[with:] corrected typescript of Typhoon, almost certainly typed by Jessie Conrad and with extensive autograph corrections and revisions to all but ten leaves (fol. 69 and the final nine leaves), with his autograph name and address ("Pent Farm | Stanford | Nr Hythe | Kent") on the first recto and also on the versos of fols 33 and 53, typed in blue ink, corrections in black ink to fol. 101 and thereafter in pencil, text on rectos only, some passages cancelled in blue crayon (especially on fols 54-59 and 61), 128 leaves, foliated 1-134 but fol. 10 duplicated and three leaves with multiple foliations ("22 and 23", "29 and 30", "70, 71, & 72"), these three leaves and two others (fols 48 and 65) comprising two leaves stuck together, small post quarto (230 x 180mm, watermarked "Willowbrook Extra Fine"), [October 1900-January 1901], loose in a crushed brown solander case by Bradstreet's with the autograph addressed envelope in which it was sent to John Quinn (postmarked 9 December 1912) labelled "Typed matter no commercial value", lacking two leaves (fols 46-47), comprising the end of chapter 2, fols 53 and 69 split in two, a slip forming part of leaf labelled "70, 71, 72" loose, minor tears to at least four leaves (fols 58, 61, 132 and 133) not affecting text, pin holes
Typhoon has a clarity and formal simplicity unique among Conrad’s major shorter fictions. It is a not only highly sophisticated piece of writing, although perhaps it does not have the complex moral ambiguities of other works written at this period such as Heart of Darkness, but also a fantastically engaging piece of prose. Its readability derives first and foremost from the power of Conrad’s description of the storm itself, which manages to combine an urgent immediacy with Conrad’s typically highly figurative language, and has earned praise from generations of critics, not least Cedric Watts:
“Accounts of a ship’s struggle with a storm have long been part of the stock-in-trade of sea-writers, but none of them have surpassed Conrad’s description of the Nan-Shen’s battle with the typhoon. It is graphic, knowledgeable, dramatic; a wealth of vivid particulars (such as the darkness that ‘palpitated down’ between the flashes of lightning or the water – both fresh and salt – swallowed by Jukes) brings the vessel’s ordeal intensely to the imagination.”
Typhoon is, however, more than a “storm-piece”, and Conrad’s own 1919 "Author’s Note" provides the best analysis of the structural elements that underpin the story. Firstly, the human implications of the storm are given depth by the presence on board the ship of indentured Chinese labourers, which Conrad in his "Note" describes as “the extraordinary complication brought into the ship’s life at the moment of exceptional stress by the human element below deck”. Their presence adds to the story’s sense of place in the South China Sea and enhances the sense of terrible suffering caused by the typhoon, which in turn increases the pressure on the ship’s crew and captain. It is, however, ultimately through its presentation of character that Typhoon transcends its subject-matter:
“From the first the mere anecdote, the mere statement I might say, that such a thing had happened on the high seas, appeared to me a sufficient subject for meditation. Yet it was but a sea yarn after all. I felt that to bring out its deeper significance which was quite apparent to me, something other, something more was required; a leading motive that would harmonise all these violent noises, and a point of view that would put all that elemental fury into its proper place.
“What I needed of course was Captain MacWhirr. Directly I perceived him I could see that he was the man for the situation. I don’t mean to say that I ever saw Captain MacWhirr in the flesh, or had ever come into contact with his literal mind and his dauntless temperament. MacWhirr is not an acquaintance of a few hours, or a few weeks, or a few months. He is the product of twenty years of life. My own life.”
Conrad denies that Captain MacWhirr is based on a real acquaintance but he had in fact served under a Captain McWhir on the Highland Forest sailing from Amsterdam to Java in 1887, although he had certainly not been tested on that journey in the way that the crew of the Nan-Shen is in Typhoon. MacWhirr is stolid and unimaginative, weaknesses especially evident to Jukes, his mate, a man of much more lively intelligence. There is irony in the treatment of both MacWhirr and Jukes, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the very facets of character that make MacWhirr so limited also endow him with an indomitable bravery in crisis that allows him to weather the storm, whereas Jukes is revealed to lack his captain’s moral strength in the face of adversity. MacWhirr’s simple and literal mind also enables him to deal in a common-sense way with the distribution of the money belonging to the Chinese labourers, which in turn draws attention to the casual racism of Jukes’s dismissive attitude to their passengers.
