his volume of sketches of that name (1905).5 It begins simply enough (as often in this book, the citation that follows ­will not be brief): A friend in Mexico sent me the other day a l­ ittle book. The author, Heriberto Frias, was quite unknown to me, but has become a friend. It is asserted that some have been the hosts of angels unawares, a proposition most difficult of proof (or of disproof), for angels in the self-­same way as ghosts are seen with the interior eye. But; the book lies before me, in all the poverty of its cheap paper, and the faint, eye-­searing print, which Spain apparently has left among its legacies to the republics which once ­were “jewels in her crown.” Printed in Mexico (Mancier ­Brothers, Io del Relox), it has upon its outside cover a vignette of a ­l ittle village in the Sierra Madre, known as Tomochic. A river runs in front, slow flowing, and its margin set about with tamarisks. It further is adorned with the presentment of a soldier of the republic that Porfirio Diaz rules; a ­rifle in his hand, his bandolier crossing his chest, his chinstrap


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? stuck beneath his nose, and on his face, an air of Mexico expects each man to look his best. On a small scroll ­there is a vignette of a poblana girl, wearing her hair in the old Spanish fashion in a long thick plait, and with a cross and rosary, sinister, sable, displayed upon a ground of rather sickly gules. But the keynote is given on the left corner of the page where a strange figure sits. Dressed all in grey, with deerskin sandals on his feet, kept on by straps which, like the garterings of Malvolio, or t­hose worn by a pifararo, rise to his knee, with his hands crossed upon his Winchester, two bandoliers upon his chest, and one about his waist fastened by a long silver cross, he sits and looks out on the world, with all the realism that a bad portrait sometimes has in a supreme degree. His bushy beard and thick moustache, long and disheveled hair, and hat thrown back almost to form an aureole, show the religious monomaniac or enthusiast (for all the difference in the term is but the exit of the enterprise), at the first glance. A curious cloak, which rises almost to his ears in two peaked wings, completes the picture, which may, for all that I know, have been taken from the life. Upon the other outside covering of the work are some perfunctory advertisements of books, most of them translations from the French, setting forth the Vida de Jesus, by E. Renan, Mi Madre, by one Hugo Conway, and lastly, La Señorita Giraud mi Mujer, by Adolphe Belot. . . . Thus with prolixity I have set forth the outside of my ­little book sent from Tenochtitlan, as when it came to me it did not strike me that I should be much moved by its contents. (“P,” 1–3)

Of course, Cunninghame Grahame turns out to have been sufficiently moved by the book to retell its narrative in his own words. Very briefly, the story concerns a small Mexican village, Tomochic, that refuses to pay taxes on the grounds that they w ­ ere due only to God, “and thus [he writes ironically] at the first step they placed themselves outside the pale of Chris­tian­ity” (“P,” 6). (Their leader is a religious fanatic, Cruz, of the type depicted on the outside cover of the book.) Accordingly, the government of President Porfirio Diaz sends a troop of 1,000 soldiers to

Versions of Regression


enforce the law, and the bulk of the narrative relates the dif­fer­ent stages of the bloody suppression of the minor rebellion. The book begins, the reader is informed, with the impressions of a young officer, Miguel Mercado, who learns from fellow officers that the re­sis­tance being offered by the villa­gers is surprisingly strong, and who turns out to be attracted to and indeed seduces a young ­woman of the village, who at the end ­will die with the ­others. At one point, still early on, Cunninghame Graham writes: “­Here Heriberto Frias breaks off into a description of Tomochic and of the c­ auses which led to the revolt, which might as well have been at the commencement of the book” (“P,” 12). “Pro­gress” continues: One sees the place dazzling with whitewash in the clear blue sky, or brown with sun-­dried bricks, but as to this our author gives no details, so I w ­ ill make it white. The l­ ittle sandy streets crossed one another at right ­angles, and emerged upon the plaza, where was built the church. All round the square stood seats of stucco painted in yellow ochre or in blue. Above them waved some straggling China trees, or ashes of Japan. The win­dows all had gratings of wrought iron; the doors ­were solid and ­were studded thick with nails. Outside the ­actual town extended maize fields set with jacáls in which the cultivators lived. [A footnote informs the reader that “jacál is the Mexican word for a small cottage. It appears to be of Indian origin.”] . . . ­There may have been some l­ ittle shops in which some fly-­blown wares ­were kept, with boxes of sardines, some macaroni, raisins of the sun, and ­bottles of mescal, Tequila, whisky of the Americanos, boots, girths, cigarettes, and general stores, called abarrotes by the Mexicans, although the real meaning of the word is “dunnage,” and signifies the packing used for the cargo of a ship. And yet an air of melancholy hung all about the place: an air of melancholy, but mingled with distrust, so that, when men heard noises in the night, their hands grasped pistol-­butts laid ready to their beds; and in the daytime hearing anything unusual, they stopped their conversation with their eyes and ears strained open, as a coyoté or a mustang listens when a twig crackles or a distant neigh is borne along the wind. (“P,” 13–14)


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And so on, the essential point of t­ hese sensuously detailed and at the same time manifestly ­imagined paragraphs (“­There may have been some ­little shops . . .”) being to signal to the reader that the sketch he or she is reading is far from simply a translation of a Spanish-­language narrative into En­ glish; rather, what Cunninghame Graham has done is to take a published book in another language, and ­after describing it at the outset in all its material (also, in a sense, pictorial) specificity, go on to freely En­glish it in his autograph impressionist style, while at the same time continually calling attention to its Mexican origin. Indeed, my further suggestion is that the reader is meant to be encouraged, in part by Cunninghame Graham’s deliberately informal tone (“Thus with prolixity I have set forth the outside of my ­little book”), to imagine the act of rewriting as taking place more or less before his or her eyes, so that the cumulative effect is less of the replacement of one printed text by another than of the continuous transformation of the original book into a sustained feat of writerly improvisation. And not only that: t­ oward the end of the sketch, following a long and bloody encounter between the army and the rebels, narrated over many pages in harrowing detail, seven survivors destined to be shot “­were laid face upwards in a doorway which the fire had spared” (the rebels had been holding out in a h­ ouse that the soldiers set aflame). Amongst them was a w ­ oman whose blackened and scorched hands still held a r­ ifle bent and twisted with the heat. Her breast was bare, and over it an empty bandolier was strapped. She was the wife one of Cruz’s b­ rothers, and as they laid her down she murmured, “Long live the Power of God!” [the rebels’s cry] and died, her eyes remaining open and her jaw falling almost on her breast. (“P,” 59)

Cruz, wounded, is laid beside her. Then the survivors are told to kneel, the soldiers advance ­until their ­r ifles almost touch the men about to die, and “the soldiers fired, and all fell dead but one, Cruz falling like a stone, shot through the heart, his g­ reat black eyes remaining open wide and fixed, as if he looked into eternity.” Then: “The last man, wounded horribly, was writhing on the ground when he received another bullet,

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strug­gled to his knees, and shouted, ‘Long live the Power of God!’ and fell, a bundle of black, blood-­stained rags, upon the ground” (“P,” 60– 61). As the soldiers leave the next morning, looking back, they saw only a few huts and smoking ruins. But the Sierra Madre stood out blue and flecked with snow; the pine woods formed a black and threatening mass; and in the foreground, ­under a pile of wood, the bodies smouldered, whilst the swine, grunting in the ashes, tore the half-­burned flesh of their dead ­owners, and a thick, nauseating smoke ascended up on high.” (“P,” 61)

By now, it scarcely needs stressing that the position of the rebels alive and dead, lying on their backs with open, and in the case of the dead, unseeing eyes, is that of the upward-­facing page on which Cunninghame Graham was bringing his sketch to a close; the key gerund “writhing” also makes a dramatic, last-­minute appearance; and I am tempted to see in the w ­ oman’s bent and twisted ­rifle a figure for scriptive writing as such, though I am aware that for many readers this may be a stretch (just wait). As for the last of the rebels being described as “a bundle of black, blood-­stained rags,” and for that ­matter the final image of the swine rooting about in the half-­burned flesh of their dead ­owners, I suggest that, knowingly or other­wise, Cunninghame Graham thereby evokes the formless material—in this case, not pulp, but rags—­out of which the paper of both Heriberto Frias’s book and his own sketch, and before that, of their respective manuscripts, was surely constituted. At that point, the ironically titled “Pro­gress” has nowhere further to go.

n By far, the most famous text of the period focused on the theme of regression (or reversion) is H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1897).6 A reasonably full analy­sis would take up too much space, but a few points should be made; even to make t­ hose, however, a brief plot summary is required. The novel purports to be the manuscript of a first-­person account by one Edward Prendick of his adventures following a shipwreck in which he was presumed to have been lost. A ­ fter drifting for a time in a dinghy,


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Prendick was picked up in a state of collapse by a schooner en route to an island where he, too, was forced by the drunken captain to disembark. In effect, the island belonged to an older man, the Dr. Moreau of the book’s title, and t­ here, with the assistance of a younger man, Montgomery (who had been on the schooner and who had nursed Prendick following his rescue), Moreau conducted grisly experiments on animals with the purpose of making them into h­ umans, or at least into “humanised animals—­ triumphs of vivisection” (IDM, 45). (The parallel between Wells’s story and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has always been recognized.) All this emerges only gradually, and excruciatingly: The Island of Doctor Moreau must be one of the most unpleasant reads in En­glish or American lit­er­a­ ture. The truth does not become plain ­until roughly halfway through the book, in a chapter titled “Dr. Moreau Explains,” in which Moreau gives an account of his aims and methods. I ­shall have more to say about that account shortly, but h­ ere what I want to stress is Moreau’s acknowl­edgment of his ­great failure—­namely, the ineradicable tendency for his humanized animals eventually to revert to mere animals again, despite the surgery that has altered their physical forms and the more mysterious pro­cess, apparently akin to hypnosis, by which a version of the moral law (called, indeed, “the Law”) has been instilled in them. “I have been d ­ oing better,” Moreau says to Prendick. “But somehow the ­things drift back again: the stubborn beast-­flesh grows day by day back again” (IDM, 50; emphasis in original). And a page or so further on: ­ hese creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you as soon T as you began to observe them; but to me, just a­ fter I make them, they seem to be indisputably ­human beings. It’s afterwards, as I observe them that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares out at me. But I ­w ill conquer yet! Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, “This time I ­w ill burn out all the animal; this time I ­w ill make a rational creature of my own!” . . . ​[But in fact] they revert. As soon as my hand is taken from them the beast begins to creep back, begins to assert itself again. (IDM, 51)

The remainder of the narrative bears this out. One of the “Beast Folk,” as Prendick calls them (he also refers to them as “monsters”), the Leopard-

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­ an, violates the injunction against eating flesh (he kills and devours a M rabbit) and goes wild; confronted by Moreau in front of the other Beast Folk, at first he is cowed, but then attacks Moreau and runs off; fi­nally, he is cornered, and although Moreau wishes to take him alive, Prendick, responding to the Leopard-­Man’s terror at the prospect of being returned to suffer “the horrible tortures of the enclosure” (IDM, 62), shoots it between the eyes. Sometime ­later, a puma on which Moreau had been working breaks loose from the laboratory, attacks Prendick in passing (breaking his arm), and goes on to kill Moreau and be killed by him. By this time, other animals have regressed to the point of becoming dangerous; more vio­lence follows, and Montgomery, too, is killed. Prendick attempts to convince the Beast Folk that although Moreau has died he is ­really alive in a world above them, that he watches all their actions, and indeed, that he w ­ ill come again (to this extent, Wells’s novel is a b­ itter satire on Chris­tian­ity, as has also been recognized), but the pro­cess of reversion cannot be halted. Eventually, Prendick is forced to kill a carnivorous hyena-­swine that has lost all fear and restraint, and he realizes that if he remains on the island, his own death is just a m ­ atter of time. Providentially, a small boat arrives at the island (its occupants are dead), and Prendick embarks on it and a­ fter a few days is rescued. The manuscript is near its end, which it reaches by means of a variation on the closing pages of Gulliver’s Travels: Prendick describes how, once returned to civilization, “I could not persuade myself that the men and ­women I met with ­were not also another Beast ­People, animals half wrought into the outward image of ­human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert, to show first this bestial mark and then that” (IDM, 86). As he also says: I see ­faces keen and bright; ­others dull or dangerous; ­others ­u nsteady, insincere—­none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders ­w ill be played over again on a larger scale. (IDM, 86)

Even in libraries, “the intent ­faces over the books seemed but patient creatures waiting for prey,” though worst of all, it seems, “­were the blank expressionless ­faces of ­people in trains and omnibuses; they seemed no


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more my fellow-­creatures than dead bodies would be, so that I did not dare to travel ­unless I was assured of being alone” (IDM, 87). Prendick accordingly leaves London for “the broad f­ree downland,” where he spends his days surrounded by wise books—­bright win­dows, in this life of ours lit by the shining souls of men. . . . ​My days I devote to reading and to experiments in chemistry, and I spend many of the clear nights in the study of astronomy. T ­ here is—­t hough I do not know how ­there is or why ­there is—­a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. ­There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of ­matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and trou­bles of men, that what­ever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope. I hope, or I could not live. And so, in hope and solitude, my story ends. (IDM, 87; emphasis in original)

My interest in The Island of Doctor Moreau is quite specific: I am fascinated by the implications of its story of ineluctable reversion for the problematic of seeing and writing I associate with impressionism generally. But in order to make this good, I have to bring out aspects of Wells’s text I deliberately minimized in sketching its broad outlines. First, the theme of monstrosity is largely conveyed, especially before Prendick fully understands the meaning of his observations, by descriptions of half-­human, half-­bestial f­ aces. This may seem natu­ral enough, but in light of the larger thematic of faciality in impressionist texts, it is not unimportant. So, for example, chapter 3, “The Strange Face,” involves a careful description of the face of a disturbing figure, an oddly misshapen man (Prendick assumes) who accompanies Montgomery as a kind of servant or assistant. “In some indefinable way the black face thus flashed upon me [when the figure turns around] shocked me profoundly,” the narrator writes. It was a singularly deformed one. The facial part projected, forming something dimly suggestive of a muzzle, and the huge half-­open mouth showed as big white teeth as I had ever seen in a h­ uman mouth. His eyes ­were bloodshot at the edges, with scarcely a rim of

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white round the hazel pupils. T ­ here was a curious glow of excitement in his face. (IDM, 8)

Prendick is “astonished beyond mea­sure at the grotesque ugliness of this black-­faced creature.” He continues: “I had never beheld such a repulsive and extraordinary face before, and yet—if the contradiction is credible—­I experienced at the same time an odd feeling that in some way I had already encountered exactly the features and gestures that now amazed me” (IDM, 8; emphasis in original). L ­ ater, being towed to the shore of Moreau’s island by Montgomery and a crew of Beast Folk in a launch, Prendick is struck by their ­faces as well. “I saw only their ­faces,” he writes, “yet ­there was something in their ­faces—­I knew not what—­t hat gave me a queer spasm of disgust. I looked steadily at them, and the impression did not pass, though I failed to see what had occasioned it” (IDM, 17). Not long thereafter, Prendick sees several Beast Folk talking together and realizes what had given rise to two inconsistent and conflicting impressions of utter strangeness and yet of the strangest familiarity. . . . ​Each of ­these creatures, despite its h­ uman form, its rag of clothing and the rough humanity of its bodily form, had woven into it—­into its movements, into the expression of its countenance, into its ­whole presence—­some now irresistible suggestion of a hog, a swinish taint, the unmistakable mark of the beast. (IDM, 27)

(The last phrase w ­ ill turn up again further on.)7 The narrator’s or, say, the story’s apparent obsession with ­faces is also expressed in the fact that on the three occasions when Prendick finds it necessary to kill one of the Beast Folk, he does so by shooting it in the face (IDM, 62, 69, 84), as if the act of killing w ­ ere less impor­tant than that of obliterating the face itself. In fact, this would seem to be the implication of his account of the second of ­those killings: “I fired, and the ­Thing still came on; fired again point-­blank into its ugly face. I saw its features vanish in a flash: its face was driven in” (IDM, 69). (Think in this connection of the destruction of Henry Johnson’s face in The Monster, of the deliberate obliteration of the drowned Malay’s face in Almayer’s Folly, and


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of Martin’s climactic fistfight with Cheese-­Face—­just three of many such scenes in impressionist lit­er­a­ture. In an extremely unpleasant early story by Kipling, which just happens to be called “The Mark of the Beast,” a leper known as the Silver Man has no face at all.) 8 A somewhat dif­fer­ent note is struck ­after Moreau himself is killed and brought back to his compound; although it is night, a bright moon casts shadows “of inky blackness” at the narrator’s feet. “Then I shut the door,” the narrator writes, locked it, and went into the enclosure where Moreau lay beside his latest victims—­t he staghounds and the llama, and some other wretched brutes—­w ith his massive face calm even a­ fter his terrible death, and with the hard eyes open, staring at the dead white moon above. I sat down upon the edge of the sink, and with my eyes upon that ghastly pile of silvery light and ominous shadows began to turn over my plans. (IDM, 72)

Again, t­ here is no end of similar upturned ­faces with unseeing eyes in other impressionist texts, though what is perhaps distinctive h­ ere is the hint in the final phrase of something material being leafed through, literally, turned over, in the narrator’s mind. Montgomery’s death, too, gives rise to a similar description. “I bent down to his face,” we read, put my hand through the rent in his blouse. He was dead; and even as he died a line of white heat, the limb of the sun, r­ ose eastward beyond the projection of the bay, splashing its radiance across the sky, and turning the dark sea into a weltering tumult of dazzling light. It fell like a glory upon his death-­shrunken face. (IDM, 74)

In Crane, as I have argued in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces,” the word “line” inevitably carries connotations of a line of writing; I ­don’t say flatly that that is the case h­ ere, though the curiously excited description of a limb-­like spread of light across the sky and then the transfer of that light both to the previously dark sea and to the dead Montgomery’s upturned face suggests a pro­cess of something like stamping or printing that belongs to the larger technology of literary production, a point to which I ­shall return. Fi­nally, the next chapter, “Alone with the Beast Folk,”

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begins: “I faced ­these ­people, facing my fate in them, single-­handed now—­ literally single-­handed, for I had a broken arm” (IDM, 74). H ­ ere, too, a single sentence resonates with ­others in impressionist texts—­think, for example, of Marlow’s account in Lord Jim of Jim facing a courtroom of ­faces demanding facts, which themselves assume the character of a face—­but what I want to emphasize is the mixture of deliberate repetition, alliteration, and near rhyme (“I faced t­ hese ­people, facing my fate in them”) with an insistence on a certain literalness (“literally single-­ handed, for I had a broken arm”), which I take as evoking a par­tic­u­lar literal condition, that of a man writing with a pen. This, too, is typical of Wells’s brand of, or relation to, impressionism. Second, the theme of reversion or regression is of course a well-­k nown naturalist motif, as for example in Norris’s Vandover and the Brute. But what is distinctive about the treatment of reversion in The Island of Doctor Moreau is its close association with a problematic of language, writing, and—­crucially, in my view—­printing. Key passages in this regard occur early and late in the book. Shortly a­ fter Prendick arrives on the island, he learns that the older bearded man who controls it is named Moreau. For a while, the name awakens no associations, but suddenly, a phrase enters his head: “The Moreau Hollows”—­was it? The Moreau—­A h! It sent my memory back ten years. “The Moreau Horrors!” The phrase drifted loose in my mind for a moment, then I saw it in red lettering on a ­little buff-­colored pamphlet, to read which made one shiver and creep. Then I remembered distinctly all about it. That long-­ forgotten pamphlet came back with startling vividness to my mind. (IDM, 21)

The second passage—to my mind, a particularly significant one—­ occurs much further on. Following the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery, the narrator has been living among the Beast Folk when he becomes aware of vari­ous changes in their be­hav­ior whose significance is unmistakable. “It was about May when I first distinctly perceived a growing difference in their speech and carriage, a growing coarseness of articulation, a growing disinclination to talk,” he writes.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? My Ape-­Man’s jabber multiplied in volume, but grew less and less comprehensible, more and more simian. Some of the o­ thers seemed altogether slipping their hold upon speech, though they still understood what I said to them at that time. (Can you imagine language, once clear-­cut and exact, softening and guttering, losing shape and import, becoming mere lumps of sound again?). . . . ​They w ­ ere reverting, and reverting very rapidly. (IDM, 81)

I associate ­these passages with one another on the grounds that the second is figuratively the radical undoing of the first. In the first, the name “Moreau” triggers the startlingly vivid memory not simply of an earlier scandal, but specifically of a buff-­colored pamphlet with printed red lettering on its cover. And in the second, h­ uman speech in the course of reverting to its animal equivalent is characterized not just as palpably material, but more precisely, as analogous to lead type that is in the pro­ cess of softening, being melted back, into unformed ­matter—­into molten lead—an operation, it is relevant to bear in mind, that recent type-­casting machines, most famously, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine, had made part of the modern pro­cess of printing. (The first of ­those machines was installed in the composing room of the New York Tribune in July 1886.) 9 Or consider certain moments in the extended conversation between Moreau and Prendick that takes up the ­whole of chapter 14. Moreau explains that he wanted to use vivisection to give animals the refined larynx that would enable them (in his words) “to frame delicately dif­fer­ent sound-­ symbols by which thought could be sustained” (IDM, 47), on the grounds that this, above all, marks the ­g reat divide between man and monkey (and more broadly, man and beast). The narrator then asks Moreau “why he had taken the h­ uman form as a model,” adding, “­There seemed to me then, and ­there still seems to me now, a strange wickedness in that choice.” The passage continues: He confessed that he had chosen that form by chance.“I might just as well have worked to form sheep into llamas and llamas into sheep. I suppose t­ here is something in the ­human form that appeals to the artistic turn more powerfully than any animal shape can. But I’ve

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not confined myself to man-­making. Once or twice—” He was s­ ilent, for a minute perhaps. “­These years! How they have slipped by! And ­here I have wasted a day saving your life, and am now wasting an hour explaining myself!” (IDM, 47)

It is hard not to feel that Moreau’s explanation of the grounds for his choice of the h­ uman form (and face) is less than adequate, and harder still not to wish to know more about his experiments with other forms as the basis for his experiments. The wish is soon gratified. Several pages further on, Moreau returns, seemingly reluctantly, to the topic. “The fact is, a­ fter I had made a number of h­ uman creatures I made a ­Thing.” He hesitated. “Yes?” said I. “It was killed.” “I ­don’t understand,” said I; “do you mean to say—” “It killed the Kanaka [one of six tribesmen Moreau originally brought to the island]—­yes. It killed several other ­things that it  caught. We chased it for a c­ ouple of days. It only got loose by ­accident—­I never meant it to get away. It ­wasn’t finished. It was purely an experiment. It was a limbless t­hing, with a horrible face, that writhed along the ground in a serpentine fashion. It was im­mensely strong, and in infuriating pain. It lurked in the woods for some days, ­until we hunted it; and then it wriggled into the northern part of the island, and we divided the party to close in upon it. Montgomery insisted upon coming with me. The man had a r­ ifle; and when his body was found, one of the barrels was curved into the shape of an S and very nearly bitten through. Montgomery shot the ­thing. ­After that I struck to the ideal of humanity—­except for ­l ittle ­t hings.” (IDM, 50)

If we ask on what this par­tic­u­lar creature was modeled, the answer would seem to be on handwriting, specifically script, as distinct from the printed page. That is the implication of Moreau’s description of its serpentine, ground-­hugging movements, and also, equally impor­tant, of the seemingly


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gratuitous fact that the gun barrel of the man the creature killed “was curved into the shape of an S”—­the letter S in this context representing cursiveness as such, or the very essence of written script. (Cf. the sentence from Cunninghame Graham’s “Pro­gress” cited earlier: “Amongst them was a w ­ oman whose blackened and scorched hands still held a r­ ifle bent and twisted with the heat.” Cunninghame Graham, of course, would likely have read Moreau.) The point is underscored in the next chapter by the narrator’s reference to the same creature as “the writhing Footless T ­ hing” (IDM, 53), a designation that perhaps carries the added suggestion of the writing of prose.10 The contrast between the writhing Footless ­T hing that was never meant to be allowed to get away and the other, humanized creatures that could be trusted on their own would then be readable as figuring, indeed, as asserting, the difference between a handwritten and a printed page—­the idea being, presumably, that the latter was as if evolutionarily more advanced, more distanced from its material origins, than the former. And if we now put this together, both with Moreau’s philosophically traditional claim that the possession of articulate speech—­more broadly, of language—­marks the distinction between h­ umans and animals, and with the imagery of type in terms of which he implicitly meta­phorizes language in its “clear-­cut and exact” (i.e., its fully h­ uman) manifestation, then humanness (or at least humanlikeness) and printing emerge as figures for one another. And this is to say that the pro­cess of reversion or regression in The Island of Dr. Moreau is ultimately to be read in terms not only of the degeneration of the humanoid Beast Folk back to mere brutes, but also of the movement from the printed page back ­toward brute ­matter; not just ­toward the lead type itself (which, in the logic of the story, is perhaps no reversion at all) but further back ­toward the “mere lumps” of stuff into which, in the advanced machines I mentioned a moment ago, the type was melted down ­after use—­and, more to the point, out of which it was originally formed. Fi­nally, ­there is the complex issue of the role of materialism and materiality in Wells’s story. The subject emerges explic­itly when Prendick challenges Moreau to justify the extreme pain he systematically inflicts on the animals he is working on. “The only ­t hing that could excuse vivisection to me,” Prendick goes on to say, “would be some application—.” Moreau cuts him off:

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“Precisely,” said he. “But, you see, I am differently constituted. We are on dif­fer­ent platforms. You are a materialist.” “I am not a materialist,” I began hotly. “In my view—in my view. For it is just this question of pain that parts us. So long as vis­i­ble or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you; so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin—so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a ­little less obscurely what an animal feels.” (IDM, 47; emphasis in original)

The argument becomes more complex when Moreau goes on to argue that the sole function of pain among men is as “our intrinsic medical adviser to warn us and stimulate us,” and that with the pro­gress of evolution, men ­will increasingly “see a­ fter their own welfare,” which is to say that pain ­will sooner or ­later be made n­ eedless, and “ground out of existence” (IDM, 48). Moreau even claims to be a religious man in the sense of understanding “the ways of this world’s Maker,” and he assures Prendick that “this store men and w ­ omen set on plea­sure and pain . . . ​is the mark of the beast upon them—­the mark of the beast from which they came” (IDM, 48). What is wholly obscure in all this, however, is what in Moreau’s account of t­ hings the alternative to materialism is; certainly, not idealism (Moreau never suggests that pain or the world is unreal), and not spiritualism of any known variety (Moreau extols the “intellectual passion” [IDM, 48] of the scientific investigator, which enables him to ignore the sufferings of the animals u­ nder his knife, and would seem to embody materialist doctrine in its purest form). By the same token, although Prendick is appalled by the pain involved in Moreau’s procedures, and obviously does not accept Moreau’s characterization of himself, Prendick, as a materialist, he also fails to give an account of his position that would distinguish it theoretically or ideologically from Moreau’s.11 In other words, pain plays a crucial and, I think one can say, inadequately theorized role, not just in Moreau’s practice but also in the larger thematics of the narrative: it would have been pos­si­ble for the animals on which Moreau worked to have been anesthetized, and the writer’s decision not to have Moreau anesthetize them, which adds immeasurably to the horror of the story and the unpleasantness of actually reading it, indicates what I take to be a deep and pervasive ambivalence on Wells’s part with re­spect to the larger issue of the materiality of writing (also of


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the printed page) with which, I have been claiming, my impressionist texts are all in one way or another implicitly engaged. Another way of framing the issue would be to ask ­whether the pain to which the animals are subjected in the course of Moreau’s experiments is vital to their humanization. The general tenor of Moreau’s remarks implies that it is, and his statement “Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, ‘This time I ­w ill burn out all the animal, this time I ­w ill make a rational creature of my own’ ” (IDM, 51) seems to say so explic­itly, but he also speaks of how a gorilla on which he had worked with infinite care was brought to a point where he had “no memories left in his mind of what he had been” (IDM, 49), which perhaps suggests that the hypnosis-­like pro­cess by which Moreau implants the Law in the animals is somehow intrinsically connected to the infliction and the forgetting of pain. Yet, the Law itself includes the formulae, “His is the House of Pain. His is the Hand that makes. His is the Hand that wounds. His is the Hand that heals” (IDM, 38; emphasis in original)—­ which seems to rebut that suggestion. In view of Wells’s penchant for exact scientific explanations elsewhere in his oeuvre, the apparent contradictions and general failure of specificity on ­these points must be considered significant.12 A similar ambivalence with re­spect to the products of writing and, indeed, of printing, turns up in the story’s closing pages, where Prendick, returned to civilization, becomes convinced that the ­faces around him ­will all sooner or ­later show signs of reversion. Among the ­faces he singles out with distaste, it ­will be remembered, are the intent ­faces of ­people reading, yet he goes on to surround himself with what he characterizes as “wise books, bright win­dows, in this life of ours lit by the shining souls of men,” and says that he spends his days in reading and ­doing chemistry and his nights in the study of astronomy (the avoidance of biology is clearly significant). And he concludes by saying that it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of ­matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and trou­bles of men, that what­ever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope. I hope, or I could not live. And so, in hope and solitude, my story ends. (IDM, 87; emphasis in original)

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So, a certain materialism is apparently vindicated ­after all, and moreover, is equated with a notion of the “more than animal,” as if to conclude that the distinction between animal and ­human is not equivalent to one between materialism and something “higher,” but rather to dif­fer­ent modes of or stances ­toward materialism (as figured, for example, by the difference between vivisection and astronomy). Put in terms of an impressionist problematic, The Island of Doctor Moreau thematizes what might be described as a sense of the ontological instability of the printed text, whose material nature enables it to be seen and read but is also precisely what it has in common with mere or brute ­matter, from which nevertheless it is crucially distinguished—­but by what? One is tempted to say by its relation to language, but the reversion of language to mere lumps of sound t­ oward the end of the narrative implicitly thematizes language in terms of print and printing, not the other way round. By the act of printing, then? But the same passage, and the overarching theme of reversion to the brutely material, extend the notion of ontological instability to type itself, which is to say, to the material origins of the printed text. (I have anchored this interpretation in certain immediately previous developments in the technology of printing.) The untheorized status of pain in the story perhaps represents the equally untheorized (and for Wells, prob­ably untheorizable) remainder that distinguishes both writing and printing from their material bases—­but this is speculation.

n Another well-­k nown text of the period clearly belongs in this chapter, even if it requires no ­great effort of exegesis to establish that it does—­Rudyard Kipling’s much admired story “Wireless” (1902).13 The setting is a pharmacy in a seaside En­glish town; the characters are the narrator, who goes nameless; John Shaynor, a young and dedicated assistant in the pharmacy; a Mr. Cashell, nephew of the old Mr. Cashell who owns the pharmacy but remains upstairs throughout the narrative; and a luscious young ­woman, Fanny Brand, who makes a brief appearance to persuade Shaynor to go for a walk with her despite the ­bitter cold weather. The time is night, and the occasion is an attempt by the younger Cashell to conduct an experiment with an elementary wireless apparatus—­specifically, to


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send transmissions to and receive transmissions from another such apparatus in Poole, some distance away. The narrator is t­ here to witness the experiment, but he soon becomes struck by the obvious fact of Shaynor’s illness—­the latter coughs continually, and at one moment, raises a handkerchief to his mouth that comes away spotted with blood. In short, Shaynor, obviously smitten with the girl, is tubercular, and at one point, the younger Cashell remarks to the narrator that his ­uncle ­doesn’t expect Shaynor to survive the year. As Cashell sets up his apparatus, the narrator mixes vari­ous drinks out of available chemicals, and one of them sends Shaynor into an immediate sleep—­a kind of trance. Cashell transmits his message, but something seems to be wrong at the Poole end, and he tells the narrator that he w ­ ill call him when something significant happens. (I should also mention that in the pharmacy t­here is a gold-­ framed toilet w ­ ater advertisement with the “seductive shape” of a young ­woman distantly resembling Fanny Brand, “unholily heightened by the glare from the red b­ ottle in the win­dow” [“W,” 559].) The story then takes an unexpected turn: I returned to the shop, and set down my glass on a marble slab with a careless clink. As I did so, Shaynor ­rose to his feet, his eyes fixed once more on the advertisement, where the young ­woman bathed in the light from the red jar simpered pinkly over her pearls [the narrator means she appeared to do so]. His lips moved without cessation. I stepped nearer to listen. “And threw—­and threw—­and threw,” he repeated, his face all sharp with some inexplicable agony. I moved forward astonished. But it was then he found words—­ delivered roundly and clearly. ­These: And threw warm gules on Madeleine’s young breast. The trou­ble passed off his countenance, and he returned lightly to his place, rubbing his hands. It had never occurred to me, though we had many times discussed reading and prize-­competitions as a diversion, that Mr.  Shaynor ever read Keats, or could quote him at all appositely. T ­ here was, ­after all, a certain stain-­glass effect of light on the high bosom of the highly-­polished picture which might, by stretch of fancy,

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suggest, as a vile chromo recalls some incomparable canvas, the line he had spoken. Night, my drink, and solitude ­were evidently turning Mr. Shaynor into a poet. He sat down again and wrote swiftly on his villainous note-­paper, his lips quivering. I shut the door into the inner office and moved up ­behind him. He made no sign that he saw or heard. I looked over his shoulder, and read, amid half-­formed words, sentences, and wild scratches: —­Very cold it was. Very cold The hare—­the hare—­the hare— The birds— He raised his head sharply, and frowned ­toward the blank shutters of the poulterer’s shop where they jutted out against our win­dow. Then one clear line came: The hare, in spite of fur, was very cold. (“W,” 564–565)

Cashell tells the narrator that something is coming through his apparatus (“but it ­isn’t Poole” [“W,” 565]), but the narrator replies that something is coming through where he is, too, and that he wants to be left alone for the moment. Shaynor continues to channel Keats, drafting line ­after line and astonishing the narrator, who theorizes, If he has read Keats it’s the chloric-­ether [the drink]. If he h­ asn’t, it’s the identical bacillus, or Hertzian wave of tuberculosis, plus Fanny Brand and the professional status [Keats was trained as a pharmacist] which, in conjunction with the mainstream of subconscious thought common to all mankind, has thrown up temporarily an induced Keats. (“W,” 567; emphasis in original)

More lines follow, closing in on, but never quite arriving at three from “Ode to a Nightingale”: “The same that oft-­times hath / Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn”— at which point, Shaynor wakes. (It turns out he had not read Keats.) Cashell explains that contact with Poole failed, and in fact, that something has been g­ oing on that he does not understand, but just then, Poole comes in “clear as a bell” (almost as if ­until then, Shaynor’s channeling of Keats


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had prevented the wireless connection from being made). But the narrator declines to stay. “I’ll go home and get to bed. I’m feeling a l­ ittle tired,” he says (“W,” 573), and the story ends. Critical comment scarcely seems necessary. The theme is regression or reversion, in this brilliantly i­ magined instance from the poems as the narrator would have known them (in printed form, obviously), back through their written versions (which we are not shown, though we are shown Shaynor writing the fragments coming to him), to certain moments of Keats’s inspiration, which in turn are (poetically) conjoined with the earliest days of wireless transmission—­suggesting an analogy that the story is wise enough to leave merely implicit.14 (One lingering question: why is the Keats surrogate named Shaynor? Especially when the Fanny Brawne surrogate is called Fanny Brand? I have no idea, but this is perhaps an occasion for mentioning that proper names—­going back to Timothy Lean, Arthur Staples Karslake, and Lloyd Searight—­often play a strangely obtrusive role in impressionist writings, as if thereby, the texts in question deliberately court calling attention to their production in that regard also.) One last item, a short story by Frank Norris, “The Joyous Miracle” (written in 1898, published in ​1906), has a bearing on ­these issues.15 Set in the years shortly ­after Christ’s death, it begins: Mervius had come to old Jerome’s stone-­built farm­house, across the huge meadow where some half-­dozen of the neighboring villa­gers pastured their stock in common. Old Jerome had received a certain letter, which was a copy of another letter, which in turn was a copy of another letter, and so on and so on, nobody could tell how far. Mervius would copy this letter and take it back to his village, where it would be copied again and again and yet again, and copies would be made of ­these copies, till the ­whole countryside would know the contents of that letter pretty well by heart. It was in this way, indeed, that t­ hese ­people made their lit­er­a­ture. They would hand down the precious documents to their ­children, and that letter’s contents would become folk-­lore, become so well known that it would be repeated orally. It would be a legend, a mythos; perhaps by and

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by, ­a fter a long time, it might gain credence and become even history. (“JM,” 1–3)

In other words, the letter by being copied over and over (and over) would come to be “pretty well” memorized by t­ hose copying it, with the result that it would be repeated orally (the letter not having originated orally) u­ ntil it became a legend and perhaps, “­after a long time,” history; that is, established fact. T ­ here is nothing obvious about this sequence of stages, which I take to represent a very par­tic­u­lar pro­cess of regression, from writing through orality to legend and fi­nally history (that is, what men and ­women take to be objectively true). The letter turns out to have been written by Peter, whom some of the peasants and laborers in that neighborhood knew when he was a ­simple (but good) fisherman named Simon, before he went with Jesus, who is referred to only as the carpenter’s son. The two men, Jerome and Mervius, have a short conversation to this effect, when Mervius unexpectedly says that the letter leaves out something that he once saw. ­Because (he continues) he once saw the carpenter’s son, when he, Mervius, was a lad, playing with a group of ­children from his village, including his ­little cousin Joanna, his ­brother Simon, and friends named Septimus and Joseph—­ “the village bleach-­green was the playground.” His story continues: This bleach-­green was a ­great meadow by the brook, on the other side my ­father’s sheepfolds. It belonged to the fuller of the village. ­A fter weaving, the ­women used to bring ­here their webs of cloth to be whitened. Many a time I have seen the ­great squares and lengths of cloth covering the meadow, till you would have said the snow had fallen. It was like that on a holiday, when the five of us ­children ­were at our play along the banks of the ­little brook. Across the brook was the road that led back to the city, and back of us the bleach-­green was one shimmer of white, g­ reat spreads and drifts of white cloth, billowing and rippling like shallow pools of milk, as the breeze stirred ­under them. They ­were weighted down at the corners with huge, round stones. It was a pretty sight. I have never forgotten that bleach-­green. (“JM,” 10–11)


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The remainder of the story can briefly be summarized. Mervius and the other ­children ­were modeling animals in clay; Joanna, the youn­gest, made a series of birds, “clumsy, dauby ­little lumps of wet clay without much form” (“JM,” 12). She was proud of them, but the o­ thers made fun of her, at which point the carpenter’s son, unexceptional looking and still beardless, came up to the ­children and asked for a drink of ­water, which he was given. The ­children then showed him their clay animals; ­little Joanna was on his knee when she said to him, “See, see my birds. . . . ​See, they said they w ­ ere not pretty. They are pretty, ­aren’t they, quite as pretty as theirs?” “Prettier, prettier,” the carpenter’s son said. Having lined up all the clay birds in a row, he touched Joanna’s with his fingertip, then— Did you ever see, when corn is popping, how the grain swells, swells, swells, then bursts forth into whiteness? So it was then. No sooner had that l­ ittle bird of Joanna, that clod of dust, that poor bit of common clay, felt the touch of his fin­ger than it awakened into life and became a live bird—­a nd white, white as the sunshine, a beautiful l­ ittle white bird that flew upward on the instant, with a tiny, glad note of song. We ­children shouted aloud, and Joanna danced and clapped her hands. And then it was that the carpenter’s son smiled. He looked at her as she looked up at that soaring white bird, and smiled, smiled just once, and then fell calm again. (“JM,” 21–23)

The story ends with a last exchange between Mervius and Jerome, who shakes his head in a manner that suggests he is not convinced by the former’s narrative; he adds that the carpenter’s son was a dreamer and that they w ­ ere well rid of him, but he regrets Peter, whose fish w ­ ere always fresh. Again, by now it scarcely needs saying that the bleach green in its dazzling milk-­l ike whiteness figures blank paper waiting to be written on. What is fascinating, though, and special to “The Joyous Miracle,” is that no act of writing figuratively takes place; that is, the story begins by evoking an endless repetitive pro­cess of writing (i.e., copying), but then ­a fter the blankness and whiteness of paper is repeatedly evoked (the story’s stake in that blankness and whiteness could hardly be stronger),

Versions of Regression


what follows is not an act of inscription but a joyous miracle that produces, from a “clod of dust, [a] poor bit of common clay,” a soaring white bird: an image, I suggest, of still another form of regression, if one may call it that, from the dust and clay to which all living beings inevitably return “back” to life—­eternal life in Christ, though of course, this is left unsaid in so many words.

