Gleanings: gems from the literary pages

Why Marlow lied

In a new book on Conrad, Robert Hampson revisits the famous scene in which Marlow lies to Kurtz’s fiancée at the end of Heart of Darkness. It is usally thought the lie is prompted solely by Marlow’s desire to spare her the truth about Kurtz’s behaviour. But Hampson points out that Conrad would have had to sign a confidentiality agreement when he took up his post in the Belgian Congo, just as Marlow is forced to in the novella. His lie, then, is required by the company for which he works, and may be an act of necessary discretion rather than one of deception.

Conrad’s Secrets by Robert Hampson, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 was reviewed in the latest issue of Literature & History, Vol 22 no 2, by Katherine Isobel Baxter

Conan Doyle’s belief in Fairies

Douglas Kerr’s new book, Conan Doyle: Writing, profession and practice, reminds us that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle combined a belief in fairies with his concern for the science of detection as practiced by his famous creations, Holmes and Watson. Conan Doyle underwent a midlife conversion to spiritualism, was fond of talking with the dead, and publicly discussed his belief in fairies: “elves,” he suggested in print, “are a compound of the human and the butterfly, while the gnome has more of the moth”. Kerr describes how Conan Doyle spent his last years living in a house near the New Forest where “he was sometimes to be seen in the nearby woods, waiting for the fairies he was sure inhabited the place. He carried a music box and a camera.”

Douglas Kerr, Conan Doyle: Writing, profession and practice, OUP, £30

Mark Twain on censorship

The letters of Mark Twain are full of gems. Here is one from the latest volume of Benjamin Griffin & Harriet Elinor Smith’s edition of his writings.

After Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were suppressed because, as Twain was informed, “boys and girls have been allowed access to them”, Twain wrote back, saying: “The mind that has been soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was fifteen years old.”

From the Literary Review’s review of Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 2 edited by Benjamin Griffin & Harrite Elinor Smith (by John Sutherland).

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