Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

The First Serialization and Translation of Conrad: Almayer’s Folly in Het Nieuws van den Dag (Amsterdam), May–July 1896

Robert Steltenpool, University of Amsterdam

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


A long-held scholarly assumption that that Almayer’s Folly (1895) was never serialized in its author’s lifetime has recently been overturned by a dramatic discovery in the digital archives of the National Library of the Netherlands. On 5 May 1896, Het Nieuws van den Dag, an Amsterdam daily, published on its front page the opening installment of a new feuilleton: “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” by “Jozef Conrad”. The first of Conrad’s works to be published in serial, it ran for thirty-two issues until 13 July that year. Appearing as it did barely a year after the English publication of Conrad’s debut novel, it was also the first time that his writing was translated into any language.
“Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” is a remarkable translation, above all, because of the context in which it was published. Conrad’s novel, which deals directly with problems of Dutch colonial rule in Eastern Borneo, was juxtaposed with newspaper reports about a military crisis in Aceh, an independent state on the island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The Netherlands had been involved in a bloody and protracted war with Aceh since 1873, and the failure of Dutch forces to annex this region raised questions about the status of the Netherlands as a colonial power. The juxtaposition even offers an unexpected echo of the fictional Almayer in the person of Toekoe Oemar, a native Aceh chief fighting on the Dutch side, who similarly betrayed his allies by supplying gunpowder to the “enemy”.
“Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” is also remarkable because of drastic changes that were introduced to the translation. In view of the controversial Aceh War, one would expect some minor cases of political censorship; yet there are almost none. However, in areas where one would not expect many changes, “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” has been extensively abridged and modified. These alterations—the addition of exotic terms and the removal of several character descriptions—suggest an editorial policy aimed at producing a cultural translation, that is, a translation adapted to the putative wishes of the newspaper’s audience. In this extensively adapted form, “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” gives a valuable insight into how Conrad’s early work was received in the Netherlands. The translator/newspaper editor may have thought that some of the colonial relations and the internal development of its characters were too complex for the desired serial, which may, in turn, have resulted in a translation bearing the characteristics of a simple romance set in the “exotic” location of Borneo.
In this essay I will provide an analysis of the changes that were introduced to the serialized translation and the articles that appeared alongside its instalments. These significant juxtapositions and textual additions highlight and suppress key themes in Almayer’s Folly. Before turning to the radical changes made to the translation, I briefly outline the history of Het Nieuws van den Dag. I then turn to the political context of the serialization at a time when the Netherlands was bogged down in a protracted war with Aceh, news of which occupied a large portion of the newspaper. Finally, I provide an analysis of the important additions, changes and cuts that have been introduced to “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”. The translation of Almayer’s Folly in Het Nieuws van den Dag provides a fascinating record of how different editorial strategies were used in the serialization of Conrad’s debut.

Het Nieuws van den Dag
Het Nieuws van den Dag (“The Daily News”) (henceforth HND) was founded in 1873 by Georg Lodewijk Funke (1836–1885) and quickly became a widely-read newspaper with about 40,000 subscribers in the Netherlands. HND occupied a uniqueposition in the Dutch press because, unlike other newspapers such as De Standaard (conservative/antirevolutionary) or De Tijd (Catholic), it had no stated political or religious affiliation. “Working in a liberal direction, the editors wish to serve no particular party other than the Dutch people, to whom they have pledged their love,” declares HND’s founding manifesto. The newspaper would neither “catechize” nor be “schoolmasterish”, but simply provide “the news of the day” (qtd. in Wennekes 1995, 80, my translation).
It is likely that Funke, whose publishing company had brought out the famous anti-colonial novel Max Havelaar by “Multatuli” (Eduard Douwes Dekker) in 1860, was responsible for the newspaper’s commitment to fiction (Wennekes 1995, 94). Funke’s commitment to this novel might also have some more direct links with Conrad’s debut in Holland, since both novels have much in common and Almayer’s Folly may well have been influenced by Max Havelaar. Prominent critics such as Edward Said (1993, 240) have cited Max Havelaar as a rare case where a narrative completely rejects the Western project to civilize the non-Western world. Furthermore, G. J. Resink has argued cogently that the English translation of Max Havelaar (1868) influenced “Karain” (1898), Lord Jim (1900), and Almayer’s Folly (see Resink 1961, 178, and Resink 1961, 28).
Each issue of HND devoted about 1700 words to serialized fiction, spread over two pages. Among its many published serials were short stories, novellas, and complete novels, often translated from French, Russian, and English. In the month preceding “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” the following stories were published: “Mignon’s Echtgenoot” (“Mignon’s Husband”) by John Strange Winter; “Haar Zoon” (Her Son [Dutch]) by Agnetha; “Pri” (Dutch) by M. de Vries; “De Mensch voor de Vierschaar der Dieren” ( Man in the Animal Tribunal[Russian]) by E. Joesjin; “Twee Bloemensprookjes” (Two Flower Fairytales [Dutch]) by van E.; “De Geschiedenis van een Banknoot” (“The History of a Banknote”) by Alexander Dumas, fils. And in the year after: “Herinneringen eener Piano” (Dutch, Memories of a Piano) by Vita,”Annie Tousey’s Redmiddel” (English, Annie Tousey’s Little Game) by Margaret Sutton Briscoe,”Onze schoonzuster Martha” (Dutch, Our Sister in Law) by H. Berends. In just these two months HND shows its cosmopolitanism by translating two novels from English, one story from French, and one from Russian. Yet Conrad’s novel is clearly the odd one out. Averaging twelve issues, the typical HND feuilleton is far shorter than “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” and falls into the category of light fiction without literary pretentions.
In addition to the daily feuilleton installments, HND contained a number of other literary features. For example, each short story or serial novel is prefaced by an aphorism by a famous international poet, novelist, or philosopher. Thus “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” begins with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Het leven is zoo kort niet, of er is altijd tijd genoeg ons beleefd zijn” (Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy) (Emerson 1883,448). The statement becomes ironic when juxtaposed with Almayer’s Folly in that Almayer never fully extends such courtesy to his daughter; he merely succeeds in forgetting her existence.
Another defining feature of HND was its commitment to reporting the latest news from the Dutch East Indies. Although it was largely a politically neutral paper, Funke aimed for a “patriotic account” of the latest developments in Dutch colonial conflicts (qtd in Wennekes 1995, 80). Its editor-in-chief, Dr Pierre Henri Ritter (1851–1912), a former minister and professor of philosophy, made an effort to acquire news from the Dutch Indies using the latest communication technology. Although Singapore had been connected to the international telegraph system, it was no simple matter for HND to obtain news from Batavia (now Jakarta), as Wim Wennekes explains:

