Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

The Textual History of Conrad's ‘The Partner’

By Emily K. Dalgarno

© Emily K. Dalgarno. No part of this text may be reposted or republished without the permission of the author.


The history of Conrad's short story, ‘The partner', is important mainly in the unusual degree of its completeness as well as for a disquieting resemblance to certain otherwise isolated problems in the interpretation of some manuscript passages in his more important works. Conrad wrote at a time when not only might a magazine editor freely alter his work, as was the case with, for example, The secret agent,1 but also on occasion die typist, as seems implicit in this note boxed in red pencil in the margin of the manuscript of Lord Jim: 'Where MS. illegible leave blank space. Mistakes—repetitions and imperfect sentences to be typed exactly as written.'2 The correspondence with his agent, J. B. Pinker,3 is filled with Conrad's complaints about liberties taken with the text of novels and stories. The manuscript of Heart of darkness makes clearer his attitude to colonialism than does the printed version, and the passage about 'the destructive element' in Lord Jim is also less ambiguous in the manuscript.4 It would seem that informed criticism of Conrad's fiction is dependent on the establishment for each work of a copy-text from the available manuscript and typescripts.
The history of 'The partner', as it may be reconstructed from the manuscript,5 partial typescript, serial proof, and related correspondence with Pinker, illustrates the particular problems of choosing a copy-text for Conrad's works. Many critics have assumed that the manuscript, typescript, serial, and book versions comprise an orderly sequence, whereas the peculiar nature of Conrad's relationship with Pinker, and his need to sell a manuscript immediately, considerably complicate the relationships among the documents.
'The partner' is a melodramatic tale told by an old stevedore to a first-person narrator who is a professional writer looking for material. The plot concerns two men who, in order to collect insurance money, conspire successfully to sink a ship, as a result of which the captain perishes. The section near the beginning in which the two narrators compare their points of view is considerably longer in the manuscript than in the printed versions. It emphasizes the intimacy of the stevedore's connection with the world of his tale. He himself is concerned in a salvaging operation, and runs two music halls in 'the "Variety" world he exploited'. As a result he is associated 'with certain audacious unsuspected adventures which brush [off del, past interlined] our doors, our respectable uncontaminated doors' (fols. 3-5). In this version it is clear that the story concerns authentic and unauthentic understanding of certain experiences, even though neither narrator is a seaman.
The story appeared first in Harper's magazine (November 1911) and subsequently in Within the tides (London :J. M. Dent& Sons, 1915; Garden City, New York: Doubleday Page and Company, 1916). The manuscript is complete, and one may infer from instructions to the typist (in the margin of fol. 48) as well as from letters to Pinker, that two typescripts existed, although apparently neither is extant. Pinker sold the story to Harper's with the understanding that Conrad would revise it in compliance with the suggestions of 'Mr. Alden [the editor]'. On 4 March 1911 Conrad wrote: 'I think that the additional 120 words or so improve The Partner in so far that now nothing remains unexplained. Will Harpers send me a proof do you think? Owing to the peculiar narrative style it 11 require the author's eye.'
Once the story was in print, Conrad began to establish the text for book publication. Three letters addressed to Pinker in November 1911 show his concern that the page and a half added at Harper's request had been mislaid. In the second he wrote, ‘The Partner’ in Harpers is sadly mauled in the last 3 pages.' The final passage would have to be reconstructed from memory when preparing the new text. 'Thanks for type of Partner', he wrote. 'I shall add a couple of pages to that story for book form. I wish I could get the text I sent to Harper's. It's slightly different and in parts longer than the one you have sent me. Could you when (and if) you write to them ask if it [is] possible to get it?' A marked set of Harper's galley slips together with three additional pages of typescript6 seem intended as the printing-house copy and suggest that Conrad did not recover the text prepared for Harper's. The corrections are in Conrad's hand and the typescript folded in four so as to make it the same size as the galley slips. That Conrad did not choose to work from the manuscript may be explained in part by the fact that he had mailed it to John Quinn in an envelope postmarked 'Ashford, Kent, JA 30/12'.
The manuscript, serial, and book versions of the tale differ most significantly in the ending, of which there are three distinct versions. The manuscript ends appropriately with an emphasis on the stevedore's sense of identity with the community he has been describing:

What makes me sick is to hear these silly boatmen telling people that the captain committed suicide. Pah. Captain Harry was a man that could face his maker any time up there and here below too. He wasn't the sort to slink out of life. Not he. He was a good man And [down to the ground.] He gave me my first job as stevedore only three days after I got married.

fol. 85.

