Kirkus Reviews QR Code
KORZENIOWSKI by James Lansbury


by James Lansbury

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-85242-240-8
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Britisher Lansbury's debut is a pleasant literary-historical entertainment: a look at what readers really thought when the story ``The Secret Sharer'' was published (in 1912) by Joseph Conrad— born Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski. Those who don't remember the story—a young ship's captain hides a murderer fleeing from another ship, then helps the fugitive escape by arranging for him to swim ashore—will be at a disadvantage, but not for long: Lansbury, by a variety of means (even a stage drama, by ``unknown'' hand), substantially recreates it. In July of 1914, for example, a reporter interviews the man who'd been Korzeniowski's Chief Mate when the real-life events of the story took place 30 years earlier. This old salt, 79, in a wheelchair, foul of mouth and fond of drink, despises Conrad's literary success (in the story, after all, the mate is an ``imbecile'') and claims that the fugitive and the captain were ``nancy boys''—even saying that he drilled a hole in the ship's cabin-wall to spy on them. Others have other ways of looking at things: Aubrey Jeavons, for example, the London magazine editor who in fact first arranged the interview. Jeavons, the mainspring of the novel, not only lets us read his own interpretive essay on the great short story, but writes an inquiry to one Sigmund Freud of Vienna, who responds with great interest, apologizing only for his delay in answering, attributing it (in a letter dated September 1914) to ``the beginning of general hostilities in Europe.'' Readers will not only get to read Freud's analysis of homosexuality in the story (giving very good reason for the mate's being declared ``imbecile''), but will get to go for tea at Edmund Gosse's house in London, meet the prime minister-to-be (after Asquith), and hear sad news of Henry James in decline. Much fun for Conradians, perhaps admittedly less for others.