Chapter Nine

How Literary Impressionism Ended



he s i m p l e st accou n t of the end of literary impressionism, predictably enough, is by Ford Madox Ford in the coda to his book of reminiscences cited in Chapter 3, Return to Yesterday.1 The moment Ford begins by recalling is June 28, 1914, a few months before the outbreak of the First World War, in which he would take an active part. Ford had just completed writing The Good Soldier, which goes unnamed, but he says of it, “It was done and I thought it would stand.” He adds that the En­glish Review, which he had edited (he had founded it in 1908), “seemed then profoundly to have done its work,” and that a new generation, led by Ezra Pound, “­were producing an organ of their own. It was to be called—­prophetically—­Blast” (“C,” 399). (Interestingly, The Good Soldier itself cannot quite be said to bear signs of the end of literary impressionism, despite its date, or so it seems to me.) Ford goes on to report that one day, Pound and a young man Ford calls D. Z.—­obviously Wyndham Lewis—­took him for a walk, in the course of which Lewis, who edited Blast, said to Ford (in a “vitriolic murmur”): “Tu sais, tu es foûtu! Foûtu! Finished! Exploded! Done for! Blasted in fact. Your generation has gone. What is the sense of you and Conrad and Impressionism. You stand for Impressionism. It is finished, Foûtu. Blasted too! This is the ­f uture. What does anyone


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want with your old-­fashioned stuff? You try to make p ­ eople believe that they are passing through an experience when they read you. You write t­ hese im­mense long stories, recounted by a doctor at t­ able or a ship captain in an inn. You take ages to get t­ hese fellows in. In order to make your stuff seem convincing. Who wants to be convinced? Get a move on. Get out or get ­under. “This is the day of Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism. What p ­ eople want is me, not you. They want to see me. A Vortex. To liven them up. You and Conrad had the idea of concealing yourself when you wrote. I display myself all over the page. In e­ very word. I . . . ​ I . . . ​I . . .” He struck his chest dramatically and repeated: “I . . . ​I . . . ​I . . . ​ The Vortex. Blast all the rest.” I was reminded of a young lady I once went to call on and who came ­r unning downstairs exclaiming: “Devil, devil, devil take them all but me.” But Mr. D. Z. was perfectly right. I d ­ on’t mean that I only thought then that he was right. I think it now. Impressionism was dead. The day of all ­t hose explosive sounds had come. Louder blasts soon drowned them out and put back the hands of the clock to somewhere a good deal the other side of mere Impressionism. But in that moment they ­were undoubtedly all right. (“C,” 400–401; emphasis in original)

Ford puts the transition in terms of sound and noise, but of course it had an extremely strong visual and typographic component, as D. Z.’s references to Cubism, Futurism, and Vorticism as much as declare, Lewis himself being both a painter and writer.2 Thus, the first of the two issues of Blast that eventually appeared bore a bright pink cover with the title in black capitals r­ unning diagonally from upper left to lower right, and the entire proj­ect was largely motivated by Lewis’s pictorial associations, with Italian futurism in par­tic­u­lar. (In fact, the first issue of Blast contained an excerpt from The Good Soldier, then titled The Saddest Story—so Lewis was not entirely hostile to Ford, ­after all.) Not that an aggressively visual or typographic emphasis was without pre­ce­dent. As early as 1893 Wells had written in an article for the Pall Mall Gazette titled “The Lit­er­a­ture of the ­Future”:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? The old lit­er­a­ture was aristocratic, and this age is only the dawn of democracy. The old lit­er­a­t ure is full of subtle meanings, hinting quotations, faint allusions; it has a classical flavour, like a scent of lavender. The democracy ­w ill have none of your classics, it hates allusions and quotations; it likes a writer to be “clear and sensible.” It is suspicious of being laughed at. . . . ​The old lit­er­a­ture had a soft voice and a gentle insinuating manner; the new lit­er­a­ture ­w ill be a ­thing of loud bawling books, shrieking headlines, and slovenly grammar.3

(The last sentence in par­tic­u­lar is of interest h­ ere.) And indeed, as early as 1902, Henry James complained in a letter to his friend the novelist W. D. Howells: The faculty of attention has utterly vanished from the general anglosaxon mind, extinguished at its source by the big blatant Bayadère of Journalism, of the newspaper & the picture (above all) magazine; who keeps screaming “Look at me, I am the ­thing, & I only, the ­thing that ­w ill keep you in relation with me all the time without your having to attend one minute of the time.” If you are moved to write anything anywhere about the W. of the D. [The Wings of the Dove] do say something of that—it so awfully wants saying. But we live in a lonely age for lit­er­a­ture or for any art but the mere visual. Illustrations, loud simplifications and grossissements, the big building (good for John [Howells’s son, an architect];) the “mounted” play, the prose that is careful to be in the tone of, & with the distinction of, a newspaper or bill-­poster advertisement—­these, & ­these only, meseems, “stand a chance.” 4

So, the emphasis on “display” (“I display myself all over the page”) in Lewis’s hissed tirade to Ford, assuming such took place, was not absolutely new. It is worth noting, though, that James had chided Robert Louis Stevenson in 1891, “No theory is kind to us that cheats us of seeing.”5 And in 1893, in a letter to Stevenson apropos of the latter’s novel Catriona, James had written:

How Literary Impressionism Ended


The one ­thing I miss in the book is the note of visibility—­It subjects my visual sense, my seeing imagination, to an almost painful underfeeding. The hearing imagination, as it ­were, is nourished like an alderman, and the loud audibility seems a slight the more on the baffled lust of the eyes—so that I seem to myself (I am speaking of course only from the point of view of the way, as I read, my impression longs to complete itself) in the presence of voices in the darkness—­voices the more distinct and vivid, the more brave and sonorous, as voices always are—­but also the more tormenting and confounding—by reason of t­ hese ban­daged eyes.6

In other words, James himself demanded a certain level of “visual” realization (think of Strether’s discovery of Chad and Mme Vionnet on the river in The Ambassadors, or for that m ­ atter, the stunningly i­magined last pages of “The Beast in the Jungle”) even as he deplored the overly visual emphasis, as it seemed to him, of “anglosaxon” literary culture around 1903. James and Wells would eventually clash directly with the publication of Wells’s parodic Boon in 1915, but as we have seen, Wells himself in certain key texts (When the Sleeper Wakes, In the Days of the Comet, Tono-­Bungay) expressed ambivalence, to say the least, about both headline journalism and blatant advertisement. So, the larger situation with regard to t­ hese issues had a certain internal complexity that it is impor­tant to try to get right. Another point stressed by Ford’s Mr. D. Z. is the replacement of the impressionist insistence on the invisibility of the author by a new emphasis on the writing self. And indeed, Ford’s version of the impressionist aesthetic calls precisely for the self-­effacement of the author along Flaubertian lines, Flaubert more than any of his associates [having] clamored unceasingly and passionately that the author must be impersonal, must, like a creating deity, stand neither for nor against any of his characters, must proj­ect and never report and must, above all, forever keep himself out of his books. He must write his books as if he ­were rendering the impressions of a person pres­ent at a scene; he must remember that a person pres­ent at a scene does not see every­thing and is above all not able to remember im­mensely long passages of dialogue.7


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“But it was perhaps Crane of all that school or gang,” Ford goes on to remark, who most observed that canon of Impressionism: “You must render: never report.” You must never, that is to say, write: “He saw a man aim a gat at him”; you must put it: “He saw a steel ring directed at him.” ­Later you must get in that, in his subconsciousness, he recognized that the steel ring was the polished muzzle of a revolver. So Crane rendered it in Three White Mice [sic: the number should be Five] which is one of the major short stories of the world. That is Impressionism! (“T,” 67)

But as I have tried to show in this book, building on an argument first put forward in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” literary impressionism in the writings of Crane, Norris, Conrad, Hudson, Ford, London, Cunninghame Graham, Childers, Kipling, and, in a sense, but only in a sense, H. G. Wells, involved something more elaborate than simply rendering impressions in the Fordian sense of the notion (I mean, of course, the Ford of his essays on impressionism, not that the views expressed in t­ hose essays are all that ­simple). The basic idea, I have claimed, involves one or another version of a thematization of or other form of engagement with the scene of writing, with par­tic­u­lar emphasis on the upward-­facing page and the act of inscription with pen and ink (see, in par­tic­u­lar, the summary of the vari­ous impressionists’ proj­ects in Chapter 7), and with the specific proviso that in all cases except t­hose of Norris in “A Memorandum,” Wells more broadly (hence what I have called his “critical” relation to impressionism generally), and perhaps Cunninghame Graham (in “The Orchid-­Hunter” and his stories and sketches of journeys), the thematizations and engagements in question are si­mul­ta­neously constrained or suppressed, so that the writers themselves must be i­ magined as less than fully aware of what their texts are ­doing. Thus, I take Crane to have had no idea that “The Upturned Face” had for its essential subject the writing of “The Upturned Face” (as was said much earlier), and Conrad not to have realized that “erasure” mattered to him as I have tried to show it did, at least not ­until he came to write ­Under Western Eyes, in the course of which, I have suggested, an awareness of his (­until then)

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career-­long proj­ect seems to have come into play. Childers, of course, would have been fully aware of the use he made of the maps and charts he provided for the reader, but ­there is not the slightest reason to think that he recognized the wider significance of his strategy—­I mean, its relation to the impressionist proj­ect as such. It follows that the writings of all the literary impressionists are intensely visual, with recurrent imagery relating “allegorically,” though sometimes almost literally, to the act of writing, such as disfigured f­ aces (upturned and other­w ise), corpses generally, missing or battered hands, snakes, fire, shadows, sticks, lines, contrasts of white and black, snow and mist and darkness, ink or inkiness, letters and numbers (including the “sounded” letters in instances of alliteration, onomatopoeia, dialect, and the like), pictorial diagrams, maps and charts, effects of “contagion,” and, in Hudson’s writings, “birds at their best” playing crucial roles (also, throughout the impressionist corpus, certain key words such as “writhing” and “­thing,” and in Crane’s writings, pairs of words beginning with s and c.) But it also turns out to be the case that all t­ hose images and effects, being what I have called “allegorical” (not the best term, but let it stand), stop short of announcing or “displaying” their significance with Blast-­like unequivocalness, which is to say, yet again, that literary impressionism as a practice was structurally conflicted, or to put this slightly differently, it was the site of a continual strug­gle between the imagery and the devices I have just canvassed and the need for the meaning of that imagery and ­those devices to go unrecognized and unacknowledged so that the narratives in which they ­were embedded could proceed to their ostensible ends—so that, to take another key text, The Monster, the destruction of Henry Johnson’s face would be felt by the reader to be an emotionally gripping, even shattering real­ity, rather than an extreme figuration of what Crane at a par­tic­u­lar moment, badly needing money to support his and Cora Crane’s life in E ­ ngland, wrought upon a piece of paper with pen and ink. Understood in this light, the moment of Blast, as singled out by Ford, amounts to a radical simplification—­a purging of tension—in the interests of the visual and also, importantly, the material. This is a large claim, with dif­fer­ent facets to it. Let me begin to try to make it good with what may seem a surprising example of such simplification in the direction of the sheerly visual, from a novel by an American


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writer that enjoyed huge popularity when it was published in 1914 (and ever since), Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes.8 Very briefly, Tarzan begins with the marooning by mutineers of a distinguished En­glish ­family—­the young Lord and Lady Greystoke and their infant son John (the ­f uture Tarzan)—on the west coast of Africa. The ­father constructs a secure cabin for them, but Lady Greystoke dies when the boy is one year old, and the boy’s f­ather is killed by Kerchak, leader of the tribe of apes into which the boy is then ­adopted (by Kala, an ape m ­ other who had just lost her own infant). The boy grows up an astonishing physical specimen, possessed of tremendous strength and agility, and at one point, while still quite young, he discovers his former f­amily’s cabin (also the skeletons within), and in the course of exploring it, comes across his ­father’s journal (of course, he has no idea what that is) as well as several elementary English-­language primers, obviously meant for his own education had his life continued as it was meant to. He is at once struck by the primers, in par­tic­u­lar by their combination of pictures and words—­ “strange ­little bugs,” as the printed letters seem to him (T, 53). He squats on his haunches on the ­table top and begins to study one of the books: In his hands was a primer opened at a picture of a ­little ape similar to himself [in other words, not an ape, but a h­ uman boy], but covered, except for hands and face, with strange, colored fur, for such he thought the jacket and trousers to be. Beneath the picture ­were three l­ ittle bugs— BOY. And now he had discovered in the text upon the page that ­those three w ­ ere repeated many times in the same sequence. Another fact he learned—­that ­there ­were comparatively few individual bugs; but ­t hese ­were repeated many times, occasionally alone, but more often in com­pany with ­others. Slowly he turned the pages, scanning the pictures and the text for a repetition of the combination b-­o-­y. Presently he found it beneath a picture of another ­little ape and a strange animal which went upon four legs like the jackal and resembled him not a ­little. Beneath this picture the bugs appeared as:

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A BOY AND A DOG. ­ here they ­were, the three ­little bugs which always accompanied T the ­little ape. And so he progressed very, very slowly, for it was a hard and laborious task which he had set himself without knowing it—­a task which might seem to you or me impossible—­learning to read without having the slightest knowledge of letters or written language, and without the faintest idea that such t­ hings existed. (T, 53–54)

By the time he is fifteen he knows the vari­ous combinations of letters that go with all the figures in the primers and one or two picture books; moreover, one day when he is twelve, he comes across some pencils in a drawer and begins to teach himself to write; at some point, too, he finds a huge illustrated dictionary, which further advances his self-­education, so that by the time he is eigh­teen he can read and write En­glish (chiefly, printing: he can make out script, but cannot write it). All this is in­ter­est­ing, but what Burroughs has been aiming at goes considerably further. The first hint of it comes when Tarzan, who has been led by his reading and thinking to realize that he is not an ape but a man, cries out to his tribe of apes (­after killing Sabor the lionness): “See what Tarzan, the mighty killer, has done. Who ­else among you has ever killed one of Numa’s p ­ eople? Tarzan is mightiest amongst you for Tarzan is no ape. Tarzan is—” But ­here he stopped, for in the language of the anthropoids t­ here was no word for man, and Tarzan could only write the word in En­glish; he could not pronounce it. (T, 95)

In the chapters that follow, Tarzan uses his understanding of written En­glish to communicate with a group of En­glish travelers, including a young w ­ oman, Jane Porter, with whom he falls in love. But the further development of the writing versus speech theme comes when he rescues a young Frenchman, D’Arnot, from a tribe of cannibals. Tarzan hands D’Arnot a piece of bark on which he has written, in “plain print-­like characters,” “I am Tarzan of the Apes. Who are you? Can you read this


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language?” D’Arnot seizes the pencil and writes, “Yes, I read En­glish. I speak it also. Now we may talk” (T, 215). But Tarzan shakes his head, and D’Arnot realizes that Tarzan can read and write En­glish but not speak it; they continue to communicate via written messages, and eventually D’Arnot, still exhausted from his ordeal among the cannibals, asks what he can do to repay Tarzan for all he had done for him. Tarzan replies, “Teach me to speak the language of men” (T, 218), and D’Arnot goes on to teach him the names of t­ hings in French, for he thought that it would be easier to teach this man his own language, since he understood it himself best of all. It meant nothing to Tarzan, of course, for he could not tell one language from another, so that when he pointed to the word man which he had printed upon a piece of bark he learned from D’Arnot that it was pronounced homme, and in the same way he was taught to pronounce ape, singe, and tree, arbre. (T, 218)

With Tarzan making rapid pro­gress, D’Arnot soon realized that it was difficult to teach him French grammar on the basis of En­glish, but he felt it was too late to go back and start over. (Eventually, Tarzan masters spoken En­glish, as he does virtually every­thing to which he puts his mind.) The point of this exercise, it is clear, is to dramatize a view of writing that separates it radically and fundamentally from speech, or to put this slightly differently, that separates linguistically the visual from the aural while privileging the first, as if the relation between the two w ­ ere not just arbitrary but aporetic, ­t here being no system whatsoever of motivated “translation” from the one to the other. What makes this particularly fascinating, of course, is its relation to earlier moments in literary impressionist writings in which the relation between visual and aural is put ­under pressure in a variety of ways, as in Hudson’s view that in the case of birds, “sights and sounds are more intimately joined than in any other order of beings,” or as in Crane’s searingly brilliant use of dialect, his early short novel Maggie being a consistent tour de force in this regard. (“ ‘Ah, git off deh eart’,’ said Pete, a­ fter the other’s retreating form.”9 It may take a moment, even now, to recognize the Bowery transmogrification of “earth.”) Other impressionist writers making use of dialect are Cunninghame

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Graham in “Beattock for Moffat” (mentioned and briefly discussed in Chapter 4), Wells in vari­ous of his novels, including Kipps and The History of Mr. Polly, and Kipling in many of his stories. Also, in Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes, Graham finds himself in a room with no books, no newspapers, no writing materials. “ ‘The world has changed indeed,’ he said.” Then he observes that “one entire side of the outer room was set with rows of peculiar double cylinders inscribed with green lettering on white.” The lettering puzzles him. At first sight it seemed like Rus­sian. Then he noticed a suggestion of mutilated En­glish about certain of the words. “oi Man huwdbi Kin,” forced itself on him as “The Man who would be King.” “Phonetic spelling,” he said. He remembered reading a story with that title [by Kipling, of course], then he recalled the story vividly, one of the best stories in the world.10

­ ater he escapes into the city and sees “odd-­looking letters on buildings” L spelling out, “­after painful strain of eye and mind,” “ ‘­Here is Eadhamite,’ or, ‘­Labour Bureau—­Little Side’ ” (S, 84). (I understand such phonetic writing as implicitly contrasting with the “liberated writing” of flight, associated with the upper world, touched on in Chapter 6, note 7.) ­Here, it is surely relevant that the first book proposing Esperanto as a universal language was published in 1887, and that Wells himself served as vice president of the Simplified Spelling Society, founded in 1906. In Ebb-­Tide (1894), a less than marvelous novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne,11 one of the three villains (not too strong a way of putting it), a treacherous Cockney clerk, bears the peculiar name “Huish,” which is repeatedly pronounced “Whish” by one of the other characters—­deliberately getting the pronunciation wrong, it would seem, not that we are ever told what would be correct. (The name itself, simply as a concatenation of letters, could not be more odd.) Thus, in one exchange, Attwater, an En­glishman who has been harvesting pearls for years, and whom the o­ thers plan to kill and rob, says, “ ‘Help yourself, Mr. Whish, and keep the ­bottle by you.’ ‘My friend’s name is Huish and not Whish, sir,’ said the master with a flush.


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‘I beg your p ­ ardon, I am sure. Huish and not Whish, certainly,’ said Attwater” (ET, 102)—­but within a page he is back to “Whish,” which he sticks to thereafter. What precisely is g­ oing on h­ ere, if not a kind of prising apart of the visual and the aural—­but to what end? (In fact, 1894 is early for this to be taking place.) Note, too, the phrase “with a flush,” which compounds the confusion—­again, to what end? Even stranger: late in the narrative Huish dictates a letter for Davis, a disgraced American sea captain, to transcribe, seeking a meeting with Attwater, who by now has ample reason to distrust them. And the captain at last beginning half mechanically to move his pen, the dictation proceeded: It is with feelings of shyme and ’artfelt contrition that I approach you ­after the yumiliatin’ events of last night [Huish’s drunkenness gave away their plot]. Our Mr ’Errick has left the ship, and ­will have doubtless communicated to you the nature of our ’opes. ­Needless to s’y, ­these are no longer pos­si­ble: Fate ’as declyred against us, and we bow the ’ead. Well awyre as I am of the just suspicions with w’ich I am regarded, I do not venture to solicit the fyvour of an interview for myself, but in order to put an end to a situytion w’ich must be equally pyneful to all, I ’ave deputed my friend and partner, Mr J. L. Huish, to l’y before you my proposals, and w’ich by their moderytion, w ­ ill, I trust, be found to merit your attention. Mr J. L. Huish is entirely unarmed, I swear to Gawd! and ­will ’old ’is ’ands over ’is ’ead from the moment he begins to approach you. I am your fytheful servant, John Davis. (ET, 130)

In the event, the thoroughly dishonest Huish plans to throw a vial of acid into Attwater’s eyes, but before he can do so, Attwater shoots him—in fact, the acid spills over Huish before Attwater puts him out of his agony with a second shot. What I find striking, though, and more than a ­little puzzling, is Stevenson’s decision to set Huish’s dictation typographically as he has done (in smaller type, in italics), in a manner that suggests not that the text rec­ords exactly what Huish said in his Cockney accent—­ that could have been conveyed by placing the text between quotation marks and eliminating the italics, presenting Huish’s words simply as

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dialogue—­but rather that this is exactly what Davis wrote, “half mechanically,” we are told. That is, presenting the text of the letter as Stevenson has done calls attention in a disruptive way to the problematic relation between writing—in this case, Davis’s writing, which of course we are not exactly shown—­and dialect—in this case, Huish’s Cockney accent (and of course Huish’s name is disruptive in exactly the same way). And between both and typography, as a ­matter of fact. (And what exactly is the force of “half mechanically” in the above?) I ­don’t claim e­ ither that Stevenson is an impressionist writer—­James’s criticism of his impoverished visual sense goes some way t­ oward indicating why he was not— or that I know exactly what to make of ­these aspects of his novel, beyond suggesting that they illustrate the sort of compromised relation between speech and writing, aural and visual, that reaches a brilliant apogee in Tarzan. In this connection, it is worth remarking that the narrative proper is preceded by a note reading: “On the pronunciation of a name very frequently repeated on ­these pages [NB: on ­these pages, not in them], the reader may take for a guide: ‘It was the schooner Farallone’ ” (ET, 2). I take this to mean that the final e is not sounded, hearing the short sentence as a line of iambic tetrameter. But is this certain? In any case, it introduces the issue of visual-­or at least verbal-­aural relations from the very start. To take one more example, in Kipling’s much admired and also much puzzled-­over story “The Dog Hervey” (1914),12 initially titled “The Dog Harvey,” the denouement hinges on the difference between the two ways of spelling a name that sounds the same in both cases. “If you call a dog Hervey, I ­will love him,” Samuel Johnson is quoted as having said, referring to one Henry Hervey, a “vicious” man who had been kind to him (“DH,” 142), and indeed, the dog Hervey—­not Harvey, as he is called throughout the story—­turns out to bear the name of a male character (surname Shend, another impressionist oddity) who fi­nally is happily joined to the unlikely heroine (the plot is too complex to be summarized ­here). “The Dog Hervey” was published the same year as Tarzan, a suggestive coincidence.13

n A brief account of Conrad’s last major novel, Victory (1914), w ­ ill 14 bring this chapter nearly to a close. I suggested in Chapter 7 that by the


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time Conrad came to write or at least to resolve or complete ­Under Western Eyes, he had arrived at a certain understanding of his own commitment to a proj­ect of writing as erasure; and I suggested, too, that in that novel, as if living up to its title, Conrad went further than in any previous effort in the direction of deliberately intensifying—­more precisely, layering and densifying—­the relation of the reader to the page of print (I think of this also as a kind of layering and densifying of the “vertical” space between the reader and the page). So what was left for him to do, as a writer of novels and short stories, from then on out? I find it not at all surprising that with the publication of ­Under Western Eyes, Conrad found himself very nearly at the end of his tether. But he had the nerve and the vision for one more titanic effort, which is Victory. The first paragraph reads: ­ here is, as ­every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close T chemical relation between coal and diamonds. It is the reason, I believe, why some ­people allude to coal as “black diamonds.” Both ­these commodities represent wealth; but coal is a much less portable form of property. ­There is, from that point of view, a deplorable lack of concentration in coal. Now, if a coal-­mine could be put into one’s waistcoat pocket—­but it ­can’t! At the same time, ­there is a fascination in coal, the supreme commodity of the age in which we are camped like bewildered travellers in a garish, unrestful h­ otel. And I suppose t­ hose two considerations, the practical and mystical, prevented Heyst—­A xel Heyst—­from ­going away. (V, 3)

But in fact, neither of the two considerations just named had anything to do with Heyst remaining on the island of Samburan, as the narrative makes clear, which suggests, at least to me, that the real point of the first paragraph, apart from introducing Heyst himself at the end, was to put coal and diamonds in the opening sentence. Understood in terms of Conrad’s practice to date, this is equivalent to juxtaposing ink (or writing) and blank paper (or erasure), but in this case they are equated, not placed in sequence, and moreover, the weight of the paragraph falls heavi­ly on coal (“the supreme commodity of the age”), hence not at all on erasure (which w ­ ill play almost no role at all in what follows). In keeping with this,

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the small harbor on Samburan, named by Heyst and a man named Morrison, is called Black Diamond Bay—­again featuring equivalence, not erasure. In the first few pages, too, we are told that the most con­spic­u­ous object [in Heyst’s immediate surroundings] was a gigantic blackboard raised on two posts and presenting to Heyst, when the moon got over that side, the white letters “T. B. C. Co.” in a row at least two feet high. ­These ­were the initials of the Tropical B ­ elt Coal Com­pany, his employers—­his late employers, to be precise. (V, 5)

Again, I understand the white-­on-­black lettering to be another means of working against the erasive norm. As for the narrative, the protagonist is Heyst, a man of forty-­five, the son of Swedish parents but raised in E ­ ngland; crucially, his f­ ather was a much-­published phi­los­o­pher whose view of life was entirely bleak and who educated his son in that spirit. “ ‘What is one to do, then?’ sighed the young man, regarding his ­father, rigid in the high-­backed chair. ‘Look on—­make no sound,’ w ­ ere the last words of the man who had spent his life in blowing blasts upon a terrible trumpet” (V, 175). And in fact, Heyst seeks to put that advice into practice, “not by hermit-­like withdrawal with its silence and immobility, but by a system of restless wandering, by the detachment of an impermanent dweller amongst changing scenes” (V, 90). (In other words, as an indifferent spectator to the scenes of life.) Or again: “I’ll drift,” Heyst had said to himself deliberately. He did not mean intellectually or sentimentally or morally. He meant to drift altogether and literally, body and soul, like a detached leaf drifting in the wind-­currents ­u nder the immovable trees of a forest glade; to drift without ever catching on to anything. (V, 92)

Only twice does Heyst depart from this resolve: the first time, when he helps a man named Morrison hold onto his sailboat by providing a small sum of money to keep him out of debt, and the second time, when he rescues—­literally, runs off with—­a young ­woman violinist from a traveling ladies’ orchestra, in a ­hotel on the island of Sourabaya, to remove her


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from the unwanted advances of the vile h­ otel owner, a German named Schomberg. One upshot of his rescue of Morrison is that the latter, out of gratitude, makes Heyst a partner in a business venture, the Tropical B ­ elt Coal Com­pany, based on the island of Samburan; a­ fter a few years, though, Morrison returns to ­England on business and dies of illness ­there, ­after which the venture falls apart. But Heyst, to general surprise, remains on Samburan, with the occasional journey by sea to Sourabaya, where the rescue of the young w ­ oman takes place. (The journeys are made pos­si­ble by a man named Davidson, who sails a schooner among the islands and who is friendly to Heyst.) “They call me Alma,” she tells Heyst in an early conversation (Heyst has just said that he d ­ oesn’t even know her name), “I ­don’t know why. Silly name! Magdalen too. It d ­ oesn’t ­matter; you can call me by what­ever name you choose. Yes, you give me a name” (V, 88). Eventually, “­after several experimental essays in combining detached letters and loose syllables,” he decides to call her Lena (V, 186). (Detached letters and loose syllables are, of course, an impressionist trope not unrelated to the aural versus visual issue developed in the first part of this chapter—­not that it is clear exactly what to make of this in the pres­ent context.) Heyst and Lena become lovers, despite his sense of having ­violated his lifelong stance of detachment. Something e­ lse that should be mentioned at this point is that Heyst has one servant, a Chinaman named Wang, who takes as an unofficial wife a native ­woman in an encampment not far away. Wang’s singular gift is to appear and dis­appear as if miraculously (more on this shortly). Meanwhile, back in Sourabaya, three desperadoes come to stay for a time at Schomberg’s h­ otel—­Mr. Jones, an En­glish “gentleman” of melodramatically evil authority, Martin Ricardo, his lethal “secretary,” and the semi-­bestial Pedro, whose b­ rother Jones had killed in cold blood and who is in Jones’s thrall. For a time, they set up a gambling room at the h­ otel, but soon they are taken in by Schomberg’s revenge-­driven ravings about Heyst and the supposed “trea­sure” he has hoarded on his island (Schomberg hates Heyst for taking away the girl, but even before that, was sufficiently infuriated by Heyst’s cool demeanor to accuse him of stealing from Morrison and perhaps murdering him). In the end, Jones and o­ thers sail

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in a boat to Samburan, nearly ­dying en route; Heyst lets them stay in a bungalow on his property, while urging Lena to keep herself out of sight. A curious feature of the novel is that Jones is pathological on the topic of ­women—he simply ­can’t bear them. Ricardo, however, has an altogether dif­fer­ent nature, and when by chance he casts his eyes on Lena, he becomes convinced that she and he are of a kind, and that she ­will give herself to him. By now it is clear to Heyst that Jones and com­pany are a serious threat, and the situation is worsened by Wang’s absconding with Heyst’s one weapon, a revolver (Wang has seen that the three visitors mean trou­ble, and abandons Heyst so as not to be dragged down with him). To summarize the rest of the narrative very briefly: Lena decides that only she can save Heyst, by sacrificing herself, if necessary; she allows Ricardo to think he is on the verge of seducing her (he is literally embracing her foot as she sits, dressed in black, allowing him to do so), and manages to get him to give her his par­tic­u­lar weapon, a knife; just then, Jones, who has learned from Pedro that t­ here is a w ­ oman on the island, and who therefore realizes that Ricardo is betraying him, bursts into the room and fires a shot at Ricardo. The shot grazes his head, but strikes Lena in the breast. It takes a moment for Heyst, who has been with Jones, to realize that Lena has been shot (at first, he thought she was actually on the verge of giving herself to Ricardo), but then he tears open her dress and sees the wound in her breast. She exultingly declares that she has saved him; Heyst bends low over her, but even then, his fastidious soul keeps “the true cry of love from his lips in its infernal mistrust of all life” (V, 403). Jones flees, as does Ricardo, but when they encounter each other near the shore, Jones fires again and kills Ricardo; soon, though, Jones apparently falls into the w ­ ater by the dock and drowns. The novel ends with Davidson’s testimony to an official (presumably, back in Sourabaya; it is never made clear) explaining that he had sailed to Samburan having been warned by Schomberg’s wife that Heyst was likely in trou­ble, but had arrived just too late to play an active part in the confrontation. He also reports that Heyst died in a fire in the principal bungalow, presumably set by Heyst himself. “ ‘He is—­ashes, your Excellency,’ said Davidson, wheezing a l­ ittle; ‘he and the girl together. I suppose he c­ ouldn’t stand his thoughts before her dead body—­and fire purifies every­thing’ ” (V, 410). It


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also emerges that Wang shot Pedro, who was dozing in the desperados’ boat, and then shoved the boat out to sea. The novel ends in characteristic fashion: “ ‘And then, your Excellency,’ ” Davidson says, “ ‘I went away. ­There was nothing to be done t­ here.’ ‘Clearly,’ assented the Excellency. Davidson, thoughtful, seemed to weigh the ­matter in his mind, and then murmured with placid sadness: ‘Nothing!’ ” (V, 412). I offer this as the barest summary of the narrative. Now I want to make a number of points, by way of suggesting exactly how Victory relates to the account of Conrad’s procedures that I have been developing ­until now. First, Heyst’s determination to follow his ­father’s advice to look on and make no sound—to be a detached spectator of life—­may seem an impressionist trope, owing to the priority it places on vision, but of course, it eliminates completely the idea of d ­ oing anything, including writing. (It ­matters, though, that the f­ ather was a much-­published author, and indeed that he is pictured in the portrait that hangs in the big room lined with books in Heyst’s bungalow, “pen in hand above a white sheet of paper on a crimson table­cloth” [V, 189]. Moreover, at one point in the narrative we are given a direct quotation from his books [V, 219–220]. In that sense, writing presides over the novel as a w ­ hole.) So merely looking on rather belongs to what I have described as the post-literary impressionist tendency ­toward radical simplification in the direction of the sheerly visual, which in the first instance I associated with Lewis’s Blast (and Ford’s account of Lewis’s June 1914 tirade), and then with Burroughs’s Tarzan. But Conrad’s task was to make a novel out of this state of affairs, which clearly was not easy. In fact, as emerged in my summary of the plot, Heyst’s detachment breaks down in two instances, first when he helps Morrison, and second (more importantly) when he rescues Lena. ­These are not presented as happy events; rather, Heyst recognizes that his failures of detachment, especially the second, have made him vulnerable to life. “I am the world itself, come to pay you a visit,” Jones tells him late in the novel (V, 379). And earlier: “All his defenses ­were broken now. Life had him fairly by the throat” (V, 221). Without ­these lapses, of course, ­there would be no novel. But in themselves, they are not enough to produce one. At a crucial moment—in fact, almost immediately following the last short citation—­Lena is described as follows:

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That girl, seated in her chair in graceful quietude, was to him like a script in an unknown language, or even more simply mysterious: like any writing to the illiterate. . . . ​His ­mental attitude was that of a man looking this way and that on a piece of writing which he is unable to decipher, but which may be big with some revelation. (V, 222)

This is not a casual figure of speech: Conrad means the reader to imagine the girl as a text that has been written but that Heyst cannot read, or “decipher,” and the question is how the reader is to take this. H ­ ere is how I think the reader is not meant to take this: as implying that Lena is a w ­ oman of vast experience of a sort that far outstrips Heyst’s, hence his failure to know what to make of her. On the contrary, her experience of life has been both minimal and unrelentingly drab, and ­there is no hint of inner “depths” that for one reason or another he is unable to fathom. In any case, such interpretations are at odds with every­thing we have come to understand about Conrad’s writerly priorities, from Almayer’s Folly to ­Under Western Eyes. (This is, of course, a minority view.) Rather, I take the figure of the written but unreadable text to relate entirely to Conrad’s writerly proj­ect in Victory—­that is, as suggesting that what­ever ­else that proj­ect turns out to involve, it w ­ ill not be writing in the ordinary sense of the term. But ­will it be a kind of erasure; is that where the novel is headed? The idea of the girl as a script of writing in an unknown language is further developed two paragraphs ­later, where we read, He stopped, struck afresh by the physical and moral sense of the imperfection of their relations—­a sense which made him desire her constant nearness, before his eyes, u­ nder his hand, and which, when she was out of his sight, made her so vague, so elusive and illusory, a promise that could not be embraced and held. (V, 222)

“­Under his hand” is particularly striking: she is not only like a piece of writing, she is—­very nearly—­a piece of writing. It is as if Heyst’s sense of real­ity depends on a relation to writing, but not his writing, ­because the very activity is beyond him. For her part, she had earlier said to him,


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“Do you know, it seems to me, somehow, that if you ­were to stop thinking of me I ­shouldn’t be in the world at all!” (V, 187). Also: “I can only be what you think I am. . . . ​It ­couldn’t be any other way with a girl like me and a man like you. ­Here we are, we two alone, and I ­can’t even tell where we are” (V, 187–188). So we are to understand not just their personal relations but also their ontological relations as characters in the novel as nothing if not precarious. It is striking, too, that Lena is not characterized visually other than in the most general terms—­a kind of inexpressive blankness. “And now he could see something of her face, too—an oval without features—­a nd faintly distinguish her person in the blackness, a form without definite lines,” we read at a crucial late juncture (V, 371). But the situation is dif­ fer­ent as regards her voice: “­There’s no one ­here to think anything of us, good or bad.” The rare timbre of her voice gave a special value to what she uttered. The indefinable emotion which certain intonations gave him, he was aware, was more physical than oral. E ­ very time she spoke to him she seemed to abandon to him something of herself—­ something excessively subtle and inexpressible, to which he was infinitely sensible, which he would have missed horribly if she ­were to go away. (V, 188)

And a few pages l­ ater: The peculiar timbre of her voice, with its modulations of audacity and sadness, would have given interest to the most inane chatter. But she was no chatterer. She was rather s­ ilent, with a capacity for immobility, an upright stillness, as when resting on the concert platform between the musical numbers, her feet crossed, her hands reposing on her lap. But in the intimacy of their life her grey, unabashed gaze forced upon him the sensation of something inexplicable reposing within her; stupidity or inspiration, weakness or force—or simply an abysmal emptiness, reserving itself even in the moments of complete surrender. (V, 192)

