Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

The First Conrad Translation: An Outcast of the Islands in Polish

Marcin Piechota, University of Opole, Poland

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

[2,915 words]

[Essay first published in The Conradian 30/1 (Spring 2005): 89–96. Reproduced by permission.]


The very first translation of a Joseph Conrad novel was Wyrzutek, a Polish translation of An Outcast of the Islands which began to appear in Tygodnik Romansów i Powieści [The Weekly of Romances and Novels] on 2 January 1897, only ten months after its first publication in England (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Whether Conrad ever knew anything about this translation is not certain; it receives no mention in his extant letters to Aniela Zagórska or to any other Polish correspondents. However, he must have seen some Polish translations of his works, since in an interview with Marian Dąbrowski in 1914 he was extremely critical of them. When Dąbrowski asked him about Polish translations of his works, Conrad replied: “To begin with I was never even asked for permission to translate my books and besides, the translations are extremely poor. It is real agony for me to read things that were written in English in my native language [...] And the Polish translations are so careless, so unfaithful to the original. [...] the Polish [translations] always irritate me.”1
The bibliographical record of Wyrzutek is plagued with error. In 1936 Piotr Grzegorczyk identified the anonymous translator as Maria Gąsiorowska, but placed the translation in the wrong journal, claiming that it was published in Tygodnik Mód i Powieści [The Weekly of Fashions and Fictions].2 This error was repeated in the bibliography section of Ludwik Krzyżanowski’s Centennial Essays in 1960, and again in the currently most comprehensive and up-to-date Polish bibliography of Conrad, compiled by Wanda Perczak.3 This oversight has meant that this first of all Conrad translations has been difficult to find, and it has yet to receive any close attention from Conrad scholars.
Both weeklies were published at the same time, they were similar in character, and their titles differed by only a single word; but the readers of Tygodnik Mód were mostly women, while the other weekly enjoyed a more general readership. Tygodnik Romansów i Powieści was a popular and readily accessible weekly published from 1867 until the end of the century. The publisher advertised it as “the most regular [magazine] coming out every Saturday, containing 16 columns of two slips tightly printed in Garamond” [all translations from Polish are mine]. According to the publishers, “every issue of the magazine includes an original novel by one of the most adequate Polish authors, one or two novels excellent and involving translated from foreign languages, as well as a weekly chronicle of the literary, artistic, political and scientific events which took place last week, in our country as well as abroad” [italics added].
Most of the authors published in Tygodnik Romansów are now long forgotten. Conrad’s first translation could be read in the context of Polish translations of works by Theodor Zobellitz, E. Ekstein, Wilhelm Bergsöe, H. Zschökke, or by Polish writers such as Wiktor Gomulicki and Helena Romowska. Eliza Orzeszkowa, who in 1899 denounced Conrad for having abandoned his country, had published some articles in the weekly thirty years earlier.4 Those few authors still remembered and read nowadays include the French dramatist François Coppée, the dramatist and critic Jules Lemaître, and the Italian novelist Antonio Fogazzaro. Many novels were serialized in Tygodnik Romansów before they appeared in Polish as books; for example, Fogazzaro’s novel Malombra was published as a book four years after it was serialized (1901), which suggests that the publisher intended not only to entertain his readers but also to test the reception of works for eventual publication as books. This may help to explain how Conrad’s novel found its way into the weekly: both to satisfy the readers’ taste for exotic adventure and to make them aware of new trends in the larger literary world. Subscribers received complimentary copies of the books by Polish writers published in Tygodnik Romansów. Samuel Lewental, the publisher of the magazine, was a son-in-law of the famous financier and social activist Matias Berson, and was himself involved in social and cultural issues. Lewental was a well known personality, one of a number of successful publishers of Jewish origin then active in Warsaw.
The name of the translator, identified by Piotr Grzegorczyk as Maria Gąsiorowska, appeared nowhere in the weekly. Was Grzegorczyk guessing about her identity – she went on to translate The Secret Agent in 1908 – or did he know it from other sources now inaccessible? There is no entry for “Gąsiorowska” in the Polish Bibliographical Dictionary.
Wyrzutek appeared in ten consecutive weekly issues of Tygodnik Romansów i Powieści every Saturday from 2 January to 6 March 1897. The exact division was as follows:

No. 1462 – pp. 17-28, to the beginning of Part I, Chapter 4
No. 1463 – pp. 49-60, to the opening of Part I, Chapter 6
No. 1464 – pp. 85-90 (end of Part I); pp. 90-92, beginning of Part II
No. 1465 – pp. 113-124, to Part II, Chapter 4
No. 1466 – pp. 147-156, to Part II, Chapter 6
No. 1467 – pp. 177-178, Part II finished; 178-188, to Part III, Chapter 3
No. 1468 – pp. 207-214, Part III finished; 214-220, to Part IV, Chapter 2
No. 1469 – pp. 239-252, to Part IV, Chapter 5
No. 1470 – pp. 277-279, Part IV finished, 279-284, Part V, Chapter 1
No. 1471 – pp. 295-312, Part V finished

There was no introduction, no foreword or afterword, no translator’s note, and no explanation of why the novel was being published. The opening page carried only a very brief note about the author: “[Joseph Conrad] is a Pole, Konrad Korzeniowski, the son of the late poet Apollon and Ewelina née Bobrowska. Born in Wołyń, at a very young age [he] entered the French merchant marine, then traveled extensively by sea and is today around 40 years of age.”
The text of Wyrzutek is considerably shorter than Conrad’s original version, and also shorter than Aniela Zagórska’s translation first published in 1936.5 Grzegorczyk noted that Parts III and IV were condensed, but all the parts of the novel were seriously abridged. Part I is the longest, as in the original, but even here several passages were omitted. The passage beginning with “The billiard balls stood still as if listening also [...]” and ending with “where the eye sought repose in the dimmer gleam of rare oil lamps” contains 269 words in Dent’s Collected Edition,6 and 214 words in Zagórska’s translation, but only 72 words in Wyrzutek, which radically condensed Conrad’s description of the Chinaman and the game of billiards. Similarly, the details of Willems’ dealings with the Rajah of Goak were omitted, denying Polish readers access to the humour of this episode (in which the gilt glass coach sold by Willems was used by the Rajah as a hen-coop). Wyrzutek also steered clear of nautical expressions like those in the passage following Lingard’s words “Knows his place” (16). Perhaps it was thought that readers would not understand terms such as “stern sheets” or “yoke lines,” so they could be disregarded. Similar cuts were made at the end of Chapter 4, where Conrad showed his early mastery of dealing with the sea:

He remained motionless, listening to the rattle of blocks and the creaking of trusses as the head-yards were hauled round. Sail was made on the ship and the windlass manned again while he stood still, lost in thought. He only roused himself when a barefooted seacannie glided past him silently on his way to the wheel.
“Put the helm aport! Hard over!” he said, in his harsh sea-voice, to the man whose face appeared suddenly out of the darkness in the circle of light thrown upwards from the binnacle lamps.
The anchor was secured, the yards trimmed, and the brig began to move out of the roadstead. The sea woke up under the push of the sharp cutwater, and whispered softly to the gliding craft in that tender and rippling murmur in which it speaks sometimes to those it nurses and loves. Lingard stood by the taff-rail listening, with a pleased smile till the Flash began to draw close to the only other vessel in the anchorage. (44)

