Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

“A Sort of Still Uproar“: Conrad’s Reading of Periodicals

Helen Chambers, The Open University

© Helen Chambers. No part of this text may be reposted or republished without the permission of the author.  


“There must be something subtly noxious to the human brain in the composition of newspaper ink;” wrote Joseph Conrad in his 1905 essay “Autocracy and War“, “or else it is that the large page, the columns of words, the leaded headings, exalt the mind into a state of feverish credibility. The printed page of the Press makes a sort of still uproar, taking from men both the power to reflect and the faculty of genuine feeling; leaving them only with the artificially created need of having something exciting to talk about“ (Conrad 1924, 90).
These remarks, and numerous comments in his letters, reveal Conrad’s ambivalent, sometimes hostile attitude towards the press, despite his economic dependence on serialization, his later friendships with journalists and his often avid reading of a wide range of periodicals. Recent studies have examined Conrad’s association both with magazine fiction in general (Donovan 2005, 161–90), and with specific periodicals, including Blackwood’s Magazine (Atkinson 2004, Finkelstein 2009) and Associated Press titles such as the Daily Mail,Times, Evening News, London Magazine, and Hutchinson’s Magazine (Donovan 2009), Illustrated London News (Hampson 2009), The English Review (Harding, 2009), New York Herald, (Jones 2007), Pall Mall Magazine, (Dryden 2009), McClure’s Magazine (Baxter 2009), Harper’s Magazine (Ruppel 2009), The Outlook (Cohen 2009), and Metropolitan Magazine (Davis 2009).  Their main focus has been on the circumstances and process of serialization and on the social, political, and literary contexts in which Conrad’s serialized fiction and essays were first read. Some studies also comment on the paratextual elements—advertisements, notices, illustrations—and other serialized fiction and non-fictional articles that surrounded Conrad’s text. In each case, Conrad’s own reading of periodicals is only lightly touched upon, mostly speculatively, or in relation to his comments on the accompanying illustrations.
Before examining Conrad’s reading of periodicals, it is worth considering more generally how knowledge of a writer’s reading practices may influence our understanding of his or her work. Some biographers and literary historians are now investigating their subjects' reading in order to gain a more intimate insight into their thought processes, the chain of influences, the range of their creative output and the difference between private comment and published material. For example, in her 2007 biography of Edith Wharton, Hermione Lee deals extensively and critically with her subject’s reading. A detailed and critically annotated chronological survey of a writer’s reading may also be a chart of their intellectual history, as Billie Inman’s two-volume study of Walter Pater’s reading reveals (see Inman 1981 and 1990). Ruth Windscheffel’s comprehensive study of Gladstone as a reader and bibliophile sheds new light on the man and his writings as well as on his political life (Windscheffel 2008). It was, as Glenda Norquay (2007) argues, Stevenson’s “literary vagabonding,” his wide and varied reading, that contributed to “his ability as a writer to move across a wide range of genres” (Norquay 2007, 3). A writer’s own reading habits may also reflect the way in which  they represent reading and readers in their fiction, as Gillian Dow and Katie Halsey, writing about the impact on Jane Austen’s writing of her extensive and eclectic reading have pointed out: “Time and again, characters reveal themselves through their responses to literature.” Whether characters use books as props or “friends and guides to moral growth,” they argue, “the cultural resonance of books allows Austen to use them as a sort of convenient shorthand to help her readers swiftly understand her characters (Dow and Halsey 2010) Lastly, a knowledge of a writer’s reading habits, may also highlight the manner in which their own writing subverts established conventions, such as those of the romance or adventure genres; Andrea White argues Conrad’s need to “de-mythologize” those genres which were for him important ‘shaping discourses’ (White 1993, 107).
Moving specifically to periodical reading, it is worth considering why, in addition to intellectual curiosity, keeping up to date with current affairs, and simple relaxation, a writer might habitually or occasionally read periodicals. Motives might include: feedback through reviews of their own serialised work (particularly relevant if the work is to be re-shaped for subsequent book publication); specific research for work in progress; professional solidarity (mutual reading and discussion of the serialised fiction and reviews of the work of both friends and competitors); familiarisation with the market requirements for potentially lucrative magazine fiction, since writing successful popular fiction requires a “thorough knowledge of the conventions and idioms of popular magazines” (Donovan 2005, 189); and lastly, from reading daily newspapers, a writer may incidentally glean ideas for plots, characters or locations. Furthermore, a writer’s recorded reactions to certain periodicals, may give an insight into his/her own character and attitudes, and thus indirectly illuminate aspects of their fictional characters: Conrad’s Marlow whose comments on fiction and the press in Chance (1914) often mirror Conrad’s own views, is a fairly obvious example. The way in which a writer responds to popular magazine fiction of the period as well as to critically esteemed but commercially less successful serialized works may also articulate the tension between the desire to maintain artistic integrity and the need to recognise economic reality. I would also argue that it is important to be aware of the reading history of a multilingual reader/writer working in their second or third language, whose initial exposure to that language may have been through its periodical press, and traces of which may be detectable particularly in their early work.
Very little has been written about which periodicals Conrad read, whether habitually or casually, at various stages of his life, why he read those particular publications, how he acquired them, and how he responded to them. David Tutein’s monograph on Conrad’s reading offers, without comment, a list of 29 periodicals which he claims Conrad examined “on a fairly regular basis“(Tutein 1990, xii); but no evidence is provided and there are some obvious omissions and errors. Hans van Marle, while very usefully adding to 180 books to Tutein’s list, and listing a few (less than ten) issues of specific magazines owned or known to have been read by Conrad, does not specifically address his reading of periodicals (van Marle 1991).
The nine volumes of Conrad’s Collected Letters (Conrad 1983–2007) are a very rich repository of information about his reading practices, particularly as regards periodicals. Much of what we know about Conrad’s periodical reading is available from the (often quite precise) records in his letters of recent or recollected acts of reading. This evidence is supplemented by variably reliable information in memoirs by family and friends. We can perhaps also infer, from his letters to friends and acquaintances requesting certain titles, those that he did not habitually read. This raises broader questions about periodical reading: to what extent and what proportion of readers were subscribers, or library users, or occasional buyers from newsstands?  While there is no ready answer in Conrad’s case, there is circumstantial evidence, in letters, of regular newspaper subscriptions; he was as far as is known, not a regular user of local public libraries, but is likely to have instead bought periodicals at newsstands on his journeys to London, and he may have perused periodicals in the London Library, where he became a member in 1897. Given how often Conrad alludes to periodicals in his correspondence and the diversity of those mentioned, there offer compelling reasons for specifically examining this aspect of his reading.
Before embarking on an analysis of Conrad’s periodical reading, however, it is worth pointing out some of the methodological problems of researching a writer’s own reading. There are general caveats. First, owning, borrowing, or buying a book or periodical is not evidence of reading. Second, quoting or misquoting a text is not proof of reading. And third, “any reading recorded in an historically recoverable way is, almost by definition, an exceptional recording of an uncharacteristic event by an untypical person” (Eliot 1994). Indeed, most reading goes unrecorded. Furthermore, reading which is recorded, whether recent reading (in letters notebooks or diaries), or remembered reading, (in memoirs/autobiography) is inherently biased; this is particularly so with readers who are also writers who, when writing to or for literary colleagues, would want to present themselves in an intellectually favourable light, hence there may be fabrication, as part of self mythologizing, (as well as inaccurate recall, of acts recorded many years later). Daniel Allington proposes that “anecdotal evidence of reading” should be analysed, not as historical records of reading but as writings.” (Allington 2010, 12-13). Using comparisons with social science research, he argues that personal narratives, in this case anecdotes of reading, “should never be taken at face value” but be interpreted “as pieces of written discourse [...] shaped both by the anecdote-writer’s rhetorical purposes and by his or her anticipation of the anecdote–reader’s response.”(Allington 2010, 27).
Writers may not always reveal the full range of their recreational reading, such as light fiction, popular periodicals and even pornography; this reading may be unrecoverable or may come to light later in memoirs of family and friends, records which themselves are inherently biased or frankly  unreliable. Furthermore, readers may not comment at all on habitual newspaper reading, unless for a specific reason, such as a book review, perhaps because members of the same circles would tend to read at least some of the same daily and weekly periodicals.
With these methodological issues in mind, I offer an interpretive survey of some of the evidence of Conrad’s reading of periodicals, focusing on mapping its changing patterns against his literary career and his earlier life at sea, and addressing a cluster of questions: Why did Conrad read certain periodicals? Did he read and engage with any of the periodicals which serialized his own work? How did he acquire and share this reading matter and what does it tell us about the distribution circuits of periodicals at this time? How does he represent periodicals as material texts in his fiction?
Conrad’s letters include direct references and allusions to a wide range of periodicals: 214 titles in at least six languages, including some which Conrad was unable to read. Systematic examination of the 1,380 separate entries under “periodicals” in the consolidated index in Volume 9 of the Collected Letters, reveals however that only 13% (approximately 180) of these entries constitute evidence of a recent or remembered act of reading, that is,  a recorded engagement with a written or printed text beyond the mere fact of possession. Many are simply allusions to named periodicals, either in a letter or in an editorial footnote, about an editor or journalist associated with that particular publication..
The periodicals most frequently cited lie at opposite poles of the literary spectrum. One such is the English Review (104 indexed entries), closely followed by Blackwood’s Magazine (94 entries). Some way behind are the Times and the Times Literary Supplement (60 entries), which will here be treated jointly since it is often difficult to establish which of the two is being referenced. (Long after they became separate publications in 1914, Conrad continued to refer to “the Times” even when the context and day of the week suggest the TLS.) Then comes the Daily Mail (55 entries), and Pall Mall Magazine (43).
Most of the other more frequently indexed periodicals do not amount to evidence of reading. ). For example there are 44 entries for Land & Water but all relate to its serialization of The Rescue, (1920) rather than to reading. Conrad’s thirty-six references to the New York Herald between 1910 and 1913 also all concern negotiations about serialization of Chance. Although this newspaper had long produced a European edition in Paris, easily available in London, Conrad’s correspondence makes no suggestion that he read the 24 issues in which the novel appeared. During serialization discussions in 1910, he had asked his agent, James Pinker, to acquire  a full set of relevant issues (CL 4:360). Conrad perhaps wanted them for his own records or to assist with revisions for the book version, but not necessarily for the pleasure of reading this bulky mass-circulation newspaper. Since Conrad had written approvingly of Maurice Greiffenhagen’s illustrations for “Typhoon, the absence of any comments on the illustrations to Chance suggests that he may not have seen the periodical version at all.
Some evidence of Conrad’s reading of periodicals is now available in the open-access Reading Experience Database (UKRED), in which there is a representative, though  by no means comprehensive, sample of eighty-six acts of periodical reading.  Not included in this subset of UK RED data, at this stage, is the large amount of evidence of Conrad’s reading of press reviews, of his own work, a significant part of the reading he recorded in his letters throughout his literary career. He received many of these as press clippings, presumably from Romeike and Curtice, (at that time London’s only press clippings agency), and these were often derived from provincial newspapers that he would not usually read.. While clippings were important to Conrad, I have chosen to exclude this restricted and decontextualised form of periodical reading from my analysis

