Joseph Conrad and the Imagination of the Fin de Siècle

  • Paul Coates


The following remarks constitute a set of notes towards a definition of the imagination of the fin de siècle, as exemplified in the work of Conrad. He provides a particularly useful measure of the span of the fin de siècle imagination, for his texts oscillate between its two main poles: the subjectivism and disdain of ‘the masses’ in the urban ant-hill displayed by the Aesthete, and the objectivism and fascination with sordid surfaces found in the Naturalist. This is in part a class contradiction — between the literature of the cultured élite, and the yellow press and adventure stories fed to ‘the masses’ — but both of its aspects are known to Conrad and are reflected in his work: they are the two aspects of his life as a seaman (and avid reader of adventure yarns) — and then writer himself. The dialectical complexity of the opposition is revealed by the degree to which the demands of the literary market oppress Conrad himself just as much as the worker is oppressed by the machine. In the end, they compel him to continue writing even when he has nothing left to say, simply to catch the wave of his belated success and cash in his fame. I choose Conrad in part because the large number of unevenly developed cultures impacted within his work allows one to use it as a magnet to draw together the epistemes of the period as they circulate within French, English and Polish culture in particular.


Foreign Language Secret Sharer Concentric Circle Pure Possibility Secret Agent 
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Copyright information

© Paul Coates 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Coates
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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