Joseph Conrad

Conrad in Philadelphia 1997

The second special meeting of the Joseph Conrad Society of America was held at Drexel University in Philadelphia 10-13 April, 1997. About 40 participants from places as far from Philadelphia as Ankara, London and Warsaw contributed to the proceedings. Plenary lectures alternated with groups of three parallel discussion sessions.

In the first of the three plenary speeches Zdzislaw Najder reported on his recent discoveries in archives in the Ukraine, including the curious fact that Conrad was baptized in Berdyczew on 5 December 1857 as a baby without a certificate while the certificate was issued in 1862 in Zytomierz in the absence of the baby. The church in which the baptism took place still survives as a ruined shell. Najder also described the deplorable conditions of the archives in the area, many of which have no air conditioning and no facilities for reproduction. He urged scholars interested in doing research in this area not to waste any time.

Other plenary lectures included Ted Billy's reading of "The Informer" as a criticism of the aesthetic movement and Laurence Davies' account of the life of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811- 88), the president of Argentina, and of possible links between Sarmiento's novel, Facundo and Conrad's Nostromo. In the last of the plenary speeches, Andrea White spoke of problematic aspects of the canon in teaching Conrad, arguing for historicizing of the canon and seconding Edward Said's appeal for an appreciation of "worldliness."

The discussion sessions were devoted to a large variety of topics including film and drama, medical aspects of Conrad's experiences (including his "water cure" at Champel), and the relations between Conrad's works and those of other writers such as Sienkiewicz, Ibsen, Dostoevsky and the contemporary Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananto Toer.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library hosted a reception on Friday afternoon with an exhibit displaying some of the Conrad manuscripts and other materials in their collection. Another special feature of the conference was a guided bus tour of Philadelphia led by Rolf Charlston, whose enthusiastic knowledge of architectural history made the occasion memorable despite the pouring rain. Many participants enjoyed not only the excellent and numerous restaurants in the picturesque downtown area, but also the spectacular art collections, from the immense Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts to the dazzling collection of Cezannes and Matisses at the Barnes Foundation in nearby Merion.

(Contributed by Gene M. Moore, University of Amsterdam)

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