How Literary Impressionism Ended


(“Your voice alone would be enough to make you unforgettable,” Heyst tells her ­later in the novel [V, 247].) Again, what is one to make of this? In terms of the plot it’s impossible to say, above all ­because nothing is ever ­really done with the theme of her voice—it plays no narrative role what­ever. What seems clear, though, is that Conrad wanted, found he needed, to draw some sort of sharp (ontological) distinction between the utter opacity of Lena’s features—of what could be seen of her, to use a Conradian phrase—­a nd something ­else, something not quite “inner,” ­here characterized by voice. (“He could not pierce the grey veil of her eyes; but the sadness of her voice thrilled him profoundly” [V, 330].) It is as though it was so impor­tant to him to insist on her surface visual impenetrability (as of a script in a foreign language) that he required something e­ lse that Heyst could find moving and compelling, hence the frequent references to her voice. I need hardly add that the separation in question—­v isual from aural—is a version of what emerged with par­t ic­u ­lar clarity in Burroughs’s Tarzan, but in Victory it is only incompletely thematized (the seeming emphasis on the aural ­doesn’t go anywhere), and partly for that reason it remains vexed, puzzling, unsatisfying. (The reader is hardly able to make sense ­either of Lena as a character or of Heyst’s fascination with her in t­ hose terms.) In contrast, from the moment of his appearance in the novel, Mr. Jones is characterized in terms of his extreme thinness and general “sharpness,” as if to the touch (he is also repeatedly said to be corpse-­like). This comes to a head in a short exchange l­ater on between Heyst and Lena, in the course of which he begins to give her an account of a recent conversation with Jones in the desperados’ bungalow. She tells him to be careful, and he replies: “I won­der how one can be careful! I had a long talk with—­but I ­don’t believe you have seen them. [In fact, she had seen, and been seen by, Ricardo.] One of them [Jones] is a fantastically thin, long person, apparently ailing; I ­shouldn’t won­der if he ­were ­really so. He makes rather a point of it in a mysterious manner.” (V, 316)

A fantastically thin, long, “infinitely slender” (V, 328) person who makes a point of seeming ill (what m ­ atters h­ ere is not the seeming ill, but the


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point)—­what is that but a figuration of Jones as a pen or pencil? What­ ever writing is to be done, and it w ­ ill be absolutely minimal, ­will be by him. Heyst has just told Lena that he himself is “so rebellious to outward impressions” that he ­can’t say ­whether or not in a given situation he is frightened. “I ­don’t react with sufficient distinctness” (V, 316). He is definitely not a candidate for impressionist authorship, unlike Jones, who ­later, just short of the story’s denouement, ­will say to Heyst, “All my life I have been seeking new impressions, and you have turned out to be something quite out of the common” (V, 385). It seems unlikely that Conrad was not aware of the implication of t­ hese remarks.15 Another clear indication that Heyst is no writer comes in his final interview with Jones, shortly a­ fter Heyst has let drop the news that he has been living with a ­woman, which comes as a ­great shock to Jones. Jones proposes a truce; Heyst says that Jones’s life has never been in danger from him ­because he is “unarmed.” Jones realizes that Ricardo has known about Lena and has kept it from him; he is enraged and responds: “Unarmed, eh?” Then he burst out violently: “I tell you, a gentleman is no match for the common herd. And yet one must make use of the brutes. Unarmed, eh? And I suppose that creature [Lena] is of the commonest sort. You could hardly have got her out of a drawing-­ room. Though ­they’re all alike, for that ­matter. Unarmed! It’s a pity. I am in much greater danger than you are, or w ­ ere—or I am much mistaken. But I am not—­I know my man!” (V, 388)

By this he means, ostensibly, that he knows Ricardo and how to deal with him. (Notice, though, how unnatural is the repetition of “Unarmed.”) ­Later, ­after Lena has been shot but before Heyst realizes fully what has happened, and that her seeming capitulation to Ricardo was to get hold of his knife and save Heyst, Heyst says to her, “No doubt you acted from instinct. ­Women have been provided with their own weapon. I was a disarmed man. I have been a disarmed man all my life” (V, 404). Unarmed, disarmed—­one feels Conrad would like to say armless; such a man, in Conrad’s universe, cannot write. In case we had any doubts. Throughout her final confrontation with Ricardo, Lena’s aim is to get hold of his knife. The entire exchange has something forced about it (like

How Literary Impressionism Ended


the passages with “unarmed” and “disarmed”), beginning with Ricardo’s question: “Say! You, who are up to fighting a man with your bare hands, could you—­eh?—­could you manage to stick one with a t­ hing like that knife of mine?” She asks to look at it and he gives it to her; “ ‘A good friend,’ he said simply. ‘Take it in your hand and feel the balance,’ he suggested.” Further on, she remarks, “I d ­ idn’t think that you would ever trust me with that ­thing!” And a bit ­later we read: The knife was lying in her lap. She let it slip into the fold of her dress, and laid her forearms with clasped fin­gers over her knees, which she pressed desperately together. The dreaded ­thing was out of sight at last. She felt a dampness break out all over her. (V, 399–400)

By now it is hard not to think of the knife as another pen (note the ­triple repetition of the loaded word “­thing”), as if Lena ­were seeking to take over the writing of the novel. But she is not actually grasping the knife when, a moment ­later, Jones bursts into the room. ­After Lena is shot, Heyst, fi­nally understanding what has taken place, tears open the front of Lena’s dress. Davidson, too, has suddenly turned up, and the two men stood side by side, looking mournfully at the ­little black hole made by Mr. Jones’s bullet u­ nder the swelling breast of a dazzling and as it ­were sacred whiteness. It ­rose and fell slightly—so slightly that only the eyes of the lover could detect the faint stir of life. Heyst, calm and utterly unlike himself in the face [an Almayer moment, except that h­ ere it perhaps has the implication of involvement and emotion], moving about noiselessly, prepared a wet cloth, and laid it on the insignificant wound, round which t­ here was hardly a trace of blood to mar the charm, the fascination, of that mortal flesh. (V, 405)

A l­ittle black hole—­a period or full stop is all Jones’s writing comes to. But it’s enough to bring the book almost to its conclusion. In terms of the problematic developed in my earlier Conrad chapters in this book, it is an open question w ­ hether Heyst’s wet cloth placed on


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the wound amounts even in a small way to an act of erasure—­I remain unsure. I am sure, though, that when Davidson in the final paragraphs of the novel tells the Excellency that “­there was nothing to be done,” and then a moment ­later emphatically repeats “Nothing!”, this is meant by Conrad as if ironically, or at any rate with the fullest pos­si­ble awareness of its merely nominal erasive character. In this re­spect it is fundamentally unlike (for example) the bursting of Razumov’s ear­drums, which I have claimed was understood by Conrad to stand for erasure but which, given the intensity of the scene, is also anything but nominal. Two further items. First, as the reader of Victory soon becomes aware, Heyst’s Chinese servant Wang is repeatedly characterized in terms of suddenly appearing and disappearing, or as is usually said, “materialising” and vanishing. For example: When Heyst and the girl came out again, the Chinaman had gone in his peculiar manner, which suggested vanishing out of existence rather than out of sight, a pro­cess of evaporation rather than of movement. They descended the steps . . . ​but they w ­ ere not ten yards away when, without perceptible stir or sound, Wang materialised inside the empty room. (V, 188–189)

As Heyst l­ ater remarks, “That’s it—he vanishes. It’s a very remarkable gift in that Chinaman” (V, 217). Or again: “Wang materialised without a sound, unheard, uncalled, and did his office. Which being accomplished, at a given moment he was not” (V, 218). This, too, I take to be a certain sort of late or post-literary impressionist trope—­keyed, one might say, to Wang’s appearance and disappearance on the page. When he is mentioned, he appears to the reader (as the name “Wang”) suddenly and of course silently, and when he ceases to be mentioned, he dis­appears, abruptly, without movement—no “coming and g­ oing,” as the text says (V, 286); e­ ither the name is t­ here or it is not. The oddness of this, its uncanniness, has to do with the purely readerly, rather than writerly, event it represents—as if to suggest that the appearance or “materialisation” of “Wang” on the page has and had nothing at all do with the act of writing, as if indeed the production of Victory itself is ­imagined as “unarmed,” a ­matter of reading instead of—­all but divorced from—­writing.

How Literary Impressionism Ended


Second, something should be said about the “purifying” fire that reduces both Heyst and Lena to ashes following the latter’s death. (One is left imagining Heyst choosing to be burned alive.) Briefly, fire is still another literary impressionist motif, starting with three stories by Crane—​ ­The Monster, “The Veteran” (which is quoted in its entirety at the end of “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces”), and “Manacled,” a strange, late story also discussed in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces,” where I also remark that William James lists “flammability” among the properties of paper.)16 Then ­there is the fire set by the natives in Green Mansions, into which Rima falls and by which she is consumed, which I comment on in Chapter 3. Fi­nally, fire figures importantly in two short stories by Kipling, the savagely anti-­German “Mary Postgate” (1915) and the greatly admired but deeply puzzling “Mrs. Bathurst” (1904). In the first, the title character,17 a no longer young lady companion to one Miss Fowler in an En­glish village, is burning vari­ous “books and pictures and the games and the toys” (the emphasis in what follows is strongly on the books) left b­ ehind by a young man, Miss Fowler’s nephew Wynn, to whom she has been devoted and who has just died when his airplane crashed before he had even seen combat in the First World War, when she becomes aware of a fallen German aviator in the garden. The German, seriously injured, moving his head curiously back and forth, speaks to her in French and German, saying that he is “tout cassée” and asking for a doctor, but she replies in German, telling him that she has seen ­children killed by the bomb he presumably had dropped, and allows him (actually, she thinks of him as “It” and “the ­thing”) to die, with ­every appearance of satisfaction. In “Mrs. Bathurst,”18 a work of intense interest to modern commentators, the fire is said to have taken place by a railroad line in a teak forest beyond Buluwayo in present-­day Zimbabwe, leaving ­behind two charred corpses—­one standing and the other squatting and looking up at the first. In effect, they have been turned to charcoal, black and crumbling, but the standing corpse had false teeth that shone white against the black, and he also bore a tattoo on the arms and chest that showed up white on the charcoal; together with the false teeth, this meant that he was Vickery, a key figure in the narrative. (More than ten years l­ ater, ­there w ­ ill be white letters on a blackboard on the island of Sambouran. Earlier, of course,


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t­ here was “the white ribbon of foam that vanished at once,” drawn on the sea by Jim’s Patna. And still earlier, in 1891, Kipling’s story “The Disturber of Traffic” features a light­house keeper, Dowse, who is driven almost to madness by the hallucination of white streaks in the ­waters of the Flores Strait in Indonesia.19 So perhaps the white-­on-­black lettering in Victory is not as significant as I tend to think.) T ­ here is much more to the events of “Mrs. Bathurst,” in which impressionist considerations are salient: thus a reference to early (­silent) newsreel cinema is contrasted not only with the white-­against-­black tattoo but also with the indestructible teeth, which are said to have produced an audible click whenever Vickery spoke, which is to say that immaterial visuality (cinema) is contrasted both with white-­on-­black writing / drawing and with material audibility, a precocious and complex instance of the visual-­aural—­here, visual-­ scriptive-­aural—­separation I have associated with Tarzan, and beyond that, with the end of impressionism. I should mention, too, that at one point, Vickery’s face reminds a friend of “­those ­things in ­bottles in t­ hose herbalistic shops at Plymouth—­preserved in spirits of wine. White an’ crumply ­things—­previous to birth as you might say” (“MB,” 590). (A regressive trope, possibly figuring the sheet of paper prior to inscription.) To sum up: I am suggesting that Victory invites being read as an attempt to imagine the production of a book—­the novel Victory—by purely ­detached, visual, passive, and “unarmed” means, which by their very nature cannot succeed. Somehow, though, in and through the person of Lena, with the final participation, if that is the word, of the pen-­or pencil-­like Jones, the book is written, and then—­figuratively—­consigned to the flames. What remains is Davidson’s “Nothing!”, which I take in this instance at once to allude and to amount to something considerably less than the acts of erasure that characteristically resolve Conrad’s fictions. May I say that I regard Victory as a work of singular genius? But it is no won­der that Conrad’s writing had nowhere further to go—­t hat his more than twenty-­year run as a major novelist was now at an end.20

n One last sign of the end of an entire regime of writing: Wells’s First World War novel, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, closes with its protagonist, a writer who has lost his beloved son Hugh in the war, writing (or

How Literary Impressionism Ended

Fig. 15. ​H. G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through (New York: The Macmillan Com­pany, 1916), illustration of manuscript page reproduced in the novel.



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trying to write) to the parents of Heinrich, a German friend of Hugh’s whom he learns was also killed, but ultimately not finding the words.21 We read: “The last sheet of Mr. Britling’s manuscript may be more con­ ve­n iently given in fac-simile than described” (441). As if u­ nder ­these extreme circumstances, at this late date, the manuscript page itself, comprising merely shards of writing, at last surfaces in its own right (Figure 15).22

Coda Four Modernists



o g o a st e p farther, a crucial aspect of literary modernism, often theorized as the introduction of a certain textual sophistication and complexity ­after a longish period of relatively simpler, more straightforward, more “realistic” literary production, involves precisely the elimination of the structural conflicts focused on the scene of writing that I have been seeking to bring to light. In an obvious sense, this is to suggest that modernism moves into a more unproblematically visual register, as well as, often, a more unproblematically material one. ­Needless to say, it ­will be impossible persuasively to demonstrate this in the relatively small amount of space remaining to me. However, the sole two issues of Blast, dated 1914 and 1915, especially issue number 1, with its bright pink cover and deliberately aggressive use of capital-­letter headline-­style typography to pres­ent its ebullient and notorious “Manifesto,” are spectacular cases in point.1 But Blast is too special a production to stand in for a larger development, at least without strong qualification. (Significantly, though, Ford appears to have taken it in that light, or at least to have taken Lewis around 1914 as the harbinger of a major cultural change.) The same might be said, mutatis mutandis, of Lewis’s early prose, as in the 1927 short story collection The Wild Body and in par­tic­u­lar the 1922 story “Bestre,”2 which begins with the narrator Kerr-­Orr walking through the Breton port of 317


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Kermanac and unexpectedly encountering an extremely vivid face, that of an innkeeper named Bestre, who practices an art of violent aggression that the story seeks to evoke in rhetorically supercharged sentences that the reader absorbs more or less as so many physical blows. The key early paragraph reads: The detritus of some weeks’ hurried experience was being dealt with in my mind, on this crystalline, extremely cold walk through Kermanac to Braspartz, and was being established in orderly heaps. At work in my untidy hive, I was alone: the atmosphere of the workshop dammed me in. That I moved forward was no more strange than if a carpenter’s shop or chemist’s laboratory, installed in a boat, should move forward on the tide of a stream. Now, what seemed to happen was that, as I bent over my work, an odiously grinning face peered in at my win­dow. The impression of an intrusion was so strong, that I did not even realize at first that it was I who was the intruder. That the win­dow was not my win­dow, and that the face was not peering in but out, that, in fact, it was I myself who was guilty of peering into somebody ­else’s win­dow: this was hidden from me in the first moment of consciousness about the odious brown person of Bestre. It is a won­der that the curse did not at once fall from me on this detestable inquisitive head. What I did was to pull up in my automatic pro­gress, and instead of passing on, to continue to stare in at Bestre’s kitchen win­dow, and scowl at Bestre’s sienna-­coloured gourd of a head. (“B,” 77)

A further description of Bestre follows shortly: His very large eyeballs, the small saffron ocellation in their centre, the tiny spot through which light entered the obese wilderness of his body; his bronzed bovine arms, swollen h­ andles for a variety of indolent l­ittle ingenuities; his inflated digestive case, lent their combined expressiveness to say ­these ­things [a series of insults ­imagined by the narrator]; with e­ very tart and biting condiment that eye-­fluid, flaunting of fatness (the well-­filled), the insult of the comic, implications of indecency, could provide. ­Every variety of bottom-­tapping



resounded from his dumb bulk. His tongue stuck out, his lips eructated with the incredible indecorum that appears to be the mono­poly of liquids, his brown arms ­were for the moment genitals, snakes in one massive twist beneath his mamillary slabs, ­gently riding on a pancreatic swell, each hair on his oil-­bearing skin contributing its message of porcine affront. (“B,” 78–79)

My point is ­simple, prob­ably too ­simple: nothing could be less in keeping with the protocols of literary impressionism as they have been developed in the pres­ent study than ­these brief passages. The basic encounter involves seeing a face, which is what makes the comparison relevant, but in the first place, the initial vis-­à-­vis is radically unstable (the narrator first assumes he is being looked at from outside as he bends over his work, but then realizes that in fact he is peering in through a win­dow at Bestre), whereas the impressionist norm more often than not features a view from above (epitomized in “The Upturned Face” and allegorized in “A Memorandum of Sudden Death”), approximately matching the writer’s relation to the page (a viewpoint effectively countermanded by Kerr-­Orr’s’s discovery that he was not, in fact, bent over his work). In the second place, a certain automatism is evoked, but far from being part of the act of writing, it is broken by the realization that is he, Kerr­Orr, who has triggered the exchange of looks, which is to say that the rhetorically over-­the-­top description of Bestre’s face and physical being takes place in a wholly conscious register. Most impor­tant, ­there nothing in Lewis’s paragraphs that evokes in any way what I have been calling the scene of writing; the materiality that in impressionist texts such as The Secret Agent, A Man’s W ­ oman, and the ­battles with Cheese-­Face in Martin Eden comes disturbingly to the fore is h­ ere thematized in the most glaring, violent, and repulsive terms. Or rather, the materiality that is all but thrust into the reader’s lifeworld in “Bestre” has nothing what­ever to do with the act, means, or context of writing—in that sense, it has nothing to do with impressionist materiality as such—­but rather belongs to a form of intensely bodily personal aggression keyed to the primacy of what the narrator characterizes as Bestre’s “Eye.” (Bestre as first perceived by the narrator is expecting someone ­else, a ­woman, whom he ­will seek to defeat as crushingly as pos­si­ble.) Further on, we read:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? It was a m ­ atter of who could be most s­ ilent and move least: it was a stark stand-up fight between one personality and another, unaided by adventitious muscle or tongue. It was more like phases of a combat or courtship in the insect-­world. The Eye was ­really Bestre’s weapon: the ammunition with which he loaded it was drawn from all the most skunk-­like provender, the most ugly mucins, fungoid glands, of his physique. Excrement as well as sputum would be shot from this luminous hole, with the same certainty in its unsavoury appulsion. E ­ very resource of metonymy, bloody mind transfusion or irony w ­ ere also his. What he selected as an arm in his duels, then, was the Eye. (“B,” 82–83)

In the remainder of the story, Kerr-­Orr elaborates upon Bestre’s penchant for quarrels and his endless resourcefulness in “[sacrificing] the claims any individual portion of his anatomy might have to in­de­pen­dent expressiveness to a tyrannical appropriation of all this varied battery of bestial significance by his eye” (“B,” 85; emphasis in original), which is to say that Bestre’s sphincter-­like eye functions less—­indeed, almost not at all— as an organ of vision than as one of total bodily assault. At one point Kerr­Orr suggests that he himself learned a ­great deal from Bestre, though precisely what he means by this remains unclear. In any case, it is not part of my proj­ect in this Coda to say more about Lewis, an extremely idiosyncratic and hard to characterize writer and artist. It should be clear, however, that nothing could be further from impressionist seeing (“Be it of rec­ord that I, Karslake, SAW”) and writing than the entirely outward-­ directed and ferociously, not to say disgustingly, somatic visual activity that Lewis h­ ere attributes to the character Bestre (if not as well, at least by implication, to himself), and the clotted, showy, deliberately overemphatic prose in which that activity is bodied forth.

n A very dif­f er­e nt extreme case is that of Gertrude Stein, as in the famous statement, repeated several times, in her first impor­tant theoretical essay, “Composition as Explanation” (1926): The only ­thing that is dif­fer­ent from one time to another is what is  seen and what is seen depends upon how every­body is d ­ oing



every­thing. This makes the ­thing we are looking at very dif­fer­ent and this makes what t­ hose who describe it make of it, it makes a composition, it confuses, it shows, it is, it looks, it likes it as it is, and this makes what is seen as it is seen. Nothing changes from generation to generation except the ­thing seen and that makes a composition.3

I take Stein to be saying (writing) that nothing changes from generation to generation except every­thing (i.e., how every­body is ­doing every­thing), and that what this effectively means is that every­thing therefore looks dif­ fer­ent from how it looked before, a further implication being that this basic fact is of par­tic­u­lar interest to her as a writer b­ ecause of the primacy of the visual in her literary practice (encapsulated in the notion of a composition). A similar assertion is found in Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933): When I first knew Gertrude Stein in Paris [Stein writes in Toklas’s voice] I was surprised never to see a french book on her ­table, although ­there ­were always plenty of en­glish ones, ­there ­were even no french newspapers. But do you never read french, I as well as many ­people asked her. No, she replied, you see I feel with my eyes and it does not make any difference to me what language I hear, I ­don’t hear a language, I hear tones of voice and rhythms, but with my eyes I see words and sentences and ­there is for me only one language and that is en­glish. One of the ­things that I have liked all ­these years is to be surrounded by ­people who know no en­glish. It has left me more intensely alone with my eyes and my en­glish.4

And a few pages l­ater, apropos her participation in experiments in automatic writing in William James’s Harvard seminar, we are told, “Gertrude Stein never had subconscious reactions, nor was she a successful subject for automatic writing” (A, 79), which together with the previous passages suggests that Stein understood herself to operate wholly in the double register of the visual and the conscious. In Toklas’s (Stein’s) words: “Actually it is her eyes and mind that are active and impor­tant and concerned in choosing” (A, 75).5 By now t­ hese are quite familiar claims to make about Stein’s writing, and what I wish to add is simply that they should be understood not simply


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as her par­tic­u­lar credo but also against the background of, and in stark contrast to, the very dif­fer­ent priorities, including visual priorities, of literary impressionism. In this connection, I find it suggestive that handwriting as such was problematic for Stein, and not only in the sense that she has Toklas report that Stein’s handwriting is so illegible that at times only she, Toklas, not even Stein, can make it out. T ­ here is also a fascinating short anecdote about when Stein was eight and all the students in the public schools in California ­were asked to write a description. Her recollection [the anecdote goes] is that she described a sunset with the sun g­ oing into a cave of clouds. Anyway it was one of the half dozen in the school chosen to be copied out on beautiful parchment paper. A ­ fter she had tried to copy it twice and the writing became worse and worse she was reduced to letting some one e­ lse copy it for her. (A, 75–76)

Then ­there is this: She has never been able or had any desire to indulge in any of the arts. . . . ​She cannot draw anything. She feels no relation between the object and the piece of paper. When at the medical school [Johns Hopkins, where she went a­ fter Harvard], she was supposed to draw anatomical ­things she never found out in sketching how a t­hing was made concave or convex. (A, 76)

Not that ­either copying a description or drawing an object is exactly an impressionist motif. But in the first place, the proj­ect of copying her own text seems linked to the idea of producing a legible if not beautiful scriptive artifact, which does have impressionist implications, and which the young Stein instinctively rejects. (Copying a piece of writing, of course, is thematized in Norris’s “A Joyous Miracle.”) And in the second place, the notion of t­ here being no relation between the object and the piece of paper suggests that like drawing, writing for Stein is fundamentally nonrelational in the sense of being a function simply of her ­will to put words on the page; in impressionist texts, in contrast, relationality with re­spect to one or more features of the scene of writing is everywhere in force.



Fi­nally, t­ here is one “theoretical” work by Stein that may be read as an almost systematic negation of the basic assumptions of literary impressionism, her 1936 book The Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, or The Relation of ­Human Nature to the ­Human Mind.6 At the core of her argument, as in that of her contemporaneous lecture / essay “What Are Master-­Pieces and Why Are T ­ here So Few of Them” (1936),7 is a highly charged distinction between h­ uman nature, which she aligns with notions of subjective experience and personal identity, as well as with that of an audience (­those who know you to be a par­tic­u­lar person, such as your ­little dog), and ­human mind, which emerges from her account as fundamentally impersonal, and which she links with the production of “master-­ pieces” (also called “entities”), by which she means wholly autonomous, audience-­repudiating works of art, and in par­tic­u­lar, paintings and works of writing.8 What makes The Geo­graph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca especially pertinent in the pres­ent context is the repeated invocation of flying above the United States in an airplane, with specific reference to the flatness of the land as seen from above and the relation of that flatness to both mind and writing.9 For example: This chapter is to be all about when words how words do words look like that. Like it did when I looked at it, t­ here t­ here where I saw it. Beneath me when I was above it. If ­there was only ­human nature ­there would be words but they would not be like that. (GH, 380)

And: Why the writing of to-­day has to do with the way any land can lay when it is the particularly flat land. That is what makes land connected with the h­ uman mind only flat land a g­ reat deal of flat land is connected with the h­ uman mind and so Amer­i­ca is connected with the ­human mind, I can say I say so but what I do is to write it so. [Throughout the book Stein distinguishes saying from writing; only the latter is connected with the h­ uman mind.] Think not the way the land looks but the way it lies that is now


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? connected with the ­human mind. [More on this last sentence further on.] (GH, 388)

And: It is writing of course it is the h­ uman mind and ­there is no relation between h­ uman nature and the ­human mind no no of course not. And what has that to do with flat land or any land the flatter the land oh yes the flatter land but of course the flatter the land and the sea is as flat as the land oh yes the flatter the land the more yes the more it has may have to do with the h­ uman mind. (GH, 427)

So we have the equation, or, say, the connection “mind”–­“ writing”–­ “flatness”–­“Amer­i­ca” (also “master-­piece”; also the view from above, including the United States of Amer­i­ca seen from an airplane), which of course may seem to invoke the scene of writing as the latter has figured in the previous chapters of the pres­ent book. Also, even, the motif of a flat country, obviously Amer­i­ca, “so big that it is divided one part from another by ruled lines” (GH, 393), which may seem to invite a comparison with maps of other places in texts by Wells, Childers, Conrad, Hudson, and so on. But Stein’s map of Amer­i­ca differs from ­those maps in being largely a ­matter of “ruled lines,” hardly the norm elsewhere. Moreover, what Stein means by writing departs sharply from all the texts we have considered, if only (but not only) ­because all ­those texts have what Stein deprecatingly calls “meaning.” Thus, she writes: One minute it means anything [leaving “it” vague but obviously indicating some sort of textual production] it has nothing to do with the ­human mind, with h­ uman nature yes, but not with the way the earth is and looks and not with the ­human mind. No nothing to do with the ­human mind. Every­body knows just now how nothing succeeds anything [a basic claim about the modern world]. And so just now yes just now the h­ uman mind is the ­human mind. (GH, 390)



And: And the writing that is the ­human mind does not consist in messages or in events it consists only in writing down what is written and therefore it has no relation to ­human nature. Events are connected with ­human nature but they are not connected with the ­human mind and therefore all the writing that has to do with events has to be written over, but the writing that has to do with writing does not have to be written again again is in this sense the same as over. (GH, 407)

Such a view is totally opposed to narrative unfolding, indeed, to any effects of textual progression, which puts it at odds with literary impressionist practice in that it is precisely the ongoingness of the impressionist narrative (think especially of Crane and Conrad) that prevents one or ­another feature of the scene of writing, starting with the upward-­facing page of inscription, from emerging fully and disruptively into view (into ­mental prominence, so to speak). Whereas for Stein: “Nothing should follow something b­ ecause in this way ­there ­will come to be a m ­ iddle and a beginning and an end and of course that does make identity but not the ­human mind or not the h­ uman mind” (GH, 430). At the limit, writing for Stein is famously, hyperbolically, word by word: I found that any kind of book if you read with glasses and somebody is cutting your hair and so you cannot keep the glasses on and you use your glasses as a magnifying glass and so read word by word reading word by word makes the writing that is not anything be something. Very regrettable but very true. So that shows to you that a w ­ hole t­ hing is not in­ter­est­ing ­because as a ­whole well as a ­whole ­there has to be remembering and forgetting, but one at a time, oh one at a time is something oh yes definitely something. (GH, 428–429)

One more short passage is of special interest to our topic:


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? I wish writing would not sound like writing and yet what e­ lse can any writing sound like. Well yes it can it cannot sound like writing b­ ecause if it sounds like writing then anybody can see it being written, and the ­human mind nobody sees the ­human mind while it is being existing, and master-­pieces well master-­pieces may not be other than that they do not exist as anybody seeing them and yet t­ here they are. (GH, 449–450)

It is not my purpose h­ ere to analyze further Stein’s conception of her writerly practice generally, or even as it stood around 1936. Rather, I want to draw attention to two points: first, what may appear to be a certain proximity to literary impressionism by virtue of her emphasis on seeing, flatness, and looking down (note, however, that ­there is no hint of a thematization of pen, ink, or paper); and second, and ultimately, more impor­tant, the radically disparate account she gives of what she calls writing (writing that stands for the h­ uman mind, that can produce master-­ pieces), an account that denies time, narrative, and eventfulness—­and although Stein ­doesn’t consider the possibility, would also deny any acknowl­edgment of what I have been calling the scene of writing—in the interests of a word by word (or rather word ­after word) but in no sense sequential or cumulative conception of literary production. As the last citation suggests, Stein late on in The Geo­graph­i­cal History discovers that she is troubled even by the fact that writing can sound like writing, and that not b­ ecause she contrasts “sounding like” with seeing, but b­ ecause seeing writing as writing in the act of being written—in some re­spects, the literary impressionist trope (or trope-­to-­be-­suppressed)—­threatens to tip writing over into its h­ uman nature equivalent and thereby abort the possibility of creating a master-piece. (Master-pieces, like the h­ uman mind, she adds, “do not exist as anybody seeing them and yet ­there they are.”) This is why Stein early on urges the reader to “Think not the way the land looks but the way it lies that is now connected with the h­ uman mind,” and is also why she invokes only the straight lines on the map of the United States, lines that exist only notionally and are never to be seen in actuality. (So the implied map has nothing in common with t­ hose in the im-



pressionist texts just mentioned.) Indeed, throughout The Geo­graph­i­cal History she is of two minds about seeing: on the one hand, it is fundamental, as when she reads (or “reads”) word a­ fter word through a lens of her eyeglasses, but on the other, it threatens to be merely literal (to belong irredeemably to h­ uman nature), which is why pen, ink, and paper are never thematized, and also why she has nothing to say about the reader’s experience of reading master-pieces, a necessary omission given her ontological priorities (indifference to audience—­a radical antitheatricality—is absolutely fundamental).10 What­ever ­else writing is for Stein at this point in her life and ­career, it is altogether opposed to the essentially conflictual, in a certain sense reader-­centered practices that have been the subject of the pres­ent book.

n A third writer who belongs to the network of post-literary impressionist issues I have been tracking is Ernest Hemingway, by all odds the most broadly influential English-­language writer to emerge during the 1920s. But rather than tackle Hemingway directly, I want to quote somewhat extensively from Ford Madox Ford’s introduction to the Modern Library reissue of A Farewell to Arms (originally published 1929, reissued 1932).11 Ford begins by singling out the famous first sentence of the novel, “In the late summer of that year we lived in a h­ ouse in a village that looked across the river and the plain ­towards the mountains” (“I,” 128). He goes on to quote the rest of the first paragraph t­ oward the end of his essay; the paragraph continues: In the bed of the river ­there ­were pebbles and boulders dry and white in the sun, and the w ­ ater was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the ­house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees w ­ ere dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and the leaves, stirred by the breeze falling and the soldiers marching and afterwards the road bare and white except for the leaves. (“I,” 135–136)


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

Soon though, Ford turns his attention to Hemingway’s first book of short stories, In Our Time, quoting the first paragraph of the brief intertext that begins, “Every­body was drunk.” Ford then writes: I am reading from “No. 3 of 170 hand-­made copies printed on rives hand-­made paper,” which is inscribed: “to robert mcalmon and william bird publishers of the city of paris and to captain edward dorman-­smith m.c., of his majesty’s fifth fusiliers this book is respectfully dedicated.” The title page, curiously enough, bears the date 1924 but the copy is inscribed to me by Ernest Hemingway “march 1923” and must, as far as I can remember have been given to me then. T ­ here is a nice prob­lem for bibliophiles. This book is the first version of In Our Time and is described as published at “paris, printed at the three mountains press and for sale at shakespeare & com­pany in the rue de l’odéon; london: william jackson, took’s court, cursitor street, chancery lane. ­Those ­were brave times in Paris when William Bird and I, and I daresay Hemingway too believed, I ­don’t know why, that salvation could be found in leaving out capitals. (“I,” 128–129)

A bit further on, Ford continues: At any rate the last page but one of In Our Time—or perhaps it is the feuille de garde, carries the announcement: ­Here ends The Inquest into the state of con­temporary En­glish prose, as edited by EZRA POUND and printed at the THREE MOUNTAINS PRESS. The six works constituting the series are: Indiscretions of Ezra Pound ­Women and Men by Ford Madox Ford Elimus by B. C. Windeler with Designs by D. Shakespear The G ­ reat American Novel by William Carlos Williams E ­ ngland by B. M. G. Adams In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway with portrait by Henry Strater.



Mr. Pound, you perceive did believe in CAPITALS and so obviously did one half of Hemingway for his other book of the same date—­a blue-­grey pamphlet—­announces itself all in capitals of ­great baldness. (They are I believe of the style called sans-­sérif ): THREE STORIES & TEN POEMS ERNEST HEMINGWAY ­ here is no date or pubit calls itself without even a ‘by’ in italics. T lisher’s or distributor’s name or address on the title page but the back of the half-­title bears the small notices Copyright 1923 by the author Published by Contact Publishing Co. and the last page but one has the announcement PRINTED AT DIJON BY MAURICE DARANTIERE M. CX. XXIII This copy bears an inscription in the handwriting of Mr. Hemingway to the effect that it was given to me in Paris by himself in 924 [apparently a slip of Hemingway’s pen]. That seems almost an exaggeration in antedating. (“I,” 129–130)

The question, of course, is what we are to make of this elaborate and presumably meticulous reproduction of typographic particulars, and my suggestion is that it is Ford’s way of registering, not without a certain irony, the major transformation in literary production represented by Hemingway’s early prose relative to the achievements of Ford and the impressionists (also, of course, by the typographic experiments of Blast). Granted, Ford never says as much explic­itly. But he does state: Hemingway’s words strike you, each one, as if they w ­ ere pebbles fetched fresh from a brook. They live and shine, each in its place. So one of his pages has the effect of a brook-­bottom into which you look down through the flowing ­water. The words form a tessellation, each in order beside the other.


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? It is a very ­great quality. It is indeed the supreme quality of the written art of the moment. . . . ​The aim—­the achievement—of the ­great prose writer is to use words so that they ­shall seem new and alive ­because of their juxtaposition with other words. This gift Hemingway has supremely. Any sentence of his taken at random ­w ill hold your attention. And irresistibly. It does not m ­ atter where you take it. (“I,” 133)

The implied, perhaps not fully intended contrast with Ford’s earlier praise of Hudson is extremely striking. As we saw in Chapter 2, Hudson was repeatedly praised for the invisibility or transparency of his prose; as Ford put it, He shared with Turgenev the quality that makes you unable to find out how he got his effects. Like Turgenev he was utterly undramatic in his methods, and his books have that same quality that [sic] have ­those of the author of ­Fathers and ­Children. When you read them you forget the lines and the print. It is as if a remotely smiling face looked up at you out of the page and told you ­t hings. And ­t hose ­things become part of your own experience.12

Not that Hudson may be seen as representative of literary impressionism tout court; Crane, Conrad, and Ford himself cannot be characterized in t­ hese terms. But none of them (and none of the other authors considered in this book, not even Wells) would have lent himself to the typographic extravagances, as they must have seemed to Ford, that he took evident plea­sure in slyly placing before the reader, despite the fact that t­hose extravagances marked only the title page, half-­title page, and endpapers of In Our Time. And none of the impressionists, including the most individual stylists among them, Crane and Conrad, wrote a prose that can be compared to tesselated pebble-­words juxtaposed with one another (as pebble-­words, so to speak), making a worked surface that seeks to hold the reader’s attention solely in its own terms. Indeed, the artifactual character of that worked surface is further conveyed by the surprising remark, “It does not ­matter where you take it”—­implying that any sentence by Hemingway could be extracted from its immediate context and



relished in its own right, which could not be further from an impressionist state of affairs. Above all, or should I say, before all, such a prose has nothing to do with any conflictual dynamic; instead, the reader feels himself or herself to be in the grip of a new, intensely self-­aware, in impor­tant re­spects more strictly “aesthetic” writerly regime. (In Hemingway’s case, the visuality of his writing is complemented by a subtle, equally self-­aware prose ­music.) Further on in Ford’s introduction, as already mentioned, he quotes the remainder of the first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms, which of course went on to become talismanic for admirers of Hemingway’s prose, adding, “I wish I could quote more, it is such plea­sure to see words like that come from one’s pen” (“I,” 136)—as if thereby to reclaim the sentences in question for his own impressionist proj­ect, which, as his essay recognizes, they had left far b­ ehind.13

n The fourth modernist writer whose work I want to touch on in this connection is V ­ irginia Woolf. Simply put, I consider Woolf ’s writing to have nothing at all to do with the issues that have concerned me, despite the fact that the notion of “impressions” is central to her understanding of her enterprise as well as to standard accounts of her literary achievement. Or rather, it is precisely b­ ecause she understands herself to be seeking to render impressions in a new, more radical vein than the major writers who preceded her that her prose represents such a sharp, even absolute departure from theirs. Her classic statement of her point of view comes from the 1919 essay “Modern Fiction”: Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—­trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not ­here but ­there; so that, if a writer w ­ ere a ­free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, ­there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ? accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps [lanterns at the side of a gig, a horse-­drawn cart] symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-­t ransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, what­ever aberration or complexity it may display, with as l­ ittle mixture of the alien or external as possiible?14

And indeed, virtually all of her novels and stories exemplify this conception of the novelist’s task. Two brief excerpts from her early novel Jacob’s Room (1922) might perhaps stand in for the rest.15 The first takes off from the protagonist, Jacob, reading a letter from his m ­ other: Let us consider letters—­how they come at breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their green stamps, immortalized by the postmark—­for to see one’s own envelope on another’s ­table is to realize how soon deeds sever and become alien. Then at last the power of the mind to quit the body is manifest, and perhaps we fear or hate or wish annihilated this phantom of ourselves, lying on the ­table. Still, t­ here are letters that merely say how dinner’s at seven; ­others ordering coal; making appointments. The hand in them is scarcely perceptible, let alone the voice or the scowl. Ah, but when the post knocks and the letter comes always the miracle seems repeated—­speech attempted. Venerable are letters, infinitely brave, forlorn, and lost. (JR, 71)

The second, also a scene of reading, depicts Jacob in his room: He sat at the t­ able, reading the Globe. The pinkish sheet was spread flat before him. He propped his face in his hand, so that the skin of his cheek was wrinkled in deep folds. Terribly severe he looked, set, and defiant. (What p ­ eople go through in half an hour! But nothing could save him. ­These events are features of our landscape. A foreigner coming to London could scarcely miss seeing St. Paul’s.) He



judged life. T ­ hese pinkish and greenish newspapers are thin sheets of gelatine pressed nightly over the brain and heart of the world. They take the impression of the ­whole. Jacob cast his eye over it. A strike, a murder, football, bodies found; vociferation from all parts of ­England si­mul­ta­neously. How miserable it is that the Globe newspaper offers nothing better to Jacob Flanders! When a child begins to read history one marvels, sorrowfully, to hear him spell out in his new voice the ancient words. The Prime Minister’s speech was reported in something over five columns. Feeling in his pocket, Jacob took out a pipe and proceeded to fill it. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed. Jacob took the paper over to the fire. The Prime Minister proposed a mea­sure for giving Home Rule to Ireland. Jacob knocked out his pipe. He was certainly thinking about Home Rule in Ireland—­a very difficult ­matter. A very cold night. (JR, 75)

The significance of ­t hese passages for my argument is that they introduce two modes of writing or, say, textual production—­letters and a newspaper—­but very quickly make it clear that the author’s interest in both is altogether dif­fer­ent from anything of the sort we have been tracking. Thus, “to see one’s own envelope on another’s ­table” is to experience an intellectual insight and also, perhaps, an emotional frisson, neither of which has essentially to do with the writing or indeed the reading of letters, and a fortiori of the text before our eyes. And by the end of the paragraph the “miracle” of letter writing (or letter posting) is said to be “speech attempted”—­not a writerly proj­ect at all. As for Jacob Flanders and the Globe, the first paragraph seems for a moment as if it is concerned with newspapers from a material point of view, characterizing them as thin sheets of gelatine taking the impression of the brain and heart of the world, but the (quasi-­Fordian) meta­phor is dropped almost immediately in ­favor of the topics of vari­ous faits divers—­a strike, a murder, football, discovered bodies, and so on. In fact, the brief second paragraph invites being understood as a mini-­allegory of a shift of attention away from the newspaper to the world: more than five columns reporting the prime minister’s speech lead Jacob to think about Home Rule in Ireland—­“a very difficult ­matter.” Then as if to underscore the shift: “A very cold


w h at wa s l i t e r a ry i m p r e s s i o n i s m ?

night”—­the newspaper and the more than five columns of print being beside the point (so much so that it is unclear ­whether the final not-­quite-­ sentence takes us outside Jacob’s mind or, for that ­matter, outside his room.)16 I do not pretend that my observations about Lewis, Stein, Hemingway, and Woolf adequately capture ­those writers’ respective achievements and innovations. Nor do I take this Coda to provide more than the roughest sketch of literary modernism and its characteristic operations—­ perhaps I should have avoided the term entirely. In any case, what I have done is take four writers who might fairly be considered representative of major post-1914 developments in English-­language prose (as it happens, an American man and w ­ oman, a native Canadian man educated in ­England, and an En­glishwoman) and try to indicate as briefly and simply as pos­si­ble some of the fundamental differences, as it seems to me, between their vari­ous practices, for all the distinctness of each, and t­ hose of the literary impressionists featured in this book. It would not surprise me should the reader remain unsatisfied with such a conclusion, or at least feel that considerably more evidence would need to be brought forward in order for my remarks about Lewis, Stein, Hemingway, and Woolf to compel conviction. But I would be disappointed, to say the least, if my close and detailed readings of major texts by Crane, Conrad, Hudson, Wells, Ford, Norris, London, Kipling, Cunninghame Graham, Childers, Burroughs, and Stevenson—as well as Charles Palermo’s penetrating account of The Good Soldier—­did not at least somewhat transform the terms in which, ­until now, ­those texts and literary impressionism generally have been understood.