The copious evidence of the composition process provided by the current manuscript reveals the centrality of MacWhirr to Conrad’s conception of the story as he began to put it to paper. The first three pages of the manuscript comprise a long passage that was cancelled during composition: the story originally began with a precise description of Captain MacWhirr’s “excellent ‘Fortin’ barometer” and the captain’s observation that it “was falling and no mistake”, with MacWhirr’s reaction to the ominous falling pressure leading into Conrad’s initial assessment of MacWhirr’s character. His failure to respond creatively to the omens of a coming storm is a result of his limited imagination, as Conrad makes explicitly clear in his cancelled introductory paragraphs:
“In order to be properly responsive to omens and prophecies the mind must be endowed with a certain alert power of projecting itself forward into time and space where lie hidden our trials, successes, disappointments, experiences upon which afterwards we look back with horror, surprise or complacency.”
MacWhirr does not have this alertness of mind: he makes no attempt to evade the coming storm but simply ploughs onwards. By the time Conrad had revised the text for the typescript this entire passage had been deleted; the falling of the barometer has been pushed seven paragraphs into the text and the story begins, as it did when it finally reached print, with the observation that: “Captain MacWhirr, of the steamer Nan-Shen, had a physiognomy that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact counterpart of his mind … ordinary, irresponsive, and unruffled.” This delay in imparting to the reader the crucial information that warns of the coming storm is a typically Conradian narrative manoeuvre, whilst moving MacWhirr’s response to the barometer from the very beginning of the story alters the presentation of the captain’s character. The change reduces the emphasis on MacWhirr’s failure to evade the storm: it is on MacWhirr’s bravery that Conrad ultimately wishes to focus the reader.
Conrad's first reference to "a story of a typhoon" came in a letter to David Meldrum of Blackwood's on 14 February 1899, but he did not begin writing the story until about October 1900. He did not give it to Blackwood's but sent it instead to his new agent J.B. Pinker. Conrad first outlined the plot to Pinker by letter on 8 October 1900, and was soon writing in earnest. The corrected typescript that forms part of this lot was the copy provided to Pinker, and it was typed up and corrected whilst Conrad was still working on the manuscript. An undated letter shows that he sent the first 33 pages of the typescript to Pinker on a Monday in November, and on the 25 November sent pages 33-53 (this explains the presence of Conrad's name and address on the versos of fols 33 and 53 of the typescript). Conrad completed the manuscript on the night of 10/11 January (as is recorded on the final page of the text), and the second half of the typescript (i.e. pp.54-end) was hand-delivered to Pinker the following day. Jessie must therefore have been typing the story as Conrad was writing the manuscript, with the typed text then being given back to the author for correction. The hurry to submit the typescript to Pinker presumably explains the lack of authorial correctons to its final pages. Pinker produced his own clean typescript for submision to publishers and provided the author with an advance of £100. Conrad requested the return of "my own typed copy of the story" (14 January), and he had it back from Pinker by 18 January.
Typhoon was the first story that Conrad placed with Pinker, and its complicated publication history was a result of Pinker’s endeavours to ensure maximum profit from the manuscript, thus setting a pattern for their collaboration that would ensure that Conrad's works would have a complex publication history. Typhoon was printed in serial form in both Britain (Pall Mall Magazine, January-March 1902) and the USA (Critic, February-May 1902), and appeared in book form alone in the USA (in September 1902), but the following year appeared as part of a volume of stories in the UK. Conrad is unlikely to have had an opportunity to revise the text between giving the typescript to Pinker on 11 January 1901 and receipt of proofs, and he used the opportunities provided by these multiple appearances in print to make further revisions.
John Quinn acquired the great majority of Conrad’s extant manuscripts between 1911 and 1918, including the current manuscript, which Conrad sold to him in 1912. Quinn’s collection was dispersed at auction in 1923. The great majority of the Conrad manuscripts were acquired by the dealer and collector A.S.W. Rosenbach and then found their way into major American institutional collections. Gene Moore’s Descriptive Location Register of Joseph Conrad’s Literary Manuscripts lists 330 items, of which 288 are in institutional collections (mostly in the USA). None of the other items listed by Moore that remains in private hands are as long as this manuscript, most are fragments, typescripts, corrected proofs, and the like, and relatively few date from Conrad’s earliest and greatest period of writing: this is without question the most substantial, and the most richly informative, manuscript of Conrad’s that is ever likely to come to the market.
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