Conrad’s reading of periodicals before 1894
Analysis of Conrad’s reading, including periodicals, during his early life in Poland and most of his sea career, relies heavily on circumstantial evidence. There are relatively few extant letters covering the period before he signed off from the Adowa in January 1894, compared with the correspondence that survives until his death in 1924 (144 and 4,354 pages, respectively, in the Collected Letters). Conrad’s reading during these years necessarily remains either an object of speculation or the subject of later recollections, filtered through or consciously transformed in memory, including the memoirs of not wholly reliable contemporaries such as Ford Madox Ford (e.g. Ford 1924).
According to Zdzisław Najder, young Korzeniowski read Wędrowiec (Najder 2007, 42), an  illustrated magazine that not only recounted the exploits of contemporary Polish explorers such as Strzelecki and Kubary but also  those of James Cook, Henry Morton Stanley, Samuel Baker, Mungo Park, and David Livingstone. Indeed, Marcin Piechota has suggested that Wędrowiec introduced Conrad to the explorers whom he later celebrated in “Geography and Some Explorers (1924) (Piechota 2004).
Nothing is known of what periodicals (or books) Conrad read during his time in Marseilles between 1874 and 1878. He would have had access to a wide range of French and foreign language periodicals in the fashionable cafés he frequented, as well as local newspapers (of which there were several), in the sailors’ bars on the Vieux Port. Periodicals in English, including illustrated magazines, arrived by train from London and were available in the Gare Saint-Charles at the Hachette railway bookstall (modelled on W. H. Smith’s railway bookstalls) and in hotels such as the upmarket Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix, where English travellers often stayed before embarkation; however although Conrad read French fluently, at this stage he did not read English.
By his own account, Conrad began learning English by laboriously spelling out the Standard in sailors’ lodgings and pubs in Lowestoft in June-July 1878 (CL 4:409). The effort involved is obvious from even a casual glance at the newspaper’s dense columns, which included long parliamentary reports and articles about international affairs. While the Standard of 11 June 1878, the day after Conrad first set foot in England, contained a long unsigned review of Henry Morton Stanley’s new book Through the Dark Continent (1878), it is unlikely that Conrad would, at that stage, have been capable of reading this article, though he may well have been attracted to the title, “Across Africa”. According to Ford, Conrad, around this time also became an avid reader of the Family Herald, a penny weekly containing  short stories by popular writers; it may well have been here that he read fiction in English for the first time.
Conrad made his first long ocean voyage in the Duke of Sutherland, whose arrival at Circular Quay in Sydney on 31 January 1879 was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and where he spent five months on board as a night-watchman,. George Street, a main street leading down to the quay, contained small shops such as tobacconists and Chinese food stores (Conrad 1946, 122) and, further up the hill, newsagents and booksellers. An  article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 June 1932 noted that all of the city’s central booksellers and stationers in the 1880s lay on or close to George Street. That at some later stage, Conrad bought and read The Bulletin (est. 1880–2008), Australia’s most influential nationalist political weekly, with its famous literary “Red Page,” is known from a letter he sent to its editor in 1916 (CL5:554–5). Furthermore, in “Christmas Day at Sea” (1923), Conrad recalls an incident in 1879 when he gave the captain of the whaler Alaska the “several old Sydney Heralds, [Sydney Daily] Telegraphs, Bulletins in my cabin, besides a few home papers received by the last mail“ (Conrad 2010, 25). (The titles are real enough but the incident is either partially fabricated or misremembered: Conrad did not work aboard a wool clipper outbound from Sydney in that year, and the Bulletin was only launched in 1880). Although not mentioned specifically in his letters, Conrad would probably have read the well respected Sydney Morning Herald (est. 1831) while in port. The opening scene of “The Planter of Malata” (1914) takes place in the editorial office of “the principal newspaper in a great Colonial city“ (3).While this description tends to suggest the Sydney Morning Herald (est.1831), in his 1916 letter Conrad clearly states that he had here been referring to the Bulletin. The “poet from the bush,“ whom the journalists have been entertaining and who falls “asleep on the hearthrug“, evokes either Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson, both of whom were prominently associated with  the Bulletin. Conrad also spent sufficient time in Adelaide to have become familiar with its local newspaper, the Adelaide Advertiser, which reported the departure of the Torrens in April 1892. Port Adelaide, located in a rather barren area north of the city, was even at that time  efficiently connected by public transport to the leafy city centre and thus to book shops and newsagents.
Conrad’s periodical reading in Singapore, where he spent a substantial amount of time, can more easily be inferred. In one of his earliest known letters in English, he wrote to Spiridion Kliszczewski from Calcutta on 25 November 1885, thanking him for sending the Standard which had arrived via Singapore (CL 1:13). In Singapore the previous month, Conrad had thanked Kliszczewski for sending the Daily Telegraph, which reported on the aftermath of the general election of 9 June 1885 and the defeat of the Liberal government, explaining that he had eagerly scanned through available newspapers after arriving in Singapore on the Tilkhurst on 22 September 1885 (CL 1:12). As an officer, he could have read these newspapers at the Officers Sailors Home, just across the road (then) from the Raffles Institute Library, which also held current periodicals. That there was a reading room at the Hotel de l’Europe, an establishment with which, based on references in “The End of the Tether“(Conrad 1923, 184), Conrad knew well, is apparent from a 1880s photograph which shows a sign on one facade: “Bar Billiards Reading Room” (Toh 2009,106) and it is here that Conrad may have first encountered Blackwood’s Magazine.
There is compelling first-hand evidence that Conrad read the Singapore Free Press. In 1898, he was delighted to receive a “treat in the shape of a No. of the Singapore Free Press,“ despite  it featuring an (unsigned) article by Hugh Clifford criticising Conrad’s knowledge of Malay culture, to which his riposte was the oft-quoted remark about having relied on “undoubted sources—dull, wise books“ (CL 2:130). In 1917, during a much later exchange with William St. Clair, long-time editor of the Singapore Free Press, Conrad wrote: “Naturally like everybody else I was a diligent reader of the excellent and always interesting Singapore Free Press then under your direction.. I keep my regard for that paper to this day. It was certainly the newspaper of the East as between Rangoon and Hong-Kong“ (CL 6:63). Matthew Rubery has perceptively noted that reading newspapers while staying in various ports offered Conrad, an outsider, “compensatory insight into societies grasped only intermittently through experience“ and “a degree of cultural literacy difficult to acquire through the limited contact during stays in port“ (Rubery 2004, 754). Comments in ‘A Smile of Fortune’ (1912) suggest there was a range and regular availability of (unspecified) English and French newspapers in Port Louis, Mauritius, and Conrad may well have read these. There are however, no clues, real or fictional, about Conrad’s reading of periodicals in other ports of call, such as Calcutta, Bombay, Port Elizabeth, Melbourne, or during the month he spent loading wheat onto the Otago at the isolated South Australian settlement of Port Minlacowie.
This brief survey of what we know or can deduce about Conrad’s periodical reading during his maritime career throws light on several aspects of newspaper and magazine reading during the heyday of British and European imperialism. Some regional newspapers such as the Singapore Free Press were well known and widely distributed throughout the region. Sydney had a well developed local print culture with a very long-established daily newspaper and a new literary-political weekly which echoed the increasing nationalistic sentiments of the Colony. Conrad’s sea years also coincided with the expansion of far eastern steamship traffic through the Suez Canal after 1869. Periodicals as well as books thus reached the Far East and Australia, from Britain and Europe, much more quickly on mail boats, and the colonial (and local ) reading populations were better supplied with more up to date news. What was locally available for Conrad to read reflected the mechanisms of distribution from Britain and prevailing taste, for example the popular Family Herald, and the conservative Blackwood’s Magazine, and various London based newspapers and illustrated weeklies. Conrad’s maritime world was essentially still an imperial/colonial one, and barely touched by the rapid changes which took place in Britain and elsewhere after about 1880 – for example in print media, publishing and newspaper ownership, in increased working class literacy and leisure, and in women’s rights. Reading English language periodicals, whether at home or in port, during this time, developed Conrad’s sense of Englishness, of being part of an “imagined community” (Anderson 2006, 32-35) a community he would further enlarge by the periodical reading he shared with literary friends, when he left the sea.