To convey the important victory over the rebellious population of Lombok, the news report had to travel by mail packet from Lombok to the telegraph station on Boeléléng on Bali, and then the telegram began a day-long trip through above and underground wires and relay stations in Singapore, Bombay, Suez, Marseille, and Paris. (Wennekes 1995, 93, my translation)

HND reserved ample space for these colonial reports, compiling daily accounts of the Aceh War from telegrams and detailed personal letters by officers who wrote to the newspaper on a regular basis.
In the Netherlands at this time the names of the translators of newspaper serials were hardly ever made public, with readers being given only the language of the original story and its author: “Naar het Engels” (from the English) is the only information provided in the first installment of “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel.” Ordinarily, this would make discovery of the identity of the Dutch translator of Almayer’s Folly almost impossible. However, HND has an extensive archive in the Amsterdam City Archives, where I was lucky enough to uncover a name in the newspaper’s financial accounts. The Company Accounts for August 1896 mention a certain “Miss C. M de Meyier” as having been paid 95 guilders for “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” (Kasboek 1895–1896). This was a substantial sum of money; according to the International Institute of Social History’s price index, this had the same purchasing power as 2,700 euros today.  While I have been unable to learn more about De Meyier, whose birth and death dates do not appear in any municipal archives (she may have been born in the Dutch Indies), her name is also mentioned in connection with the Dutch translation of four other English novels: Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (1881) (Prins en de Bedelknaap, 1882), Mary Louisa Molesworth’s “Grandmother Dear” (1878) (Grootmoedertje, 1889]), Israel Zangwill’s The Old Maids’ Club (De Oude Vrijsters Club, 1899). One of the better-known of these was Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,which appeared in translation, together with Meyier’s pseudonym “Myra”, as De Lotgevallen van Tom Sawyer in 1877. De Meyier thus evidently had some experience in translating English novels into Dutch, and was able to work quickly. Her translation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper appeared in the same year as it was published in America (1882). However, unlike Conrad’s later Dutch translators, such as Clara Eggink (1906–1991), who re-translated Almayer’s Folly in 1955 with the title Liefde en Noodlot op Borneo (Love and Fate in Borneo) de Meyier was not a literary figure—no novels are listed, under her own name or her pseudonym, in Dutch library catalogues.      
In spite of the extensive archives that have been preserved for HND, it remains unclear why the newspaper chose Almayer’s Folly for its feuilleton. Only the records of the editorial meetings from 1873–1894 have been preserved and in these little is said about the serials that would appear in the newspaper. Nevertheless, there must have been a special reason for its decision to translate and serialize a novel by an unknown author—a novel, moreover, that was far longer than those hitherto serialized. Perhaps the editors were drawn to the laudatory reviews that appeared in English newspapers, such as the prominent article in The Guardian in which the reviewer argued that Almayer’s Folly was “one of the most charming romances” with “the scene laid in the strange weird world lying within the Malay Archipelago” (rpt in Simmons et al 2012, 42).  Similarly, perhaps they realized that a “romantic” story set in a Dutch colony would perfectly match their goal of supplying news from the East, and for this reason chose to take a risk on an unknown writer while remaining completely unaware of Conrad’s unique approach to the colonial romance. Admittedly, before making the final decision the editors might have read the novel and realized that it was too controversial, but in a partial or cursory reading it is easy to miss some of the more intricate political themes.