The version printed in Harper's contains the addition of a deathbed scene in which the stevedore recreates the madness of one of the criminals.' "Then he went crazy . . . screamed and threw himself about, beat his head against the bulkheads . . . you can guess all that—eh? . . . till he was exhausted.'" And much more. Conrad's style is scarcely fitted for the direct representation of psychological disorder, and the introduction of such a passage has the effect of destroying the delicate union between teller and tale, the creation of which was one of Conrad's chief distinctions as a writer. The first two sheets of the typescript prepared for the book text, numbered T and 'II', end with instructions in Conrad's hand to continue with the text of the Harper's proof. These sheets contain a version of pp. 183-5 of the Dent edition that shows Conrad reducing the number of commas and correcting quotation marks. A third sheet, labelled 'A', contains a paragraph new in the book edition, written in an entirely different tone which castigates the complacency of magazine readers:

Sheet 'A', reproduced from the original in The Polish Library, London, by kind permission of the Polish Social & Cultural Association Ltd. The original of the area reproduced measures approximately 21-5 x 19-7 cm.

The authority of both printed versions is so seriously compromised that neither could serve as copy-text, even though as Conrad wrote to Pinker in connection with the serial publication of Under western eyes, he was interested in 'establishing the text' of each piece of work, and considered Harpers a comparatively reputable publisher. As one might expect, the serial version is corrupt as regards both substantives and accidentals. It was revised to accommodate editorial taste, to which Conrad acceded for financial reasons. And the accidentals, the number of which Conrad greatly reduced when marking the Harper's proof for the book version, presumably were a part of the publisher's styling.
The editor who chooses the manuscript as copy-text, on the grounds that both substantives and accidentals seem closer to the author's intentions, should realize that by the time Conrad assembled the text of Within the tides, the original manuscript was no longer available to him, although Conrad apparently had in his possession a typescript, which he regarded as faulty, and the proofs of the serial version. Further, the relationship of the page of typescript labelled 'A' to the manuscript and the rest of the printing-house copy for the book is ambiguous. The page is not of the same series as the first two typescript pages added to the Harper's proof, and may have been written at any time in the interval between 30 January 1912, and 1915. It contains the final paragraph of the book version, in which the professional writer complains of textual robbery, and must have been written after Conrad had had time to reflect on die history of his text as well as the meaning of the story.
It would be comforting to dismiss the textual history of 'The partner' as an oddity among the minor works of Joseph Conrad. The best of his short fiction was published in Blackwood's magazine early in his career. Yet Conrad chose to reprint it along with 'Youth', 'Typhoon', and other stories in The shorter tales of Joseph Conrad (Doubleday, 1924), with this explanation in the Preface of the unity of the collection:'... they are all authentic because they are the product of twenty years of life—my own life. Deliberate invention had little to do with their existence—if they do exist. In each there lurks more than one intention' (p. xii).
Boston, Massachusetts



1. A comparison of the manuscript, serial, and book versions shows that the serial version was carved out of the work that Conrad wrote.

2. Reproduced in The library of John Quinn, Part One [.d-C] (New York: The Anderson Galleries, 1923). p. 172.

3. Their correspondence, covering the yean 1899-1924, is in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, the New York Public library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. I am indebted to the curator, Ms. Lola Szladits, and to the J. M. Dent Company, the Trustees of the Joseph Conrad Estate, for permission to publish excerpts.

4. Jonah Raskin, 'Heart of darkness: The manuscript revisions', RES 18 (1967), 30-9; and Kenneth B. Newell, The destructive elementand related "Dream" passages in die Lord Jim manuscript', Journal of modem literature, I (1970), 31-44.

5. The manuscript and the envelope in which it was sent are in the Rosenbach Foundation Museum, Philadelphia, Perm. I am indebted to Mr. dive Driver, Curator, for permission to read and cite the manuscript, and to the American Council of Learned Societies for travel funds.

6. The proofs and pages of additional typescript, in the Polish library of London, are described in the catalogue compiled by Jadwiga Nowak, The Joseph Conrad collection in the Polish Library in London, London, 1970, pp. 6 and 8. I am indebted to Ms. Nowak, and also to Ms. Maria L. Danilewicz for permission to reproduce sheet 'A'.