Later patterns of reading
Conrad’s patterns of newspaper and magazine reading after he left the sea can be mapped onto his friendships and evolving literary career, as well as on to external events. We see how this habit not only enhanced his sense of identity, but also was central to developing and maintaining his literary friendships. After Conrad’s first documented encounter with the English-language press, the conservative Standard in 1878, he seems to have remained a habitual (possibly nostalgic) reader of this London daily until at least 1909. Near the end of his life, he recalled how he had learned in the Standard of the violent death, in the Sudan on 17 January 1885, of Colonel Frederick Burnaby, whose memoir A Ride to Khiva (1875) is of course read by Marlow  in “Youth and probably also by Conrad himself while aboard the Palestine:“it was on my return from a voyage to the East Indies that I saw in the first paper (it was the old Standard) I picked up on coming ashore the news of his death“ (CL 7:553).
In 1900, Conrad wrote to his lifelong friend R. B. Cunninghame Graham: “I don’t see the papers only the Standard“(CL 2:254). This claim is supported by the absence of any references to other newspapers in his letters of this period. In 1904, he congratulated his friend Edward Garnett on an energetic book review in the Spectator (a magazine which Conrad did not usually read, other than as clippings and extracts) and on how the Standard had itself reviewed these particular books (CL 3:162). As late as 1909, he still appears to have been reading the Standard on a daily basis, to judge from his indignant protest to Galsworthy on 15 November: “Have you seen that case today of a poor miserable man with a baby dead practically of starvation and a sick wife being summoned for the poor rate!!! “(CL 4: 289). The case in question, a report in the Standard about Willesden Magistrates Court, is one of Conrad’s rare comments on the social conditions of the time as covered by the press. By 1911, however, for reasons that are not clear, he seemed no longer to be reading this paper regularly. On 21 October he asked Pinker: “Have you seen the Standard of the 20th? [Sidney] Colvin writes me that there is a good review [of Under Western Eyes] by H. Walpole“(CL 4:492).
Conrad’s reading of the conservative Daily Telegraph, which in 1911 he called “my paper“(CL 9:156) can also be easily traced through his letters. After the first record  of reading this newspaper in Singapore in 1885 (CL 1:12), there is a 1898 comment on an (untraced) accusation in the Telegraph that Ford’s first novel The Shifting of the Fire (1892) was immoral (CL 2:119). In 1907, Conrad commented to John Galsworthy on the Telegraph’s review of his play Joy two days earlier (CL 3: 479). Conrad also read the Telegraph’s notices and advertisements for new books. On 2 November 1911, he told Pinker that he had seen “the 3d Ed. of U.[nder] W.[estern]. E.[yes] advertised (last week’s literary page of Telegraph)“ (CL 4:498. In 1915 Conrad related ruefully to Richard Curle how the Telegraph’s literary editor, W. L. Courtney, had two days earlier “scolded him bitterly” about Within the Tides, particularly ”The Planter of Malata” (CL 5:451). Even so, Conrad was relieved, indeed, triumphant, to read on 29 August 1919 Courtney’s editorial on The Arrow of Gold (CL 6:482).
While Conrad seems to have read the Daily Telegraph throughout most of his adult life, it seems that he did not become a habitual reader of the Times until 1909. In 1906 he learnt of a favourable review of John Galsworthy’s new play The Silver Box, not through reading the paper himself, but because an old servant, Nellie Lyons (“of all people in the world!”), had mentioned to him its review of “Mr Jack’s play“ (CL 3:362). He was more alert to its Friday literary supplement, and asked Pinker to send him the 12 October 1906 issue where he expected to see E. V. Lucas’s review of The Mirror of the Sea (CL 3:365), and by  April 1909 there is evidence that he was  reading this newspaper regularly (CL 4: 224). In March 1914, he wrote to Galsworthy that “we knew of your Sicilian interlude from your letter to the Times“(CL 5:365) (Saturday, 28 February 1914), where Galsworthy had given his address as “Taormina”.).
In 1917 despite telling Sidney Colvin that he would not read notices of The Shadow-Line in either the Times or the Telegraph (CL 6:52), Conrad apparently relented, and three days later commented to Pinker that the Times reviewer is “out of his depth a little“ (CL 6: 54). In late December that year, Conrad drew the attention of his friend André Gide to a two-column article on Gide in the TLS (CL 6:160-61), and commiserated with Arthur Symons, to whom it had given an unfriendly review (CL 6: 323). In his last years, the Times remained one of Conrad’s regular daily papers, and he discussed its contents with friends, such as Hugh Walpole (CL 7: 417) and Bertrand Russell (CL 7:545).  There are numerous other recorded instances of Conrad’s reading of the Times but limitations of space prevent their consideration here.
Thus we have here evidence of Conrad’s longstanding attachment to three conservative dailies, perhaps reflecting the way in which he crafted his  new English identity as ‘one of us’, a politically conservative English gentleman and member of British literary circles..
Another paper which Conrad only took up regularly later in life was the Liberal Daily Chronicle. He had become familiar with some of its content much earlier, thanks to Cunninghame Graham, who, as an early Socialist and a Scottish Nationalist, held political views which were often diametrically opposed to Conrad’s own. In 1899, Conrad thanked Graham’s mother, Elizabeth Bontine, for sending him a number containing a letter written by her son (CL 2: 150). Although “The Brute had appeared in this newspaper at the end of 1906, there is no evidence of Conrad reading it before 1907, when he “casually obtained” a copy in Montpellier and saw a review of Galsworthy’s latest play (CL 3: 430). Four years later, he was still asking others to procure him specific numbers containing reviews of his own work. In 1915, however, he wrote to Graham, then in South America , about a review that day of Graham’s latest book (CL 5:447), and to Ford that autumn about a recent review of Between Saint Dennis and Saint George (1915). This makes it likely that Conrad had become a regular reader by 1915, a supposition confirmed by a further reference in 1917, in a letter to Sidney Colvin in which he noted Perceval Gibbon’s article that morning on the battle of Caporetto (CL 6:146). It is unclear why Conrad began to read this Liberal paper, but it may originate in a visit by one of its journalists, late in 1914, to solicit an article about his recent journey to Poland (already promised to the Daily News, the other leading Liberal daily). It may simply have been his own wider reading of newspapers during the War; he wrote to Borys, then at the front, “I read all the papers“(CL 6: 204), or perhaps reflected a more general trend (MacEwan 1983, 483).
The other close friend whose politics differed from Conrad’s was Edward Garnett who read and wrote for the Nation, a left liberal weekly and precursor of the New Statesman. There is no evidence that Conrad was a regular reader of the Nation, nor that he ever become one. For example, in 1907, he wrote to Pinker: “Jack tells me that there is a very good review of S.[ecret] A.[gent] by Garnett in last Sat’s Nation. Thedamned press cutting Agency has not sent it on yet“(CL 3: 484) though he was able to send to Luton Station for this magazine (CL 3:487).
Two recent essays on Conrad and Blackwood’s Magazine have comprehensively explored the magazine’s position in the literary marketplace (Finkelstein 2009) and the imperial context in which Heart of Darkness was first presented to the reading public (Atkinson 2004). I will therefore restrict myself to reviewing the history of Conrad’s own reading of Blackwood’s. Conrad’s first reference to reading “Maga” was in September 1897, when he received a copy from William Blackwood. That he read this issue is clear from his comment on an article about Margaret Oliphant, in which he pronounced her work superior to George Eliot’s (CL 1:379). He received the November issue containing “Karain”, and commented to Blackwood (CL 1:401) on an article on Tennyson. Conrad provided comments (CL 2:81) to Cunninghame Graham, , about the August 1898 issue, whose contents are indexed here. At the end of that year Conrad praised (CL 2:127) Stephen Crane’s story “The Price of the Harness,” in the December issue, and again thanked Blackwood for copies received, explaining that “in truth it is the only monthly I care to read, and each number is very welcome“ (CL 2:129). In February the following year there is, unsurprisingly, evidence of Conrad reading the centennial issue featuring Heart of Darkness as he comments on other articles in this issue (CL 2:162). In July, he revealed to Neil Munro that he regularly scanned the (many) pages of advertisements for new book releases (CL 2:186). In October, he wrote to Blackwood that “Maga“ was his main reading, commenting on a number of contributions in recent issues (CL 2:213-4). In 1900, Conrad was still a regular reader, noting a review of Ford’s recent book The Cinque Ports (CL 2:301). In January 1902, while Pinker was courting popular outlets for Conrad’s fiction, such as Pall Mall Magazine and the Illustrated London News on his behalf, Conrad noted, “I only care for Maga, my first and only Love!“ (CL 2: 368), and he continued to receive issues until at least the following February 1903 (CL 2: 437). After this date there are no further references to Conrad reading the magazine regularly. Later, when considering the serialization of Under Western Eyes, he wrote: “B’wood since the old man has retired do not care much to have my work“(CL 4:9). Subsequent references are strictly nostalgic, as when he remarked wistfully in 1908 that Blackwood’s “took my name wherever the English language is read“(CL 4:49). In 1911, when considering submitting “Freya of the Seven Isles” to Blackwood’s, he famously remarked: “One was in decent company there and had a good sort of public. There isn’t a single club and messroom and man-of-war in the British Seas and Dominions which hasn’t its copy of Maga—not to speak of all the Scots in all parts of the world“(CL 4:506).
A periodical which Conrad began reading early in his writing career, but which never published his work during his lifetime, was the Saturday Review. While Conrad was in Brittany in May 1896, Edward Garnett sent him a copy, with the unsigned review of An Outcast of the Islands by H. G. Wells that began his ten-year association with Wells (CL 1:278). Conrad appears to have become a regular reader early in 1897 (just before he began corresponding with Cunninghame Graham, a regular contributor), when he noted how the Saturday Review had commented (CL 1:363) on the current serialization of “An Outpost of Progress” in the international magazine Cosmopolis. On 8 November 1897 (CL 1:407) Conrad noted that the latest Saturday Review had commented very favorably on the serialization of “Karain” in Blackwood’s and . on 5 December, he wrote to Garnett: “The ‘Nigger’ came out to date I believe but is not advertised in the Sat. Review” (CL 1:416). By 31 January 1898 he had read Arthur Symons’ comments “damning Kipling and me with the same generous praise“(CL 2:31) in that weekend’s edition. That he was a regular subscriber is obvious from evidence such as when the Saturday Review published Graham’s maritime sketch “S.S. Atlas” in April 1898, Conrad wrote to Graham: “It being Saturday I jumped at my number of the S. R.” (CL 2: 59).
At the end of 1898, in a vivid and memorable Christmas letter to his Polish relative Aniela Zagórska about the current state of British fiction (CL 2:137-139), Conrad promised to send cuttings from the Saturday Review and other periodicals, before giving her recommendations about contemporary writers (avoid: Marie Corelli, Hall Caine, Grant Allen; read: Kipling, Wells, J. M. Barrie). Between 13 and 19 January 1900, he read Graham’s “In a German Tramp” (CL 2:242), and on 3 March 1900 another story “Buta” in the same periodical (CL 2:254). From this point, Conrad’s references to this periodical in his correspondence diminish conspicuously: once in 1903, and again only in 1911. That Conrad had ceased reading this magazine is indicated by a letter of June 1911 telling  Norman Douglas that Graham had directed him towards an enthusiastic review of  Siren Land in the May issue (CL 4:446).
Between 1898 and 1902, Conrad’s letters allude regularly to the influential monthly The Academy (for which Garnett reviewed). The first indication of Conrad’s involvement was in 1898, when he wrote a review of Hugh Clifford’s Studies in Brown Humanity. In mid April 1898 the editor C. L. Hind sent him that month’s issue (CL 9: 63). In 1899 he may not yet have been a regular reader, since on receiving the Academy’s 50 guinea prize, he wrote to Stephen Crane, , saying that he had only just heard about it himself that day by mail (CL 2:151–52). By the end of 1899, Conrad was reading The Academy regularly, to judge from his comments to Garnett (CL 2:218). A year later, he mentioned (CL 2:301) its note on Galsworthy’s second novel Villa Rubein (1900); in July 1901, he asked Ford whether he, too, had seen a notice in the latest issueabout their own literary collaboration; and in April 1902 he complained to Ford about “your paper in the Academy mutilated as it is by the mystic mind” (CL 2:410). A reference to Garnett’s review of Youth in late 1902 (CL 2:456) is Conrad’s last mention of reading this periodical.
There is no evidence that Conrad engaged with literary movements such as the fin-de-siècle “little magazines” despite “The Idiots” appearing in the Savoy. He made scathing remarks about the Yellow Book and its writers, as “very aest[h]etic very advanced and think no end of themselves.” (CL 1:231). There is also very little evidence that Conrad read Modernist “little magazines” after he ceased regularly reading the English Review around 1911. However, during the final year of his life of his life  he received, and apparently greatly appreciated, several issues of T. S. Eliot’s recently founded literary quarterly Criterion: “which is really very good and did help me through some pretty bad, sleepless hours of more than one night” ( CL 8:233). This is unexpected, given his comment a few years earlier about being “too old and too wooden-headed” to appreciate Ezra Pound (CL 6:180). The contents of the Criterion issues he may have read can be viewed here. The issue for 1922 (1:1) included The Waste Land and an essay on Ulysses by the French critic Valery Larbaud. The following year, the Criterion published among other items, poems and essays by Pound, stories by Virginia Woolf and May Sinclair, and essays by Eliot, Roger Fry, W.B. Yeats, E. M. Forster, and Richard Aldington.
We get a contrasting glimpse of Conrad’s leisure reading, when John Conrad, in his affectionate memoir, recalls that his father often bought not only Punch but also La Vie Parisienne described as ‘a mildly risqué erotic publication’, very popular because of its witty, satirical and intellectual content, and its fine illustrations.. John recalled that his father “spent most mornings reading the papers until about half past ten”, although he does not specify which titles. John also remembered that his father surreptitiously read the Boy’s Own Paper Annual, which along with the pleasure he experienced from reading children’s books with his sons, may perhaps be a reflection of the absence, as he claimed of any real childhood reading of his own.