While the colonial setting of “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”likely appealed to a Dutch audience, its juxtaposition on the page alongside accounts of the Aceh War could well have been politically explosive. It will be remembered that the major subplot in Almayer’s Folly centers on Almayer’s betrayal of Dutch authorities: several Dutch soldiers are hurt and two are killed when Dain sets fire to Almayer’s gunpowder on his brig. In March 1896, just before HND began serializing “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel,” the Aceh War underwent a significant escalation as Muslim forces turned on their Dutch allies and inflicted a massacre on their troops.
The origins of the war went back to the Napoleonic occupation of the Netherlands, when British forces took over Dutch territory in the Indonesian archipelago. Although the Dutch regained control of their colonial possessions after Napoleon’s defeat, conflict arose when both countries claimed control of the region. A compromise, the so-called Raffles Agreement of 1824, was signed by both parties in order to defuse the situation. The Netherlands gave up its claims to Macassar, and in return the British government relinquished its claims to Sumatra. The Raffles Agreement also stipulated that the independence of Aceh, a separate state in Sumatra, would be guaranteed by the Dutch government. However, this final clause proved problematic for the Dutch authorities, who were eager to annex a fertile piece of territory. The Netherlands and Britain finally came to a new agreement in 1871. Terms of this Sumatra Agreement gave the Dutch government free hands with Aceh, and in 1873 the first Dutch expeditionary force was dispatched to the region. Yet this expedition and the following proved ineffective in the face of stiff resistance offered by the various sultanates on the island (see van ’t Veer 1969, 49–57).
What had been envisaged in Amsterdam as a quick land-grab turned into a protracted conflict that dragged on until 1942. In 1896, as “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” was appearing in HND, the Third Aceh War was raging. In 1896, strengthened by fresh troops and using new guerrilla tactics, Dutch forces managed to drive the Aceh forces back into the mountains (Bossenbroek 2001, 16–18). But just when the Dutch were gaining ground in Aceh, disaster struck. One of their main allies, Toekoe Oemar (Teuku Umar 1854-1899) , switched sides, and in clashes fought on 28 March 1896, inflected heavy losses on his former allies (see van ’t Veer 1969, 200–1).
The Dutch press was shocked by this betrayal and called for a strong military response. The Algemeen Dagblad described the events as “very serious reports” (my translation), and in the Netherlands songs even circulated calling for Oemar’s death: “Toekoe Oemar should hang / From a rope / From a rope / Toekoe Oemar and his wife” (qtd in van ’t Veer 1969, 211; my translation). Reeling from this outrage, HND published detailed eyewitness accounts in an attempt to uncover what exactly had transpired before Oemar’s fateful decision. In one letter to the newspaper, an officer reports that Oemar had received “378 breech loading rifles with cartridges, and 500 muzzle-loading rifles with 500 kilograms of gunpowder” (my translation) as well as being provided with 18,000 dollars for the purchase of opium and transportation. Oemar had used these weapons and munitions against the Dutch forces. In a strange coincidence there are two gunpowder plots in HND; one fictional (Almayer), the other real (Oemar).
There are, however, some differences between both acts of treachery. Oemar’s defection was clearly planned in advance. He obtained the gunpowder and new weapons just before he rebelled, and began to surround Dutch military compounds on the next day. Furthermore, when it was clear to everyone that his troops had switched sides, he wrote three letters to the Dutch government complaining that he and his troops had not been treated with enough respect and he that his troops would return to duty if an extra sum of cash was delivered to him. The Dutch officials did not fall into this trap, however, and promptly began organizing their defense against this unexpected threat. Oemar was to pay for the rebellion with his life; he was killed in an ambush by Dutch troops in 1898 (van t’Veer 1969, 199–202). In contrast, Almayer’s treachery is revealed when a group of Dutch officers come to interrogate him. Although he has committed a capital offence, he comes off lightly, avoiding criminal charges because the officer in charge is interested only in procuring “assistance in catching this Malay” (Conrad 1994, 93). In fact, it is Almayer who has been betrayed because “‘an Arab trader of this place [Sambir] has sent the information about your [Almayer’s] goings on here to Batavia, a couple of months ago’” (Conrad 1994, 93). The Arab is, of course, Abdullah, who is carrying out his plan to rid Sambir of any economic competitors—one of the other shadowy plots in Almayer’s Folly.
Toekoe Oemar’s betrayal strengthened the Dutch resolve to use all necessary measures to subdue the enemy, even if that meant destroying each village that offered resistance. The HND reported an officer as saying that “any kampong that resisted should be destroyed by fire and sword”. Some officers seemed even to be enjoying the spectacle of destruction, noting that “it is a pretty sight to see a shell explode between a group of Acehers”.
Nor was Oemar, for his part, averse to excessive violence, as indicated by reports of an attack on Kota-Radja and Oleh-leh: “What a massacre of all those women and children! What a massacre of wounded in the hospital in Pantej Perak!”. Admittedly, these might be exaggerated claims because there are no other eye-witness accounts to corroborate events.
Almost every one of the thirty-two installments of “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” was accompanied by news of war and death in Aceh. Instead of providing a patriotic account of military successes, Conrad’s tale of treason mirrors the one perpetrated by Oemar.
The juxtaposition in HND would have made it hard for “patriotic” readers of HND to feel any sympathy for Almayer’s actions. With Oemar’s betrayal fresh in their memory, Almayer’s pathetic and tragic flaws, like his foolish ambition to provide a better life for his daughter, would have been overshadowed by his disloyalty to his country. And many readers would probably have wondered, perhaps even with a sense of outrage, why Almayer was not tried and punished for treason.