Notes Acknowl­edgments Index


Book Epigraphs Henry James: A Life in Letters, ed. Philip Horne (Harmonds­worth, UK, 2000), pp. 377– 378; emphasis in original. Percy Lubbock, ed., The Letters of Henry James, 2 vols. (New York, 1920), 1:176; emphasis in original.

Introduction 1. Michael Fried, Courbet’s Realism (Chicago, 1990). 2. On the prob­lem of the beholder as it emerged in mid-­eighteenth-­century France, see Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980; repr., Chicago, 1988). 3. Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 80–81 (hereafter RWD). Further page references ­will be in parentheses in the text. 4. Actually, I owe my awareness of Berryman’s book on Crane to the writer and critic Walter Clemons, whom I got to know in Rome during the summer of 1960. I still feel indebted to Clemons for alerting me to Berryman’s brilliant critical study, thereby opening a world of reading and thinking I might other­w ise have missed. 5. Stephen Crane, “The Upturned Face,” in Crane, Prose and Poetry, ed. J. C. Levenson (New York, 1984), 1283 (hereafter “UT”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 6. Stephen Crane, The Monster, in Crane, Prose and Poetry, 406.



Notes to Pages 12–20

7. See the discussion of “The Snake” in RWD, 151–155, as well as figure 52 illustrating the first page of Crane’s manuscript for “The Snake” (RWD, 154). 8. Joseph Conrad, preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York, 1979), 147; emphasis in original. 9. See the discussion of ­t hese aspects of Crane’s handwriting in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” RWD, 145–146, 198nn52–56. 10. The distinction between marking and writing (indeed, language) is of course basic to Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels’s controversial article “Against Theory,” Critical Inquiry 8 (Summer 1982): 723–742, as well as to Michaels’s subsequent development of the distinction in The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (Prince­ton, NJ, 2004). See also the essays gathered in W. J. T. Mitchell, ed., Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism (Chicago, 1985), a volume that includes two further essays by Knapp and Michaels (“A Reply to Our Critics” and “A Reply to Richard Rorty: What Is Pragmatism?”). In the notes to RWD I also cite Michaels’s The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: Essays on American Lit­er­a­ ture (Berkeley, CA, 1987), in par­t ic­u ­lar the introduction, “The Writer’s Mark.” I go on to say: Briefly, Michaels t­ here suggests, both in elaboration of his argument in the last few essays in his book and with reference to my readings of Eakins and Crane, that in vari­ous American texts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries writing as such becomes an epitome of a notion of identity as difference from itself (in that writing to be writing must in some sense be dif­fer­ent from the mark that simply materially it is); and that this is impor­tant above all ­because, in ­those texts and ­others, the possibility of difference from itself emerges as crucial to a concept of personhood that would distinguish persons both from pure spirit (e.g., Josiah Royce) and from pure m ­ atter (e.g., Frank Norris’s brute or machine). (RWD, 163; emphasis in original) 11. A recent biography is Joseph R. McElrath Jr. and Jesse S. Crisler, Frank Norris: A Life (Champaign, IL, 2010). 12. Frank Norris, “A Memorandum of Sudden Death,” in A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West (London, 1903), 101–127 (hereafter “M”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. The story goes unmentioned in Frank Norris: A Life. 13. Is ­t here an error on Norris’s part or his publisher’s in sentence six? At any rate, the passage would make better sense if the phrase “on the third side” read “on the fourth side.” 14. See Michael Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” in RWD, 203–206n70, where I mention a number of late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century psychologists in Eu­rope and the United States interested in t­ hese issues. ­T here I quote and discuss a passage about automatic writing from William James’s Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy (1890) and another from his 1896 Lowell Lectures, in the latter of which he refers to cases in which “an active dissociation or shutting out of certain feelings and objects from the field of consciousness” reaches the point “that the subject’s mind loses its quality of unity, and lapses into a polypsychism of fields that genuinely co-­exist and yet are outside of each other’s ken and dissociated functionally” (quoted by Eugene Taylor,


16. 17.

18. 19. 20.

Notes to Pages 21–23


William James on Exceptional ­Mental States: The 1896 Lowell Lectures [Amherst, MA, 1984], 36–37). I then remark: My point in introducing this material (as regards James alone I have barely scratched the surface) is not quite to insist that Crane’s literary practice proves the operation in him of a double consciousness in the [F. W. H.] Myers-­James sense of the term. It is to suggest that between Crane’s enterprise as interpreted in t­ hese pages [and beyond that, I would now add, the enterprises of the other literary impressionists] and the general class of phenomena that James and his contemporaries found so arresting certain strong analogies may be drawn, analogies that at the very least help us see Crane’s uniqueness as a writer in a somewhat broader context. (RWD, 205; emphasis in original) Also RWD, 199nn58–59. See also Ruth Leys’s discussion of psychotherapist Morton Prince’s well-­k nown study The Dissociation of a Personality: A Biographical Study in Abnormal Psy­chol­ogy (New York, 1906) in a chapter titled “The Real Miss Beauchamp: An Early Case of Traumatic Dissociation,” in Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago, 2000), 41–82. In her book Leys makes productive use of Mikkel Borch-­ Jacobsen’s analy­sis of the per­sis­tence of the idea of hypnotic suggestion in Freud’s writings throughout his ­career; see esp. Borch-­Jacobsen, The Freudian Subject, trans. Catherine Porter (Stanford, CA, 1988), and Borch-­Jacobsen, The Emotional Tie: Psychoanalysis, Mimesis, and Affect, trans. Douglas Brick and o­ thers (Stanford, CA, 1993). My thanks to Leys for discussing t­hese issues with me. (Her reading of Prince’s book ­w ill be cited and discussed by Charles Palermo in Chapter 3.) I should add that issues of habit and automatism, mediated by the French phi­los­o­ pher Félix Ravaisson’s treatise De l’habitude (1838), play a significant role in two subsequent books by me: Courbet’s Realism (Chicago, 1990) and, at greater length, Flaubert’s “Gueuloir”: On Madame Bovary and Salammbô (New Haven, CT, 2012). See also the valuable short essay by Charles Palermo, “Photography, Automaticity, Mechanicity,” nonsite​.­org, no. 11, March 14, 2014, http://­nonsite​.­org​/­feature​/­photo​g​ raphy​-­automatism​-­mechanicity. It might be noted that Norris gives the ­whole of Karslake’s name as “Arthur Staples Karslake” (“M,” 127), the initials of which form the word “ask.” (“Staples Karslake” also give us the initials “S. K.,” not very far from “S.(hard)C.”) We are also told that he sometimes wrote u­ nder the nom de plume “Anson Qualtraugh” and, once, “Justin Blisset” (“M,” 101–102). Neither of t­ hese points even indirectly to Crane, but taken with “Arthur Staples Karslake” they raise the question of naming in a provocative way. Ford Madox Ford, Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 41. Michael Fried, “Almayer’s Face: On ‘Impressionism’ in Conrad, Crane, and Norris,” Critical Inquiry 17 (Autumn 1990): 193–236. As the title shows, in that essay I still placed the term “impressionism” in quotation marks; subsequently I ceased to do so. Michael Fried, “ ‘A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against’: On Conrad’s The Secret Agent,” ELH 79 (2012): 1039–1071. Michael Fried, “Impressionist Monsters: H. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau,” in Frankenstein, Creation and Monsktrolsity, ed. Stephen Bann (London, 1994), 95–122. Before leaving Crane, I should mention Bill Brown’s “Writing, Race, and Erasure: Michael Fried and the Scene of Reading,” Critical Inquiry 18 (Winter 1992): 387–402, in


Notes to Page 25

which he critiques both my essay on Almayer’s Folly in Critical Inquiry (see note 14 above) and my account of Crane in RWD, as well as my “Response to Bill Brown” in the same issue (403–410). Brown has almost nothing to say about literary impressionism in his ­later The Material Unconscious: American Amusements, Stephen Crane, and the Economics of Play (Cambridge, MA, 1996). Three other scholars with strong socioeconomic interests (putting this crudely) engage directly with my argument: Mark Seltzer, Bodies and Machines (New York, 1992), 91–118; Mark McGurl, The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction a­ fter Henry James (Prince­ton,NJ, 2001), 78–105; and Walter Benn Michaels, Promises of American Life, 1880–1920, in The Cambridge History of American Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch, vol. 3: Prose Writings, 1860–1920 (Cambridge, 2005), 314–347. Interestingly, the notion of literary impressionism (as distinct from naturalism or realism) plays almost no role in t­ hese commentaries. 21. As is doubtless already clear, what I understand by literary impressionism departs fundamentally from standard accounts of the latter in the critical lit­er­a­ture. For that reason, a survey of that lit­er­a­t ure, with its characteristic emphasis on ­matters of vividness of perception, primacy of impression and subjective response, “delayed decoding” (as it is called), and related issues seems beside the point. Why then retain the term? B ­ ecause in the first place, it goes back to the period in question, and is employed by some of the key writers who are of interest to me, notably Conrad and, especially, Ford. And in the second, b­ ecause it has continued to be mobilized by literary critics working on t­ hose and other writers, though often with a wider time frame than the one I consider appropriate, and with application to writers whom I do not count among my impressionists. (One scholar I am about to cite, Jesse Matz, includes Pater, Proust, Hardy, James, and Woolf in addition to Conrad and Ford, and barely mentions Crane.) In any case, literary impressionism as I understand it has nothing what­ever to do with the pictorial movement known as Impressionism (with a capital I); I mention that specifically to rule out any confusion based on familiarity with my art-­h istorical scholarship. Works since 1979 that discuss literary impressionism include: Paul  B. Armstrong, The Challenge of Bewilderment: Understanding and Repre­sen­ta­tion in James, Conrad, and Ford (Ithaca, NY, 1987); Todd K. Bender, Literary Impressionism in Jean Rhys, Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, and Charlotte Brontë (New York, 1997); Donald R. Benson, “Impressionist Painting and the Prob­lem of Conrad’s Atmosphere,” Mosaic 22 (Winter 1989): 29–40; Nicholas Brown, Utopian Generations: The Po­liti­cal Horizon of Twentieth- ­Century Lit­er­a­ture (Prince­ton, NJ, 2005), 83–103; Robin  P. Hoople, In Darkest James: Reviewing Impressionism, 1900–1905 (Lewisburg, PA, 2000); Fredric Jameson, The Po­liti­cal Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY, 1981); Bruce Johnson, “Conrad’s Impressionism and Watts’s ‘Delayed Decoding,’ ” in Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties, ed. Ross C. Murfin (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1983), 169–180; Tamar Katz, Impressionist Subjects: Gender, Interiority, and Modernist Fiction in ­England (Champaign, IL, 2000); Maria Elisabeth Kronegger, Literary Impressionism (New Haven, CT, 1993); Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of En­glish Literary Doctrine, 1908–1922 (Cambridge, 1985); Jesse Matz, Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics (Cambridge, 2001); James Nagel, Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism (University Park, PA, 1980); Adam Parkes, A Sense of Shock: The Impact of Impressionism on

Notes to Page 25


Modern British and Irish Writing (Oxford, 2011); John G. Peters, Conrad and Impressionism (Cambridge, 2001); Max Saunders, Self-­Impression: Life-­Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Lit­e r­a­t ure (Oxford, 2010); H. Peter Stowell, Literary Impressionism: James and Chekhov (Athens, GA, 1990); Julia van Gunsteren, Katherine Mansfield and Literary Impressionism (Amsterdam, 1990); and Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth ­Century (Berkeley, CA, 1979). Let me also mention an article by Saunders, “Modernism, Impressionism, and Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier,” Etudes anglaises 57, no. 4 (2004): 421–437, to which I owe two further references: Paul B. Armstrong, “The Hermeneutics of Literary Impressionism,” Centennial Review 27 (Fall 1983): 244–269, and Armstrong, “The Epistemology of Ford’s Impressionism,” in Critical Essays on Ford Madox Ford, ed. Richard A. Cassel (Boston, 1987), 135–142. ­Needless to say, the foregoing list of studies is far from exhaustive. Among Ford’s writings dealing explic­itly with the notion of literary impression are ­t hose gathered in Frank MacShane, ed., Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford (Lincoln, NE, 1964), and his Joseph Conrad: A Personal Reminiscence (1924; repr., New York, 1989), described by Ford as “the rec­ord of the impression made by Conrad the Impressionist upon another writer, impressionist also” (34). 22. See, for example, Michael Anesko, “Friction with the Market”: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship (New York, 1986); Mary Ann Gillies, The Professional Literary Agent in Britain, 1880–1920 (Toronto, 2007); David McWhirter, ed., Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (Stanford, CA, 1995); Peter Lancelot Mallios, “Reading The Secret Agent Now: The Press, the Police, the Premonition of Simulation,” in Conrad in the Twenty-­First ­Century: Con­temporary Approaches and Perspectives, ed. Carola M. Kaplan, Peter Mallios, and Andrea White (New York, 2005), 155–172; Richard Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the ­Century (London, 1996); Joyce Wexler, Who Paid for Modernism? Art, Money, and the Fiction of Conrad, Joyce, and Lawrence (Fayetteville, AR, 1997); Jennifer Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Lit­er­a­ture, Advertisement and Social Reading (New York, 1988); Christopher Wilson, The L ­ abour of Words: Literary Professionalism in the Progressive Era (Athens, GA, 1985); Mark Wollaeger, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda: British Narrative from 1900 to 1945 (Prince­ton, NJ, 2006). On the earlier period see Michael T. Gilmore, American Romanticism and the Marketplace (Chicago, 1985). Then ­t here is this, from Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, ed. Laird M. Easton (New York, 2013): New York, January 5, 1892. Tuesday Through the streets. The overwhelming impression is one of ner­vous haste and unrest. P ­ eople ­don’t walk, they run, most while reading a newspaper. Since the pavement is miserable one of them breaks a leg from time to time, but that’s not impor­t ant, ­here t­ here are more than enough p ­ eople. One horse-­drawn bus chases the other through the streets. On the ave­nues trains rush by overhead. In e­ very pos­si­ble spot t­ here are advertisements; concise, to spare time, and most addressing the reader directly to heighten the effect. The prob­lem is to make the strongest pos­si­ble impression in the shortest pos­si­ble time. In the end it is as if you ­were wandering through a gigantic outside market in which every­one praises his wares with cries and drumrolls.


Notes to Pages 25–26

The general agitation and search for publicity has even engulfed the h­ ouses. In their long rows you can read as in a book the speculation and the rapidity of their development. In the most crowded streets, Fifth Ave­nue, Broadway, Twenty-­t hird Street, next to one-­story poor l­ittle shops, ­t here are huge, ten-­ story barracks, erected overnight, most garish red with grass-­g reen shops, or white stone with thin, anxious pillars framing blue jalousies for three or four floors. They resemble the old towers of the nobility in Italian cities. No h­ ouse is the same height as its neighbor. All strive upward, each one seems, like the advertisements in the cars of the “Elevated,” to wish to impose quite clearly their specific importance on the passersby. It is a wild, desperate strug­gle in immoveable stone and mortar that ­these ­houses wage with each other. And for all that the poverty of the architectural imagination is astonishing: long thin columns, or short fat ones stacked together en masse, a tower or a completely superfluous dome, the harshest pos­si­ble color combinations: that about sums it up. But this ­doesn’t ­matter ­because in the end a ­house has as much of an impact due to its ugliness as due to its beauty. And yet the total impression is not unbeautiful, for what a genuine force, even if only ­human, has created has always something of a product of nature about it, and thus cannot be truly ugly. (50–51) A more Crane-­like series of observations, including the broken legs, is hard to imagine. 23. Nor have I sought to situate my arguments about the scene of writing in relation to the invention and widespread adoption of the typewriter, as Friedrich Kittler has done with regard to one impor­t ant English-­language text in my period, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). (My texts and their pen-­w ielding authors would be located mediatically just prior to Kittler’s typewriter paradigm.) See Friedrich A. Kittler, “Dracula’s Legacy” (1982), in Lit­er­a­ture, Media, Information Systems (Milton Park, UK, 1997), 50–84; K ­ ittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-­Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, CA, 1999), 183–263; and more broadly, Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800 / 1900, trans. Michael Metteer, with Chris Cullens (Stanford, CA, 1990). 24. Brown in “Writing, Race, and Erasure” contends that the “moment” of literary impressionism I argue for “dissolves once [Fried’s] historical isolationism confronts ‘literary history’ ” (390). In this connection, he mentions Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Melville’s Pierre along with Zola’s Thérèse Raquin (1867), in his view a “master text of sorts” (392) for Crane and Norris, and then adds Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne—­a grouping that inevitably reduces the theme of writing to the loosest generality. (For the rec­ord, Thérèse Raquin is nothing of the sort for Crane, what­ever it may have meant to Norris.) Apropos of Pierre, however, see the highly in­ter­est­ing discussion of Melville’s characteristically torturous engagement with the scene of writing, in terms explic­itly indebted to my argument (the page for Melville is per­sis­ tently a face, though not typically an upward-­oriented one), by Elizabeth Renker, Strike through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing (Baltimore, 1996). Exactly what relation the Melville problematic bears to the one examined in the pres­ent book remains an open question, though one can say ­t here is a fundamental difference between what Renker characterizes as Melville’s longing for transparency—­t he page as face represents something like the impossibility of such an ideal—­a nd the problematic (or problematics) of inscription I s­ hall be tracing in this book.

Notes to Pages 26–38


On Poe, see Stanley Cavell, “Poe’s Perversity and the Imp(ulse) of Skepticism,” in In Quest of the Ordinary (Chicago, 1988), 139–144. An intense and learned engagement with Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in terms related to issues of writing but which are quite dif­fer­ent from ­t hose raised in my account of literary impression is by John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics: The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Re­nais­sance (New Haven, CT, 1980), 114–235. A recent essay that includes a brilliant short reading of Poe’s Narrative in terms of American racialism is by Marilynne Robinson, “On Edgar Allan Poe,” The New York Review of Books 62, no. 2 (February 5, 2015), http://­w ww​.­nybooks​.­com​/­articles​/­2015​/­02​/­05​/­edgar​-­allan​-­poe​/.­ For Thoreau, see Cavell’s masterly The Senses of Walden: An Expanded Edition (Chicago, 1972). 25. See the references to Knapp and Michaels’s “Against Theory” and Michaels’s The Shape of the Signifier in note 8. 26. Palermo’s analy­sis was first written as a paper for a 1995 seminar on late nineteenth-­ and early twentieth-­century British and American novels taught jointly at Johns Hopkins University by Walter Benn Michaels and me. It has been revised for this book.

1. Almayer’s Face 1. Joseph Conrad, Almayer’s Folly: A Story of an Eastern River, ed. Jacques Berthoud (1895; repr., Oxford, 1992), 95 (hereafter AF). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. Readers with a special interest in Almayer’s Folly ­will want to consult its publication in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad, ed. Floyd Eugene Eddleman and David Leon Higdon (Cambridge, 1994), which the editors explain is mainly based on the extant typescript and manuscript. See the editors’ discussion of the implications of that choice in “The Texts: An Essay,” 197–198. 2. Interestingly, that convention itself turns out to be liable, during the period in question, to be exploited to a degree that can no longer simply be called “realistic.” See, in this connection, Edith Wharton’s obsessively “facial” novel, The Reef (1912; repr., New York, 1996). 3. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, ed. Frederick R. Karl, Laurence Davies, Owen Knowles, et al., 9 vols. (Cambridge, 1983–2007), 1:156 (hereafter CL); emphasis in original. 4. This, of course, is a Wittgensteinian way of putting it. See, e.g., Bernie Rhie, “Wittgenstein on the Face of a Work of Art,” nonsite​.­org, no. 3, October 14, 2011, http://­ nonsite​.­org​/­article​/­w ittgenstein​-­on​-­t he​-­face​-­of​-­a​-­work​-­of​-­art. 5. Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York, 1979), 93 (hereafter NN). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. The passage reads: James Wait rallied again. He lifted his head and turned bravely at Donkin, who saw a strange face, an unknown face, a fantastic and grimacing mask of despair and fury. Its lips moved rapidly; and hollow, moaning, whistling sounds filled the cabin with a vague mutter full of menace, complaint and desolation, like the far-­off murmur of a rising wind. Wait shook his head; rolled his eyes; he


Notes to Pages 38–39

denied, cursed, menaced—­a nd not a word had the strength to pass beyond the sorrowful pout of ­t hose black lips. It was incomprehensible and disturbing: a gibberish of emotions, a frantic dumb show of speech pleading for impossible ­things, threatening a shadowy vengeance. It sobered Donkin into a scrutinising watchfulness. (NN, 93) See, in this connection, the third from last paragraph in the preface to The Nigger, which begins: “Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and ­a fter a time, begin to won­der languidly as to what the fellow may be at” (NN, 147). Although Conrad d ­ oesn’t say so, the perspective evoked is not unlike that of a deaf person in a world of sound. L ­ ater, in Chapter 7, I comment on Conrad’s use of motifs of deafness in ­Under Western Eyes and “Prince Roman.” 6. The original reads: Ma très chère Tante. Pardonnez-­moi de ne pas avoir ecrit plus tot mais je suis en train de lutter avec Chap XI; une lutte a mort Vous savez! Si je me laisse aller je suis perdu! Je Vous ecris au moment de sortir. Il faut bien que je sorte quelquefois Helas! Je regrette chaque minute que je passe loin du papier. Je ne dis pas de la plume car j’ai ecrit fort peu, mais l’inspiration me vient en regardant le papier. Puis ce sont des echappées a perte de vue; la pensée s’en va vagabondant dans des ­grands éspaces remplis des formes vagues. Tout [est] chaos encore mais—­lentement—­les spectres se changent en chair vivante, les vapeurs flottantes se solidifient et qui sait?—­peut-­être quelque chose naitra dans le choc des idées indistinctes— Je Vous envois la première page (dont j’ai pris copie) pour Vous donner une idée de l’apparence de mon manuscrit. Cela Vous est du puisque j’ai vu le Votre.—­J’aime a me conformer a l’etiquette, moi.— Vous embrasse de tout mon coeur. Toujour a Vous J. Conrad (CL, 1:150–151) 7. A case in point is the contrast (also the similarity) between two descriptions of shadow repre­sen­ta­tions in texts by Conrad and Crane. In chapter 10 of Almayer’s Folly, Almayer, huddled up in a chair, has fallen asleep on the verandah of his h­ ouse. “In the increasing light of the moon that had risen now above the night mist,” the passage reads, the objects on the verandah came out strongly outlined in black splashes of shadow with all the uncompromising ugliness of their disorder, and a caricature of the sleeping Almayer appeared on the dirty whitewash of the wall ­behind him in a grotesquely exaggerated detail of attitude and feature enlarged to a heroic size. (AF, 157–158) (The ­whole of this scene, in which Almayer appears both as a subject of repre­sen­ta­ tion and, in his capacity as a dreamer, as a surrogate for the writer, is of keen interest.) For his part, Crane, in one of his earliest pieces of journalism, describes with relish vari­ous “shadow pictures” cast on the canvas walls of Ocean Grove’s Camp Meeting Association tents; the last is of a man’s vest hung on the tent wall, with a watch chain dangling in full sight. The passage concludes:

Notes to Page 39


You would think, then, that Ocean Grove would be the paradise of thieves. All they would have to do is to watch the shadow pictures and see what a ­family did with its ­things. Then when the lights ­were out cut a hole in the canvas and get what they wanted. Pretty easy burglary where the only tool required is a sharp knife. What would hinder a clever thief from cutting into a dozen tents in one night and carry­ing off a dozen vests and watches hung against the canvas wall? (Crane, “Tent Life at Ocean Grove” [1891], reprinted in Thomas A. Gullason, “The ‘Lost’ Newspaper Writings of Stephen Crane,” Syracuse University Library Associates Courier 21 [Spring 1986]: 77–78) 8. So, for example, in Conrad’s letter to Edward Garnett of June 19, 1896, he writes: Since I sent you that part 1st [of the “Rescuer” manuscript] (on the eleventh of the month) I have written one page. Just one page. I went about thinking and forgetting—­sitting down before the blank page to find that I could not put one sentence together. To be able to think and unable to express is a fine torture. I am undergoing it—­w ithout patience. I ­don’t see the end of it. It’s very ridicu­ lous and very awful. Now I’ve got all my p ­ eople together I d ­ on’t know what to do with them. The progressive episodes of the story ­will not emerge from the chaos of my sensations. I feel nothing clearly. And I am frightened when I remember that I have to drag it all out of myself. . . . ​My task appears as sensible as lifting the world without the fulcrum which even that conceited ass, Archimedes, admitted to be necessary. (CL, 1:288–289; emphasis in original) 9. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, ed. Cedric Watts and Robert Hampson (London, 1986), 171 (hereafter LJ). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 10. The meta­phor of “blackening” is Conrad’s own, as for example in the following sentence from the most impor­tant of his autobiographical writings, A Personal Rec­ord (1912): The conception of a planned book was entirely outside my ­mental range when I sat down to write [Conrad is recounting the genesis of Almayer’s Folly]; the ambition of being an author had never turned up amongst t­ hese gracious imaginary existences one creates fondly for oneself at times in the stillness and immobility of a day-­dream; yet it stands clear as the sun at noonday that from the moment I had done blackening over the first manuscript page of “Almayer’s Folly” (it contained about two hundred words and this proportion of words to a page has remained with me through the fifteen years of my writing life), from the moment I had, in the simplicity of my heart and the amazing ignorance of my mind, written that page the die was cast. Never had Rubicon been more blindly forded, without invocation to the gods, without fear of men. (Joseph Conrad, “The Mirror of the Sea” and “A Personal Rec­ord” [Oxford, 1988], 68–69 [hereafter PR]. Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text.) Apropos of Conrad’s fascination with the look of his prose, see, e.g., the author’s note to The Rescue—­a novel begun in the mid-1890s but only completed in 1914—in which Conrad explains that he






Notes to Pages 39–43 dropped The Rescue not to give myself up to idleness, regrets or dreaming, but to begin The Nigger of the “Narcissus” and to go on with it without hesitation and without a pause. A comparison of any page of The Rescue with any page of The Nigger ­w ill furnish an ocular demonstration of the nature and the inward meaning of this first crisis of my writing life. (Joseph Conrad, The Rescue [London, 1950], 10) Perhaps, but how is the reader to make that comparison? What precisely is the object of the “ocular demonstration” to which Conrad alludes? And what does Conrad take that “inward meaning” to be? In fact, it ­i sn’t known for certain that the page in the Rosenbach Library is the one Conrad sent to Poradowska, but several considerations suggest that this is the case: (1) it is one of two versions of chapter 11, page 1, in the Rosenbach manuscript; (2) of the two, it is obviously the “original” version (i.e., it’s far more heavi­ly revised than the other); (3) it has been folded twice, as if to fit inside an envelope. Exactly when and how it came to rejoin the rest of the manuscript remains an unanswered question. For an in­ ter­est­ing discussion of Conrad’s revisions of the opening of chapter 11, see John Dozier Gordon, Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist (Cambridge, MA, 1941), 120–121. See Joseph Conrad, “The Black Mate,” in Tales of Hearsay (London, 1925), 207–288 (hereafter “BM”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. On the vexed question of dating, see Frederick R. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (New York, 1970), 234–236 (hereafter Karl). The exception is Aaron Fogel, who, in his ambitious study Coercion to Speak: Conrad’s Poetics of Dialogue (Cambridge, MA, 1985), 252, 254, regards “The Black Mate” as “one of Conrad’s key minor pieces.” Fogel interestingly relates the scholarly prob­lem of the story’s date (what relation does the published version of 1908 bear to an alleged earlier version of 1886?) to the composite age of its protagonist, and suggests that “The Black Mate” “has a meta­phoric fidelity to the author’s own servitude,” which Fogel defines in terms of the production of “forced dialogues” for a largely uncomprehending public. See Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 127–128, 142, 160, 187–188n36. See, however, Walter Benn Michaels’s treatment of key passages in Crane in his “The Production of Visibility,” in Promises of American Life, 1880–1920, pt. 3 in The Cambridge History of American Lit­ er­a­ture, vol. 3: Prose Writings, 1860–1920, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge, 2005), 315–347. T ­ here, Michaels, ­going on from my analy­sis in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” argues that Crane’s commitment to making writing vis­i ­ble is . . . ​necessarily transformed by the requirement that to represent writing one must represent it as a repre­ sen­ta­t ion. And a writing that doubles its formal ambition to make us see it by an ambition to make us see something ­else necessarily alters that formal ambition, providing what are at the same time additional and essential motives for seeing, and making pos­si­ble scenarios which ­will link the desire to see . . . ​with the desire to be seen. (317; emphasis in original) Michaels goes on to analyze two such scenarios in Maggie and The Red Badge of Courage, thereby restoring to t­ hose novels some portion of the thematic coherence my

Notes to Page 43


treatment of them claims to displace. On the one hand, I find his readings of ­those scenarios persuasive as far as they go. On the other, the very terms of t­ hose readings militate against traditional notions of character, while Michaels’s concentration on a small number of crucial passages minimizes the antitotalizing, even athematic, force of the sheer profusion of materiality effects in Crane’s most characteristic texts. In fact, the most characteristic of Crane’s longer narratives may be The Monster, which has always defied thematic recuperation, and perhaps mainly for that reason has remained apart from the select canon of late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century lit­er­a­ture masterpieces to which by rights it belongs. See, however, Lee Clark Mitchell, “Face, Race, and Disfiguration in Stephen Crane’s ‘The Monster,’ ” Critical Inquiry 17 (Autumn 1990): 174–192, and Bill Brown, “Monstrosity,” in The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 199–245, to which The Monster is central. As noted earlier, Brown’s account of Crane in his book deals not at all with the argument put forward in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces.” 15. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York, 1971) (hereafter HD). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 16. See, e.g., Peter Brooks, “An Unreadable Report: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York, 1984), 238–263; James Guetti, The Limits of Meta­phor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner (Ithaca, NY, 1967), 47–68; Christopher L. Miller, “The Discoursing Heart: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French (Chicago, 1985), 169–183; J. Hillis Miller, “Heart of Darkness Revisited,” in Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties, ed. Ross C. Murfin (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1985), 31–50; Benita Parry, Conrad and Imperialism: Ideological Bound­aries and Visionary Frontiers (London, 1983), 20– 39; Adena Rosmarin, “Darkening the Reader: Reader-­R esponse Criticism and Heart of Darkness,” in Conrad, Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Con­temporary Criticism, ed. Ross C. Murfin (New York, 1989), 148–171; Henry Staten, “Conrad’s Mortal Word,” Critical Inquiry 12 (Summer 1986): 720–740; and Tzvetan Todorov, “Connaissance du vie,” Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse 11 (1975): 145–154. Even Ian Watt, who feels that Todorov goes too far in seeing “Heart of Darkness as implying the impossibility of expressing the essential real­ity of h­ uman experience in faction,” acknowledges the obscurity involved in the novella’s “quasi-­transcendental perspective” (Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth C ­ entury [Berkeley, CA, 1979], 251–252). 17. For example, near the beginning of chapter 10, Nina, about to leave Sambir to meet Dain, remarks to Mrs. Almayer, “­Mother, I s­ hall return to the h­ ouse and look once more at my f­ather’s face” (AF, 149). Mrs. Almayer, full of hate for her husband, refuses to allow her to go, adding, “I remember . . . ​I wanted to look at your face again. He said no! I heard you cry and jumped into the river” (this when Nina was first sent to Singapore to be educated [AF, 150]). A bit further on we are told: Mrs. Almayer “could not see her ­daughter’s face,” and shortly ­after that she entreats her d ­ aughter, “Give up your old life! . . . ​Forget that you ever looked at a white face” (AF, 150–151). We are then informed that at the bottom of [Nina’s] passing desire to look again at her ­father’s face ­t here was no strong affection. She felt no scruples and no remorse at leaving suddenly





21. 22.

Notes to Pages 43–47 that man whose sentiment ­towards herself she could not understand, she could not even see. ­T here was only an instinctive clinging to old life, to old habits, to old ­faces; that fear of finality which lurks in ­every ­human breast and prevents so many heroisms and so many crimes. (AF, 151) (­Later, in the encounter on the beach, Almayer ­w ill suddenly cry out, for no apparent reason, “Nina! . . . ​t ake your eyes off my face” [AF, 179].) Nor is this all. The chapter continues obsessively both to refer to and to describe a variety of f­ aces, reaching a crescendo in its evocation of a tortured dream that visits Almayer as he sits sleeping on his verandah (“How escape from the importunity of la­men­ta­ble cries and from the look of staring, sad eyes in the ­faces which pressed round him till he gasped for breath ­under the crushing weight of worlds that hung over his aching shoulders?” [AF, 158]). Almayer is then awakened by the slave girl Taminah (“He looked at the w ­ oman’s face ­under him. A real ­woman. He knew her. By all that is wonderful! Taminah!” [AF, 161]), who, in love with Dain, reveals the lovers’ plans. The chapter ends: “Almayer hid his face in his hands as if to shut out a loathsome sight. When, hearing a slight rustle, he uncovered his eyes, the dark heap by the door was gone” (AF, 164). This hardly begins to suggest the prevalence of face imagery in the novel as a ­whole. Quoted in En­glish in Karl, 709, translation modified. The original French reads: Fort intéressé par la parenté que je découvre entre Sous les Yeux d’Occident et Lord Jim. . . . ​Cette inconséquence du héros, pour le rachat de laquelle toute sa vie, ensuite, est comme mise en gage. Car ce qui tire le plus à conséquence, ce sont précisément les inconséquences d’une vie. Comment effacer cela? (André Gide, entry for February 23, 1930, Journal, 1889–1939 [Paris, 1951], 971; emphasis in original) Quoted in En­glish in Karl, 709, translation modified. The original French reads: A remarquer que les fatales inconséquences des héros de Conrad (je songe en particulier à Lord Jim et à ­Under Western Eyes) sont involontaires et gênent aussitôt grandement l’être qui les commet. Toute la vie, par la suite, ne suffit pas à les démentir et à en effacer les traces. (Gide, Journal, 1002; emphasis in original) In this connection, see Conrad’s remarks in his letter of September 16, 1899 to Edward Garnett (he was then at work on Lord Jim): My efforts seem unrelated to anything in heaven and every­t hing ­under heaven is impalpable to the touch like shapes of mist. Do you see how easy writing must be ­under such conditions? Do you see? Even writing to a friend—to a person one has heard, touched, drank with, [quarrelled] with—­does not give me a sense of real­ity. All is illusion—­t he words written, the mind at which they are aimed, the truth they are intended to express, the hands that w ­ ill hold the paper, the eyes that ­w ill glance at the lines. ­Every image floats vaguely in a sea of doubt—­and the doubt itself is lost in an unexpected universe of incertitudes. (CL, 2:198) Earlier, Jim said to Marlow: “You d ­ on’t know what it is for a fellow in my position to be believed—­make a clean breast of it to an elder man” (LJ, 137; emphasis added). Conrad, author’s note to Tales of Unrest (1898; repr. Harmonds­worth, UK, 1977), 9.