Foreign language periodicals
We have little information regarding Conrad’s reading of Polish-language periodicals as an adult. In 1896, he reported to Ted Sanderson that he had read translations of Tennyson, three years earlier, in a periodical which Conrad called the ”Warsaw Review” (CL 9:41). Its actual name and identity are unclear; he may have been thinking of the Warsaw literary weekly Głos (Voice), which published translations of contemporary foreign authors, or perhaps Tygodnik Romansow i Powiesci,which also published translated fiction (though not poetry) and which serialized An Outcast of the Islands in 1897.
Although there are three references in the index of the Collected Letters to Kraj, the daily newspaper started by Conrad’s father , in 1869, there is no evidence that Conrad read this newspaper, other than the article in the 22 April 1899 issue in which the novelist Eliza Orzeszkowa attacked him for leaving Poland (Najder 2007, 294-6). Only one other Polish periodical is mentioned: the short-lived Chimera, which. Conrad, in 1902, the year in which it was launched, described as “an extremely modern literary review in Warsaw” run by “very young lions” and to which he asked William Blackwood to send a review copy of his Youth, A Narrative and Two Other Stories to “let them chew it up and snarl over the flavour of the fossil” (CL 2:466). During the last year of his life, Conrad received Polish magazines and books from his young cousin and translator Aniela Zagórska (CL 8: 328), and he noted to her that an approving article on his work had appeared in Robotnik (Worker), a Polish Socialist magazine. Presumably Conrad also read Polish newspapers and periodicals as well as books while trapped in Zakopane in the autumn of 1914, .
Throughout his adult life Conrad read French newspapers and magazines. The record starts with Marguerite Poradowska and the Revue des Deux Mondes, the prestigious conservative Parisian literary journal which had published her own work . Conrad probably began reading the Revue in 1891 (CL 1:94). The following year he asked Poradowska to send a number containing her work out to Port Adelaide, where he was serving as first mate on the Torrens (CL 1:117, CL 1:119). In this and subsequent letters, Conrad confuses, for no obvious reason, the Figaro illustré, a lavishly illustrated weekly which did not carry Poradowska’s work, with the sober and serious Revue, which it in no way resembled. From 1902, Conrad’s references to the Revue fade away, the sole exception being when in 1909 he drew Galsworthy’s attention to the contents of the periodical’s regular pages on recent English fiction. Here, as well as commenting favorably on two of Galsworthy’s own novels (A Man of Property [(1906)] and The Country House [(1907) ]), the reviewer admires the first two works of Ford’s Fifth Queen trilogy (CL 4:48).
Conrad had been a regular reader of the long-established and prestigious literary magazine Mercure de France some years before it published a translation of “Karain”. In 1899, in a letter (CL 2:146) to his Polish cousin, he had noted its translation of Wells’ The Time Machine(1895).
Conrad also contributed to and apparently read the right-wing weekly Le Correspondent, although he was unaware of its existence before it serialized Robert d’Humières’ translation of The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ in 1909 (CL 4:238). Only in November that year did he first read it, noting editorial cuts to his work (CL 4:287). Much later in 1920, he thanked G. Jean-Aubry for two numbers of Le Correspondent containing his translation of “The Planter of Malata” (CL 7:92), and in a letter (CL 8: 23) of 1923 Conrad refers to Jean-Aubry’s recent and planned translations of parts of The Mirror of the Sea. In all these instances, it is unclear how often Conrad read the whole periodical or simply his own contribution.