Admittedly, the juxtaposition of “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” with war reports from Aceh is purely coincidental; the editors of HND could not have known that Oemar was going to betray his allies. Nevertheless, it should have been clear to them that Almayer’s Folly, far from celebrating Dutch colonial conquest, illustrates the powerlessness of its rule in Borneo—a lack of power now mirrored by the Dutch colonial army’s failure to defeat the uprising in Aceh. Much of the controversy caused by the context of the serial could have been avoided by a simple editorial operation, such as changing Almayer’s nationality from Dutch to British. Strikingly, however, the only outright act of censorship in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” focuses not on political issues, but on a character of seemingly little importance.
The editors of HND evidently felt it necessary to give Hudig, a very minor character in Almayer’s Folly, a completely new name: Jansen. Jansen is a kind of everyman in Dutch, since there are so many people named Jansen that it is proverbially hard to distinguish between them. The implication of the change seems clear: HND was trying to protect a family or business in the Netherlands named Hudig.
In his youth Almayer is described as having worked at one of several warehouses owned by Hudig in Macassar. Conrad provides a detailed description:

After those twenty years, standing in the close and stifling heat of a Bornean evening he recalled with pleasurable regret the image of Hudig’s lofty and cool warehouses with their long and straight avenues of gin cases and bales of Manchester goods; the big doors swinging noiselessly; the dim light of the place, so delightful after the glare of the streets; the little railed-off spaces amongst piles of merchandise where the Chinese clerks, neat, cool, and sad-eyed, wrote rapidly and in silence amidst the din of the working gangs rolling casks or shifting cases to a muttered song, ending with a desperate yell. At the upper end, facing the great door, there was a larger space railed off, well lighted; there the noise was subdued by distance, and above it rose the soft and continuous clink of silver guilders which other discreet Chinamen were counting and piling up under the supervision of Mr. Vinck, the cashier, the genius presiding in the place—the right hand of the Master.
In that clear space Almayer worked at his table not far from a little green painted door, by which always stood a Malay in a red sash and turban, and whose hand, holding a small string dangling from above, moved up and down with the regularity of a machine. The string worked a punkah on the other side of the green door, where the so-called private office was, and where old Hudig—the Master—sat enthroned, holding noisy receptions. Sometimes the little door would fly open disclosing to the outer world, through the bluish haze of tobacco smoke, a long table loaded with bottles of various shapes and tall water-pitchers, rattan easy-chairs occupied by noisy men in sprawling attitudes, while the Master would put his head through and, holding by the handle, would grunt confidentially to Vinck; perhaps send an order thundering down the warehouse, or spy a hesitating stranger and greet him with a friendly roar, “Welgome, Gapitan! ver’ you gome vrom? Bali, eh? Got bonies? I vant bonies! Vant all you got; ha! ha! ha! Gome in!” Then the stranger was dragged in, in a tempest of yells, the door was shut, and the usual noises refilled the place; the song of the workmen, the rumble of barrels, the scratch of rapid pens; while above all rose the musical chink of broad silver pieces streaming ceaselessly through the yellow fingers of the attentive Chinamen. (Conrad 1994, 7).

After Almayer is enlisted by Lingard, Hudig’s name is mentioned only a few more times in passing, most notably in relation to his bankruptcy: “the old man’s [Lingard’s] banker, Hudig of Macassar, failed” (Conrad 1994, 21).
The name was probably suppressed in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” because there was a family shipping firm in Rotterdam called Hudig & blokhuyzen, which also had an office in Amsterdam on Prins Hendrikkade 125 (Moore 1992, 107). This company appears in a series of shipping advertisements that were published alongside the installments of “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”. It would make sense for the editors of HND to change “Hudig” to “Jansen” to avoid any possible conflicts with a company whose advertisements provided a lucrative source of income.
Furthermore, Hudig might have been changed to Jansen in order to protect a particular member of the Hudig family. The fictional Hudig that appears in both Almayer’s Folly and An Outcast of the Islands (1896) has a historical counterpart.  In The Mirror of the Sea (1906), Conrad describes waiting for a shipment of cargo for the Highland Forest, and making regular visits to a Mr. Hudig to complain about the cargo delays. Conrad characterizes this Mr. Hudig as a “big, swarthy Netherlander” who used to give him “a large cigar” before “shoving me into a chair, and in excellent English would start to talk everlastingly . . . about the weather” (Conrad 1946, 51). Conrad’s sketch of this Hudig has much in common with the fictional trader in Almayer’s Folly who owns a series of godowns or warehouses in Macassar. Furthermore, Hudig’s affability towards visitors in The Mirror of the Sea recalls the following scene in Almayer’s Folly: “the Master [Hudig] would . . . greet [the visitor] with a friendly roar . . . . Then the stranger was dragged in, in a tempest of yells, the door was shut, and the usual noises refilled the place” (Conrad 1994, 7). As G. J. Resink first pointed out, the Hudig to whom Conrad refers in The Mirror of the Sea resembles Jan Hudig Dirkzoon (1840–1927), director of the Koloniale Bank of Amsterdam and a grandson of the founder of the Rotterdam and Amsterdam shipping agency (see Resink 1972, 358).  The editors of HND possibly realized that the fictional Hudig in Almayer’s Folly was based on the man whom Conrad had met in 1887 and who was still an important figure in Amsterdam. It is even possible that Jan Hudig knew the HND’s editor-in-chief,Pierre Henri Ritter, since the two men lived on the same street in Amsterdam. (According to the Algemeen Adresboek for 1886–1887, Jan Hudig lived at 118 Vondelstraat, and Ritter at number 15.)
The publication of An Outcast of the Islands in April 1896, which the editors of HND could have learned about directly or indirectly through reviews in English newspapers, made protection of Jan Hudig more urgent in light of his even more prominent role in that book. In An Outcast of the Islands Willems becomes Hudig’s primary agent and performs a number of shady transaction for him (illegal arms- and gunpowder-dealing), and he also marries Hudig’s illegitimate daughter without informing the other man.
It is questionable, however, whether Jan Hudig would have objected to his representation in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”. The only negative reference to the fictional Hudig in Almayer’s Folly relates to his lack of business sense; he goes bankrupt by lending his remaining funds to Lingard, while the historical Hudig was a successful banker. Jan Hudig could hardly have objected to Conrad’s depiction of him as a friendly person sympathetic to strangers.

