What happens when you live in New York, but you buy The Works of Joseph Conrad (Medallion Edition), consisting of 21 beautiful volumes (and weighing over fifty pounds) at an online auction hosted by London-based Forum Auctions? You go to London, walk four miles along the Thames to Forum’s office and carry them right back to the US — of course! Conrad, a man who was at home sailing the seven seas would be proud…
Joseph Conrad is a favorite author for us at Books Above the Bend. One of the leading early ‘modernist’ authors, Conrad lived at a time of dramatic technological change (sail to steam, horse to car…) and cultural integration as new modes of travel made the world a smaller place. Born in Poland in 1857, he spent the first four decades of his life sailing as part of the French, then British Merchant marine, with stints in Asia, India and the South Pacific. In 1894, at the age of 36, he stepped onto dry land for good and took up his passion for writing full time from the place he would call home for the rest of his life — London. (For a full history, explore the wealth of resources available online via The Joseph Conrad Society.)
We purchased the lot from an online auction Forum held in March and rather than trust this find to an unknown company, we contacted Forum and politely asked them to hold the books for a month until our next visit. They were happy to do so and when packing in April for the trip, we brought along one extra suitcase.
Staying north of the Thames at one of our favorite hotels, The Rosewood on High Holborn, the walk to Forum would run just shy of four miles, crossing Waterloo Bridge, then along the south bank of the river, passing Westminster & Big Ben (behind scaffolding), the London Eye and then on through Lambeth, Vauxhall and into Battersea. On the way we passed by the new home of the U.S. embassy, the massive redevelopment of the Victorian-era power station in Battersea and New Covent Garden market.
As you can see from the photos, it was a blustery, cloudy day, but fitting for a stroll to collect on the prize. Conrad featured the Thames in many of his novels, including one of his best known works, The Heart of Darkness.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished spirits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.
While we didn’t walk all the way to Gravesend, the few miles along the south bank provided a nice break from the bustle of London and room for the mind to wander about what London was like in Conrad’s era.
We arrived at Forum refreshed and eager to collect our books, albeit a little worried on how we would transport the volumes back to the hotel as black cabs were in short supply and while the underground is fantastic, the underground with a 50+ pound bundle isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Long story short, the return trip was entirely uneventful and we spent the afternoon enjoying the company of a fantastic find. We are off to Seattle and Tokyo in May and hopefully these lead to more great books for everyone to enjoy!
The Medallion Edition of The Works of Joseph Conrad
Originally published by The Gresham Publishing Company (London, 1925) in 20 volumes, following the death of Conrad in 1924. Two additional volumes, Suspense and Tales of Hearsay were added later (1927). (Tales of Hearsay was not present in the collection we purchased.)
Each of the 21 volumes present contains a gilt bust of the profile of Conrad to front boards of publisher’s cloth binding and they are illustrated with a photogravure to frontispiece along with a facsimile of Conrad’s signature to the front free endpapers.
The 21 volumes include:
Volume I: Almayer’s Folly, A Story of an Eastern River; Volume II: An Outcast of the Islands; Volume III: The Nigger of the Narcissus, A Tale of the Sea; Volume IV: Lord Jim; Volume V: The Inheritors, An Extravagant Story (by J. Conrad and F. M. Hueffer); Volume VI: Youth, a narrative, and two other stories; Volume VII: Romance, A Novel (by J. Conrad and F. M. Hueffer); Volume VIII: Nostromo, A Tale of the Seaboard; Volume IX: The Mirror of the Sea, Memories and Impressions; Volume X: The Secret Agent, A Simple Tale’; Volume XI: A Set of Six; Volume XII: Under Western Eyes; Volume XIII: ‘Twixt Land and Sea Tales; Volume XIV: Chance, A Tale in Two Parts; Volume XV: Victory, An Island Tale; Volume XVI: The Shadow-Line, A Confession; Volume XVII: The Arrow of Gold, A Story Between Two Notes; Volume XVIII: The Rescue, A Romance of the Shallows; Volume XIX: Notes on Life and Letters; Volume XX: The Rover; and Volume XXI: Suspense, A Napoleonic Novel.
Other works by Conrad available at Books Above the Bend
- Another collection of Conrad’s works published earlier and signed by Conrad himself
- Tales of Hearsay — Published after Conrad’s death in 1925, this is a rare first edition, first printing in its original dust jacket.