This passage was treated with barbaric brevity, rendered simply as: “the anchor was up, the brig started to move” (54). Several other such descriptions were ignored or reduced to minimal paraphrase, as when “Serang! Take a pull at the main peak halyards. This gaff is down on the boom” (187) is simplified to: “Some sort of call could be heard from far away” (185). At the end of Part 2, Chapter 2, we learn how Willems has been cheating his boss when Hudig says, “don’t forget about these opium cases [...] And don’t you come to me with another story of a case dropped overboard like last time” (19). This entire conversation, 139 words in the original (and 143 in Zagórska’s translation) is a mere 37 words in Wyrzutek. The last passage of the chapter, revealing Mr. Vinck’s disgust for Willems, was shortened to a single sentence.
Other passages abridged in Wyrzutek include the story of Babalatchi’s arrival in Sambir, the description of the settlement given while Willems wanders through it, and the last chapter of Part I (mistakenly numbered XII), which is only half the length of the original or of Zagórska’s translation. Part I of Wyrzutek is the longest of the five parts, and the remaining four grow progressively shorter with respect to the original. Is this condensation an expression of the translator’s haste or boredom, or was it perhaps occasioned by editorial constraints? In any event, Wyrzutek also replaces Conrad’s rhetorically constructed paragraphs with more frequent and awkward paragraphing. For example, at the beginning of Part I, Chapter 3, before Willems’ words “You have the money I left at home this morning Joanna?” (26), Wyrzutek has seventeen paragraphs instead of Conrad’s seven. This abrupt technique may be typical of journalistic style, which insists on shorter visual units, or may result from the need to adjust lines to fill out a printed page.
Finally, let us consider the accuracy of the translation itself. Something is always lost in translation, but some features of this first Conrad translation may also interest readers who do not know Polish. To begin with, the translator had a problem with Malay. This is perhaps not surprising given the time and cultural circumstances of the translation, but the translator’s ingenuity is thought-provoking to say the least. When Lingard’s nickname is presented, “Rajah Laut – the King of the Sea” (14), Wyrzutek omits the Malay phrase entirely, giving only the Polish equivalent, “Król morza” (22). However, the Malay epithet reappears when Abdulla greets Lingard at the end of Part I, Chapter 4, but here without translation, so that the reader is unlikely to understand Abdulla’s “Greeting to the Rajah Laut!” (45). The translator seems uncertain about the meaning of the term. Instead of “Rajah Laut,” Lingard is called “Rajah Lingard” (Aïssa refers to him this way) or “Great Rajah” (which is what Nina and Babalatchi call him, and what he calls himself when speaking to Babalatchi).
Wyrzutek avoids using or translating Malay exclamations (Tida, Ada, Ikat, Kasi Mem) or phrases (Anak Putih, Orang Blanda), which deprives the translation of an element of local colour. Orang-Putih is translated not as “white man” but as some sort of place women come from – “a woman of the Orang-Putih” (47); and praus are apparently something that bring luck: “he had [...] trading praus, and praus for fighting” (46) is translated as “he was lucky in trade and fight” (54). In all fairness, the translator did manage to understand some Malay words, even if only their Polish translation is given: a suratis indeed a letter (list), and a kriss a little dagger (mały sztylecik). Some changes may reflect on the attitudes of the translator, as when Willems’ idea that “Ah! Well! he wanted a home” (9) is rendered as “Of course! He needed a housewife” (20). Sometimes Conrad’s passages are supplemented with explanatory insertions, as in the confrontation between Willems and his wife, where the passage “He waited for her to speak. Then he would have to console her; tell her not to be a crying fool; to get ready to go. Go where? How? When? He shook his head. They must leave at once; that was the principal thing. He felt a sudden need to hurry up his departure” (26) is transformed into “After she has spoken, he will comfort her when she starts crying like a hurt child. Eventually there are sacred things in life and one of them is marriage. He will take her with himself” (25; italics added). The translator also seems to avoid phrases possibly offensive towards women: the description of Aïssa as “A she-dog with white teeth” (47) becomes “she whose teeth are shining” (54). And the translator also seems to distance herself, perhaps more insistently than Conrad did, from implications of racism. To the original passage in which Willems “prided himself upon having no colour- prejudices and no racial antipathies” (35) is added: “which is so rare among the whites” (50). All the foreigners, including Ali, speak perfect Polish, and the word “whites” appears in inverted commas (53). Nonetheless, some changes defy explanation: “[This man] has a large canoe; he can take you there. To the new Rajah’s clearing, tell him” (312) becomes “This man has a large boat and he can take you to your husband who is called the New Rajah here” (296).
The translation is also at times surpassingly metaphorical. Conrad’s phrase “the French mind [which] set the Egyptian muscle in motion and produced a dismal and profitable ditch” (12) is figurative enough, but in Wyrzutek it becomes more direct: “the French genius invented hellish instruments” (21). In the same way, “an angry hand” (85) becomes a straightforward “hand of Evil,” and “the way of his Lord” (109) is “the path of the Lord over the Lords” (119). At the same time, some idiomatic expressions are apparently misunderstood. Lingard’s admonition to the indignant Almayer, “You scold like a fish wife” (163), is translated as “Jęczysz jak cielę morskie,” literally “you moan like a sea-calf” (179)!
Perhaps the most striking error in Wyrzutek begins with the very first chapter, where niemiecki (“German”) is used instead of holenderski (“Dutch”). Did the translator mistake “Dutch” for “Deutsch”? Accordingly, Willems escaped from a German-Indian village in Samarang (18); he swears in Malay, German, and English (119); and he gives orders to hoist the German flag (184) in Sambir, which, like the rest of the Malay Archipelago, is a German colony! In situations where German is entirely unsuitable, adjectives are avoided, words are omitted (Almayer wants dollars, not guilders and dollars from Joanna), and phrases are ignored. Willems’ father in Conrad’s novel was an “outdoor clerk of some ship-broker in Rotterdam” (16), which is clearly not a German city, so Polish readers are told that he is from “somewhere in the world” (22); but since Polish readers must know where the boy comes from, Lingard’s remark to Willems, “you ran away from the big ship that sailed this morning. Well, why don’t you go to your countrymen here?” is clarified by having Lingard tell Willems, “you must be German” (22). Needless to say, there is no such phrase in the original. Along with these mistakes, Wyrzutek also contains a number of misprints: Malay names are variously spelled (Lakomba), and Lingard’s famous brig has three different names, the first two of them more suggestive of taverns than of the open sea: Flask, Flesh, and finally Flash.
With all this in mind, it perhaps becomes easier to imagine what Conrad would have thought if he had read this translation. A careful reading of Wyrzutek supports the judgment he expressed to Dąbrowski in 1914. Yet at the same time, one must admit that with all its many flaws, Wyzrutek was a pioneering attempt to translate Conrad’s exotic world into Polish in a manner which not only introduced the writer to a wider Polish readership, but also paved the way for further and better translations. The first translation of Lord Jim appeared in 1904, of The Secret Agent in 1908, and of Under Western Eyes in 1917, and eventually the first Polish collected edition of Conrad’s works, translated by Aniela Zagórska with Conrad’s approval, began to appear in the 1920s.