Translating Colonialism

Before turning to the more drastic cuts in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel,” I want to focus on several additions that were made to the translation. The title of the translation, “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”, already announces that the text diverges from the original. “Luchtkasteel” (air castle) stresses Almayer’s inclination to believe in dreams of a golden future where the “folly” of the original title highlights the dangers and foolishness of chasing this dream. Furthermore, several other changes reveal how de Meyier read Conrad’s novel in the context of Dutch colonialism. Conrad uses the word verandah (a word derived from the Portuguese and British presence in India) to describe the roofed part of the porch of Almayer’s house. Instead of using the viable Dutch word veranda, de Meyier chose three other terms: gallerij, voorgallerij, and pendoppo. While the first two can be seen as variations on the English word verandah, the latter is an uncommon word that refers to a specific architectural style on Java.   
At first I assumed that pendoppo was a Malay word that de Meyier introduced to the text because it was more appropriate in the cultural context than the Anglicized verandah, but pendoppo does not occur in any of the Malay-English and Malay-Dutch dictionaries that I consulted. Instead, pendoppo is listed as a Javanese word that derives from the Sanskrit mandapa (Pigeaud 1938, 467). The Malay word for verandah, sěrambi, is not used by Conrad or de Meyier (Badings 1913, 416). A pendoppo,a raised roof where people could sleep under, is a common feature of Javanese architecture, and some more ornamental versions can still be seen in palaces on Java. This is how Multatuli (Douwes Dekkers) describes the pendoppo in Max Havelaar : “Imagine four or six bamboo posts, driven into the ground and connected at the top by further bamboos, on which a cover has been fixed, made of the long leaves of the Nipa palm, called atap in those parts; and then you have a picture of such a pendoppo” (66).
Clearly, this isolated, roofed structure does not correspond to the verandah that Conrad is describing. This raises the question why the translator used pendoppo, when there were other, simpler terms at her disposal. One possibility might be that she used this Javanese term to diversify the original text, which relies on one word. However, this is unlikely because she used pendoppo right at the beginning of the serial, before there was any need to vary the use of the Dutch veranda.
Instead, I want to propose that de Meyier, through her own specific reading of Conrad’s text, made a cultural translation that brought Almayer’s Folly closer to the Dutch colonial context. In other words, the foreign words that give Almayer’s Folly its “oriental” nature were translated into otherforeign words that seemed similarly “oriental” to someone familiar with the Dutch empire. To clarify this translation of the colonial context, it is necessary to distinguish between two types of foreign words that appear in Almayer’s Folly. First, there are foreign words used in Almayer’s Folly—such as Radja Laut, Mem Putih, makan, gutta-percha, and Tuan—that Conrad’s English audience would not have known. The translator does not substitute any of these words, but in some cases the spelling is changed. Second, there are foreign words that have already become part of the English lexicon, such as verandah, prau, godown, and punkah. Some of these words, because they had no equivalent in the Dutch lexicon, were substituted by Dutch words (godown, punkah), but others, like verandah, were replaced by Malay or Javanese words. Pendoppo is thus introduced into the translation to create a story that is the product of Dutch rather than British colonialism.
Another case is also indicative of de Meyier’s aim to provide a cultural translation. Almayer’s house lies near a banana plantation, but this is not translated by using the Dutch word banaan, but by the Malay term pisang and the Malay-Dutch pisangboom. Furthermore, when Conrad speaks about Nina’s robe this is changed to the more “exotic”-sounding sarong (strictly speaking, a sarong is not a robe but a cloth wrapped around the waist). The translation has become cultural; not only is the cultural context changed to the Dutch colonial world by changing verandah into pendoppo, but, in some cases, the translation has also been made even more “exotic” like when banana (a word that is no longer foreign in English) is changed to pisang.
Further evidence that de Meyier was aiming at more than a faithful gloss of the original is suggested by her response to Conrad’s errors. When, for example, Conrad failed to notice that he had used the word “Brow” —a reference to the real village of Berau—instead of the fictional Sambir, de Meyier noticed the mistake and omitted the reference altogether so as to avoid confusion (Conrad 1994, 33). In a different case, de Meyier refused to reproduce Conrad’s misspelling “Orang Blando—the hated Dutchmen” (the Malay word for Dutch being Blanda or Belanda), which she replaced with the politically vague term “den gehate blanke” (the hated whites). When Conrad later gets it right, de Meyier reproduces the term “Orang Blanda” without any modifications.                  