Notes to Pages 48–49


23. Or consider another author’s note, this one to An Outcast of the Islands (1896). It begins: “An Outcast of the Islands is my second novel in the absolute sense of the word; second in conception, second in execution, second as it ­were in its essence.” Conrad explains that ­after finishing Almayer’s Folly he remained uncertain ­whether he “should write another line for print,” and that his perplexity was resolved only when his friend Garnett said to him: “You have the style, you have the temperament: why not write another?” Conrad continues: I believe that as far as one man may wish to influence another man’s life Edward Garnett had a g­ reat desire that I should go on writing. At that time, and I may say, even afterwards, he was always very patient and gentle with me. What strikes me most however in the phrase quoted above which was offered to me in a tone of detachment is not its gentleness but its effective wisdom. Had he said, “Why not go on writing,” it is very probable he would have scared me away from pen and ink for ever; but ­there was nothing ­either to frighten one or arouse one’s antagonism in the mere suggestion to “write another.” And thus a dead point in the revolution of my affairs was insidiously got over. The word “another” did it. (Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands [Harmonds­worth, UK, 1975], 7–8) The word “another” did it, I suggest, ­because it held out the promise of displacing, in that sense erasing, Almayer’s Folly, which is also why Conrad describes An Outcast as “my second novel in the absolute sense of the word.” (An Outcast is set in Sambir, and includes a more youthful Almayer, Lingard, and Balabatchi among its dramatis personae. Incidentally, it began as a story provisionally entitled “Two Vagabonds.”) The association between doubling and erasure (or at least blankness) also emerges in an improbable anecdote that Conrad is supposed to have related in the course of his 1923 visit to the United States. Jessie Conrad, relying on a newspaper cutting from that visit, tells how Conrad spoke of reading cheap editions of Mark Twain on the Congo. “I recall a remark made to me once when I was paying a call on Arthur Symons,” the cutting quotes Conrad as having said. “He had a friend sitting in his room who affected the appearance of Mark Twain. The white flannel suit, the white hair, in fact, the ­whole appearance was a direct copy of the ­g reat American author. I remarked upon the resemblance laughingly and with perfect good-­humour the ‘copy’ admitted the intentional likeness, but, he insisted, ‘you see the very name gives me that license, “Mark Twain” ’ ” (Jessie Conrad, Joseph Conrad and His Circle [New York, 1935], 252–253). 24. Joseph Conrad, “The Secret Sharer: An Episode from the Coast,” in Twixt Land and Sea (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1988), 81–124 (hereafter “SS”). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 25. See Martin Ray, who observes that the compulsion to write imposed on Conrad by writing the first word is yet designed to return him eventually to the blankness from which he began. . . . ​ The work of art appears to exist tentatively, as it w ­ ere, in parentheses, between the blank page from which it originates and the blank exhaustion which the author must seek. But Ray’s concern with the theme of silence leads him away from a problematic of writing to one of language. In his summary:


Notes to Page 50

Conrad’s attempt to erect a barrier of language against the impending silence is but one half of his ambiguous attitude to the forces of negation; much of his creative power may be said to originate in his direct confrontation with ­t hose forces, a confrontation which required him to transcend temporarily the barriers of language before retreating again into the shelter which they provide. . . . ​ The medium [of Conrad’s style] is itself the rec­ord and the reward of Conrad’s confrontation with the forces of silence. (Martin Ray, “Language and Silence in the Novels of Joseph Conrad,” Conradiana 16 [1984]: 27, 37) See also Edward Said: “Writing for Conrad was an activity that constituted negation— of itself of what it dealt with—­a nd was also oral and repetitive. That is, as an activity Conrad’s writing negated and reconstituted itself, negated itself again, and so forth infinitely; hence the extraordinarily patterned quality of the writing” (Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic [Cambridge, MA, 1983], 108). Said’s understanding of negation ­doesn’t fully coincide with what I mean by erasure (he is chiefly concerned with the dialectic between visual and oral modes of communication, and like Ray he emphasizes more than I would Conrad’s relation to language), but Ray’s and Said’s essays approach more closely than any criticism I know to my argument in this chapter and indeed this book. A third commentator who should be mentioned is Karl, who (before Ray) calls attention to Conrad’s use of images of blankness, which he associates with “Conrad’s immersion in a symboliste ideal, the Mallarmé ‘absence’ and ‘blankness’ ” (Karl, 365). 26. Joseph Conrad, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, ed. Véronique Pauly (1904; repr., London, 2007), 206–234 (hereafter N). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 27. Joseph Conrad, “The Tale,” in Tales of Hearsay (London, 1925), 164–165 (hereafter “T”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 28. No won­der, then, that deconstructive critics for whom the task of criticism consists in showing “the existence in works of lit­er­a­ture of structures of language which contradict the law of noncontradiction” have found grist for their readings in Conrad’s fictions. But their failure to note the basis of ­t hose structures in his work in a specific relation to the materiality of writing (itself a “deconstructive” notion but only up to a point) gives their demonstrations a peculiarly disengaged air. The citation is from J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition: Seven En­glish Novels (Cambridge, MA, 1982), 17. See Miller’s chapter on Lord Jim in that book, in which he observes that “a network of light and dark imagery manifestly organizes the novel throughout” (37), compares Marlow’s last view of Jim (white against black) with another passage that pres­ents Jim “distinct and black, planted solidly upon the shores of light” (173), and concludes that “the juxtaposition of light and dark offers no better standing ground from which what is equivocal about the rest of the novel may be surveyed and comprehended than any other aspect of the text” (38). “I claim, then,” Miller writes, “that from what­ever ­a ngle it is approached Lord Jim reveals itself to be a work which raises questions rather than answering them” (39). In fact, the black-­against-­white passage Miller cites is taken from the protracted scene of Marlow writing letter ­after letter that I have discussed; it is as though Jim himself is ­there presented as a blackened page, which of course gives the climactic figure of the clean slate even greater force.

Notes to Pages 50–56


29. Thus, F. R. Leavis suggests that Decoud “had a considerable part in the writing of Nostromo; or one might say that Nostromo was written by a Decoud who w ­ asn’t a complacent dilletante, but was positively drawn ­towards ­those capable of ‘investing their activities with spiritual value’ ” (Leavis, The G ­ reat Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad [1948; repr., New York, 1967], 100). 30. The claim that Charles Gould “has idealised the existence, the worth, the meaning of the San Tomé mine” is made by Decoud in conversation with Mrs. Gould (N, 169). 31. Quoted by G. Jean Aubry, Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY, 1927), 2:296; cited also by Ian Watt, Joseph Conrad: Nostromo (Cambridge, 1988, 18). 32. On Conrad’s close relation to the French language and French lit­er­a­ture, see Yves Hervouet’s invaluable The French Face of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge, 1990). 33. Shortly afterwards, the narrator’s last view of a “dark knot of seamen” from the Narcissus (some of whom a page or so earlier had cried out, “To the Black Horse! To the Black Horse!” [NN, 106]) is described as follows: The sunshine of heaven fell like a gift of grace on the mud of the earth, on the remembering and mute stones, on greed, selfishness; on the anxious ­faces of forgetful men. And to the right of the dark group the stained front of the Mint, cleansed by the flood of light, stood out for a moment, dazzling and white, like a marble palace in a fairy tale. The crew of the Narcissus drifted out of sight. (NN, 107) 34. See also the related passage in A Personal Rec­ord in which Conrad describes himself at age nine “looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my fin­ger on the blank space then representing the unsolved mystery of that continent” and saying, “When I grow up I s­ hall go ­there.” Conrad explains that “­there [was] the region of Stanley Falls, which in ’68 was the blankest of blank spaces on the earth’s figured surface. And the MS. of ‘Almayer’s Folly,’ carried about me as if it w ­ ere a talisman or a trea­sure, went t­ here too” (PR, 36–37; emphasis in original). My references to A Personal Rec­ord ­here and in note 10 barely hint at its relevance to a fuller understanding of Conrad’s impressionism. 35. Maps and mapping are interestingly discussed in relation to issues of the “new imperialism” by Christopher GoGwilt, The Invention of the West: Joseph Conrad and the Double-­Mapping of Eu­rope and Amer­i­ca (Stanford, CA, 1995). See also Robert Hampson, “ ‘A Passion for Maps’: Conrad, Africa, Australia, and South-­East Asia,” The Conradian 28, no. 1 (2003): 34–56, and Hampson, “Conrad’s Heterotopic Fiction: Composite Maps, Superimposed Sites, and Impossible Spaces,” in Conrad in the Twenty-­First ­Century: Con­temporary Approaches and Perspectives, ed. Carola  M. ­K aplan, Peter Mallios, and Andrea White (New York, 2005), 121–135. A basic study, of course, is Benedict Anderson, ­Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983; rev. ed., London, 2006), esp. chap. 10, “Census, Map, Museum.” See the pres­ent book, Chapter 6, for a discussion of vari­ous maps and charts in impressionist novels and stories. 36. Conrad, “Youth: A Narrative,” in Youth and The End of the Tether (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1984), 11 (hereafter “Y”). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 37. The implication of writing in imperialist or colonialist scenarios of power has been a central topic in cultural analy­sis since Claude Lévi-­Strauss’s chapter “A Writing


Notes to Pages 58–64 Lesson” in Tristes Tropiques, or at least since Jacques Derrida’s critique of that chapter in De la Grammatologie. In this connection, see Jonathan Goldberg’s discussion of that confrontation in Writing ­Matter: From the Hands of the En­glish Re­nais­sance (Stanford, CA, 1990), 1–28; his learned and brilliant book remains an outstanding contribution to the cultural significance of writing and its pedagogy in sixteenth-­and early seventeenth-­century Britain.

2. Invisible Writing 1. Three biographical studies of Hudson are: Ruth Tomalin, W. H. Hudson—­A Biography (London, 1982); Amy D. Ronner, W. H. Hudson: The Man, the Novelist, the Naturalist (New York, 1986); and Felipe Arocena, William Henry Hudson: Life, Lit­er­a­ture and Science, trans. Richard Manning (Jefferson, NC, 2003). 2. Cited by David Miller and Paul B. Stretesky, W. H. Hudson and the Elusive Paradise (London, 1990), 11. 3. Ford Madox Ford, Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 64–65 (hereafter Portraits). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 4. John Galsworthy, introduction to W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions (1915; repr., New York, 1920), x–­x i. 5. “W. H. Hudson: An Appreciation by Viscount Grey of Fallodon,” in W. H. Hudson, Dead Man’s Plack, An Old Thorn, and Miscellanea (1923; repr., New York, 1968), xii (hereafter “Appreciation”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 6. Ford Madox Ford, “Three Americans and a Pole,” Scribner’s Magazine 90 (October 1931): 384. 7. Quoted by John R. Payne, W. H. Hudson: A Bibliography (Folkestone, UK, 1977), 5–6. 8. At greater length: His story is not so much told as seen through a haze of sentences. His style is like river-­m ist; for a space ­t hings are seen clearly, and then comes a g­ reat grey bank of printed ­matter, page on page, creeping round the reader, swallowing him up. You stumble, you protest, you blunder on, for the drama you saw so cursorily has hold of you; you cannot escape ­until to have seen it out. (Cited in Patrick Parrinder and Robert M. Philmus, eds., H. G. Wells’s Literary Criticism [Brighton, UK, 1980], 88) See also Linda Dryden, Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells: The Fin-­de-­Siècle Literary Scene (Houndsmills, UK, 2015). 9. W. H. Hudson, Idle Days in Patagonia (London, 1923), 170 (hereafter ID). Subsequent page references are given in parentheses in the text. 10. Cited by Violet Hunt, “The Death of Hudson,” The En­glish Review (January 1923): 35. 11. W. H. Hudson, Birds and Man (London, 1901) (hereafter BM). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 12. William James, The Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy (1890; repr., Cambridge, MA, 1983), 726; quoted and discussed in Michael Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces,” in Realism,

13. 14. 15. 16.


18. 19.



Notes to Pages 64–74


Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 131 (hereafter RWD). Hudson particularly decries “the old method of spelling bird notes and sounds” (Birds and Man, 138; emphasis in original). W. H. Hudson, A Hind in Richmond Park (New York, 1923), 37–50. W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions (Mineola, NY, 1989) (hereafter GM). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. At roughly this moment in Rima’s slow return to consciousness Abel recalls once encountering a single white flower which was new to him and which he never saw again. The flower was remarkable for its perfection and also for the fact that with the passage of time it remained untouched by decay. Significantly, it first gave Abel the idea “of an artificial flower, cut by a divinely inspired artist from some unknown precious stone” (GM, 234); in time, however, the impression of artificiality dissipated and Abel became aware that it was indeed a flower “only with that transcendent beauty it had a dif­fer­ent kind of life. Unconscious, but higher; perhaps immortal. Thus, it would continue to bloom when I had looked my last upon it” (GM, 234). (Abel l­ ater heard from some Indians that it was called Hata.) He thinks of that flower while gazing on “the face that had no motion, no consciousness in it, and yet had life, a life of so high a kind as to match with its pure, surpassing loveliness” (GM, 235). What especially strikes me in this is that Abel first thought the flower to be artificial in its beauty, and only afterward realized that it was natu­ral—as though the Hata, like Rima, indeed, like Hudson’s impressionist ideal, transcended the very distinction between art and life. Indeed, flammability is cited as a property of writing paper by James in the Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy; see the relevant citation and a brief discussion in “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” RWD, 142–143n. Fire as specifically destructive of written manuscript is treated with harrowing force in George Gissing, New Grub Street (1891; repr., Harmonds­worth, UK, 1985), 464–472. I d ­ on’t consider Gissing an impressionist writer, but the con­temporary fear of fire as a threat to words on paper comes to the fore in ­these pages as nowhere e­ lse. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York, 1971), 38–39. H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (New York, 1934), 366–385 (hereafter EA). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. Wells describes the “picshuas” as “silly l­ittle sketches about this or that incident [in his life with his second wife, Amy Catherine Robbins] which became at last a sort of burlesque diary of our lives and accumulated in boxes ­until ­there ­were hundreds of them” (EA, 365). For a recent study of ­these, see Gene K. Rinkel and Margaret E. Rinkel, The Picshuas of H. G. Wells (Urbana, IL, 2006). Interestingly, Hudson was fascinated by snakes as well as birds. See W. H. Hudson, Far Away and Long Ago (1918; repr., London, 1939), chap. 15, “Serpent and Child,” and chap. 16, “A Serpent Mystery,” as well as four chapters on serpents in Hudson, The Book of a Naturalist (London, 1919). The serpent’s head passage continues: How or when this monster left me—­washed away by the cold rains perhaps—­I do not know. Prob­a bly it only transformed itself into some new shape, its long


Notes to Pages 74–86

coils perhaps changing into t­ hose endless pro­cessions and multitudes of pale-­ face ­people I seem to remember having encountered. In my devious wanderings I must have reached the shores of the undiscovered ­g reat White Lake, and passed through the long shining streets of Manoa, the mysterious city in the wilderness. I see myself t­ here, the wide thoroughfare filled from end to end with ­people, gaily dressed as if for some high festival, all drawing aside to let the wretched pilgrim pass, staring at his fever and famine-­w asted figure, in its strange rags, with its strange burden. (GM, 312) The shift from serpent image to white ­faces, White Lake, and pale-­face ­people staring at him suggests an experience of another “fallen” version of pages and readers. This is perhaps as good a place as any to mention Abel’s early description of Rima’s “grand­father” Nuflo’s face: A curious face had this old man, which looked as if youth and age had made it a battling ground. His forehead was smooth except for two parallel lines in the ­middle r­ unning its entire length, dividing it in zones; his arched eyebrows w ­ ere black as ink, and his small black eyes ­were bright and cunning, like the eyes of some wild carnivorous animal. In this part of his face youth had held its own, especially in the eyes, which looked young and lively. But lower down age had conquered, scribbling his skin all over with wrinkles, while moustache and beard w ­ ere white as thistledown. (GM, 92) A ­little further on, Nuflo says, “what I am is plainly written on my face” (GM, 92), which is to say, the dual themes of faciality and writing are put in play immediately before the encounter with Rima. It remains an open question, though, w ­ hether or not Hudson intended the entire episode of Rima’s return to consciousness and indeed the very character of Rima to be understood as bearing explic­itly on his own scriptive ideal. 22. See H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man, ed. Patrick Parrinder (London, 2005). 23. Frank Norris, Vandover and the Brute, in Novels and Essays, ed. Donald Pizer (New York, 1986) (hereafter VB). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 24. Frank Norris, A Man’s W ­ oman and Yvernelle (Garden City, NY, 1928) (hereafter MW). Page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the notes. I note in passing that Christopher Morley in a brief foreword refers to Norris’s “high-­tension impressionism” (MW, ix). 25. ­There is, of course, a large secondary lit­er­a­ture on Norris as a naturalist writer. In this regard, see June Howard, Form and History in American Literary Modernism (Chapel Hill, NC, 1985); Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Lit­e r­a­t ure at the Turn of the ­Century (Berkeley, CA, 1988), 137– 180; Mark Seltzer, “The Naturalist Machine,” pt. 1 of Bodies and Machines (New York, 1992), 23–44. 26. ­Toward the beginning of Experiment in Autobiography Wells observes of himself, My perceptions do not seem to be so thorough, vivid and compelling as t­ hose of many ­people and it is rare that my impressions of ­things glow. ­There is a faint ele­ment of inattention in all I do; it is as if white was mixed into all the pigments of my life. I am rarely vivid to myself. (19; emphasis in original) 27. H. G. Wells, In the Days of the Comet (1906), in The Complete Science Fiction Trea­sury of H. G. Wells (New York, 1978), 691–860 (hereafter DC). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text.

Notes to Pages 89–97


3. Ford’s Impressionism 1. Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London: A Survey of a Modern City (1905; repr., London, 1995) (hereafter SL). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 2. See, e.g., two essays in Ford Madox Ford and the City, ed. Sara Haslam (Amsterdam, 2005): Nick Freeman, “Not ‘Accuracy’ but ‘Suggestiveness’: Impressionism in The Soul of London,” 27–40, and Angus Wrenn, “­A ngle of Elevation: Social Class, Transport and Perception of the City in The Soul of London,” 41–54. See also three essays in Ford Madox Ford and En­glishness, ed. Denis Brown and Jenny Plastow (Amsterdam, 2006): Sara Haslam, “­England and En­glishness: Ford’s First Trilogy,” 47–62; Andrzei Gasiorek, “Ford among the Aliens,” 63–82; and Nick Hornsby, “Beyond Mimetic En­glishness: Ford’s En­glish Trilogy and The Good Soldier,” 147–162. 3. Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 109, 137–141 (hereafter RWD). 4. H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (New York, 1934), 529. 5. See the Introduction to the pres­ent book, note 11,for remarks on the treatment of questions of automatism in the late nineteenth-­century psychological lit­er­a­ture as well as in my books Courbet’s Realism (Chicago, 1990) and Flaubert’s “Gueuloir”: On Madame Bovary and Salammbô (New Haven, CT, 2013). 6. W. H. Hudson, Long Ago and Far Away (1918; repr., London, 1939), 150–151. 7. Joseph Conrad, preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York, 1979), 147. 8. The American Heritage Dictionary of the En­glish Language (New York, 1970), 434. 9. Ford Madox Ford, Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 41. 10. Believe it or not, the pres­ent chapter barely evokes the strangeness of Ford’s prose in The Soul of London. See, for example, his account of the ­labors in a cement factory of a workman he names Stanley, a passage four paragraphs long in which the words “hand” (or “hands”) and “sand” recur continually, to no comprehensible end (SL, 67–68). A page or so l­ater the chapter, “Work in London,” ends with Ford imagining the collapse of one or another large works owing to the development of new pro­cesses that make the former obsolete. As follows: To assist at the obsequies of one of t­ hese ­g reat works is more suggestive than to have seen the corpses in the snow of the retreat from Moscow. It is more horrible ­because the sufferers have fought in a fight much more blind and suffer inarticulately in the midst of their suffering ­children and in the face of their desolate homes. They suffer for no apparent princi­ple, for no faith, for no fame, for no nation, for no glory; they suffer the shame of poverty without the compensating glory of defeat. They have not ever seen their Napoleon ­r ide slowly along their cheering lines. For London, if it attracts men from a distance with a glamour like that of a ­g reat and green gaming ­t able, shows, when they are close to it, the indecipherable face of a desperate ­battle field, without ranks, without order, without pity and with very ­little of discoverable purpose. Yet ­t hose that it has attracted it holds for ever, ­because in its want of logic it is so very ­human. (SL, 69)


Notes to Pages 98–99

­ ere, too, I assume that Ford had no ulterior intent when he penned t­ hese paragraphs. H But the imagery of corpses in the snow, the meta­phors of “face” (twice) and “lines,” even the rectangular flat gaming ­table (cf. the flat stretch of desert in “A Memorandum”) all suggest a problematic of writing, which if taken seriously would cast the paragraphs as a kind of justification for the perplexing character of Ford’s prose in The Soul of London—­say, its “want of logic” as a textual ­whole or the extreme difficulty of finding in it an overarching “discoverable purpose” of a satisfying sort. 11. Carol Jacobs, “The (too) Good Soldier: ‘A Real Story,’ ” in Glyph 3: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies, ed. Samuel Weber and Henry Sussman (Baltimore, 1978), 39 (hereafter “TtGS”). An abbreviated version titled “The Passion for Talk” appears in the new critical edition of the novel, used throughout the pres­ent discussion: Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier, ed. Martin Stannard, 2nd ed. (New York, 2012) (hereafter GS). 12. This, the episode Jacobs excerpts—­which I ­w ill presently discuss and cite more extensively—­occurs at GS, 75. 13. ­There is, logically, at least one more possibility—­t hat Dowell creates his passion by speaking, but only becomes aware of it when Leonora speaks. I hesitate to admit this possibility, ­because I am not convinced that it implies a notion of “creating” passion that renders it dif­fer­ent from the first possibility. At any rate, it is not impor­tant that I cover all of the permutations the situation offers—my aim is merely to show that a declaration such as Jacobs’s is, one might say, permanently premature, b­ ecause it depends on deciding when Dowell’s account is “true” and when it is not, even though we do not have the means to do so. 14. According to Schorer, Dowell’s is not the wrong view, ­either, since it cannot even tell us the truth if we turn it upside-­down; the narrator’s account is “merely a view.” See Mark Schorer, “The Good Soldier as Comedy,” in GS, 322. Versions of Schorer’s essay first appeared in The Prince­ton University Library Chronicle (April 1948) and Horizon (August  1949). Samuel Hynes offers an interpretation that conflicts sharply with Schorer’s in its description of the distance between Dowell’s narration and the “truth” of the events to which it refers (“The Epistemology of The Good Soldier,” in GS, 327– 334; originally published in Sewanee Review 69 [Spring 1961]). Hynes sees the prob­lem inherent in the limited view of the first-­person narrator: the latter is our only access to the events depicted by his narrative, so “­there is no knowledge offered, or even implied, which is superior to his own” (329). Hynes qualifies his willingness to accept Dowell’s narration as the ultimate (if limited) authority by acknowledging techniques that allow us to see past, as it w ­ ere, the testimony of the first-­person narrator—­devices, such as irony, for example, that make clear that the narrator’s voice is wrong and “imply the correctness of some alternative version” (329). What strikes me as dangerous in Hynes’s hypothesis is the possibility that the task of constructing such an “alternative version” w ­ ill work to efface, to render transparent, the version Dowell gives. Hynes himself avoids that pitfall by seeking significance precisely in the apparent inadequacy of Dowell’s narration. The novel, he concludes, is “built on doubt” (334). Dowell’s “limited” perspective and patchwork deployment of the other characters’ testimony means that we cannot “fi­nally see one version as right and another as wrong, but that we recognize an irresolvable pluralism of truths, in a world that remains essentially dark” (331–332). “We must accept,” according to Hynes,

Notes to Pages 102–103


Dowell’s “contradictions and uncertainties as stages in our own pro­gress t­ oward knowledge” (328). I am suggesting that we take Hynes’s point that ­t here is no higher authority given or implied than Dowell’s word. I think that the most power­f ul interpretation of Dowell’s narrative is the one that makes the most sense of it. It is not enough to note that Dowell is confused and proclaims his ignorance often. I am more reluctant than Hynes to accept Dowell’s “contradictions and uncertainties” as merely contradictions and uncertainties that tell us nothing more than how far away the truth has slipped from the narrator’s grasp. I think Dowell makes more sense than he has ever been given credit for—­a lmost perfect sense, I would say—­even at some of his most obscure moments. 15. Morton Prince, The Dissociation of a Personality: A Biographical Study in Abnormal Psy­chol­ogy (New York, 1906), 2 (hereafter DP). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. On Prince, see Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Prince­ton, NJ, 1995) (hereafter RS), and Ruth Leys, “The Real Miss Beauchamp,” in Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago, 2000), 41–82 (hereafter “RMB”). An earlier version of the latter, “The Real Miss Beauchamp: Gender and the Subject of Imitation,” appeared in Feminists Theorize the Po­liti­cal, ed. Judith Butler and Joan Scott (London, 1992), 167–214. A lucid overview of the history of the developments surrounding Prince and related figures, such as Pierre Janet, is provided by Henry Ellenberger in The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York, 1970). Although the rise of Freud and psy­chol­ogy largely suppressed hypnotism and its related phenomena—­including “multiple personalities”—­Mikkel Borch-­Jacobsen has argued persuasively that a version of the hypnotic rapport, and therefore of suggestion, survived within psychoanalysis, specifically in the form of “transference”; see his “Hypnosis in Psychoanalysis,” in The Emotional Tie: Psychoanalysis, Mimesis, and Affect (Stanford, CA, 1992), 39–61 (hereafter “HP”). 16. See DP, 41, for example. Leys discusses Prince’s difficulty on this score (“RMB,” 53– 54), and analyzes in detail a mimetic undercurrent that threatens to sweep away Prince’s own conclusions. An analy­sis of The Good Soldier focusing on the mimetic identifications that arise in its pages might proceed from an account of the quasi-­hypnotic mode of consciousness such as I am developing. Dowell’s narration clearly opens up the possibility. He tells us: “I c­ an’t conceal from myself the fact that I loved Edward Ashburnham—­a nd that I love him ­because he was just myself ” (GS, 168). And, equally strikingly: But the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of a passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man is the craving for identity with the ­woman that he loves. He desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported. (GS, 82) 17. The source of Ford’s knowledge of the subject of suggestion is an in­ter­est­ing issue. I ­w ill not, however, attempt to pin it down. Ford was acquainted with certain psychological research for vari­ous reasons. He suffered from psychological disorders and from treatments for them. He claimed to have known (and disapproved of) Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams before the First World War (and so very possibly by the time he wrote The Good Soldier). Max Saunders explains that one reference to Freud in a


Notes to Pages 104–105

1922 essay on James Joyce’s Ulysses constitutes the evidence that Ford knew Freud’s work (Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, 2 vols. [Oxford, 1996], 1:425 [hereafter DL]). Ford’s frequent references to hypnosis and related phenomena imply, at the very least, that he shared the active interest of his era in such topics. A recent argument proposes a connection between Freud and Ford’s thinking on suggestibility. Barry Sheils, in “Caring to Know: Narrative Technique and the Art of Public Nursing in The Good Soldier,” in Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier”: Centenary Essays, ed. Max Saunders and Sara Haslam (Leiden, 2015), 165–182 (hereafter FMFTGS), finds a model for Dowell’s obliviousness in some writing on caregivers, including some of Freud’s: Readers of the novel often point out how unlikely it is that Dowell truly knows so l­ ittle of the sex-­instinct as he claims, how unlikely that a man so betrayed by the passions of ­others would render his tale in such extraordinary passionless terms, averring that he “feels just nothing at all” (GS, 58). And yet, in all of this, Dowell only conforms to a be­hav­ior pattern which Freud in Studies on Hysteria found to be typical among t­ hose who nursed the sick: a condition he termed the “retention hysteria” in which the nurse’s identification with the patient’s suffering is so complete that he inhibits or actually cedes his own affective existence. (181n3) This is precisely the kind of mimetic relation I mean to propose for Ford’s model of consciousness, and it does serve to locate that relation in Freud. Nevertheless, I still hesitate to reduce the paradigm of suggestibility or identification I have in mind to this specific condition. 18. Ford’s insertion of the word “august” ­here is strange in more than one way. It seems out of place in the passage where it occurs—it seems like a moment of flat-­out sarcasm in Dowell’s other­w ise matter-­of-­fact and thoughtful account of Edward’s trial. On the other hand, it repeats a word that is more often associated with Florence—­except that, where it is connected with her, it names a month. It is on the fourth of August that Florence’s superstitious mind “forced her to certain acts, as if she had been hypnotised” (GS, 59; emphasis added). For a recent consideration of “August” symbolism in The Good Soldier, see Melba Cuddy-­Keane, “July  4 to August  4: Paradigmatic and Palimpsestic Plots in The Good Soldier,” in FMFTGS, 47–61. 19. Miriam Bailin’s essay—­“ ‘An Extraordinarily Safe ­Castle’: Aesthetics as Refuge in The Good Soldier,” in Critical Essays on Ford Madox Ford, ed. Richard A. Cassell (Boston, 1987), 68–81—­argues that Dowell finds some comfort in identification: ­T here is some indication that the vari­ous ele­ments of Dowell’s imaginary setting have antecedents in his a­ ctual experience with Leonora. His storytelling situation is strikingly similar to the one in which he found himself when Leonora began her revelations to him. . . . ​­W hether Dowell proj­ects his ideal mode of pre­sen­ta­t ion back on his past or actually borrows it from that past, the way in which ­t hese earlier moments with Leonora seem to haunt his imaginary setting reinforces the sense that that setting is an aesthetic substitute for the refuge the Ashburnhams once provided—in effect, an ideal re-­creation of the best aspects of the past, now fully u­ nder his control. (71–72)

Notes to Page 105


Bailin’s point-­by-­point comparison of the conditions of Dowell’s hearing and telling of the story is convincing. I question, however, her claim that the setting of Leonora’s revelations provided refuge for Dowell. Refuge ­doesn’t seem quite right, since Dowell’s feelings about Branshaw and about Leonora are, by the time he comes to tell his story, ambivalent, to say the least. Rather, it seems to me that Dowell attempts to re­ create imaginatively for himself and for his listener something more like the condition of listening passively, almost equally attentive to his surroundings as to the story itself. Furthermore, Dowell reproduces the passivity of listening by making the conditions of his (re-)telling the story as nearly like ­those of his hearing the story as pos­si­ble— as if somehow to have Leonora tell it for him. It is worth noting at this point that Ford appears to have dictated at least a large portion, if not all, of The Good Soldier, prob­a bly to Brigit Patmore (DL, 1:399–400), to the poet H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), and to H. D.’s husband, the writer Richard Aldington (DL, 1:145–152), ­because of writer’s cramp. Charles G. Hoffmann’s discussion of the extant drafts makes it seem quite difficult to make a strong claim one way or the other based on the physical evidence (“Ford’s Manuscript Revisions of The Good Soldier,” En­glish Lit­er­a­ture in Transition 9, no. 3 [1966]: 145–152). The Norton critical edition includes a summary of reworkings in “Manuscript Development and Textual Variants” (GS, 207–230). In any case, the very idea of dictating was, from early on, an impor­tant term in Ford’s i­ magined relationship to the enterprise of writing. In a fascinating passage from one of his ­l ater autobiographical books, It Was the Nightingale (1933; repr., New York, 1984) (hereafter IWN), Ford gives his views on the superiority of writing with a pen, especially for ­t hose afflicted with writer’s cramp: With regard to methods of writing . . . ​for myself I dislike writing with a pen. My writer’s cramp has never completely left me and e­ very word I write is accompanied by a l­ ittle pain. ­Towards the end of my morning’s work it ­w ill be a very severe pain ­r unning from the knuckle of my third fin­ger to my elbow. But for me it is worth while. . . . ​­A fter the volume I began at St. Jean Cap Ferrat the cramp became so severe that I could not hold a pen at all I took to writing with a machine and then, worst of all, to dictating! I am not to that extent machino-­phobe—or even a hater of stenographers—­t hat I consider the one or the other below my dignity. It is that the one—­a nd still more the other!—­make me become too fluid. It is as if they waited for me to write and write I do. Whereas if I have to go to a t­ able and face pretty considerable pain I wait u­ ntil have something worth saying to say and say it in the fewest pos­si­ble words. (239) Ford continues explaining that corrections on a typewritten page disturb him so much that he ­will actually allow typing errors (one might call them parapraxes) to suggest sentences to him (IWN, 239–240). The s­ ilent or near-­silent secretary is even worse, since his or her presence tempts him to press too hard for effects: “At last you say: ‘Damn it all I ­will make that creature smile. Or have a tear in its eye!’ Then you are lost” (IWN, 241; emphasis in original). Fi­nally, Ford explains that, when his American friends spot his handwritten manuscript pages, they assume his attachment to the pen is a deliberate archaism—­a manifestation of some contempt for a “vulgar instrument” (IWN, 243). Ford insists other­wise:


Notes to Page 108

It is indeed a m ­ atter of expediency alone—­a ­matter of the mechanical difficulty of correction with the machine and of creative difficulty of composition pen in hand. If I had to give advice to a writer that is the advice I should give: In composing make your circumstances as difficult as pos­si­ble but in correcting let not so much as a shadow or a whispered sound interfere between you and your sheet of paper. And erase with bold, remorseless black strokes that hiss as the pen traverses the lines. So you w ­ ill know virtue. . . . ​You ­w ill have the fewest pos­si­ble words on your page. I have used this digression about the mechanics of writing to indicate the lapse of time that I spent at St. Jean Cap Ferrat, writing away at the first part of my book. (IWN, 243) ­W hether Ford wrote or dictated, his attitude ­toward the pro­cess was bound up intimately, as this passage makes clear, with the immediacy (or distance, both physical and emotional) of the act of writing, with the act or scene of writing as the source of something like suggestion, and with “the mechanics of writing” (or, could one say, the pro­ cess of writing?) as digression. 20. Morton Prince, “Some Revelations of Hypnotism: Post-­Hypnotic Suggestion, Automatic Writing and Double Personality,” reprinted in Morton Prince: Psychotherapy and Multiple Personality, Selected Essays, ed. Nathan G. Hale Jr. (Cambridge, MA, 1975), 71. 21. Compare Prince’s typical automatic writing experiment with an episode from “Nice ­People,” an essay written by Ford and published anonymously in 1903, that explains how its subjects (the nice ­people) presented themselves to the author: I was stumbling through a fugue, the fourth of the Wohltemperierter Klavier. It is a ­l ittle difficult for a person with stiff fin­gers but ­t here are certain chords following on other chords, certain discords suspended for a long time and then resolving themselves so suddenly and so swiftly that when I am very much alone I sometimes sit playing it again and again, for an hour perhaps, in the hope of hearing mere fragments of it. I began to think of the nice p ­ eople I had known! they suddenly r­ ose up before me, one ­a fter the other, a ­g reat number of ­faces. I forgot that I was playing, and thought about them all, ­people who had, in one way and another, for me at least, “personal magnetism.” Suddenly I found myself at the end of my fugue. I must obviously have played it without a stumble; but I had not heard a note. (Ford Madox Ford, “Nice P ­ eople,” T ­ emple Bar 128 [November 1903]: 564; cited in DL, 1:446–447) Ford’s reference to “personal magnetism” is telling—it is as if the ­faces (figures for sheets of paper, as in other impressionist texts?) w ­ ere invested with something like Mesmer’s type of “magnetism” (which is, indeed, both a forerunner of hypnotism and the source of the expression “personal magnetism”). It is as if the vision takes the place of reading aloud or counting backward, in that it distracts the hypnotic subject (Ford), allowing him to play the fugue automatically. Saunders equates the fugue with Ford’s essay, to which the pres­ent passage provides an introduction. Although I disagree with Saunders on how to interpret the passage, he does see the fugue in Ford’s essay as a meta­phor for writing, comparing it—­r ightly, I think—in structure with Ford’s characteristic time-­shift (DL, 1:448).

Notes to Pages 110–112


22. In fact, Dowell had watched her absorb the substance of her lecture from “books like Ranke’s History of the Popes, Symonds’s Re­nais­sance, Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic, and Luther’s T ­ able Talk” (GS, 35). The close connection of her talk with Dowell’s list of her sources seems almost to posit her talk as a (reversed) form of dictation. 23. Robert J. Ray has written on the topic of repetition in Ford’s writing and its connection to a certain passivity (“Style in The Good Soldier,” Modern Fiction Studies 9, no. 4 [Spring 1983]: 61–66). He identifies a set of stylistic traits—­“repetition of thematic ele­ments,” “parallelism,” “hypothesis,” and “negation”—­that he feels underscore Dowell’s passivity, which he sees as merely reflecting on Dowell’s passive, withdrawn character, whereas I am arguing that Dowell’s passivity as a narrator reflects meaningfully on Ford’s enterprise as a writer. For an in­ter­est­i ng consideration of Dowell’s “negativity,” see Michael Levenson, “Character in The Good Soldier,” Twentieth ­Century Lit­er­a­ture 30, no. 4 (Winter 1984): 373–387. Levenson writes: The prob­lem of character in The Good Soldier is one with the method of Impressionism. . . . ​Dowell’s “nullity” is simply the final consequence of the Impressionist pursuit of immediate experience, the attempt to render an aboriginal stratum of personality that exists before d ­ oing, feeling, and knowing take shape. At the instant of experience, one is neither ­humble, nor kind, nor greedy, nor wise. The notion of a trait, as a per­sis­tent attribute of character, cannot yet apply. Character exists only a­ fter the fact, and it is Ford’s boldest stroke to imagine a personality virtually without attributes—­subjectivity before it has assumed the articulations of character. (383) By now it should not be necessary to say that, from the perspective of the pres­ent study, the impressionist proj­ect is understood as distinctly other than a “pursuit of immediate experience,” and to the extent that Dowell as a “nullity” lends himself to Levenson’s characterization, it is the issues of distraction, digression, and writing that are my focus in this reading. Put another way, the “pursuit of immediate experience” for Ford the writer (or any other impressionist) ­w ill necessarily involve the immediate experience of writing—at any rate, that is the overarching argument of this book. 24. Printing presses, referred to simply as presses, are fixtures in a Protestant printer’s shop in Ford’s The Fifth Queen trilogy (1906–1908). See Ford Madox Ford, The Fifth Queen (New York, 1980). 25. Carol Jacobs (see especially “TtGS,” 41–44) offers a reading of this scene that also relies on the play of literal and figurative. Her point differs from mine—­she is more interested in something like a semiotic reading that opposes the material word to its meaning. She reads the debate over transubstantiation and consubstantiation, upon which the German and Swiss reformers disagreed, as a figure for the strug­gle between the materiality of the signifier and the transparency of language. However, in view of Nancy Rufford’s reduction of her entire catechism to a pronouncement on the omnipotence of God, it might seem equally likely to take the Protest as an allusion to one of the points the reformers all more or less agreed on: predestination. Among the philosophical prob­lems that made itself acutely felt during the Reformation was the conflict between f­ree ­w ill and God’s plan. A number of solutions arose, but ­after his visit to


Notes to Page 116

Marburg, Luther restated his commitment to predestination in the Augsburg Confession (Article 18, “Of ­Free ­Will”; for a fuller discussion, see Bernard M. G. Reardon, Religious Thought in the Reformation, 2nd ed. [London, 1995], 124 passim). Since the novel’s play between talk “expressing” passion and “creating” it casts doubt on our in­ de­pen­dence in generating our passions, it seems that Jacobs should want to consider the Protest as alluding to the Protestants’ commitment to predestination—­a nd the threat it poses to the claim that we author our own passions. Now, the theme of ­free ­w ill is deeply related to the theme of automatic writing that I have been tracking. For a discussion of automatic writing and its role in the discourse on f­ ree ­w ill in the work of Ford’s contemporaries, see Walter Benn Michaels, “Action and Accident: Photography and Writing,” in The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Lit­er­a­ture at the Turn of the ­Century (Berkeley, CA, 1987), 215–244. Michaels’s essay makes the subject’s ability to expect what he or she writes one of the criteria for determining the degree of automaticity, as it w ­ ere, of the phenomena it studied, as if to posit expectation as a precondition of intention (or even—in some sense, perhaps—as a mild form of it). 26. Elsewhere, Dowell compares Florence explic­itly to a piece of paper, but does so in a way that requires a dif­fer­ent kind of discussion: “I suppose that my inner soul—my dual personality—­had realized long before that Florence was a personality of paper—­ that she represented a real h­ uman being with a heart, with feelings, with sympathies and with emotions only as a bank note represents a certain quantity of gold” (GS, 86). ­Here, Dowell refers to an “inner soul” or a “dual personality” to account for his feeling that, when Bagshawe revealed the fact of Florence’s early affair, he became suddenly conscious of thoughts that struck him as having been with him unconsciously for some time. The association of that unconscious thinking with the image of Florence as a piece of paper complicates what I have, up to now, described as Ford’s relationship to the scene of writing. If the thematization of writing supplies a means of distracting the conscious self from some other aspect of the proj­ect of writing the novel, what does this sudden, seemingly explicit awareness of that meta­phorics mean? Before attempting an answer, I would point out that Ford’s apparent recognition of the allegorical treatment of writing in The Good Soldier hardly means that he was fully conscious of its extent or nature. I would strongly doubt that Ford thought of his repetitions of the word “drawn” in the paragraph I discuss earlier, for example, as referring to the activities of marking and repre­sen­ta­t ion, rather than to drawing a carriage. What I would suggest is that Ford deliberately and consciously i­ magined Florence as comparable to certain kinds of writing (and, to a certain extent, to pictorial repre­sen­ta­tion in the form of fashion plates). The above quotation is the culmination of the meta­phor in Dowell’s narrative, and it seems intended to line Florence up with certain “low” modes of repre­sen­t a­t ion (i.e., slick advertisements or filthy lucre). Elsewhere, Dowell finds Florence in contact with more serious lit­er­a­ture, during her preparation for the trip to M—­—. However, the high tone of the books she reads on that occasion contributes to Dowell’s sense of unease. Florence reverts, in the terms of Dowell’s final evaluation of her as printed m ­ atter, to the status of the guidebook (GS, 86). In short, much of the force of comparing Florence to, or juxtaposing her pointedly

Notes to Pages 119–127


with, vari­ous printed items is to associate her with the vulgar guidebook, fashion plate, or newspaper—­rather than with Ranke and Luther. In any case, the meta­phor that compares Florence with a piece of paper seems to miss the heart of what Ford does elsewhere with the scene of writing as the source of (apparent) digression. And it misses the under­lying point very closely—­and, one might suspect, meaningfully so. To put it a l­ittle differently, turning Florence into a guidebook cum fashion plate almost seems to remove—to distance—­t he threat that the other encounters between her character and the thematization of writing ­w ill force recognition upon themselves. The explicit figuration of Florence as a piece of paper cited ­here occurs in a brief reprise of Dowell’s description of the eve­n ing of her death. The original scene also compares Florence to a piece of paper, but without specifying the type of paper and without pronouncing on the moral value, so to speak, of equation with paper (GS, 74). It is tempting to see Ford as returning to the earlier simile and constructing another meta­phor from it, without fully and consciously comprehending the significance of the earlier instance—or even as thematizing the materials of writing precisely in order not to be faced with the similar, latent significance of the earlier instance. In this sense, one might see Ford as engaging in a strategy of self-­defense, not fundamentally unlike numerous moments in Crane’s writing as understood in the Introduction to this book and, in far greater detail, in Michael Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” in RWD, 91–161. 27. Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday (1932; repr., New York, 1972), 262 (hereafter RY). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 28. Stephen Crane, “Tent Life at Ocean Grove” (1891), reprinted in Thomas A. Gullason, “The ‘Lost’ Newspaper Writings of Stephen Crane,” Syracuse University Library Associates Courier 21 (Spring 1986): 77–78. 29. Joseph Conrad, Almayer’s Folly: A Story of an Eastern River (London, 1895), pp. 206– 207. Cited in the pres­ent book, Chapter 2, note 7.

