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  • Douglas Kerr (a1)

Of his nineteen years as a sailor, from 1874 to 1894, Joseph Conrad actually worked on ships for ten years and eight months, of which just over eight years were spent at sea, including nine months as a passenger (Najder 161–62). During these nomadic years, London was the place to which he returned again and again to seek his next berth, staying in a series of sailors’ homes, lodgings, and boarding houses. How did he spend his time, a single man with no family and few friends, whose main occupation was waiting? He recalled, in the preface to The Secret Agent, “solitary and nocturnal walks all over London in my early days” (7). Ford Madox Ford says that Conrad knew all the bars around Fenchurch Street (which links the financial centre of the City of London to Whitechapel and the East End) from his days of waiting for a ship. Returning to the area later in life, according to Ford's slightly improbable memory, he “became at once the city-man gentleman-adventurer with an eye for a skirt,” who “could tell you where every husky earringed fellow with a blue, white-spotted handkerchief under his arm was going to. . . .” (Joseph Conrad 116, 117). The reality of these London sojourns was probably less romantic, most of the time. But there was one place where a sailor ashore, without much money, could always go for company and entertainment: the music-hall.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
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