Yet these minor variations in the translation pale in comparison to the number and type of cuts made to Almayer’s Folly in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”. Most immediately, several substantial passages, amounting to about 5,500 words, have been removed from Conrad’s original. The haphazard manner in which these deletions occur throughout the translation does not suggest a coherent editorial policy. Some cuts are placed at the beginning, almost none are made in the middle, and most appear near the end. Perhaps the editors had misjudged the length of Almayer’s Folly and tried to end it prematurely. But without any sources of information about the people responsible for these deletions, that is, de Meyier or the other editors, we are left with speculation. Seeking the rationale for these excisions, I will instead focus on the kind of passages that are removed, and consider whether they are important to the plot or individual characters, or merely give descriptive color to the narrative events.
Some cuts are relatively harmless, as when de Meyier shortened descriptive scenes such as the following:

Over the low river-mist hiding the boat with its freight of young passionate life and all-forgetful happiness, the stars paled, and a silvery-grey tint crept over the sky from the eastward. There was not a breath of wind, not a rustle of stirring leaf, not a splash of leaping fish to disturb the serene repose of all living things on the banks of the great river. Earth, river, and sky were wrapped up in a deep sleep, from which it seemed there would be no waking. All the seething life and movement of tropical nature seemed concentrated in the ardent eyes, in the tumultuously beating hearts of the two beings drifting in the canoe, under the white canopy of mist, over the smooth surface of the river. (Conrad 1994, 53)

This scene is not included in the translation. As a deletion it is relatively well-chosen, since no information essential to the plot is lost. Without this particular passage readers would understand that the entire boat episode symbolizes the progression of Nina and Dain’s mutual romantic attachment. Remarkably, however, few of de Meyier’s deletions target the many descriptive set-pieces of this kind that Conrad uses in Almayer’s Folly.
Other excisions directly affect the plot and its developmental logic, as in the scene where Babalatchi picks up the golden anklet from a corpse that has been washed ashore after the storm. The corpse, actually one of Dain’s men, has been fitted with gold anklets in order to deceive the crowd into thinking that Dain is dead. The anklet also serves as a minor plot device by foregrounding the hierarchical and cultural differences between Babalatchi and other Muslim inhabitants of Sambir, such as Mahmat. Mahmat is angry because Babalatchi has ordered him to drag the dead body onto shore, which he claims is considered an unclean act for Muslims. He complains that he has “been defiled” and demands the anklet as recompense (Conrad 1994, 73).
Although Babalatchi eventually gives the anklet to Mahmat, the following passage, explaining how the broken anklet has been taken from the body, was not included in the translation:

Babalatchi had taken the broken anklet off the man’s leg, and now held it in his hand as he moved by the side of the bearers, while Mahmat lingered behind timidly, in the hopes of the promised reward. (Conrad 1994, 79)

This deletion creates a continuity error. Some lines on, Nina recognizes the anklet, and says to Babelachi: “You have a bangle there” (Conrad 1994, 79). In the Dutch translation the remark is confusing because the reader is unaware that Babalatchi has removed it from the body. The mistake presumably escaped the attention of de Meyier and the editors of HND, being misidentified as a piece of non-essential information that could be removed without any consequences. And yet such excuses cannot be made for subsequent excisions in Conrad’s text, excisions that have a distinct effect on characterization.
One deletion in particular has drastic consequences for Nina’s development as a complex character whose violent inner conflicts center on an ambiguous relationship to her mother and father. In a remarkable piece of editing, the HND serial version cuts the entire episode relating to Nina’s decision to follow her mother’s native background instead of the “civilized” Western ideals represented by Almayer. The entire scene, some three hundred words, is not included in the translation. This paragraph contains an important conclusion which Nina draws from her experiences in the Protestant school in Singapore and her three years in Sambir. Although outwardly different, both cultures are, as she sees it, essentially the same:

And now she had lived on the river for three years with a savage mother and a father walking about amongst pitfalls, with his head in the clouds, weak, irresolute, and unhappy.  She had lived a life devoid of all the decencies of civilisation, in miserable domestic conditions; she had breathed in the atmosphere of sordid plottings for gain, of the no less disgusting intrigues and crimes for lust or money; and those things, together with the domestic quarrels, were the only events of her three years’ existence.  She did not die from despair and disgust the first month, as she expected and almost hoped for.  On the contrary, at the end of half a year it had seemed to her that she had known no other life.  Her young mind having been unskilfully permitted to glance at better things, and then thrown back again into the hopeless quagmire of barbarism, full of strong and uncontrolled passions, had lost the power to discriminate.  It seemed to Nina that there was no change and no difference.  Whether they traded in brick godowns or on the muddy river bank; whether they reached after much or little; whether they made love under the shadows of the great trees or in the shadow of the cathedral on the Singapore promenade; whether they plotted for their own ends under the protection of laws and according to the rules of Christian conduct, or whether they sought the gratification of their desires with the savage cunning and the unrestrained fierceness of natures as innocent of culture as their own immense and gloomy forests, Nina saw only the same manifestations of love and hate and of sordid greed chasing the uncertain dollar in all its multifarious and vanishing shapes.  To her resolute nature, however, after all these years, the savage and uncompromising sincerity of purpose shown by her Malay kinsmen seemed at last preferable to the sleek hypocrisy, to the polite disguises, to the virtuous pretences of such white people as she had had the misfortune to come in contact with.  After all it was her life; it was going to be her life, and so thinking she fell more and more under the influence of her mother.  Seeking, in her ignorance, a better side to that life, she listened with avidity to the old woman’s tales of the departed glories of the Rajahs, from whose race she had sprung, and she became gradually more indifferent, more contemptuous of the white side of her descent represented by a feeble and traditionless father.
 (Conrad 1994, 34-35)

Contained in these lines is a powerful critique not just of Western imperialism, but of Western progress. In Nina’s eyes such progress is a chimera: at its core the West is driven by a primordial impetus, the same driving forces of lust and greed that motivate Sambir’s native inhabitants to enrich themselves. Armed with this new insight, Nina decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps because “the savage and uncompromising sincerity of purpose shown by her Malay kinsmen” is preferable “to the sleek hypocrisy, to the polite disguises, to the virtuous pretences” of the people she dealt with in Singapore (Conrad 1994, 33). De Meyier’s translation summarizes this passage as follows: “she had learned to accept this way of life, and while she did this, she came more and more under the influence of her mother” (my translation). Her reasons for following her mother’s ways have become stoic; she is resigned to her new position in Sambir because her father is absent and has his “head in the clouds” (Conrad 1994, 33).
The consequences of this deletion for Nina’s character are both numerous and important. Critics such as Harry Sewlall have pointed to this passage as offering a crucial challenge to “the dominant male protagonist and his putative Western superiority and culture” (Sewlall 2006, 86). The decision to delete this challenge to Western superiority might be interpreted as act of censorship, and other cases of mild censorship are certainly to be found. For instance, the translation of Mrs Almayer’s insistence that she is not a slave, since she is Almayer’s “Christian wife after [his] own Blanda law” (Conrad 1994, 32), omits reference to “Blanda law,” thereby suppressing a key reference to the Dutch civil laws by which Mrs. Almayer is entitled to protection.
As such, these deletions and changes suggest that De Meyier and the editors of HND deliberately tried to suppress Conrad’s critique of Dutch colonial rule in Borneo. Yet this could not have been prompted by state censorship, since freedom of press was guaranteed by the Constitution of 1815. It might, however, be a case of self-censorship. Repressive censorship was implemented in the Dutch Indies by the Printing Press Act of 1857 in an attempt to restrict the distribution of anti-colonial material. In stark contrast to the freedom of press in the Netherlands, its colonies faced severe repression, as, for example, when a Dutch writer was sentenced for one year in prison for insulting the colonial government (Kuitert 2011, 84–86). Of course, these censorship laws did not apply to an Amsterdam newspaper such as HND, but it does show that criticism of Dutch colonial rule was a sensitive subject, especially during the wars in Aceh at the end of the nineteenth century.
Viewed in its entirety, however, “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” does not seem to have been subjected to political or ideological censorship. As mentioned above, many of the novel’s politically controversial topics and plot developments, such as the references to illegal gun-running, Almayer’s nationality, and slave ownership (then illegal in the Dutch empire), are left unchanged. Furthermore, the deletion of Nina’s thought processes cannot be explained in terms of the requirements of serialization. Transforming a text into a serial makes certain demands on the story. By convention, each serial instalment should be a story unit that makes some sense on its own, and should end on a partial conclusion or unresolved conflict. In “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel,” by contrast, there is no evidence that its editors took any such structural approach in order to reshape the text along these lines. For example, most of the serial instalments adopt different chapter breaks than in Conrad’s original, but without adding a logical structure of their own.
These changes should instead be seen as illustrating a much simpler editorial approach to the text. As already noted, the editors of HND had probably been expecting what the Guardian had advertised as “one of the most charming romances,” only to find themselves publishing a complex novel that dealt colonialism and colonial subjects at a number of different levels. In order to get what they were expecting from the novel, they removed some of the intricate aspects of major and minor characters. This hypothesis is supported by concerns voiced by HND’s editorial board about what female readers wanted from the newspaper. HND was searching for a specific brand of literature that appealed to women, something they called “dameslectuur” (women’s reading): “Let’s see to it that it becomes good [the newspaper]; considering the large number of female subscribers, [it should have] good feuilletons” (Editorial Minutes 1894, my translation). The editors may well have worried that female readers would have seen Nina, in being too confrontational towards her Western heritage, as not conforming to the stereotypical romantic heroine in most of HND’s otherfeuilletons.
Many other deletions support this reading of the translation as an attempt to produce a less intricate story, as, for example, in the following description in which Nina’s negative reminiscences of Singapore are juxtaposed with her growing love for Dain:

