04 March 2009

Conrad's "exotic style"

In his Manchester Guardian review of Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes (1911), Richard Curle (called “Conrad’s greatest friend”), wrote: “One need expect no longer, save in occasional sentences, the exuberant and monotonous vocabulary, that sea-like and sonorous ebb and flow. No; for that exotic style he has exchanged one very distinguished, it is true, very expressive, very artistic, but altogether less striking.”

The phrase "exotic style" has been picked up by Wikipedia, which says, "In Conrad's time, literary critics, while usually commenting favourably on his works, often remarked that his exotic style, complex narration, profound themes and pessimistic ideas put many readers off."

Clearly, monolingual English-speaking British critics thought that Conrad's English (influenced heavily by his first language Polish and his second language French) was "exotic." The word has spawned, no small thanks to Edward Said, an entire publishing industry. Little has been done, however, to check if Conrad actually wrote in Polish and French using English words. For a critic to be able to say something like that, s/he would have to know Polish, French, and English intimately. That is the key problem in multi-lingual criticism, because the critic has to be, well, Conrad resurrected.

1 comment:

  1. There might be other problems in multi-lingual criticism. I'm reminded of a contest sponsored by a London newspaper that awarded prize to entries that best approximate Graham Greene's style. Greene once submitted,
    anonymously, an entry to. He came out second.