The most curious instance of Conrad’s reading of French periodicals occurred between October 1907 and early 1908, when Conrad’s finances were in a particularly precarious state and he found himself substantially in debt. He began requesting, first from Ford and then from Pinker, copies of certain Parisian newspapers. Initially, Conrad asked for Le Figaro, a paper which, though readily available in London, he did not regularly read, and then, more conspicuously, the Petit Journal, a  mass circulation six-page daily whose last two pages were devoted to financial matters, including commodity trading figures and stock market reports. Conrad’s interest derived, however, from its publication of the results of the French national lottery (La Pochette Nationale), and in particular its 9 January 1908 drawing. As he explained to Poradowska, Jessie had bought a lottery ticket in Montpellier during the family’s second visit there the previous spring (CL 4:23). Conrad continued to ask Pinker to send him the Petit Journal, and in March asked Norman Douglas for specific back numbers from a vendor of foreign newspapers near the Café Monico in London, since   Smith’s bookstall at Luton Station was unable to supply it (CL 4:61–62); on 1 April, he again asked Douglas to obtain all the April issues (CL 4:72).
Lastly, although Conrad refers on eight occasions in his letters to La Nouvelle Revue Française there is only one recorded instance – in 1919- (CL 6:469) that he had read   this increasingly influential  literary monthly ,  edited by Gide from 1908 to 1914, and whose commemorative issue on Conrad’s death was influential in enhancing his posthumous reputation in France.