And in the great tumult of passion, like a flash of lightning came to her the reminiscence of that despised and almost forgotten civilisation she had only glanced at in her days of restraint, of sorrow, and of anger. In the cold ashes of that hateful and miserable past she would find the sign of love, the fitting expression of the boundless felicity of the present, the pledge of a bright and splendid future. (Conrad 1994, 55–56)

By removing this passage, the translator (or editor) disconnects Nina from her past, making her into a girl cast loose in an “exotic” world and predestined to love an “exotic” prince. Without these ruminations, which crucially highlight the origins of Nina’s passion, the love affair takes on the characteristics of a more conventionally “oriental” romance. On this view, Nina and Dain love each other because they are mysteriously “exotic” and beautiful, and destined to each other. Conrad’s emphasis on Nina’s emotional development, in which her love originates in a renunciation of her Western past, has no place in this simplistic version of romance.
Further evidence that HND aimed at producing a conventional romance is provided by another excision, this time that of an entire mini-episode in which Dain battles the shadows of his own imagination. Waiting for Nina’s arrival in his hideout near Bulangi’s house, Dain suffers an existential crisis of a kind experienced by many of Conrad’s characters as they endure extended periods of isolation:

They would come from there. In imagination he saw them now. . . . Carried away by his excitement, he snatched the kriss hidden in his sarong, and, drawing a long breath, rushed forward, struck at the empty air, and fell on his face. He lay as if stunned in the sudden reaction from his exaltation, thinking that, even if he died thus gloriously, it would have to be before he saw Nina. Better so. If he saw her again he felt that death would be too terrible. With horror he, the descendant of Rajahs and of conquerors, had to face the doubt of his own bravery. His desire of life tormented him in a paroxysm of agonising remorse. He had not the courage to stir a limb. He had lost faith in himself, and there was nothing else in him of what makes a man. (Conrad 1994, 126)

Conrad’s deep attachment to realism and ambiguity led him to portray the weaknesses of his heroes, and in this small episode he demonstrates that even the son of a great rajah can lose faith in a moment of extreme stress and isolation. Dain’s fears are made real and externalized as he lunges out at his psychological self and the mental phantoms that he tries to vanquish. In removing these moments of inner conflict, de Meyier makes Dain more like the static, one-dimensional heroes whom HND readers expected to find in feuilleton adventure stories.
Finally, I want to highlight the excisions that deprive some of the minor characters in “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel”of much of their personal history. In many of Conrad’s novels even the minor characters have depth; they are accompanied by personal stories that explain their current state of mind, or show how they have changed over time. One such passage provides the background to Babalatchi, who, we learn, has a violent past:

No doubt the one-eyed statesman felt within his savage and much sophisticated breast the unwonted feelings of sympathy with, and perhaps even pity for, the man he called his master. From the safe position of a confidential adviser, he could, in the dim vista of past years, see himself—a casual cut-throat—finding shelter under that man’s roof in the modest rice-clearing of early beginnings. Then came a long period of unbroken success, of wise counsels, and deep plottings resolutely carried out by the fearless Lakamba, till the whole east coast from Poulo Laut to Tanjong Batu listened to Babalatchi’s wisdom speaking through the mouth of the ruler of Sambir. (Conrad 1994, 65)

Again, this entire section is deleted in the translation. The cut is a particularly cruel one because it takes something away from the colonial subject: a perspective on the present colonial world that is informed by memories of a time when its native inhabitants faced little interference from Dutch colonial rule. Formerly Babalatchi and Lakamba ruled the coast of East Borneo; now they have become slaves to white men. This passage is important in showing the complexities of a colonial world that, as Conrad stresses, is multidimensional and layered with many different subdivisions of the slave/master dyad. The slave-girl Taminah is owned by Bulangi, who must, in turn, must do homage to Lakamba, who, for his part, must obey the Dutch governor; the true natives of Sambir, the Dyaks, have been driven into the jungle long before the action of the novel takes place.

It is tempting to see “Almayer’s Luchtkasteel” as more than just a translation; a cultural object that has been remodeled to fit the Dutch context. But even though there is some evidence that the editors looked for a specific sort of “dameslectuur,” no coherent editorial plan suggests itself. The alterations are mostly ad hoc, used to protect individuals such as Jan Hudig and to provide Malay and Javanese terms where de Meyier felt they were needed. Remarkably, these changes were not carried out in places where one would expect them most, in the controversial political content—the illicit trade of gunpowder and Almayer’s betrayal of Dutch authorities—that was present in newspaper articles about a bloody colonial war which appeared alongside the serialization of Almayer’s Folly in Het Nieuws van Den Dag. The deletions, however, do target a specific area in Conrad’s novel: the inner world of the colonial characters who struggle with conflicting native/Western identities and their past achievements. As such, they offer fascinating evidence of a hidden reception history of Conrad’s first translation and serialization by the editors of an influential Dutch newspaper.



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Robert Steltenpool graduated from the Literary Studies program in 2012 and is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Amsterdam. His current research focuses on representations of age(ing) in novels (specifically F. Scott Fitzgerald), films, and other cultural objects from the 1920s. He also has a great passion for anything that involves Joseph Conrad.


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