Yardley Does Conrad

I don’t know how I managed to miss Jonathan Yardley’s piece on Joseph Conrad in Monday’s Washington Post, part of his “Second Reading” series, in which he re-examines classics. Surprisingly, in Conrad’s case, it’s not Heart of Darkness that made the cut:

If a cruel God ordered that I could have only one of Conrad’s novels to read now and in the future, the painful choice would be between his masterpieces, “Heart of Darkness” (1899) and “Nostromo” (1904), and by the narrowest of margins my choice would be the latter, not least because it is so much longer than “Heart of Darkness” and thus would give me so much more Conrad in which to immerse myself. Yet when I raced through one Conrad after another as a student in the 1950s and a young man in the 1960s, it was “Victory” that I loved most, and thus “Victory” to which I turned for this Second Reading.

I’ve always been impressed with Conrad’s rich and precise language (all the more so because he was a non-native speaker of English. Nabokov is the other example that comes to mind.) I myself didn’t learn English until high school, at the age of fifteen, and I still have trouble sometimes with the language. Interestingly enough, my troubles are usually not with complicated structures or expressions, but with the more pedestrian, idiomatic expressions.