Reading vs. serialization
How did Conrad’s attitude towards those periodicals he read, either habitually or casually, compare with his attitude towards those in which his work appeared during his lifetime?  Once he started targeting the lucrative market for popular magazine fiction, he often allowed his work to be placed in magazines and newspapers which he himself professed to despise. Conrad’s active engagement with popular magazines, extensively analysed by Stephen Donovan (2005) occurred during a period of unprecedented expansion of print culture generally and the popular mass circulation press in particular; increasing leisure for the working classes and with expansion of national rail and transatlantic shipping networks allowing rapid distribution, and a much wider circulation, was greatly to the advantage of expanding newspaper empires such as those of the Harmsworths.  Conrad however probably read very few the periodicals in which his work appeared. Obviously, he would not have been familiar with the large number of minor North American provincial publications  in which works such as Chance were dispersed. This leaves about seventy English, French, and major North American periodicals in which his work appeared during his lifetime, together with a small handful of serializations in Polish and other European languages. Available evidence indicates that he at some stage read no more than twenty-five of these titles, either habitually or, as is more often the case, only during the period of serialization.
Although Conrad praised, and later made nostalgic comments, about certain newspapers, (the Daily Telegraph, the Standard, and the Singapore Free Press), which did not serialize his work to any significant extent, he was  rarely complementary about other periodicals, with the exception of Blackwood’s, and he made scathing observations about many others which serialized his work. He reserved his greatest contempt for some of the American magazines on which he depended economically; his comments on their style and content nevertheless suggest that he at least glanced at them.
In 1907, he told Ted Sanderson, referring to the appearance of “The Brute” in McClure’s Magazine: “I send you an Yankee Mag with a story of mine which is not so bad in workmanship I fancy though otherwise a trifle. Read the story in the train and throw the magazine out of the window“(CL 3:508). In 1909, to Pinker: “I am certainly not anxious to appear in McClure Mag. I am too English and even too European a writer for my prose to fit in with the dreary crude stuff he prints” (CL 4:307). This “dreary crude stuff“ was in 1907 embedded in considerably more pages of advertising than content, styling itself “the market place of the world”. Conrad was both uncomplimentary and cavalier about Ridgway’s, a very short-lived American magazine promoting itself as a “Militant Weekly for God and Country” in which an extensively altered version of The Secret Agent first appeared. He wrote to Pinker: “Ridgways are sending me their rag. It’s awful—and it doesn’t matter in the least“ (CL 3:369).
In 1914, the Smart Set, a “Magazine of Cleverness”, which Conrad described in 1912 as “without doubt the most contemptible sort of thing” (CL 5:135), serialized his one-act dramatization of “Tomorrow” (1904). He later described it more mildly to Pinker as the “silly Smart Set” (CL 5:305), having meanwhile informed its editor, H. L. Mencken, in a slightly insincere-sounding letter, that the magazine had been a “good friend to my prose for years” (CL 5: 292). He allowed Victory (1915) to go to Munsey’s Magazine, justifying his tardiness in submitting an episode, with the high-handed and slightly ambiguous observation that he was “too big a person to allow anything of mine to go out even to Munsey’s which is obviously not fit for intelligent readers“ (CL 5:393).
Conrad was also sarcastic and dismissive about certain English periodicals in which his work appeared. The Liberal Daily News which he called ‘that depressing and righteous rag’ (CL 4:137) and whose only merit, in his eyes was that it employed his friend Perceval Gibbon, published Conrad’s long essay on the Balkans as well as essays on his 1914 visit to Poland. His relationship with the Daily Mail, which he did take at home, and which published thirteen of his pieces, was complicated and is summarised here and in more detail by Donovan (2009).