4. Some Impressionist (and Non-­Impressionist) F ­ aces 1. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, in Prose and Poetry, ed. J. C. Levenson (New York, 1984), 101–102. See the discussion of this passage in Michael Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” in Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 93–94 (hereafter RWD). 2. See RWD, 104–108. 3. For the basic facts of Cunninghame Graham’s life and ­career, see Cedric Watts and Laurence Davies, Cunninghame Graham: A Critical Biography (Cambridge, 1979). 4. Ford Madox Ford, “Techniques” (1935), in Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford, ed. Frank McShane (Lincoln, NE, 1964), 65–66. 5. R. B. Cunninghame Graham, “The Orchid-­Hunter,” in Rodeo: A Collection of the Tales and Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, ed. A. F. Tschiffely (New York, 1936), 54–64 (hereafter “OH”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. I have no specific warrant for calling “The Orchid-­Hunter” a sketch, by the way, but the term seems apt, or at any rate more fitting than the obvious alternatives (story or tale).


Notes to Pages 132–138

6. “A Hegira, “The Gold Fish,” and “Tschiffely’s Ride” are all in Rodeo, 9–24, 251–259, and 168–189, respectively. For “Andorra,” “An Arab Funeral,” and “Bu Gidri,” see R.  B. Cunninghame Graham, Faith (London, 1913), 192–231, 81–88, and 66–80, respectively. For “Ave Caesar,” see Cunninghame Graham, Hope (London, 1910), 74– 83. Interestingly, Ford remarks in “Techniques,” “Mr.  Graham you may read as self-­consciously as you ­w ill” (65); I am suggesting that his sketches and tales often positively invite such a reading. 7. R. B. Cunninghame Graham, “Beattock for Moffat,” in Success (London, 1907), 139– 154. The story is praised by Ford in “Techniques,” 65–66. 8. Jack London, Martin Eden (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1985), 174–175 (hereafter ME). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. London biographies include Philip Foner, Jack London: American Rebel (1947; repr., Fort Lee, NJ, 1969); James Haley, Wolf: The Lives of Jack London (New York, 2010); Carolyn Johnson, Jack London—­An American Radical? (Westport, CT, 1984); Earle ­Labor, Jack London (New York, 2014); Andrew Sinclair, Jack: A Biography of Jack London (New York, 1977); Clarice Stasz, Jack London’s ­Women (Amherst, MA, 2001). See also Dale L. Walker and Jeanne Campbell Reesman, eds., No Mentor but Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers (Stanford, CA, 1999). 9. Walter Benn Michaels, “Success,” chap. 4 in Promises of American Life, 1880–1920, pt. 3 in The Cambridge History of American Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch, vol. 3: Prose Writing, 1860–1920 (Cambridge, 2005), esp. 396–398 (hereafter “Success”). As Michaels states, “It is as if, through Martin, London imagines that publishing is part of the act of writing and that writing for publication is ontologically dif­fer­ent from writing without regard for publication” (398). 10. At greater length: Martin’s death is carefully planned: to defeat his body, he dives so deep that when his “­w ill” fails and his hands and feet start swimming up, it is too late—­“He was too deep down. They could never bring him to the surface.” In what turn out to be the last months of his life, confronted by the discrepancy between his writing and his success, between what he wanted to do and what is happening to him, Martin is unable to work. His suicide puts an end to that not ­because it puts an end to his life but ­because, restoring the connection between “­w ill” and event, producing and selling, it gives him what London calls “work to do.” (“Success,” 398) Apropos the motif of vio­lence done to ­faces, the central figure of speech in London’s novel The Iron Heel (1906; repr., London, 1974) is that of the oligarch Wickson’s rejoinder to the American revolutionary Ernest Everhard: “We ­w ill grind you revolutionaries down u­ nder our heel, and we s­ hall walk upon your f­aces” (63). The entire novel bears on the topic of this study. One further citation from the penultimate chapter, “Nightmare”: I remember stumbling at the corner over the legs of a man. It was the poor hunted wretch that had dragged himself past my hiding-­place. How distinctly do I remember his poor, pitiful, gnarled hands as he lay t­here on the pavement—­hands that w ­ ere more hoof and claw than hands, all twisted and distorted by the toil of all his days, with on the palms a horny growth of callous


12. 13. 14.

15. 16.

17. 18. 19.

Notes to Pages 138–153


half an inch thick. And as I picked myself up and started on, I looked into the face of the t­ hing and saw that it still lived; for the eyes, dimly intelligent, ­were looking at me and seeing me. ­After that came a kindly blank. I knew nothing, saw nothing, merely tottered on in my quest for safety. My next nightmare vision was a quiet street of the dead. I came upon it abruptly, as a wanderer in the country would come upon a flowing stream. Only this stream I gazed upon did not flow. It was congealed in death. From pavement to pavement, and covering the sidewalks, it lay ­t here, spread out quite evenly, with only h­ ere and t­ here a lump or mound of bodies to break the surface. . . . ​Up the street and down I looked. T ­ here was no movement, no sound. The quiet buildings looked down upon the scene from their many win­dows. And once, and once only, I saw an arm that moved in that dead stream. I swear I saw it move, with a strange writhing gesture of agony, and with it lifted a head, gory with nameless horror, that gibbered at me and then lay down and moved no more. (219) W. H. Hudson, “Dead Man’s Plack,” in “Dead Man’s Plack,” “An Old Thorn,” & “Miscellanea” (1923; repr., New York, 1968), 1–99 (hereafter “DMP”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. Richard Aldington, “The Prose of W. H. Hudson,” The Egoist (May 15, 1914): 186. Ford Madox Ford, Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 93–94. D. H. Lawrence, “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” in The Complete Short Stories, 3 vols. (New York, 1961), 2:283–302 (hereafter “OC”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. Joseph Conrad, “The Duel,” in A Set of Six (Garden City, NY, 1926), 165–266 (hereafter “D”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. A recent publication, Conrad’s “The Duel”: Sources / Text, ed. J. H. Stape and John G. Peters (Leiden, 2015), publishes no less than fifteen (largely repetitive) pos­si­ble sources in French and En­glish for the basic narrative, but all are bare bones in comparison with “The Duel.” In par­t ic­u ­lar, in none does D’Hubert’s final ruse involve lying on his back on the ground, and in none does D’Hubert intervene with Fouché to save his antagonist from execution. Ford Madox Ford, The Last Post, in Parade’s End (New York, 1979) (hereafter LP). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. H. G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes (1899; repr., London, 1994) (hereafter S). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. H. G. Wells, Tono-­Bungay, ed. Patrick Parrinder (1909; repr., London, 2005) (hereafter TB). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. See in par­t ic­u ­lar bk. 2, chap. 3, “How We Made Tono-­Bungay Hum,” 147–161. See also the discussion of Tono-­Bungay in Simon L. James, “The Uses of Literacy: Reading and Realism in Wells’s Novels,” in Maps of Utopia: H. G. Wells, Modernity and the End of Culture (Oxford, 2012), pp. 73–124. Apropos of disfigured ­faces, late in the novel the narrator crashes his balloon-­based flying machine with the following consequences: I wiped something that trickled from my face and was shocked to see my hand covered with blood. I looked at myself and saw what seemed to me an astonishing quantity of blood ­r unning down my arm and shoulder. I perceived my


Notes to Pages 153–162

mouth was full of blood. It’s a queer moment when one realizes one is hurt and perhaps badly hurt, and has still to discover just how far one is hurt. I explored my face carefully and found unfamiliar contours on the left side. The broken end of a branch had driven right through my cheek, damaging my cheek and teeth and gums, and left a splinter of itself stuck like an explorer’s farthest-­point flag in the upper maxillary. That and a sprained wrist ­were all my damage. But I bled as though I had been chopped to pieces, and it seemed to me that my face had been driven in. I ­can’t describe just the horrible disgust I felt at that. (293) The glaring narrative gratuitousness of the passage only points up its thematic overdetermination. 20. H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (New York, 1934), 531–532. 21. Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Complete Stories 1898–1910, ed. Denis Donoghue (New York, 1996), 496–541 (hereafter “BJ”). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 22. Cf. Stephen Melville, “The Difference Manet Makes,” in Refracting Vision: Essays on Michael Fried, ed. Jill Beaulieu, Mary Roberts, and Toni Ross (Sydney, 1999), where in the course of a discussion of issues of facing in my writing and Stanley Cavell’s he suggests that “May’s face always shows and yet remains unseen by Marcher u­ ntil, too late, he sees it as her tomb, falling—in two balanced phrases I take to mime her eyes and so to place the reader before the gaze or regard of the text—­‘on his face, on the tomb’ ” (121).

5. “A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against” 1. The sheer difficulty Conrad encountered during the years of composition of Nostromo (1903–1904) is stressed by his biographers. See, e.g., Jocelyn Baines, Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1971), 345–379; Joseph R. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (New York, 1979), 529–568; and Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Life (Rochester, NY, 2007), 326–346. 2. Joseph Conrad, author’s note to The Secret Agent: A ­Simple Tale, ed. Bruce Harkness and S. W. Reid (Cambridge, 1990), 3 (hereafter SA). Further page references to the author’s note and the novel itself ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. The first sentence of the author’s note reads in its entirety: “The origin of the Secret Agent, subject, treatment, artistic purpose, and e­ very other motive that may induce an author to take up his pen can, I believe, be traced to a period of m ­ ental and emotional reaction” (SA, 3). 3. What Conrad says is “the w ­ hole treatment of the tale, its inspiring indignation and under­lying pity and contempt prove my detachment from the squalor and sordidness which lie simply in the outward circumstances of the setting” (author’s note, SA, 4). And a few pages l­ ater: I had to fight hard to keep at arm’s-­length [i.e., at writing distance?] the memories of my solitary and nocturnal walks all over London in my early days, lest they should rush in and overwhelm each page of the story as t­hese emerged one ­after another from a mood as sincere in feeling and thought as any in which



6. 7. 8.

9. 10. 11.

Notes to Pages 162–168


I ever wrote a line. In that re­spect I ­really think that the Secret Agent is a perfectly genuine piece of work. Even the purely artistic purpose, that of applying the ironic method to a subject of that kind, was formulated with deliberation and in the earnest belief that ironic treatment alone would enable me to say all I felt I would have to say in scorn as well as in pity. It is one of the minor satisfactions of my writing life that having taken that resolve I did manage, it seems to me, to carry it through right to the end. (SA, 7) Not that The Secret Agent came simply or easily by any means. For Conrad’s ­labors on the manuscript, see the detailed discussion in “The Texts: An Essay,” in SA, 235–327, and Andrew Glazzard, “A ­Simple Tale? The Writing and Rewriting of The Secret Agent,” in Critical Approaches to Joseph Conrad, ed. Agata Szczeszak-­Brewer (Columbia, SC, 2015), 149–161. Jacques Berthoud has in­ter­est­ing ­t hings to say about Conrad’s “ironic” method in The Secret Agent in The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, ed. J. H. Stape (Cambridge, 1996), 100–121. My reference, of course, is to the famous statement in the preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus”: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see!” (Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” ed. Robert Kimbrough [New York, 1979], 147). See the discussion of this statement earlier in this book as well as in Michael Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” in Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 119–120. “He could not inform her that a man may be haunted by a fat, witty, clean-­shaven face till the wildest expedient to get rid of it appears a child of wisdom” (SA, 180). It is worth noting, too, that a materialist meta­phorics of stamping, impressing from outside, runs throughout the novel (see note 14 below). What we are told is: ­T hose p ­ eople ­were as denationalised as the dishes set before them with ­every circumstance of unstamped respectability. Neither was their personality stamped in any way, professionally, socially or racially. They seemed created for the Italian restaurant, ­unless the Italian restaurant had been perchance created for them. But that last hypothesis was unthinkable, since one could not place them anywhere outside t­ hose special establishments. One never met t­ hese enigmatical persons elsewhere. It was impossible to form a precise idea what occupations they followed by day and where they went to bed at night. And he himself had become unplaced. It would have been impossible for anybody to guess his occupation. As to ­going to bed, ­t here was a doubt even in his own mind. (SA, 115) It is as if the Assistant Commissioner’s meal in the restaurant had “denationalised” him as well. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, ed. Cedric Watts and Robert Hampson (London, 1989), 177. F. R. Leavis, The G ­ reat Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (New York, 1967), 214. In chapter 2, Vladimir turns his back on Verloc while facing a mirror (SA, 24); in chapter 6, the Assistant Commissioner even more pointedly subjects Chief Inspector Heat to the same treatment (SA, 89–90); in chapter 9, Verloc, having returned home






16. 17. 18.

Notes to Pages 171–173 a­ fter the Greenwich debacle, stands over the fireplace grate with his back ­toward Winnie and his teeth chattering violently (SA, 145). That Winnie’s actions are perceived by Verloc indirectly by means of the shadow they cast on the ceiling and wall is itself an impressionist trope. See, e.g., the brief discussion of “shadow pictures” in Almayer’s Folly and Crane’s early article “Tent Life at Ocean Grove” in Chapter 1, note 7, as well as the reference to Feraud’s shadow falling on D’Hubert’s outstretched legs in Conrad’s story “The Duel” in Chapter 4. The “denationalised” customers in the Italian restaurant are a case in point, as is the Assistant Commissioner’s recollection, during his conversation with Chief Inspector Heat in chapter 6, of “a certain old fat and wealthy native chief in the distant colony [in which he had served before his marriage]” who seemed to him to resemble Heat (SA, 93). “He was physically a big man, too,” the text continues, and (allowing for the difference of colour, of course) Chief Inspector Heat’s appearance recalled him to the memory of his superior. It was not the eyes nor yet the lips exactly. It was bizarre. But does not Alfred Wallace relate in his famous book on the Malay Archipelago how, amongst the Aru Islanders, he discovered in an old and naked savage with a sooty skin a peculiar resemblance to a dear friend at home? (SA, 93) Chapters 12 and 13 have unmistakably the character of an addition to the rest—in effect, the novel comes to the end with Verloc’s murder and the image of his hat on the floor. The focus of what remains is Winnie’s terror of the gallows, emblematized by the repeated phrase, “The drop given was fourteen feet,” as if the words “had been scratched on her brain by a hot needle” (SA, 201). Eventually, of course, she commits suicide by leaping from a cross-­Channel boat ­after having been abandoned by Ossipon (at least that is the strong implication of her disappearance); the drop into the w ­ ater might well have been fourteen feet, whereas the drop in a hanging would have been considerably less. In any case, the imaginative intensity of Conrad’s prose in ­t hese chapters—­a lso the almost harassing pressure exerted by that prose on the committed reader—­falls off sharply from what has gone before. Conrad to John Galsworthy, September 12, 1906, in The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, ed. Frederick R. Karl, Laurence Davies, Owen Knowles, et al., 9 vols. (Cambridge, 1983–2007), 3:354 (hereafter CL). In the letter, “a tale” is italicized. Conrad to Marguerite Poradowska, March 29 or April 5, 1894, in CL, 1:150–151. The original letter is in French. Quoted and discussed in Chapter 1. Conrad to Edward Garnett, September 16, 1899, in CL, 2:198. Cited by Leavis, The ­G reat Tradition, 193. Leavis goes on to state: “In fact, though Decoud is so decisively dealt with in the action, he remains at the centre of the book, in the sense that his consciousness seems to permeate it, even to dominate it. That consciousness is clearly very closely related to the author’s own personal timbre” (199– 200). And: In fact, Decoud may be said to have had a considerable part in the writing of Nostromo; or one might say that Nostromo was written by a Decoud who w ­ asn’t a complacent dilettante, but was positively drawn t­owards ­those capable of ­“investing their activities with spiritual value”—­Monygham, Giorgio Viola, Señor Avellanos, Charles Gould. (200)

Notes to Pages 173–174


19. The Professor’s unhappiness in crowds is developed early on in chapter 4, following his conversation in the anarchist tavern with Ossipon. A key paragraph reads: Lost in the crowd, miserable and undersized, he meditated confidently on his power, keeping his hand in the left pocket of his trousers, grasping lightly the india-­r ubber ball [a manual detonator], the supreme guarantee of his sinister freedom; but ­a fter a while he became disagreeably affected by the sight of the roadway thronged with vehicles and of the pavement crowded with men and ­women. He was in a long, straight street, peopled by a mere fraction of an im­ mense multitude; but all round him, on and on, even to the limits of the horizon hidden by the enormous piles of bricks, he felt the mass of mankind mighty in its numbers. They swarmed numerous like locusts, industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natu­r al force, pushing on blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic, to terror too perhaps. (SA, 67) The last possibility turns out to be the Professor’s gravest doubt, which is then characterized in the following terms: “A despicable emotional state this, against which solitude fortifies a superior character; and with severe exultation the Professor thought of the refuge of his room, with its padlocked cupboard, lost in a wilderness of poor ­houses, the hermitage of the perfect anarchist” (SA, 67). Michaelis, too, works happily in solitude (SA, 94). Of his ideas, formed in prison, we are told, His ideas ­were not in the nature of convictions. They ­were inaccessible to reasoning. They formed in all their contradictions and obscurities an invincible and humanitarian creed, which he confessed rather than preached, with an obstinate gentleness, a smile of pacific assurance on his lips, and his candid blue eyes cast down ­because the sight of ­faces troubled his inspiration developed in solitude. (SA, 85) A suggestion: crowds disturb the Professsor—­they seem to him “impervious” to sentiment, logic, and perhaps even terror—­because they defeat or circumvent the older laws of mechanistic, so to speak, individualistic causality; rather, they demand to be treated statistically, by newly discovered laws of thermodynamics. The universe of The Secret Agent is uneasy with this. In other words, that universe belongs to an earlier, simpler moment in the history of physics, and, somewhat incredibly, the novel seems to know this. This places me in partial disagreement with several critics who have argued in ­favor of late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century thermodynamics as determining for the novel’s overall thematics. See, e.g., Jill Clark, “A Tale Told by Stevie: From Thermodynamics to Informational Energy in The Secret Agent,” Conradiana: A Journal of Joseph Conrad Studies 36 (Spring–­Summer 2004): 1–31; Alex Houen, “The Secret Agent: Anarchism and the Thermodynamics of Law,” ELH 65 (Winter 1998): 99–106; Allen MacDuffie, “Joseph Conrad’s Geographies of Energy,” ELH 76 (Spring 2009): 75–98; and Michael Whitworth, “Inspector Heat Inspected: The Secret Agent and the Meanings of Entropy,” Review of En­glish Studies 49 (February 1998): 40–59. 20. Edward Said, “Conrad: The Pre­sen­t a­t ion of Narrative” (1974), reprinted in Critical Essays on Joseph Conrad, ed. Ted Billy (Boston, 1987), 45 (hereafter “PN”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text.


Notes to Pages 174–176

21. A related phrase that turns up more than once is “clean breast.” For example: “[Winnie’s ­mother’s] object attained in astute secrecy, the heroic old ­woman had made a clean breast of it to Mrs Verloc” (SA, 118). And: “At that moment [Mr Verloc] was within a hair’s breadth of making a clean breast of it all to his wife” (SA, 137). And, said by the Assistant Commissioner to Sir Ethelred: “You know no doubt that most criminals at some time or other feel an irresistible need of confessing—of making a clean breast of it to somebody—to anybody” (SA, 165). 22. In fact, of the Assistant Commissioner, we are told: “chained to a desk in the thick of four millions of men, he considered himself the victim of an ironic fate” (SA, 89). 23. One might compare this watchful bronze statuette with a comparable image in Nostromo. As Decoud in the Golfo Placido undergoes his eventually mortal trial by solitude, he visualizes his beloved, “Antonia, gigantic and lovely like an allegorical statue, looking on with scornful eyes at his weakness” (Joseph Conrad, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, ed. Véronique Pauly [1904; repr., London, 2007], 393 [hereafter N]). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. ­Here as elsewhere in The Secret Agent, one senses the “influence” of comparable passages in Nostromo. 24. Thus, in A Personal Rec­ord Conrad remarks of his l­ abors on Almayer’s Folly: ­T here was no vision of a printed book before me as I sat writing at that t­ able, situated in a decayed part of Belgravia. ­A fter all ­t hese years, each leaving its evidence of slowly blackened pages, I can honestly say that it is a sentiment akin to piety which prompted me to render in words assembled with conscientious care the memory of t­hings far distant and of men who had lived. (Joseph Conrad, “The Mirror of the Sea” and “A Personal Rec­ord” [Oxford, 1988], 9–10) That no image of a printed book, as opposed to a blank page, was before Conrad’s mind’s eye as he sat and wrote, I can readily believe. See also the statement further on in the book that “from the moment I had done blackening over the first manuscript page of Almayer’s Folly . . . ​the die was cast. Never had Rubicon been more blindly forded, without invocation to the gods, without fear of men” (68–69). What Conrad’s called his “writing life” (69) was u­ nder way. 25. The paragraph reads: In front of the g­ reat door way a dismal row of newspaper sellers standing clear of the pavement dealt out their wares from the gutter. It was a raw, gloomy day of the early spring; and the grimy sky, the mud of the streets, the rags of the dirty men, harmonized excellently with the eruption of the damp, rubbishy sheets of paper soiled with printers’ ink. The posters, maculated with filth, garnished like tapestry the sweep of the curbstone. The trade in after­ noon papers was brisk, yet, in comparison with the swift, constant march of foot traffic, the effect was of indifference, of a disregarded distribution. Ossipon looked hurriedly both ways before stepping out into the crosscurrents, but the Professor was already out of sight. (SA, 65) In a materialist universe, t­ here is scant distinction to be made between sky, mud, men’s rags, rubbishy newspapers, soiled posters, and the “indifferent” or “disregarded” distribution of the newspapers to the (undescribed) passing throng. The paragraph just cited is quoted by Peter Lancelot Mallios in his essay “Reading The Secret Agent Now,” in Conrad in the Twenty-­First ­C entury: Con­temporary


27. 28.


30. 31.

Notes to Pages 177–178


­ pproaches and Perspectives, ed. Carola M. Kaplan, Peter Mallios, and Andrea White A (New York, Routledge, 2005), 170. Mallios usefully calls attention to the mention of newspapers elsewhere in the novel, and indeed notes “the heavy materiality attaching to the newspaper page alone [in the paragraph in question]” (170). But I think he makes a misstep when he summons up “the world of Jean Baudrillard, a vitally untapped resource in Conrad studies, whose idea of ‘simulation’ . . . ​is the ultimate sign of The Secret Agent’s contemporaneity” (170). Another recent commentator who emphasizes the importance of newspapers and popu­lar publications in The Secret Agent is Adam Parkes in “ ‘Shocks and Surprises’: Conrad, Terrorism, and Languages of Sensation,” chap. 4 in A Sense of Shock: The Impact of Impressionism on Modern British and Irish Writing (New York, 2011), 99–145. My thanks to John Womack Jr. for noting that the related Greek letter deltos means “a writing-­tablet, so called from the letter [delta], the old shape of tablets” (Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and James Morris, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-­English Lexicon [New York, 1891], 154). For what it is worth, the young Conrad (then still Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) studied Greek. See Conrad, SA, 421n98.30. The role of ­w ill in a specific proj­ect of writing figures importantly in my discussion of Gustave Flaubert’s extraordinary novel Salammbô in Flaubert’s “Gueuloir”: On Madame Bovary and Salammbô (New Haven, CT, 2012), 106–151. For Conrad’s familiarity with and admiration for Flaubert, Salammbô in par­t ic­u ­lar, see Yves Hervouet’s invaluable study The French Face of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge, 1990). ­T here is more to say on this topic. I am oversimplifying drastically. Conrad’s account of the pro­cess by which the essentials of the narrative became clear to him (SA, 4–7) is characteristically complex, fascinating, and suggestive, involving (as ­w ill emerge) a brief remark by a friend (Ford Madox Ford) and a short publication on the Greenwich Outrage that cited Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt’s complaint to a lesser official, “All that’s very well. But your idea of secrecy over t­ here seems to consist of keeping the Home Secretary in the dark” (SA, 6). Conrad remarks: Characteristic enough of Sir W. Harcourt’s temper but not much in itself. T ­ here must have been however some sort of atmosphere in the w ­ hole incident b­ ecause all of a sudden I felt myself stimulated. And then ensued in my mind what a student of chemistry would best understand from the analogy of the addition of the tiniest l­ ittle drop of the right kind, precipitating the pro­cess of crystallization in a test tube containing some colourless solution. (SA, 6) My suggestion, of course, is that the notion of darkness in Harcourt’s remark called forth the counter-­notion of blankness or whiteness in Conrad’s imagination, and in fact, the next paragraph contrasts the image of the ocean as a “reflector of the world’s light” and that of an “enormous” or “monstrous” town (plainly London) as a “cruel devourer of the world’s light” (SA, 6). In any case, Conrad found himself embarked. My thanks for this thought to Yi-­Ping Ong. The American Heritage Dictionary of the En­glish Language (New York, 1969), 608, s.v. “heat.”


Notes to Pages 178–185

32. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, 2 vols. (New York, 1997), 2:61–62, s.v. “heat.” 33. Note, too, the image of the “butterfly-­shaped gas flames,” which I see as related to Verloc’s ∆ and indeed to the (upright or inverted) “pyramidal” structure of key letters in the names “Verloc,” “Winnie,” “Vladimir,” and o­ thers. 34. Another word repeated often in The Secret Agent is “husky,” as applied to Verloc’s voice. One connotation of the word in the presence of Winnie is as a signifier of sexual desire. But it might also be understood as characteristic of a mere “husk” of a person, a covering with nothing inside, and in fact (as has already been noted), Conrad in the author’s note to The Secret Agent writes that having completed Nostromo and The Mirror of the Sea, he came to feel “(the task once done) as if I w ­ ere left b­ ehind, aimless amongst mere husks of sensations and lost in a world of other, of inferior, values” (SA, 4). 35. Joseph Conrad, “­Because of the Dollars,” in Within the Tides (London, 1978), 149–183. 36. The final instance reads: [Mrs Verloc] remained thus mysteriously still and suddenly collected till Mr Verloc was heard with an accent of marital authority, and moving slightly to make room for her to sit on the edge of the sofa. “Come ­here,” he said in a peculiar tone, which might have been the tone of brutality, but was intimately known to Mrs Verloc as the note of wooing. (SA, 196–197) 37. The sentence reads: “The exigencies of Mrs Verloc’s temperament, which, when stripped of its philosophical reserve, was maternal and violent, forced her to roll a series of thoughts in her motionless head” (SA, 182–183). 38. Conrad adds: ­These w ­ ere absolutely the only words that passed between us; for extreme surprise at this unexpected piece of information kept me dumb for a moment and he began at once to talk of something ­else. It never occurred to me ­later to ask how he arrived at his knowledge for I am sure that if he had seen once in his life the back of an anarchist that must have been the w ­ hole extent of his connection with the underworld. (SA, 5) “The back of an anarchist,” like “mere husks of sensation,” is another of t­ hose Conradian phrases that are less innocuous than they at first appear. 39. Martin Seymour-­Smith, introduction to Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A S­ imple Tale (London, 1984), 15. 40. Another way of thinking about what I have been calling “contagion” is as a pro­cess of autosuggestion by virtue of which the text appears to draw further consequences from a previous word, image, or statement, without it being clear to the reader what exactly he or she is intended to make of the phenomenon, to the extent that the phenomenon is recognized. So, for example, several pages into chapter 11, Verloc says to Winnie, “What was the good of telling you that I stood the risk of having a knife stuck into me at any time t­ hese seven years ­we’ve been married?” (SA, 180). In light of what is shortly to follow, this may seem simply “ironic.” But is that right? Specifically, would it be unreasonable to think of t­ hose words as putting the idea of d ­ oing exactly that, as it w ­ ere, materially, into Winnie’s m ­ ental apparatus? In which case, the sense of “irony” would

Notes to Pages 186–197


be displaced or at least shadowed by one of materialist necessity, in keeping with the ontology of what I have been calling the novel’s universe. (All this has something in common, of course, with Charles Palermo’s reading of similarly autosuggestive moments in The Good Soldier. Another novel by Ford that also evinces comparable effects of “contagion” is the underrated No ­Enemy.)

6. Maps, Charts, and Mist 1. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds: H. G. Wells’s Scientific Romance, ed. David Y. Hughes and Harry  M. Geduld (Bloomington, IN, 1993) (hereafter WW). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 2. David C. Smith in H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography (New Haven, CT, 1986) remarks: The War of the Worlds is a tour de force, and one of its joys for the modern analyst is that with early versions of the Ordnance Survey maps it is still pos­si­ble to follow exactly where the Martians went, even which ­houses they destroyed. Wells wrote the book while living in Woking, and the area ­behind his ­house on Horsell Common is the scene of the first confrontation. (68) 3. See Michael Twyman, Printing 1770–1970: An Illustrated Survey of Its Development and Uses in ­England (London, 1998), 31–32. 4. See the opinions cited in WW, 211n2. 5. H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (New York, 1934), 529 (hereafter EA). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 6. See the reference to Beresford’s views in WW, 205n1. 7. ­There is another sustained evocation of something very like a map in When the Sleeper Wakes in the chapter called “The Aeropile,” in which Graham is introduced to flying and enjoys a privileged view not just of London but of the largely uninhabited surrounding countryside—­t he Downs escarpment and the line of Hindhead, Pitch Hill, and Leith Hill are explic­itly mentioned (H. G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes, ed. John Lawton [1899; repr., London, 1994], 145–146 [hereafter S]). Graham insists that Asano, his companion, teach him how to operate the machine. “But this is living!” Graham cries, and then: And now the machine began to dance the strangest figures in the air. Now it would sweep round a spiral of scarcely a hundred yards dia­meter, now it would rush up into the air and swoop down again, steeply, swiftly, falling like a hawk, to recover in a rushing loop that swept it high again. In one of t­ hese descents it seemed driving straight at the drifting park of balloons in the south-­east, and only curved about and cleared them by a sudden recovery of dexterity. The extraordinary swiftness and smoothness of the motion, the extraordinary effect of the rarified air upon his constitution, threw Graham into a careless fury. (S, 149) I understand this passage as giving voice to a certain (conscious and deliberate? or all but conscious and deliberate?) fantasy of a “liberated” writing, freed from the



9. 10. 11. 12.




Notes to Pages 198–222 horizontal plane of inscription. And what is especially in­ter­est­ing is that the fantasy comes to a bad end: But at last a queer incident came to sober him, to send him flying down once more to the crowded life below with all its dark insoluble riddles. As he swooped, came a tap and something flying past, and a drop like a drop of rain. Then as he went down he saw something like a white rag whirling down in his wake. “What was that?” he asked. “I did not see.” The aeronaut glanced, and then clutched at the level to recover, for they ­were sweeping down. When the aeropile was rising again he drew a deep breath and replied. “That,” and he indicated the white ­t hing still fluttering down, “was a swan.” “I never saw it,” said Graham. The aeronaut made no answer, and Graham saw l­ ittle drops upon his forehead. (S, 149) Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands: A Rec­ord of Secret Ser­vice (1903; repr., London, 2011) (hereafter RS). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. See also Andrew Boyle, The Riddle of Erskine Childers (London, 1977). Erskine C. Childers [great-­g randson of Erskine Childers], introduction to Childers, The Riddle of the Sands, p. xi. Joseph Conrad, “The Tale,” in Tales of Hearsay (London, 1925), 155–205 (hereafter “T”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. Rudyard Kipling, Kim, ed. Edward Said (1901; repr., Harmonds­worth, UK, 1987) (hereafter K). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. Another example: in When the Sleeper Wakes, in the chapter called “The ­Under Side,” Graham comes to the warren of the jewelers, including men and w ­ omen working on cloisonné tiles. Many of t­ hese workers had lips and nostrils a livid white, due to a disease caused by a peculiar purple enamel that chanced to be much in fashion. Asano [Graham’s companion] apologised to Graham for the offense of their ­faces, but excused himself on the score of the con­ve­n ience of this route. “This is what I wanted to see,” said Graham, “this is what I wanted to see,” trying to avoid a start at a particularly striking disfigurement that suddenly stared him in the face. (S, 190) Frank Norris, The Octopus: A Story of California, in Novels and Essays, ed. Donald Pizer (1901; repr., New York, 1986), 578 (hereafter O). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. Stephen Crane, “Death and the Child,” in Prose and Poetry, ed. J. C. Levenson (New York, 1984), 943–963 (hereafter “DC”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. For a fuller discussion see Fried, “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” in Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 108–119. The previous short paragraph, also referring to the child, can almost be taken as an image of Crane at work: He was solitary; engrossed in his own pursuits, it was seldom that he lifted his head to inquire of the world why it made so much noise. The stick in his hand

Notes to Pages 224–241


was much larger to him than was an army corps of the distance. It was too childish for the mind of the child. He was dealing with sticks. (“DC,” 950) 16. Ford Madox Ford, “Stephen Crane,” in Portraits from Life (New York, 1937), 41. 17. W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions (1904; repr., Mineola, NY, 1989) (hereafter GM). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. 18. Another “living” map, this one of the San Joaquin Valley, is viewed by the poet Presley early on in Norris’s The Octopus, in a long passage beginning, “As from a pinnacle, Presley, from where he now stood, dominated the entire country” (O, 612–614). Fi­nally, the role of panoramic views and maps of contested towns and countryside during the First World War in Ford Madox Ford’s No ­Enemy (written 1919, first published in 1929) and No More Parades (1925) is briefly but fascinatingly discussed by Michael Charlesworth, “Pa­norama, the Map, and the Divided Self: No E ­ nemy, No More Parades, and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” in Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End: The First World War, Culture, and Modernity, ed. Ashley Chantler and Rob Hawkes (Amsterdam, 2014), 95–106.

7. The Writing of Revolution 1. Joseph Conrad, ­Under Western Eyes, ed. Roger Osborne and Paul Eggert, introduction by Keith Carabine (Cambridge, 2013) (hereafter UWE). For a discussion of manuscripts and, more broadly, Conrad’s campaign on the novel, see “The Texts: An Essay,” 295–368. Further references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. See also the detailed discussion of the composition of ­Under Western Eyes in Keith Carabine, The Life and the Art: A Study of Conrad’s “­Under Western Eyes” (Amsterdam, 1996). 2. Snow on the ground is compared to a page on which writing of vari­ous sorts takes place in R.  B. Cunninghame Graham’s sketch “Snow in Monteith,” in Pro­g ress (London, 1905), 244–250. So, for example, we read: And as the hills and woods had all become unrecognisable, the mantle of pure white spread on the earth formed a blank page on which nothing could stir without a rec­ord of its passage being writ at least as permanently as was the passage of its life. Badgers, who had adventured out for food, left their strange, bear-­like tracks in woods where no one suspected that they lived. Roe, plunging through the crisp white snow, made a round hole marked at the bottom with their cloven feet, and leaving at the edge a faint red trace of blood. The birds, in their degree, imprinted traces clear and distinct as ­t hose their ancestors have left in rocks from the time when the world was all a snowfield or all tropics, or all something dif­fer­ent from what it is, as wise geologists, quarreling with each other as [if] they w ­ ere theologians, write in ponderous tomes. Even the field-­m ice, pattering along, left tiny trails like l­ ittle railways as they journeyed from their warm nests to visit one another and interchange opinions on the strange new scene. (247–248) Of all the writers discussed in this book, Cunninghame Graham is by all odds t­ oday the most obscure, but he was much admired during the first de­cades of the ­century,



4. 5.