1. Marian Dąbrowski, “An Interview with J. Conrad,” in Conrad under Familial Eyes, ed. by Zdzisław Najder, transl. by Halina Carroll-Najder (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983), 200. Originally published as “Rozmowa z J. Conradem” in Tygodnik Ilustrowany no. 16 (18 April 1914), 309.

2. Piotr Grzegorczyk, Józef Conrad w Polsce (Warsaw, 1932).

3. Ludwik Krzyżanowski, “Joseph Conrad. A Bibliographical Note,” in Krzyżanowski, ed., Joseph Conrad: Centennial Essays (New York: The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1960); Wanda Perczak, Polska Bibliografia Conradowska 1896-1992 (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, 1993). It should be noted that since 1972 the correct reference has been available in Zdzisław Najder’s introduction to his edition of a selection of Conrad’s short stories; see Conrad, Wybór Opowiadań (Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa, 1972), p. lxxii. An image of the first page of Wyrzutek was included in the second Polish edition of Najder’s biography, Życie Conrada-Korzeniowskiego (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Alfa, 1996) plate no.45, facing page 289.

4. Orzeszkowa’s attack and Gomulicki’s review of Lord Jim are also included in Conrad under Familial Eyes, 182-96.

5. Joseph Conrad, Wykolejeniec, trans. Aniela Zagórska (Warszawa, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1956).

6. Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands (London: Dent, 1949), 6; henceforth abbreviated OI.