Periodical reading in Conrad’s fiction
Conrad’s fiction is rich in representations of acts of reading, and he weaves real bibliographic information about contemporary periodicals (and books) into his fictional narratives. While not evidence of reading as such, such representations were presumably derived from his own experience of, or at least a passing acquaintance with, specific editions of certain books and issues of periodicals. As Norman Sherry long ago argued: “The more closely we examine the facts of Conrad’s experience in the East the more we are forced to conclude that Conrad rarely referred to factual detail that he had not personally encountered and could record accurately” (Sherry 1963, 163). Just as Conrad’s fictional topographies can be traced to personal experience, so, too, can the references to reading in his fiction be credibly matched to with real texts .
In Under Western Eyes both the teacher of languages and Mrs Haldin read, in Geneva, Conrad’s old favourite, the Standard. In an episode of Chance, we hear that Flora de Barral “had lately taken up painting in water-colours, having read in a high class women’s weekly paper that a great many princesses of the European royal houses were cultivating that art” (Conrad 1923, 111). The allusion may have been to the long-running Queen or perhaps its recent competitor, The Gentlewoman, at 6d, relatively expensive weeklies aimed at an aspiring upper-middle-class readership. While there is no evidence that Jessie Conrad, or Conrad’s secretary Miss Hallowes subscribed to either of these periodicals at this time, this specific detail is convincing evidence that at some stage Conrad himself had somewhere browsed one of these periodicals. In Chance, the “grave tones of the dailies rumbling with compassion like the national bowels“(Conrad 1923, 85) are sympathetic towards the victims of fraud when reporting on Mr de Barral’s trial. Conrad may have here had in mind, the national dailies he himself read regularly during that period, such as the Times or the Daily Telegraph, or perhaps the liberal Daily News “that depressing and righteous rag” Earlier however “the greatest portion of the press was screeching in all possible tones like a confounded company of parrots“(74) about how the financier was promoting the moral imperative of thriftiness; Conrad’s language here, suggests that here he had in mind a wide range of popular mass circulation periodicals , Newspaper reading in the first half of Chance, plays a central role in the narrative progression of a novel that was itself aimed at readers of a popular weekend newspaper. Newspaper reading is also recurrently invoked in The Secret Agent (Nohrnberg 2003). When Inspector Heat confronts Mrs Verloc with the remains of Stevie’s overcoat, he first pulls out his evening newspaper which is several times described as “pink”. Although the serial version, unlike the book, does not mention the Inspector’s interest in horseracing, the allusion may well be to The Sporting Times, known as the ”Pink ’Un”, or Bell’s Life in London, and Sporting Chronicle, also pink paper.
Readers of Almayer’s Folly learn that,in the fictional Borneo settlement of Sambir, “Captain Ford, coming up to Almayer’s house for an evening chat, brought late numbers of the Straits Times [the main competitor of the Singapore Free Press] giving news of the Acheen War and the unsuccessful Dutch expedition” (Conrad 1923a, 48)). However, the most memorable example of the fictional representation of periodicals as material objects, and of their penetration deep into British and Dutch colonial territory, is in “The End of the Tether at the house of the Dutch trader Mr. van Wyk,:

Handy on the verandah, upon a walnut étagère (it had come last year by the Sofala—everything came by the Sofala) there lay, piled up under bronze weights, a pile of the Times’ weekly edition, the large sheets of the Rotterdam Courant, the Graphic in its world-wide green wrappers, an illustrated Dutch publication without a cover, the numbers of a German magazine with the covers of a “Bismarck malade” colour.

Figure 1. The Graphic,1 June 1872.

While the last two periodicals are not readily identifiable, we know that while Conrad was in South-East Asia the Graphic sported a standard covering front page, always in the same format (see Figure 1). Another image (personal communication from Dr Elizabeth Tilley, National University of Ireland, Galway) reveals that its outside cover was indeed pale green, with a red and black border (see Figure 2).


In this essay I have drawn on empirical data from Conrad’s letters and memoirs to examine some details of his wide reading of periodicals, and to link this evidence to the data on serialization available at Conrad First, with a view to illuminating his sustained and ambivalent relationship towards this literary medium. Despite the general caveats about evaluating reading experiences, Conrad’s own record of reading periodicals, at least in his letters, seems reasonably credible, when the content is cross checked against currently available digitised versions.

Figure 2. The Graphic, 8 January 1887

This survey reveals is that Conrad read periodicals throughout his life, at times in three languages and for many reasons. There is a visible trajectory to this reading, from childhood exploration, through to acquisition of English language and identity, building then on a shared reading community to maintain and enrich his literary friendships; then acquiring an awareness of the commercial market and the conventions of serial fiction, and later in life, simply for pleasure. Throughout his life as a writer, some of his motives were “professional”. These included feedback on the reception of his own work; and market research. He also read periodicals for personal reasons: these included nostalgia, loyalty to his literary friends staying abreast of current affairs, particularly during political crises and wartime; seeking practical solutions to financial hardship; passing time or dealing with insomnia and for general relaxation. Throughout his career as a writer Conrad’s comments in his letters about his reading of periodicals repeatedly reveal his ambivalence towards this type of publication, and his mixed feelings about the press industry and journalism as a profession; this despite his friendship with Lord Harmsworth, and despite having a several journalists as friends.
It is apparent from the many examples given here, that during the early years of his career Conrad conscientiously read every available publication in which his own work appeared. He also sought out periodicals containing reviews of his own work, although he also relied heavily on press clippings. During his early career, when Conrad established his most important literary friendships, he enthusiastically read those periodicals which carried the work of friends, including Marguerite Poradowska, John Galsworthy, Edward Garnett, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford and R. B. Cunninghame Graham., Conrad also sought out reviews of their work, which he commented upon, at times in a tone of loyal outrage.
Apart from his involvement with the English Review, discussed elsewhere on this site, Conrad was not a reader of modernist little magazines until very late in life, and then only by chance; throughout his life his periodical reading tended generally to be conservative, other than reading contributions by friends in the more liberal publications. It was only during wartime that his own range of reading expanded to cover liberal newspapers, in part because of his association with journalists who worked for these papers.
This survey also provides a snapshot of the distribution circuits of periodicals, both in the colonial Far East, within Europe, in London and the English provinces where Conrad lived. Conrad’s representations of periodicals in his fiction are vivid and verifiable. We see that he sought and read French language periodicals, literary and recreational, all his life, and he appreciated the (rare) opportunities to read Polish ones. There is abundant evidence of sharing periodicals among friends, facilitated by the efficient postal services of the day. Perhaps, most significantly, my survey has highlighted Conrad’s ambivalence towards and frequent disdain for, those periodicals in which much of his commercially successful work appeared.


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Helen Chambers graduated in medicine from Monash University, Melbourne, and after postgraduate training and a satisfactory clinical, academic, and administrative career as a specialist pathologist at university hospitals in Canada, Australia, and the UK, gained her MA in literature. She is now a doctoral candidate in the Book History Research Group of the Open University’s English Department, working on Conrad’s reading practices.

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