7. 8.

Notes to Pages 246–251 not least by other writers such as Conrad, Ford, Shaw, Chesterton, and Galsworthy (also Edward Garnett, Conrad’s “discoverer”). In Chapter 4, on upturned f­ aces, I cited and discussed his deliberately paced “The Orchid-­Hunter,” and mentioned also, without analyzing them, a number of his sketches and tales involving meticulously narrated journeys, which, I suggested, are registered by the reader as in effect coinciding with or (as I also put it) advancing in parallel with the narration as such. Alongside “Snow in Monteith,” one might also read “Mist in Monteith,” another text with impressionist features (R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Rodeo: A Collection of the Tales and Sketches of R.  B. Cunninghame Graham, ed. A.  F. Tschiffely [New York, 1936], 384–389). Another sort of “layering” in the slightly l­ ater novel Chance, narrated in Marlow’s voice but also quoting other characters, is famously characterized by Henry James in terms that he calls “Marlow’s prolonged hovering flight of the subjective over the outstretched ground of the case exposed” (“The New Novel,” in Notes on Novelists [New York, 1914], 348). James continues: We make out this ground but through the shadow cast by the flight, clarify it though the real author visibly reminds himself again and again that he must—­all the more that, as if by some tremendous forecast of ­f uture applied science, the upper aeroplane ­causes another, as we have said, to depend from it and that one still another; ­t hese dropping shadow ­a fter shadow, to the no small menace of intrinsic colour and form and what­ever, upon the passive expanse. (348) Joseph Conrad, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, ed. Véronique Pauly (1904; repr., London, 2007), 403. At a few other points in the novel t­ here are smaller clusters of “con-” words. See, notably, Razumov’s remarks to Peter Ivanovitch at the Château Borel, where we encounter the words “condescending,” “compelled,” “confessed,” “complete,” and “consent” in a single short paragraph (UWE, 177). And two paragraphs ­later the teacher writes: “He thought to himself (it stands confessed in his hand writing): ‘I w ­ on’t move from h­ ere till he ­either speaks or turns away. This is a duel’ ” (UWE, 178). Shortly before, Razumov, about to enter the Château Borel, sees an idle working man lounging on a bench and says of the man (presumably to himself): “Elector. Eligible. Enlightened. . . . ​A brute all the same” (UWE, 159). Not “con-” words but not wholly unlike the relations among such. Another “key,” or at least a clue? Frank Kermode, “Secrets and Narrative Sequence,” Critical Inquiry 7 (Autumn 1980): 83–101. Kermode at one point cites with approval a short essay by Avrom Fleishman, “Speech and Writing in ­Under Western Eyes,” in Conrad: A Commemoration, ed. Norman Sherry (London, 1976), 119–128. Boris Ford, introduction to Joseph Conrad, ­Under Western Eyes (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1985), 33. In another early science fiction novel by Wells that has not yet been mentioned, The First Men on the Moon (1901; repr., Oxford, 1995), the principal moon creatures, the so-­called Selenites, are described as almost all superdeveloped brain, a condition that “has rendered unnecessary the invention of all t­ hose mechanical aids to brain work which have distinguished the c­ areer of man. T ­ here are no books, no rec­ords of any sort, no libraries or inscriptions” (192)—in short, no writing. Not surprisingly, though,

Notes to Pages 259–266


in the light of the other texts we have considered, the brain of the ­Grand Lunar (the ruling Selenite) is described as looking very much like an opaque, featureless bladder with convolutions writhing visibly within. Then beneath its enormity and just above the edge of the throne one saw with a start minute elfin eyes peering out of the glow. No face, just eyes, as if they peered through holes. . . . ​T he eyes stared down at me with a strange intensity, and the lower part of the swollen globe was wrinkled. Ineffectual-­ looking ­l ittle hand-­tentacles steadied this shape on the throne. . . . ​(202; latter ellipsis in original) Exactly what Wells is up to h­ ere is hard to specify. At the very least, he is imagining a form of life that differs radically from the ­human norm with re­spect to what we have been calling the scene of writing, while nevertheless evoking basic ele­ments of that scene in what might be called privative terms—­except, of course, for the irrepressible “writhing.” 9. I describe a similar gesture, of a kind of severing, in the last sentence of Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô, a novel Conrad (like Ford) knew extremely well and greatly admired. See Michael Fried, Flaubert’s “Gueuloir”: On Madame Bovary and Salammbô (New Haven, CT, 2012), 148–149, in which I argue that Salammbô represents an attempt by Flaubert to produce a novel that would be entirely u­ nder the sign of authorial ­w ill, or volonté (as opposed to automaticity and habit). For Conrad’s “intense feeling” for Salammbô, see Yves Hervouet, The French Face of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge, 1990), 11 passim, where Conrad is quoted as writing (in 1911) that only Flaubert’s Salammbô was “pure aesthetics.” See also Hervouet’s extended discussion of Conrad’s (also Ford’s) involvement with Flaubert, 165–210. Cf. Ford’s statement in The March of Lit­ er­a­ture: “­T here was writing before Flaubert; but Flaubert and his coterie opened, as it w ­ ere, a win­dow through which one saw the literary scene from an entirely new a­ ngle. Perhaps more than anything e­ lse it was a m ­ atter of giving visibility to your pages” (cited by Hervouet, 192). 10. Joseph Conrad, “Prince Roman,” in Tales of Hearsay (London, 1925), 91–153. 11. Joseph Conrad, “Autocracy and War,” The North American Review 181, no.  584 (July 1905): 45–46. Conrad’s views on Rus­sia are closely entwined with his lifelong sense of Polishness and his painful personal history (his f­ ather was a Polish revolutionary exiled for his views, and both his parents died early from tuberculosis, no doubt aggravated by their conditions of life), a topic dealt with in greatest detail by Frederick R. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (New York, 1979) and with considerable brilliance by Geoffrey Galt Harpham, One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad (Chicago, 1997).

8. Versions of Regression 1. Rudyard Kipling, “A ­Matter of Fact,” in Many Inventions (New York, 1893), 181–201 (hereafter “MF”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 2. Jack London, Martin Eden (1909; repr., Harmonds­worth, UK, 1985), 174–175 (hereafter ME). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text.


Notes to Pages 267–276

3. See Michael Twyman, Printing 1770–1970 (London, 1998), 50. 4. In a seemingly opposed but in fact complementary register, the next chapter (16) narrates Martin’s heroic but abhorrent l­abors in a laundry, which involve starching and pressing hundreds of white shirts—­a ­battle not with pulp but still understandable in terms of something like the manufacture of paper, which is to say, of a kind of regression from writing and a fortiori from publication. 5. R. B. Cunninghame Graham, “Pro­g ress,” in Pro­g ress (London, 1905), 1–61 (hereafter “P”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 6. H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, ed. Robert M. Philmus (Athens, GA, 1993) (hereafter IDM). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. The basic text is of the first American edition. 7. It hardly needs stating that Prendick’s horrified, disgusted description of the “black-­ faced creature” and the other Beast Folk trades on contemporaneous racialist discourse to achieve some portion of its effect. What is less obvious is Wells’s attitude ­towards that discourse: as Philmus remarks, the first draft of the novel contains more blatantly racialist passages than the final version, and even in that draft “­there are signs of Wells’s growing consciousness of the prejudices to which his class background has rendered him particularly liable” (IDM, xxii). Philmus also finds in both versions the suggestion of a satire or at least a commentary on the colonial enterprise (IDM, xxii). See also Timothy Christensen, “The ‘Bestial Mark’ of Race in The Island of Doctor Moreau,” Criticism 46, no. 4 (2004): 575–595, and Rambler, “Race and Ecocriticism in The Island of Dr. Moreau,” Literary Ramblings, December 4, 2014, http://­w ww​.­literaryramblings​ .­com​/­1000​-­books​-­in​-­10​-­years​-­vol​-­399​-­t he​-­island​-­of​-­dr​-­moreau​-­by​-­h​-­g​-­wells. 8. Rudyard Kipling, “The Mark of the Beast” (1890), in Collected Stories, ed. Robert Gottlieb (New York, 1994), 293–307. T ­ oward the climax of the story the leper (called “the Silver Man”) is tortured with heated gun barrels to force him to remove a curse from an En­glishman. A brief excerpt: I understood then how men and ­women and ­l ittle ­children can endure to see a witch burnt alive; for the beast was moaning on the floor, and although the Silver Man had no face, you could see horrible feelings passing through the slab that took its place, exactly as waves of heat play across red-­hot iron—­ gun-­barrels for instance. Strickland [a friend of the narrator] shaded his eyes with his hands for a moment and we got to work. This part is not to be printed. (304) Two other passages in Kipling are worth citing in this connection. In the first, from the early novel The Light that Failed (1891), the artist-­journalist Dick Heldar in a skirmish in the desert is said to have “fired his revolver into a black, foam-­flecked face which forthwith ceased to bear any resemblance to a face,” and of another dead Arab we are told that “his upturned face lacked one eye” (The Light that Failed [Harmonds­worth, UK, 1970], 27–28). (The eye had been gouged out by Heldar’s friend Torpenhow.) The second is the scene in Captains Courageous (1896) in which the youths Dan and Harvey retrieve from the sea the body of the dead Frenchman buried two days before! The hook had caught him ­under the right armpit, and he swayed, erect and horrible, head and shoulders above ­water. His arms ­were tied to his side, and—he had no face. The

Notes to Pages 278–281


boys fell over each other in a heap at the bottom of the dory, and ­t here they lay while the ­t hing bobbed alongside, held on the shortened line. (Captains Courageous [New York, 1982], 98) 9. See Basil Kahan, Ottmar Mergenthaler: The Man and His Machine (New C ­ astle, DE, 1999), 40. See also Justin Kaplan, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography (New York, 1966): The London Times was using a rotary type caster, patented in 1881, which worked so fast . . . ​t hat instead of distributing type at the end of the run the printers simply melted it down and started all over again with fresh type. This bypass of the h­ uman analogy [on which the Paige typesetting machine was to be based] was the basic princi­ple of Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine, which cast its own type from its own matrices in single slugs of a line’s length which ­were afterwards thrown back into the melting pot. Mergenthaler was to sweep the field. (282; emphasis added) Twain, of course, staked his entire fortune on a rival machine, the Paige typesetter, which unlike the Mergenthaler Linotype machine was based on the movements of a ­human typesetter and largely for that reason continually broke down. The implicit relation of “the h­ uman analogy” and the “bypass” to the thematics of monstrosity in Wells’s novel invites further reflection. 10. Interestingly, Wells reports in Experiment in Autobiography that a Miss Healy criticized his poems for lacking feet. See Wells, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (New York, 1934), 250. ­T here is also a suggestive detail in the first draft’s version of “Doctor Moreau Explains.” Before commencing his explanation, Moreau insists that Prendick join him in smoking a cigar; and a­ fter reporting Moreau’s account of the discovery of the dead Kanaka and the ­rifle barrel curved into an S-­shape, Prendick writes: “He became ­silent. I sat in silence watching him, with my dead cigar in my fin­gers” (IDM, 134). Sometimes a cigar is just a pen. 11. As Philmus remarks (“Introducing Moreau,” xxx, xlviin65), Moreau’s views are very close to t­ hose expressed by Wells himself in “Province of Pain,” an article published in Science and Art (February 1894): 58–59. The article concludes with Wells saying that the province of pain is above all a limited and transitory one; a phase through which life must pass on its evolution from the automatic to the spiritual; and, so far as we can tell, among all the hosts of space, pain is found only on the surface of this ­little planet. (H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, ed. R.  M. Philmus and D.  Y. Hughes [Berkeley, CA, 1975], 198–199) Note, by the way, the curious connection Wells draws between the province of pain and the surface of the earth. Earlier in the article, he writes: “The province of pain . . . ​ in man . . . ​is merely the surface of his body, with ‘spheres of influence,’ rather than proper possessions in the interior, and the centre seat of pain is in the mind” (196). The concept of surface, of course, has a certain bearing on literary impressionism as it has been presented in this book, and its prominence in Wells’s article suggests that writerly considerations may have been entangled with strictly scientific ones.


Notes to Pages 282–292

12. Another marker of a certain shortfall of theoretical consistency in Wells’s novel is the characterization of the hypnotic pro­cess by which the Beast Folk are made to internalize the Law as a kind of “grafting” (73), “implant[ing]” (82), and “weaving” (83), rather than imprinting or stamping, which would seem more consistent with a writerly metaphorics—­t hough on the same page as the last of ­t hese references, Moreau is said to have taken animals “and stamped the ­human form upon them” (83). It is tempting to think that if the Law r­ eally w ­ ere woven into the Beast Folk, they would not revert, which is to say that it is b­ ecause the Law is only stamped or imprinted upon or into them that reversion occurs. But neither Moreau nor Wells is in control of any such argument. On pain in Wells’s novel, see Dylan Ravenfox, “Race, Animality, and the Language of Pain in The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells,” Postanimal Reviews, March 29, 2010, http://­postanimality​.­wordpress​.­com​/­critical​-­a nimal​-­essays​/race-­a ni­​ mality​-­a nd​-­t he​-­language​-­of​-­pain​-­in​-­t he​-­island​-­of​-­dr​-­moreau. 13. Rudyard Kipling, “Wireless,” in Collected Stories, 553–573 (hereafter “W”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 14. Another Kipling story involving something like regression, in this case, to earlier lives, is “The Finest Story in the World” (1891), in which a young aspiring writer named Charlie Mears finds himself channeling the experiences of a Viking adventurer and a Greek galley slave (in Kipling, Collected Stories, 259–289). 15. Frank Norris, “The Joyous Miracle” (New York, 1906), 1–27 (hereafter “JM”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. Originally published in The Wave, October 9, 1897, ­under the title “Miracle Joyeux,” and republished in McClure’s Magazine in December 1898.

9. How Literary Impressionism Ended 1. Ford Madox Ford, “Coda,” in Return to Yesterday (New York, 1932), 392–417 (hereafter “C”). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. See also Ford’s account of Lewis’s diatribe t­ oward the end of Ford, Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 289–291. 2. Lewis has been the focus of much serious critical work during the past de­cades. See, for example, Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 2 vols. (Berkeley, CA, 1976); Reed Way Dasenbrock, The Literary Vorticism of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis: T ­ owards the Condition of Painting (Baltimore, 1985); Andrzej Gaiorek, Alice Reeve-­Tucker, and Nathan Waddell, eds., Wyndham Lewis and the Cultures of Modernity (Milton Park, UK, 2016); Fredric Jameson, Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist (Berkeley, CA, 1979); Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis (New York, 1954); Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley, CA, 1971); Timothy Matterer, Vortex: Pound, Eliot, and Lewis (Ithaca, NY, 1979); Tyrus Miller, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Wyndham Lewis (Cambridge, 2016); Vincent Sherry, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Radical Modernism (New York, 1983); and Lisa Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Po­liti­cal Life (Oxford, 2012). 3. Cited by David C. Smith, H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven, CT, 1986), 85.

Notes to Pages 292–313


4. Henry James: A Life in Letters, ed. Philip Horne (Harmonds­worth, UK, 2000), 377– 378; emphasis in original. 5. Letter of January 12, 1891, in The Letters of Henry James, ed. Percy Lubbock, 2 vols. (New York, 1920), 1:176; emphasis in original. 6. Lubbock, The Letters of Henry James, 2:207–209; emphasis in original. 7. Ford Madox Ford, “Techniques” (1935), in Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford, ed. Frank McShane (Lincoln, NE, 1964), 60 (hereafter “T”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 8. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1990) (hereafter T ). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 9. Stephen Crane, Maggie, in Prose and Poetry, ed. J. C. Levenson (New York, 1984), 31. 10. H. G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes (London, 1994), 48–49 (hereafter S). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 11. Robert Louis Stevenson in collaboration with Lloyd Osborne, The Ebb-­Tide: A Trio and a Quartette, ed. David Daiches (London, 1994) (hereafter ET). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 12. Rudyard Kipling, “The Dog Hervey,” in A Diversity of Creatures (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1987), 123–142 (hereafter “DH”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 13. In another Kipling story of the same year, “Friendly Brook,” one character, Jim Wickenden’s ­mother, suffers an illness depriving her of speech, so she communicates by writing words on a small slate. The story also includes a drowned corpse, but nothing is made of its face other than as a basis for identification. See Rudyard Kipling, “Friendly Brook,” in A Diversity of Creatures, ed. Paul Driver (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1987), 61–72. 14. Joseph Conrad, Victory (New York, 1915) (hereafter V). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 15. In this general connection, it is striking that the arrival of Jones and his companions in Samburan is described in terms of upturned f­ aces. Jones himself is seen “doubled up over the tiller in a queer, uncomfortable attitude of drooping sorrow.” However: “Another man [Martin], more directly below Heyst, sprawled on his back from gunwale to gunwale, half off the ­a fter thwart, his head lower than his feet. This second man glared wildly upward, and strug­gled to raise himself, but to all appearance was much too drunk to succeed” (V, 227). And a page or so l­ ater: The sprawling man rolled off the thwart, collapsed, and, most unexpectedly, got on his feet. He swayed dizzily, spreading his arms out, and uttered faintly a hoarse, dreamy “Hallo!” His upturned face was swollen, red, peeling all over the nose and cheeks. His stare was irrational. Heyst perceived stains of dried blood all over the front of his dirty white coat, and also on one sleeve. (V, 228) 16. See Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1987), 142–143n. 17. Rudyard Kipling, “Mary Postgate,” in Collected Stories, ed. Robert Gottlieb (New York, 1994), 613–629. 18. Rudyard Kipling, “Mrs. Bathurst,” in Collected Stories, 577–597 (hereafter “MB”). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. A serious essay by Barbara Everett of twenty-­five years ago mainly shows how difficult it is to arrive at a consistent


Notes to Page 314

understanding of Kipling’s astonishing story (“Kipling’s Lightning-­Flash,” London Review of Books 13 [January 10, 1991]: 12–15). But she is right to insist that the proper framework within which to approach “Mrs. Bathurst” is not modernism but something previous, which she associates with the 1890s (11). 19. Rudyard Kipling, “The Disturber of Traffic,” in Collected Stories, 33–53. Dowse eventually becomes convinced that the streaks ­were made by the steamers that came by, and together with his native assistant—­a brilliant swimmer—­constructs large cane floats which he then paints dark green with a white W (for “wreck”; more white writing) on them; when they are done, the assistant, Challong, deploys them in the channel, which has the result of discouraging ships from trying to steam through. It is as if the streaks represent some aberration or disturbance of writing, or at least of the normally blank page, and as if the cane floats with their W’s are an attempt to rectify the situation. What makes this concatenation of writing-­related motifs all the more striking is the surprisingly early date “The Disturber of Traffic” was composed: 1891 saw the young Crane working as a reporter in Asbury Park and composing his early tales and sketches; Maggie, his breakthrough short novel, dates from two years l­ater. But in Kipling’s bizarre narrative—­what is one to make of it, ­a fter all?—­literary impressionist or, say, proto-­i mpressionist topoi and issues are already in play. 20. Two other pieces of writing from this period in Conrad’s c­ areer signal a related sense of crisis. The first is a story, “­Because of the Dollars” (dated January 1914), featuring the same Davidson who plays a role in Victory, and crucially involving a villainous Frenchman without hands who batters victims to death with a seven-­pound weight tied to his right stump, a detail that makes the strongest pos­si­ble contrast with Heyst’s exchange with Jones to the effect that he, Heyst, was “unarmed.” The Frenchman’s victim in the story is a prostitute called Laughing Anne, a name that chimes suggestively with “Lena” (think of Heyst’s playing with “detached letters and loose syllables” to come up with the latter). The implication would seem to be that the alternative to being “unarmed” was some sort of brute prosthesis that could scarcely hope to produce writing worth the name (Joseph Conrad, “­Because of the Dollars,” in Within the Tides [1915; repr., Harmonds­worth, UK, 1978], 149–183). It is perhaps worth mentioning that Davidson eventually sends Laughing Anne’s orphaned son to “the White F ­ athers in Malacca” (182), a tiny gesture t­ oward erasure. Then t­ here is what I take to be the climactic scene narrated by Marlow in the novel Chance (1913), where the young Powell on the poop of a ship finds himself looking down into a cabin through a pane of clear glass that had replaced a pane of colored glass that would have impeded his vision. Powell’s account (or rather, Marlow’s retelling of Powell’s account) of what he saw and did goes on for pages, almost in slow motion, so as to leave the reader in no doubt of its thematic significance. Basically, Powell has a privileged view from above and b­ ehind of Captain Anthony sitting and reading while sipping from a drink; at one point the captain leaves the cabin, and Powell is surprised to see an arm and hand emerge from ­behind a curtain and seemingly put something into the captain’s drink, which leads Powell to quit the poop and enter the cabin to prevent the captain from drinking from what Powell correctly takes to be the poisoned tumbler. Powell says, “Doctored! I swear it! I have seen. Doctored! I have seen.” (Joseph Conrad, Chance [Harmonds­worth, UK, 1974], 347). ­T here follows:

Notes to Page 316


Not a feature of the captain’s face moved. His was a calm to take one’s breath away. It did so to the young Powell. Then for the first time Anthony made himself heard to the point. “You did! . . . ​W ho was it?” And Powell gasped freely at last. “A hand,” he whispered fearfully, “a hand and the arm—­only the arm—­l ike that.” He advanced his own, slow, stealthy, tremulous in faithful reproduction, the tips of two fin­gers and the thumb pressed together and hovering above the glass for an instant—­t hen the swift jerk back, ­a fter the deed. “Like that,” he repeated, growing excited. “From ­behind this.” He grasped the curtain and glaring at the ­silent Anthony flung it back disclosing the forepart of the saloon. T ­ here was no one to be seen. (347) The would-be poisoner is de Barral, the swindler ­father of Captain Anthony’s young wife Flora (and also, significantly, a master of factitious advertising); slightly l­ater, de Barral ­w ill deliberately down the drink and fall dead. H ­ ere, too, I see the focus on de Barral’s hand and arm in contrast with Heyst’s insistence that he is “unarmed,” and more broadly, with Conrad’s nearing the end of his writerly proj­ect; the work of the hand and arm h­ ere is simply death dealing, and the clear pane that replaced the colored one represents a “failed” mode of erasure. (Note that the two fin­gers and thumb that are specifically mentioned are the parts of the hand particularly engaged in writing.) 21. H. G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through (New York, 1916). 22. To all intents and purposes, my account of literary impressionism has reached its conclusion, but a brief consideration of another well-­k nown Kipling story, “The Eye of Allah” (1926), seems too relevant to forego (in Kipling, Collected Stories, 801–822). The narrative is set in the thirteenth c­ entury, in the Abbey of St. Illod’s in E ­ ngland. The central figure is an artist, John Otho, known as John of Burgos, a supremely gifted painter of manuscript illuminations. Early in the story he leaves for Spain, where he has a beautiful non-­Christian mistress, ­either Moorish or Jewish; twenty months ­later he returns, his mistress and newborn son having died in childbirth, bringing with him materials for making colors, and vari­ous medi­cations requested by Thomas the Infirmarion. Shortly afterward he is invited to a dinner by the Abbot of the monastery; ­others at the dinner are Thomas; the Oxford-­based scientist-­f riar, Roger Bacon; and a surgeon, Roger of Salerno, who has been summoned to the abbey to examine the Abbot’s lady, Anne of Norton, who is seriously ill. In the course of the dinner the talk turns to the church’s reactionary character as regards ­t hings of the mind, and then to John’s remarkable illuminations of the Magdalen being exorcised of seven demons and also of demons entering the Gadarene swine; it soon emerges that the figures of the demons, all of which are regarded by the com­pany as amazingly original, ­were inspired by the sight of tiny creatures glimpsed in brackish w ­ ater with the aid of an early crystal microscope (the “Eye of Allah” of the title), acquired by John in Granada. John has the microscope with him, removes it from his case, and demonstrates its use. The rest of the story is quickly summarized. Roger Bacon is enthusiastic ­because the sight of such creatures confirms his own scientific leanings (“I see! I see!,” he repeats to himself as he looks through the device [819]), as is Roger of Salerno, who understands that it might play an impor­tant role in advancing medical knowledge


Notes to Pages 317–321 (Thomas had already mentioned the views of the ancient Roman scholar and writer, Varro, on what we would now call microorganisms). John is content merely to use the device to inspire his imagery. But the Abbot—­a well-­traveled and sophisticated man, no mere reactionary figurehead—­understands all too well that the Church would never tolerate its existence and smashes the crystals. “This birth, my sons, is untimely,” he tells the ­others. “It ­w ill be but the ­mother of more death, more torture, more division, and greater darkness in this dark age. Therefore I, who know both my world and the Church, take this Choice on my conscience. Go! It is finished.” He thrust the wooden part of the compasses deep among the beech logs till all was burned. (822) “The Eye of Allah” is a brilliant story simply in its own right. But might it also be read in terms of the vexed issues of seeing and writing (specifically, writing / drawing) that we have been tracking throughout this book? ­There can be no doubt, for example, that John of Burgos’s illuminations are to be visualized as a singularly compelling instance of writing / drawing in one of its historically most traditional forms, so the loss of the microscope w ­ ill have serious consequences for him. At the same time, it seems pos­si­ble to read the Abbot’s considered destruction of the crystal microscope as marking a reaction against what might be called the overvaluing of vision in the postimpressionist literary dispensation. Understood in this double light, “The Eye of Allah” may be read as seeking to position itself in relation to the values of literary impressionism at a moment when the latter survived as the remainder of a “movement” only in the work of a few older writers, notably Ford and Kipling himself.

Coda 1. See Blast 1 (1914; repr., Santa Barbara, CA, 1981); Blast 2 (1914; repr., Santa Barbara, CA, 1981). 2. Wyndham Lewis, “Bestre,” in The Complete Wild Body, ed. Bernard Lafourcade (Santa Barbara, CA, 1982), 77–88 (hereafter “B”). Further page references ­will be in parentheses in the text. The most useful discussion of “Bestre” I have found is by Scott W. Klein, “The Tell-­Tale Eye,” in The Fiction of James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis: Monsters of Nature and Design (Cambridge, 1994), 24–64. My thanks to Lisa Siraganian for steering me to this. 3. Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation,” in Look at Me Now and H ­ ere I Am: Writings and Lectures 1909–45, ed. Patricia Meyero­witz (Harmonds­worth, UK, 1971), 24. 4. Gertude Stein, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York, 1960), 70 (hereafter A). Further page references w ­ ill be in parentheses in the text. Also: “As she says eyes to her ­were more impor­tant than ears and it happened then as always that en­glish was her only language” (A, 74). And: “The theatre she has always cared for less. She says it goes too fast, the mixture of eye and ear bothers her and her emotion never keeps pace” (A, 75). Stein on the theater is a fascinating topic in its own right.

Notes to Pages 321–331


5. On Stein’s participation in experiments in automatic writing, and more broadly, her relations with William James, ­under whom she studied, see Steven Meyer, Inescapable Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science (Stanford, CA, 2001), and a short but in­ter­est­ing article by Barbara W ­ ill, “Gertrude Stein, Automatic Writing and the Mechanics of Genius,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 37 (April 2001): 164–175. Stein co­w rote two articles on the subject in 1896 and 1898 with Leon M. Solomons, both of which appeared in The Psychological Review; they are also available in the volume Motor Automatism (New York, 1969). W ­ ill usefully draws attention to the fact that in their article “Normal Motor Automatism” (1896), reference is also made to a strange doubling that emerges . . . ​during the pro­ cess of automatic writing. Thus in their discussion of the supposed distinction between hysterical automatism and normal automatism, Stein and Solomons insist that the two phenomena are essentially identical except for one key difference. While neither the normal person nor the hysteric can avoid performing in automatic ways, the normal person, even in a state of distraction, does have a certain control over attention that is lacking in the hysteric, enabling her or him to perform automatically while at the same time remaining “conscious” of the pro­cess. (173) Exactly what relevance such a finding has for the literary practices considered in this book is, of course, an open question. 6. Gertrude Stein, The Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, or The Relation of H ­ uman Nature to the ­Human Mind, in Writings 1932–46, ed. Catherine R. Stimpson and Harriet Chessman (New York, 1998), 367–488 (hereafter GH). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 7. Gertrude Stein, “What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are T ­ here So Few of Them?,” in Writings 1932–46, 355–363. 8. My account of Stein’s views is deeply indebted to Jennifer Ashton’s brilliant chapters on Stein in From Modernism to Post-­Modernism: American Poetry and Theory in the Twentieth ­Century (Cambridge, 2005), 30–94. I have also learned much from the pages on Stein in Lisa Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Po­liti­cal Life (Oxford, 2012). 9. See, in this connection, Elliott L. Vanskike, “ ‘Seeing Every­t hing as Flat’: Landscape in Gertrude Stein’s Useful Knowledge and The Geo­graph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca,” Texas Studies in Lit­er­a­ture and Language 35, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 151–167. 10. Eventually, but not ­here, it ­w ill be necessary to say something more about the strengths and limitations of Stein’s par­tic­u­lar brand of antitheatricality. But that she is throughout her c­ areer a radically antitheatrical thinker is beyond question. 11. Ford Madox Ford, “Introduction to A Farewell to Arms,” in Frank MacShane, Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford (Lincoln, NE, 1964), 127–136 (hereafter “I”). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 12. Ford Madox Ford, “W. H. Hudson,” in Portraits from Life (Chicago, 1937), 62; emphasis added. 13. In fact, Ford had earlier said essentially this of Hudson in “The Work of W. H. Hudson” (1909), in Critical Essays, ed. Max Saunders and Richard Stang (Manchester, 2002), 68.


Notes to Pages 332–334

14. ­Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in The Essays of V ­ irginia Woolf, ed. Andrew McNeille, 5 vols. (London, 1984), 4:160–161. 15. ­Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (Mineola, NY, 1998) (hereafter JR). Further page references ­w ill be in parentheses in the text. 16. Another early Woolf narrative that fits the case is the famous short story (if that is what it is), “The Mark on the Wall” (1917), in The Mark on the Wall and Other Short Fiction, ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford, 2001); page references to this edition w ­ ill be in parentheses in what follows. It begins: “Perhaps it was the ­middle of January in the pres­ent year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall” (3). The rest of the text returns continually to the mark, speculating as to its nature, and just as continually departs from it, following one or another chain of thoughts and associations. For example: But as for that mark, I’m not sure about it; I ­don’t believe it was made by a nail ­after all; it’s too big, too round, for that. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I ­shouldn’t be able to say for certain; ­because once a ­thing’s done, no one ever knows how it happened. Oh! dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! (4) And: I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one ­t hing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that passes. . . . ​Shakespeare. . . . ​Well, he ­w ill do as well as another. (5; emphasis added) In other words, the mark on the wall, on the face of it a likely candidate for an impressionist motif, turns out to be anything but—­not a figure for writing, a surface practice par excellence, but rather a trigger for generating a mode of literary discourse that would very soon come to be called “stream of consciousness,” in which psychic mobility reigns and objects as such are in effect suspended and dissolved. (In the last two very short paragraphs of the text we learn that the mark on the wall was a snail.) Cf. Jesse Matz, Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics (Cambridge, 2001), 182–187.


As I explain in the Introduction, What Was Literary Impressionism? has been a long time in preparation, from the moment when I first saw that such a book was feasible. The a­ ctual writing of the bulk of the manuscript, once I committed myself to it, went fairly quickly, but then t­ here was the question of seeing the manuscript into print, which was resolved when I submitted it to Harvard University Press. My sincere thanks, then, to Lindsay ­Waters, who expertly shepherded it through the ac­cep­tance pro­cess, as well as to Isobel Armstrong and Michael Clune for helpful comments and suggestions. Someone ­else who contributed greatly to this book especially during the years of its inception is my then Johns Hopkins colleague Walter Benn Michaels; in par­tic­u­lar, two seminars that we taught jointly on late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century En­glish and American fiction proved im­mensely helpful in shaping my understanding of the stakes of the pres­ent study. Anyone who has ever taught or studied with Michaels w ­ ill know exactly what I mean. As always, conversations over the years with Ruth Leys have been a source of tremendous encouragement. In addition, the interest and support of Jennifer Ashton, Stephen Bann, Stanley Cavell, Laurence Davies, Leonardo Lisi, Charles Palermo, Robert Pippin, Lisa Siraganian, and the late Allen Grossman have also been impor­tant to me. Portions of Chapter 1 w ­ ere first published as “Almayer’s Face: On ‘Impressionism’ in Conrad, Crane, and Norris,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 1 (Autumn




1990): 193–236. A version of Chapter 5 was first published as “ ‘A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against’: On Conrad’s The Secret Agent,” ELH 79, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 1039–1071. Portions of Chapter 8 w ­ ere first published as “Impressionist Monsters: H. G. Wells’s ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau,’ ” in Frankenstein, Creation and Monstrosity, ed. Stephen Bann (London: Reaktion Books, 1994), 95–112. My thanks to Critical Inquiry, ELH, and Reaktion Books for their permission to reuse that material h­ ere. Thanks also to Ann Woodward and Lael Ensor at Johns Hopkins, to John Womack Jr. at Harvard, and to Jonathan Rosenwasser at Widener Library for their assistance with illustrations. Special thanks are owed to Charles Palermo for allowing me to adapt an essay by him on Ford’s The Good Soldier in Chapter 3 (pp. 98–118). I thought it essential to include an account of that remarkable novel in this book, and Palermo’s account of it could not, it seemed to me, be bettered. One last acknowl­edgment: between January and June  2017 I put the final touches to my manuscript u­ nder ideal conditions thanks to a generous fellowship from the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung in Munich. My warmest thanks to Professor Heinrich Meier, director of the Stiftung, for making this pos­si­ble. What Was Literary Impressionism? is dedicated to the memory of arguably Conrad’s most passionate modern admirer, Edward Said.


Note: Page numbers in italics indicate figures. Advertising, 87, 153, 153, 293 ­ fter Dinner at Ornans (Courbet), 2, 5 A “Against Theory” (Knapp and Michaels), 26 Agency, writer’s, 145 Albino, in The Invisible Man, 84 Aldington, Richard, 139 Alliteration, 61, 62, 250, 264 “Almayer’s Face” (Fried), 23 Almayer’s Folly (Conrad), 23, 28–57, 146, 311; blankness in, 32–33, 37, 38; desire in, 31; erasure in, 35, 36–37, 38, 39, 42, 49, 127, 252; ­faces in, 29, 32–33, 35, 37, 43, 126, 275, 347–348n17; first page of, 40; forgiving in, 31; shadows in, 344n7; vio­lence in, 182–183; Wells’s review of, 62 Ambassadors, The (James), 293 Anarchists, 184. See also The Secret Agent Antitheatricality, 327 Anxiety, blank page and, 53 Arctic, 83, 84 Audience, indifference to, 327 Aural, relation with visual, 298, 299–301, 304, 308–309, 314 Author: agency of, 145; invisibility of, 74, 77, 79, 293–294; relation with page, 56 Authorial double, absence of, 174 Autobiography: Ford’s (see Portraits from Life; Return to Yesterday); Hudson’s, 93; Wells’s, 74, 84–85, 88, 91, 153, 195–196, 197, 251 Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Stein), 321–322 “Autocracy and War” (Conrad), 259 Automatic phenomena, 104

Automatic writing, 103, 108, 122, 321 Automatism, 26, 92, 137; in “Bestre,” 319; in Conrad’s works, 180; in Cunninghame Graham’s works, 131; in The Secret Agent, 163, 166 Automimesis, 22 Autosuggestion, 22, 372–373n40

Bailin, Miriam, 105 Bann, Stephen, 23 “Beast in the Jungle, The” (James), 23, 156–160, 293 “Beattock for Moffat” (Cunninghame Graham), 132–133, 298–299 “­Because of the Dollars” (Conrad), 182, 244, 382n20 Beresford, J. D., 197 Berryman, John, 7 “Bestre” (Lewis), 317–320 Birds, 298; aerial nature of, 64, 65; in Green Mansions, 66–67; Hudson and, 58, 63, 64; language of, 64–66; in Return to Yesterday, 122–123 Birds and Man (Hudson), 63, 64 Bismarck, Otto von, 259 Black and white, 123–124, 313–314; in Conrad’s works, 49–50, 51, 313; in Ford’s works, 124; in The Soul of London, 95–96, 97; in When the Sleeper Wakes, 152, 153, 156 “Black Mate, The” (Conrad), 40–42 Blackness: blankness associated with, 52; in ­Under Western Eyes, 253, 257




Blankness, 31, 288; in Almayer’s Folly, 32–33, 37, 38; associated with whiteness and blackness, 52; in Conrad’s works, 37, 62, 252; erasure and, 37; in French, 51–52; in Heart of Darkness, 53; in The Invisible Man, 79; in “The Joyous Miracle,” 288–289; in Lord Jim, 46; on maps, 52–53; Norris’s, 37; in Nostromo, 50–51; of paper, 39; and The Secret Agent, 62, 162–164, 172, 174, 252; in “The Secret Sharer,” 49; understood materially, 252; in “Youth,” 56 “ ‘Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against, A’ ” (Fried), 23 Blast, 290, 291, 295, 306, 329 Blindness, 261, 262–263, 264 Bolas, 93 Bourdin, Martial, 184–185, 245 Bowkett, Sidney, 84 Brawne, Fanny, 286 Burroughs, Edgar Rice, 23, 296–298, 301, 306, 309, 314

Captains Courageous (Kipling), 378–379n8 ­Career, literary, 136 Catriona (Stevenson), 292–293 Chance (Conrad), 376n3, 382–383n20 Charts: in Heart of Darkness, 214; in Kim, 216–217; in The Riddle of the Sands, 202–211, 204–205, 251; in “The Tale,” 213–215, 218. See also Maps Childers, Erskine, 23, 24, 198, 251–252, 295. See also The Riddle of the Sands Chimney sweep, Ford on, 118–120 “Clean breast,” in The Secret Agent, 370n20 Composition, 321 “Composition as Explanation” (Stein), 320–321 “Com-” prefix, 246 Confessions (Rousseau), 236 “Confidence,” 242–244, 246 “Con-” prefix, in ­Under Western Eyes, 244–248, 376n5 Conrad, Joseph, 22, 23, 24, 251; admiration of Hudson, 93, 121; admirers of,

166; authorial control, 252; “Autocracy and War,” 259; “­Because of the Dollars,” 182, 244, 382n20; black and white in works of, 49–50; “The Black Mate,” 40–42; blankness and, 37, 62, 252; blank page and, 46; Chance, 376n3, 382–383n20; choice of En­g lish, 52; description of, 249; detachment and, 174, 183, 248–249, 303, 304, 306; distinction between pen and page, 38, 39; doubling by, 47–49; “The Duel,” 145–150; end of c­ areer, 314; erasure and, 39, 48, 52, 62, 127, 137, 149, 150, 236, 252, 294–295; Ford on, 120; gazing and, 38, 39; Heart of Darkness, 43, 52–53, 56–57, 74, 214; heroes of, 43; impressionism of, 39, 249; inspiration, 38–39; interpretations of works, 43; ironic method of, 162, 163, 167, 168, 173, 176, 177, 183; “The Lagoon,” 47; letter to aunt, 38–39; maps and, 214, 351n34; mobility of implied subject positions, 56; The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” 12, 38, 51–52, 93, 343–344n5; novelistic strengths, 229; as obsessional writer, 43; An Outcast of the Islands, 47, 349n23; A Personal Rec­ord, 345n10, 351n34; proj­ect of, 252, 302 (see also Erasure); The Rescue, 345–346n10; sales of, 228; “The Secret Sharer,” 48; on silver, 50; in The Soul of London, 93–96; “The Tale,” 50, 211–215, 218; Tales of Unrest, 47; unreliability of, 47; vio­lence against hands and, 182–183; Wells on, 84, 85; writing for, 349– 350n25; writing life, 370n24; writing of Nostromo, 124; “Youth,” 52, 53–56, 127. See also ­Almayer’s Folly; Lord Jim; Nostromo; The Secret Agent; Under Western Eyes; Victory Consciousness, Ford’s model of, 358n17 “Contagion,” 179, 180–185, 244, 246, 372–373n40 Copying, 322 Corpses: descriptions of, 131 (see also “Odour of Chrysanthemums”; The Red Badge of Courage; “The Upturned Face”); engagement with, 143–144; in

Index “The Orchid-­Hunter,” 251; in U ­ nder Western Eyes, 241. See also ­Faces; ­Faces, upturned Courbet, Gustave, 1; ­After Dinner at ­Ornans, 5; The Stonebreakers, 2, 5 Courbet’s Realism (Fried), 2 Crane, Stephen, 7–16, 22, 25, 27, 137, 251, 295; automatism and, 92; “The Blue ­Hotel,” 21; commitment to impressionist proj­ect, 13; “Death and the Child,” 14, 21, 90, 221–225; disfigured ­f aces and, 139, 250; fire in works of, 73, 313; Five White Mice, 294; Ford on, 21, 127, 224; handwriting of, 21; implied relation between writer and page, 56; on impressionism, 294; impressionism of, 22, 35; as impressionist, 12; on journalism, 119; literary enterprise of, 224; Maggie, 14, 298, 346–347n14; “Manacled,” 73, 313; The Monster, 11–12, 14, 27, 29, 35, 73, 126, 144–145, 224, 275, 295, 313, 347n14; Norris’s view of, 21; as obsessional writer, 43; “The Price of the Harness,” 21; proj­ect of, 15–16; prose of, 14–15; The Red Badge of Courage, 7, 13, 20, 21, 62, 125–126, 346–347n14; repre­sen­t a­t ion of shadows, 344–345n7; repression of materiality of writing, 78–79; s / c doublet, 21, 22, 144, 222, 224, 295; The Soul of London and, 93, 96–97; “Tent Life at Ocean Grove,” 344–345n7; understanding of writerly enterprise, 20; upturned f­ aces of, 13 (see also ­Faces, upturned; “The Upturned Face”); use of alliteration, 62; use of dialect, 298; use of “line,” 276; use of “writhing,” 265; “The Veteran,” 14, 73, 313; Wells on, 84, 85; “When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers,” 127. See also “The Upturned Face” Criticism, deconstructive, 350n28 Cunninghame Graham, R. B., 23, 24, 25, 251, 294; “Beattock for Moffat,” 132–133, 298–299; ­faces in works of, 127–133; Ford on, 127, 132; “A Hegira,” 132; journeys in works of, 132; paralleling by, 132; “Pro­g ress,” 267–271, 280; “Snow in


Monteith,” 375n2; use of dialect, 298–299 “Cynicism,” 246

“Dayspring Mishandled” (Kipling), 74 “Dead Man’s Plack” (Hudson), 138–140 Deafness, in ­Under Western Eyes, 50, 235, 237 Death: by fire, 71–72, 73; in The Good ­Soldier, 116, 117; Hudson on, 63; in In the Days of the Comet, 86–87; inviolability of, 142; in The Invisible Man, 84; in Vandover and the Brute, 82 “Death and the Child” (Crane), 14, 21, 90, 221–225 Deathlessness, of inorganic, 165–166 Deconstruction, 180, 350n28 Denial: Hudsonian, 62, 64; of materiality of writing, 65 Derrida, Jacques, 26 Desire: in Almayer’s Folly, 31; unconscious, 104–105 Detachment, 174, 182, 185, 259; in The Secret Agent, 183; in ­Under Western Eyes, 248–249; in Victory, 303, 304, 306; in The War of the Worlds, 197 Devices: in Crane’s work, 250; strug­gle with imagery, 295 Dialect, 250, 298–299 Dictation, 359n19 Digression / distraction, 92–93, 105–108, 110, 117, 118, 137, 251, 360n19 Disfiguration, 29, 218. See also ­Faces, disfigured Display, emphasis on, 292 Dissociation, 102–103 Dissociation of a Personality, The (Prince), 102–103 Distraction, 92–93, 97, 104, 105, 251 “Disturber of Traffic, The” (Kipling), 314 “Dog Hervey, The” (Kipling), 301 Double-­m indedness, 251 Doubling: association with erasure, 349n23; by Conrad, 47–49; in The Good Soldier, 112 Drawing, 322; integration with writing, 73–74, 197; written, 216–217 Dual personality, 102–103



“Duel, The” (Conrad), 145–150 D. Z., 290–291, 293. See also Lewis, Wyndham

Eakins, Thomas, 1–7; The Gross Clinic, 1, 2, 3; Professor Henry A. Rowland, 3, 7; in Realism, Writing, Disfiguration, 6; trained as writing master, 6 Ebb-­Tide (Stevenson), 299–301 En­glish (language): Conrad’s choice of, 52; as literary language, 121 En­glish Review, 290 Erasure, 212, 236; in Almayer’s Folly, 35, 36–37, 38, 39, 43, 49, 127, 252; association with doubling, 349n23; in “The Black Mate,” 41–42; blankness and, 37; Conrad and, 39–53, 62, 137, 149, 150, 236, 252, 294–295, 302; deafness as, 236–238; in “The Duel,” 150; in Lord Jim, 43, 52; modalities of, 41; in Nostromo, 51, 237; An Outcast of the Islands as, 349n23; in The Secret Agent, 169, 174, 175, 252; in “The Secret Sharer,” 48; in “The Tale,” 215; in ­Under Western Eyes, 236–238, 252–259; in Victory, 302–303, 312; writing as, 127; in “Youth,” 54–56 Experiment in Autobiography (Wells), 74, 84–85, 88, 91, 153, 195–196, 197, 251 “Eye of Allah, The” (Kipling), 74, 383–384n22 Eye(s): in “Bestre,” 320; face as figure for, 126; glass, 63–64; in The Invisible Man, 80; in “The Orchid-­Hunter,” 128, 129, 130 “Eyes,” in ­Under Western Eyes, 253

“Face,” in ­Under Western Eyes, 253 Facelessness, 29, 30 ­Faces: in Almayer’s Folly, 35, 126, 275, 347–348n17; in “Bestre,” 318, 319; in Cunninghame Graham’s works, 127–133; in The Good Soldier, 115; in Green Mansions, 67–74, 126, 354n21; in In the Days of the Comet, 87–88; in The Invisible Man, 126; in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 273–277, 279; in Lord Jim, 44–45, 277; in Martin Eden,

265–267, 276; in The Monster, 275; obliteration of, 35; in The Riddle of the Sands, 208–209; in The Secret Agent, 169, 170–171; in ­Under Western Eyes, 233 ­Faces, blank / expressionless, 32–33, 37, 42, 237 ­Faces, disfigured, 35, 295; in Almayer’s Folly, 29; in Captains Courageous, 378–379n8; Crane and, 250 (see also The Monster); fights and, 133–138; in Green Mansions, 69; in The Invisible Man, 80; in Kim, 217, 218; in The Light That Failed, 378n8; in Martin Eden, 133–138; in “A ­Matter of Fact,” 263–264; as meta­phor for page, 139–140; in Tono-­Bungay, 365–366n19; as trope of impressionism, 125; in Vandover and the Brute, 82; in When the Sleeper Wakes, 374n12 ­Faces, upturned, 7–11, 126–127, 276; in Crane’s work, 13, 15, 250; in “Dead Man’s Plack,” 139–140; in “The Duel,” 145–150; in Green Mansions, 69, 73, 74; in Heart of Darkness, 56; in Hudson’s works, 60–61; in In the Days of the Comet, 87; in The Invisible Man, 80, 84; in Lawrence’s works, 141–145; in “The Orchid-­Hunter,” 251; in The Red Badge of Courage, 125–126; smiling, 60; as trope of impressionism, 125, 126–128; in ­Under Western Eyes, 241; in Victory, 381n15; in “Youth,” 56, 127 Facial expressions, in Almayer’s Folly, 32–33 Facing, in Lord Jim, 44–45 Farewell to Arms, A (Hemingway), 327 Fatness, in The Secret Agent, 164–165 Fights, 133–138, 265–267, 276 “Finest Story in the World, The” (Kipling), 380n14 Fire, 71–72, 73; in Crane’s works, 313 (see also The Monster); in Green Mansions, 313; in Kipling’s works, 313; in Victory, 305, 313 First Men in the Moon, The (Wells), 85, 376–377n8 First World War, 198, 314–316 Five White Mice (Crane), 294 Flammability, of paper, 313 Flatness, Wells’s use of, 85

Index Flaubert, Gustave, 293, 377n9 Fog, 56, 213 Fogel, Aaron, 182 Food of the Gods, The (Wells), 86 Ford, Boris, 249 Ford, Ford Madox, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27; account of end of impressionism, 290; admiration of Hudson, 59–60, 93, 121; black and white and, 95–96, 97, 124; on Conrad, 120; on cook, 123–124; on Crane, 21, 127, 224; on Cunninghame Graham, 127, 132; digression and, 92–93, 105–108, 110, 117, 118, 137, 251; on Hemingway, 327–331; on Hudson, 61, 65, 66, 70, 330; on impressionism, 294; impressionism of, 89–124; and inspiration for The Secret Agent, 184; interest in hypnotism, 105; on invisibility, 79; It Was the Nightingale, 110, 359–360n19; The Last Post, 150–151; on Lewis, 290–291, 306; love of France, 122; on methods of writing, 359–360n19; model of consciousness, 358n17; “Nice ­People,” 360n21; No ­Enemy, 375n18; on “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” 144; Parade’s End, 150–151; Portraits from Life, 97, 140–141, 144; question of writing and, 251; relation to London, 91–94; repetition by, 122; Return to Yesterday, 118–124, 251, 290; scene of writing and, 362–363n26; self-­awareness in act of writing, 97; and self-­effacement of author, 293–294; The Soul of London, 89–97, 118, 124, 251, 355–356n10; suggestibility and, 357–358n17; unreliability of, 47, 119; view of Blast, 317; Wells on, 84, 85; writing and, 103, 107–108. See also The Good Soldier Forgetting, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36 France, Ford’s love of, 122 Frankenstein, 272 French (language): blankness in, 51–52; as literary language, 121; possibility of Conrad using, 122; in ­Under Western Eyes, 243 Fried, Michael, 63; “Almayer’s Face,” 23; “ ‘A Blankness to Run At and Dash Your Head Against,’ ” 23; Courbet’s Realism, 2; Realism, Writing, Disfiguration, 6–7,


9–11, 13, 15–16, 63; “Stephen Crane’s Upturned ­Faces,” 9–11, 12, 14, 15, 21, 26, 43, 62, 73, 90, 125, 127, 221, 250, 276, 294 “Friendly Brook” (Kipling), 381n13 Friesland, 209–211

Galsworthy, John, 61, 172 Garnett, Edward, 59 Gazing, Conrad’s emphasis on, 39 Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, The (Stein), 323–327 Gide, André, 43, 166 Good Soldier, The (Ford), 27, 98–118, 251, 290; as automatic writing, 122; in Blast, 291; death in, 116, 117; digression / distraction in, 105–107; doubling in, 112; dual personality in, 102–103; ­faces in, 115; hypnotism in, 103, 116; impulses in, 100–102, 107; logic of, 116–117; negativity in, 361n23; passion in, 103, 356n13, 357n16; repetition in, 111; suggestion in, 103, 104; unconscious desires in, 104–105; unconscious in, 103; unreliability in, 99, 356–357n13; writing in, 105, 116 Graphics (Peale), 6, 11 Green Mansions (Hudson), 59, 61, 66–74; f­ aces in, 67–74, 126, 354n21; fire in, 313; flower in, 253n16; hummingbirds in, 66–67; integration of drawing and writing in, 197; language in, 67, 70; maps in, 225–227; moth in, 71–72; shadow-­ casting in, 119; snakes / serpents in, 72, 74 Greenwich Observatory, 163, 173, 184–185 Grey, Edward, 59, 61, 65, 123, 140 Grey, Zane, 183 Gross, Samuel, 1 Gross Clinic, The (Eakins), 1, 2, 3 Guerard, Albert J., 182 Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), 273

Hands: in “­Because of the Dollars,” 382n20; in Chance, 382–383n20; in Conrad’s works, 82, 83, 182–183; in The Secret Agent, 181–183; in ­Under Western Eyes, 244–245; in Vandover and the Brute, 82, 83; vio­lence against, 183



Handwriting, 21, 280, 322 Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, 182 Heart of Darkness (Conrad), 43, 52–53, 56–57, 74, 214 “Hegira, A” (Cunninghame Graham), 132 Hemingway, Ernest, 24, 327–331, 334; A Farewell to Arms, 327; In Our Time, 328–331 Hervey, Henry, 301 Hind in Richmond Park, A (Hudson), 66 History of Mr. Polly, The (Wells), 299 Horizontal orientation, 19 Horizontal plane, 4, 6–7, 11, 222 Howells, W. D., 292 Hudson, W. H., 22, 23, 24, 58–74, 123, 251, 295; admiration for, 59–60, 93, 121, 139, 330; aesthetic death of, 63; autobiography, 93; biography, 58–59; birds and, 58, 63, 64; Birds and Man, 63, 64; “Dead Man’s Plack,” 138–140; denial and, 62, 64; fire in works of, 313; Ford on, 61, 65, 66, 70; A Hind in Richmond Park, 66; ideal of nature, 73; ideal of writing, 73; Idle Days in Patagonia, 59, 62–64; illusionism of, 70; impressionism of, 69, 140; The Naturalist in La Plata, 58–59; Nature in Downland, 60; prose of, 59–62, 139; on relation of visual and aural, 298; transparency and, 250–251; tropes of, 227; upturned f­ aces of, 60–61. See also Green Mansions Hueffer, Ford Madox. See Ford, Ford Madox “Husk,” in The Secret Agent, 372n34, 372n38 “Husky,” in The Secret Agent, 372n34 Hypnotism, 102–103, 104, 105, 108, 116

Idealism, contrast with materialism, 90 Identity, personal, 171 Idle Days in Patagonia (Hudson), 59, 62–64 Imagery: relation to act of writing, 295; strug­gle with devices, 295 Imperialism: maps and, 53; new, 56 Impersonality, and seeing London, 94 Impressionability, and seeing London, 94 Impressionism, literary, 39; basic idea of, 250; as conflicted, 295; Crane on, 294;

Crane’s, 22, 35; dates of, 25; as denial of materiality of writing, 65; end of, 290–316; engagement with scene of writing, 294; Ford on, 294; Ford’s, 89–124; Hemingway compared to, 330–331; Hudson’s, 69; Norris and, 84; Stein and, 322–323, 325; theory of in connection with Crane, 20–22; understanding of, 340n21; in ­Under Western Eyes, 232; viewpoint in, 319; Wells and, 84, 251 Impressionist, Crane as, 12 Impressions, 331 Imprint, in Return to Yesterday, 122 Inanimateness, in The Secret Agent, 164–166 Inorganic, deathlessness of, 165–166 In Our Time (Hemingway), 328–331 Inscription, act of, 250 Instability: in Martin Eden, 265–267; of printed text, 283 In the Days of the Comet (Wells), 86–88, 126, 222, 293 “In the Depths of a Coal Mine” (Crane), 90–91 Invisibility, 293–294; Hudson’s, 140, 330 (see also Hudson, W. H.); as ideal, 74, 77, 79; ­imagined as transparency, 77; materiality and, 74, 77. See also Green Mansions; The Invisible Man Invisible Man, The (Wells), 74–80; affective atmosphere of, 197; blankness in, 79; death in, 84; f­ aces in, 80, 84, 126; reading of, 74; repetition in, 78; transparency and, 75, 251; writtenness of, 78, 79 Iron Heel, The (London), 364–365n10 Ironic method, Conrad’s, 162, 163, 167, 168, 173, 176, 177, 183 Irony, 182 Island of Doctor Moreau, The (Wells), 85, 271–283; ­faces in, 273–277, 279; materialism in, 280–283; racialist discourse in, 378n7; summary of, 271–274; ­T hing in, 279–280 It Was the Nightingale (Ford), 110, 359–360n19

Jacobs, Carol, 98, 99 Jacob’s Room (Woolf), 332–334

Index James, Henry, 23, 153; The Ambassadors, 293; “The Beast in the Jungle,” 23, 156–160, 293; demand for visual, 293; on lit­er­a­ture of ­f uture, 292; on Stevenson, 301; Wells on, 84, 85 James, William, 321; on paper, 313; Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy, 63–64, 338n14 Johnson, Samuel, 301 Journalism, 293; contrasted with writing, 87; Crane’s, 119 Journalist, Wells as, 85, 88 Journeys, 132, 251 Journey to the Abyss (Kessler), 341–342n22 “Joyous Miracle, The” (Norris), 286–289, 322

Keats, John, 284, 285 Kermode, Frank, 249, 253, 257 Key word, in ­Under Western Eyes, 242–249 Kim (Kipling), 73–74, 215–218 Kipling, Rudyard, 23, 24, 25; Captains Courageous, 378–379n8; “Dayspring Mishandled,” 74; “The Disturber of Traffic,” 314; “The Dog Hervey,” 301; “The Eye of Allah,” 74, 383–384n22; “The Finest Story in the World,” 380n14; fire in works of, 313; “Friendly Brook,” 381n13; Kim, 73–74, 215–218; The Light That Failed, 378n8; “The Mark of the Beast,” 276; “Mary Postgate,” 313; “A ­Matter of Fact,” 261–265; “Mrs. Bathurst,” 313–314; use of dialect, 299; “Wireless,” 283–286 Knapp, Steven, 26

“Lagoon, The” (Conrad), 47 Language: in Green Mansions, 67, 70; literary, En­glish vs. French as, 121; passion and, 98; reversion of, 283 “Languorous,” 12, 15, 224 Last Post, The (Ford), 150–151 Lawrence, D. H., 141–145, 160 Layering, in ­Under Western Eyes, 245–246, 252, 256, 376n3 Leavis, F. R., 167, 174, 182 Letters, 333


Lewis, Wyndham, 24, 290–291, 293, 306, 317–320, 334 Light That Failed, The (Kipling), 378n8 Literary impressionism. See Impressionism, literary Literary language, French vs. En­glish as, 121 Literary production, word by word con­cep­ tion of, 326 Lit­er­a­ture, of ­f uture, 291–292 “Lit­er­a­ture of the ­Future, The” (Wells), 291–292 London: Ford’s relation to, 91–94; seeing, 94; workers in, 96 London, Jack, 23, 25, 251; The Iron Heel, 364–365n10; Martin Eden, 133–138, 251, 265–267, 276 Lord Jim (Conrad), 43–46, 49, 237, 314; blankness in, 46; blank page in, 39; erasure in, 43, 52; ­faces in, 44–45, 277; relationship to ­Under Western Eyes, 43; writing scene, 166 Luther, Martin, 361–362n25

Maggie (Crane), 14, 298, 346–347n14 “Manacled” (Crane), 73, 313 Man’s W ­ oman, A (Norris), 37, 83–84, 183, 250 Mapping, 85, 91 Maps: blank spaces on, 52–53; Conrad on, 351n34; of Friesland, 209–211; in The Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, 326; in Green Mansions, 225–227; in Heart of Darkness, 52–53, 214; imperialism and, 53; in Kim, 216–217; in No ­Enemy, 375n18; in The Octopus, 218–221, 219, 375n18; ordnance maps of G ­ reat Britain, 189, 190, 251; in The Riddle of the Sands, 201, 202–211, 204–205, 251; in The Soul of London, 91; in The War of the Worlds, 192–194, 209, 251; Wells’s use of, 85, 91, 189; in When the Sleeper Wakes, 373n7. See also Charts “Marital,” 183–185, 245 “Mark of the Beast, The” (Kipling), 276 “Mark on the Wall, The” (Woolf), 386n16 “Martial,” 245 Martin Eden (London), 133–138, 251, 265–267, 276



“Mary Postgate” (Kipling), 313 “Material,” 183–185, 245 Materialism: contrast with idealism, 90; in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 280–283; in The Secret Agent, 165, 166–167, 171, 172; and writing of The Secret Agent, 162–164 Materialist writing, in The Secret Agent, 176–177 Materiality: in “Bestre,” 319; invisibility and, 74, 77; in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 280–283; of page, 145; Vandover and the Brute and, 80–84; Wells and, 75 Materiality of writing, 26; Crane and, 22, 35, 43, 78–79; denial of, 65; Norris and, 84; Wells and, 79, 281 Materialization, in Vandover and the Brute, 82 “Maternal,” 183–185, 245 “­Matter of Fact, A” (Kipling), 261–265 Meaning: generated by erasure, 42; Stein on, 324 Mechanism, 150, 166. See also “A Memorandum of Sudden Death” “Memorandum of Sudden Death, A” (Norris), 16–22, 26, 83, 92, 122, 126, 137, 150, 225, 250, 294, 319 Meninas, Las (Velázquez), 1, 4 Michaels, Walter Benn, 26, 136, 138, 346–347n14 Miller, J. Hillis, 182 Mist: in The Riddle of the Sands, 251; in “The Tale,” 212 “Modern Fiction” (Woolf), 331–332 Modernism, literary, 317–334; Hemingway, 327–331, 334; Lewis, 317–320, 334; Stein, 320–327, 334; Woolf, 331–334 Monster, The (Crane), 11–12, 14, 27, 29, 35, 73, 126, 144–145, 224, 275, 295, 313, 347n14 Monstrosity, theme of, 274 Mr. Britling Sees It Through (Wells), 314–316 “Mrs. Bathurst,” 313–314 Multiple personality, 102–103

Naturalism, 83, 250, 277 Naturalist in La Plata, The (Hudson), 58–59

Nature, Hudson’s ideal of, 73 Nature in Downland (Hudson), 60 Nature writing, 58. See also Hudson, W. H. Néant, 259–260 Newspapers, 87, 116, 333, 371n25 “Nice P ­ eople” (Ford), 360n21 Nigger of the “Narcissus,” The (Conrad), 12, 38, 51–52, 93, 343–344n5 No ­Enemy (Ford), 375n18 Norris, Frank, 16, 23, 24, 61, 250; blank­ness of, 37; impressionist proj­ect and, 84; “The Joyous Miracle,” 286–289, 322; A Man’s W ­ oman, 37, 83–84, 183, 250; “A Memorandum of Sudden Death,” 16–22, 83, 92, 122, 137, 150, 225, 250, 294, 319; naturalism of, 83, 250; The Octopus, 218–221, 219, 375n18; Vandover and the Brute, 80–84, 126, 137, 183, 250, 277 Nostromo (Conrad), 50–51, 120–121, 252; allusions to, 248; blankness in, 50–51; contrast with The Secret Agent, 172–175; erasure in, 51, 237; writing of, 124, 161, 172

Obliteration, of face, 35. See also ­Faces, disfigured Octopus, The (Norris), 218–221, 219, 375n18 “Ode to a Nightingale” (Keats), 285 “Odour of Chrysanthemums” (Lawrence), 141–145, 160 Onomatopoeia, in Crane’s work, 250 “Orchid-­Hunter, The” (Cunninghame Graham), 127–132, 251, 294 Ordnance maps of ­Great Britain, 189, 190, 251. See also Maps Orientations, 6–7. See also Horizontal orientation; Vertical plane Osbourne, Lloyd, 299 Outcast of the Islands, An (Conrad), 47, 349n23

Page: blackening of, 176, 252, 345n10; blank, 46, 53, 160, 239, 241–242; distinction with pen, 39; figures for, 139–140, 149–150; in Lord Jim, 39; materiality of, 145; printed, 282; reader’s relation to, 249–259, 302; snow

Index compared to, 375n2; upturned, 169, 250, 271, 325; writer’s relation to, 56. See also Paper Pain, 84, 281–282, 283, 379n11 Painter-­beholder, 2 Painting, 2–4, 6, 11 Palermo, Charles, 27, 98, 251 Paper: blankness of, 39; Conrad’s gazing at, 38; face as figure for, 126; in Kim, 215. See also Page Parade’s End (Ford), 150–151 Paralleling, by Cunninghame Graham, 132 Passion, 98–99, 356n13; in “The Beast in the Jungle,” 158–159, 160; in The Good Soldier, 103, 357n16 Peale, Rembrandt, 6, 11 Pen: distinction with page, 39; writing with, 359–360n19 Personality, multiple, 102–103 Personal Rec­ord, A (Conrad), 345n10, 351n34 Phonetic spelling, 299 Phonetic writing, 299 Physics, 369n19 Place-­n ames: in The Riddle of the Sands, 202–203; in The War of the Worlds, 187, 188–189, 196, 203. See also Charts; Maps Points of view, in The War of the Worlds, 193–195 Poradowska, Marguerite, 34, 38–39, 172 Portraits from Life (Ford), 97, 140–141, 144 Possibility, blank page and, 53 Post-­l iterary impressionism, simplification in, 306 Pound, Ezra, 290, 329 Predestination, 362n25 “Price of the Harness, The” (Crane), 21 Prince, Morton, 102–103, 108 “Prince Roman” (Conrad), 50 Princi­ples of Psy­chol­ogy (James), 63–64, 338–339n14 Printing, 278, 280, 282, 283 Professor Henry A. Rowland (Eakins), 3, 7 “Pro­g ress” (Cunninghame Graham), 267–271, 280 “Province of Pain” (Wells), 379n11


Psy­chol­ogy, 63–64, 102, 108 Publication, writing as, 266 “Pulp,” 133; as ingredient in paper making, 266–267

Reader: relation to page, 249–259, 302; relation to text, 245 Reading, relation to writing, 258 Realism, Writing, Disfiguration (Fried), 6–7, 9–11, 13, 15–16, 63 Realists, 1–7 Red Badge of Courage, The (Crane), 7, 13, 20, 21, 62, 125–126, 346–347n14 Regression / reversion, 286; in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 271–283; “The Joyous Miracle,” 286–289; of language, 283; in Martin Eden, 265–267; in “A ­Matter of Fact,” 261–265; as naturalist motif, 277; in “Pro­g ress,” 267–271; in “Wireless,” 283–286 Render, vs. report, 294 Repetition: Ford’s, 122; in The Good Soldier, 111; in The Invisible Man, 78; in Return to Yesterday, 122; in The Secret Agent, 171, 181–182; of “­t hing,” 152 Report, vs. render, 294 Repre­sen­ta­t ion, collapse of, 37 Rescue, The (Conrad), 345–346n10 Return to Yesterday (Ford), 118–124, 251, 290 Reversion. See Regression / reversion Riddle of the Sands, The (Childers), 198–211, 251–252; face in, 208–209; maps / charts in, 201, 202–211, 204–205, 218, 251; place-­names in, 202–203; summary of, 198–202 Riders of the Purple Sage (Grey), 183 Roberts, Morley, 62 Rousseau, Jean-­Jacques, 236 Rus­sia, 259–260

Said, Edward, 174, 176, 182 Salammbô (Flaubert), 377n9 Saying, distinguished from writing, 323 Scale, shift in, 90–91 S / c doublet, 21, 22, 144, 222, 224, 295 Scene of writing, 26, 250, 253, 294



Schorer, Mark, 99 Science: attack on, 173; connection with writing, 77 Secret Agent, The (Conrad), 161–185; absence of authorial double in, 174; allusions to, 248; automatism in, 163, 166; blankness and, 62, 162–164, 172, 174, 252; “contagion” in, 179, 180–185, 244; deliberate writtenness of, 182; detachment in, 183; erasure in, 169, 174, 175, 252; face in, 169, 170–171; fatness in, 164–165; hands in, 181–183; identity in, 171; inanimateness in, 164–166; inception of, 161–162; inspiration for, 184; leitmotifs in, 167, 183–185, 245; materialism in, 165, 166–167, 171, 172; materialist writing in, 176–177; mechanism in, 166; newspapers in, 371n25; Nostromo and, 161, 172–175; protagonist of, 164; repetition in, 171, 181–182; sales of, 228; thermodynamics and, 369n19; time in, 171; T in, 180; upturned motif in, 171; upturned page in, 169; ­w ill in, 177–185; writing of, 162–164 “Secrets and Narrative Sequence” (Kermode), 249 “Secret Sharer, The” (Conrad), 48–49 “See,” in ­Under Western Eyes, 253 Seeing: “The Eye of Allah” and, 384n22; in The Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, 327; in “A ­Matter of Fact,” 264; in “The Tale,” 211–212 Seeing and writing, problematic of, 274 Seeing imagination, 293 Seymour-­Smith, Martin, 184–185 Shadows, 71, 118–119, 149, 344–345n7 Shelley, Mary, 272 Silence, 37, 50 Silver, 50, 174 Simplification, 295–298, 306 Simplified Spelling Society, 299 Snakes: Crane’s, 13; in Green Mansions, 72, 74; images of, 12 Snow, compared to page, 375n2 “Snow in Monteith” (Cunninghame Graham), 375n2 Soul, transfusion of, 119–120 Soul of London, The (Ford), 89–97, 118, 124, 251, 355–356n10 Spectacles, in Kim, 216

Speech: power of, 98; relation with writing, 298, 301 Spelling, phonetic, 299 Spy novels. See The Riddle of the Sands Statistical dynamics, 252 Stein, Gertrude, 24, 320–327, 334; Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 321–322; automatic writing and, 321, 385n5; “Composition as Explanation,” 320–321; conception of writerly practice, 326; The Geo­g raph­i­cal History of Amer­i­ca, 323–327; handwriting and, 322; impressionism and, 322–323, 325; “What Are Master-­P ieces and Why Are T ­ here So Few of Them” (Stein), 323 Stephen Crane (Berryman), 7 “Stephen Crane’s Upturned F ­ aces” (Fried), 9–11, 12, 14, 15, 21, 26, 43, 62, 73, 90, 125, 127, 221, 250, 276, 294 Stevenson, Robert Louis, 23; Catriona, 292–293; Ebb-­Tide, 299–301; James on, 301; visual sense, 301 Stonebreakers, The (Courbet), 2, 5 Suggestibility, Ford’s thinking on, 357–358n17 Suggestion, 103, 104, 107 Suicide, in Martin Eden, 138 Swift, Jonathan, 273

T (letter), in The Secret Agent, 180 “Tale, The” (Conrad), 50, 211–215, 218 Tales of Unrest (Conrad), 47 Tarzan of the Apes (Burroughs), 296–298, 301, 306, 309, 314 “Tent Life at Ocean Grove” (Crane), 344–345n7 Text: printed, 278, 283; reader’s relation to, 245 Textual production, 333 Thermodynamics, 369n19 ­T hing: in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 279–280; in “A ­Matter of Fact,” 262, 264–265; in The War of the Worlds, 187 “­T hing,” 135, 138, 145, 250; repetition of, 152; in ­Under Western Eyes, 255 Time, conception of, 171 Time Machine, The (Wells), 85

Index Tono-­Bungay (Wells), 153, 153, 293, 365–366n19 Transfusion, of soul, 119–120 Transparency, 75, 77, 250–251, 330 Turgenev, Ivan, 60, 330 Type, 280, 283 Type-­casting machines, 278, 280, 379n9 Typewriter, 342n23 Typographic emphasis, 291 Typography, 329, 330

Unconscious, in The Good Soldier, 103 Unconsciousness, 92 ­Under Western Eyes (Conrad), 228–250, 302; black in, 253, 257; blank page in, 239; “com-” prefix in, 246; “con-” prefix in, 244–248, 376n5; Conrad’s proj­ect and, 252–259, 294–295; corpse in, 241; deafness in, 50, 235, 237; detachment in, 248–249; erasure in, 236–238, 252–259; face in, 233, 241; hands in, 244–245; impressionism in, 232; key word in, 242–249; layering in, 250, 256; relation to Lord Jim, 43; relation to text in, 245; relation to writing and reading in, 259; summary of, 229–236; White in, 253, 257; writing in, 239; writing of, 237 Unreliability: of Ford, 119; in The Good Soldier, 99, 356n14 “Upturned Face, The” (Crane), 8–11, 14, 15, 21, 29, 35, 319; essential subject of, 294; face in, 126; relation to “The Orchid-­ Hunter,” 131; similarity to “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” 145; subject and meaning of, 224; writing of, 27 Upward-­facing motif: in The Last Post, 150–151; in “Pro­g ress,” 270–271; in The Secret Agent, 171; in When the Sleeper Wakes, 151–156. See also ­Faces, upturned

Vandover and the Brute (Norris), 80–84, 126, 137, 183, 250, 277 Vertical plane, 4, 6–7, 11 “Veteran, The” (Crane), 14, 73, 313 Victory (Conrad), 175, 301–313; as attempt to imagine production of book, 314;


black and white in, 313; Conrad’s procedures and, 306–313; detachment in, 303, 304, 306; equivalence in, 303; erasure in, 302–303, 312; ­faces in, 381n15; fire in, 305, 313; relation of aural to visual in, 308–309; writing in, 306, 310, 311, 312 Vidal, Peire, 106, 107 Vio­lence, 137–138; in Almayer’s Folly, 182–183; in “Bestre,” 318; against hands, 82, 83, 183; in Kim, 217; in Martin Eden, 265–267. See also “Dead Man’s Plack”; Martin Eden; Vandover and the Brute Vision, 137, 216. See also Seeing Vistas, in “Death and the Child,” 222, 223 Visual: emphasis on, 291, 293; in impressionism, 295; in post-­l iterary impressionism, 306; relation to aural, 298, 299–301, 304, 308–309, 314; simplification and, 295–298; in Stein’s literary practice, 321

Wallace, Alfred Russel, 59 War of the Worlds, The (Wells), 85, 186–197; detachment in, 197; locations in, 189; maps in, 192–194, 209, 218, 251; place-­names in, 187, 188–189, 196, 203; points of view in, 193–195; surface production of text in, 192–194; “writhing” in, 186, 197 Watt, Ian, 182 Wells, H. G., 22, 23, 25, 314; advertising and, 153, 293; clash with James, 293; complexity of works of, 86–88; on Conrad, 84, 85; declaration of writtenness, 78, 79; Experiment in Autobiography, 74, 84–85, 88, 91, 153, 195–196, 197, 251; The First Men in the Moon, 85, 376–377n8; The Food of the Gods, 86; on Ford, 84, 85; The History of Mr. Polly, 299; impressionism and, 75, 84, 251, 294; integration of drawing and writing, 74; In the Days of the Comet, 86–88, 126, 222, 293; on James, 84, 85; as journalist, 85, 88; Kipps, 299; literary enterprise of, 224; “The Lit­er­a­t ure of the ­Future,” 291–292; materiality and, 75;



Wells, H. G. (continued) materiality of writing and, 79, 281; Mr. Britling Sees It Through, 314–316; printed page and, 282; prose of, 78; “Province of Pain,” 379n11; review of Almayer’s Folly, 62; scriptive explicitness and, 251; self-­a nalysis, 84–85; on Simplified Spelling Society, 299; The Time Machine, 85; Tono-­Bungay, 153, 153, 293, 365–366n19; transparency and, 251; use of dialect, 299; use of maps, 85, 91, 189; view of advertisement, 293; view of journalism, 293; When the Sleeper Wakes, 86, 151–156, 293, 299. See also The Invisible Man; The Island of Doctor Moreau; The War of the Worlds “What Are Master-­Pieces and Why Are ­T here So Few of Them” (Stein), 323 Wheat Sifters, The (Courbet), 2 “When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers” (Crane), 127 When the Sleeper Wakes (Wells), 86, 151–156, 293, 299, 373n7 White, in ­Under Western Eyes, 253, 257 Whiteness, 288; of Arctic, 84; blankness associated with, 52; in “The Joyous Miracle,” 288–289; in Nigger of the “Narcissus,” 51. See also Black and white ­Will: automatic writing and, 362n25; in The Secret Agent, 177–185 “Wireless” (Kipling), 283–286 Wollaeger, Mark, 182 Woolf, ­Virginia, 24, 331–334; Jacob’s Room, 332–334; “The Mark on the Wall,” 386n16; “Modern Fiction,” 331–332 Word, printed, 63–64 Workers, in The Soul of London, 96 Writer: agency of, 145; relation with page, 56. See also Author Writer’s cramp, 359n19 “Writhing,” 12, 133, 250, 263, 295; Crane’s use of, 265; in “Death and the Child,” 221, 222; in The First Men in the Moon, 377n8;

in In the Days of the Comet, 86, 222; in The Iron Heel, 365n10; in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 279, 280; in Martin Eden, 133, 266; in “A ­Matter of Fact,” 262, 263, 264–265; in The Monster, 11, 12; in Portraits from Life, 97; in “Pro­gress,” 270, 271; in The Soul of London, 96; in “Vandover and the Brute,” 82; in The War of the Worlds, 186, 197 Writing: automatic, 103, 108, 122, 321, 338–339n14, 360n21, 385n5; for Conrad, 349–350n25; copying, 322; digression in, 107–108; distinguished from saying, 323; disturbance of, 382n19; as erasure, 127; “The Eye of Allah” and, 384n22; fights’ association with, 136; figures for, 197; in The First Men in the Moon, 376–377n8; Ford and, 103, 107–108; good, spotting, 140–141; in The Good Soldier, 105, 116; handwriting, 6; ideal of, 73, 74, 77, 79; integration with draw­ing, 73–74, 197; in In the Days of the Comet, 87; invisible, 250–251 (see also Green Mansions; Invisibility); journalism contrasted with, 87; liberated, 373–374n7; vs. marking, 338n10; materiality of (see Materiality of writing); methods of, 342n23, 359–360n19; modes of, 333; as nonrelational, 322; in paintings, 2–4, 6; phonetic, 299; pro­cess of, 105; as publication, 266; question of, 251; reading’s relation to, 258; scene of, 26, 250, 253, 294, 325, 362–363n26; science’s connection with, 77; speech’s relation to, 298, 301; Stein and, 324–327; textbook on, 6; in ­Under Western Eyes, 239; in Victory, 306, 310, 311, 312; visual’s relation to, 295 Writing / drawing, 4, 6, 11 Writing self, emphasis on, 293 Writtenness, Wells’s declaration of, 78, 79

“Youth” (Conrad), 52, 53–56, 127