Autodidact: self-taught


The Secret Sharer part 1

by V. L. Craven

Yesterday I began reading a collection of short stories collected from the British Isles and compiled in 1957 by Christopher Isherwood. I’m still luxuriating in The Anatomy of Melancholy , but it’s too heavy–in both senses–to read whilst on the recumbent bike.

The first story in the collection ( Great English Short Stories ) is “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad and has the most wonderful descriptions, like:

Here and there gleams of a few scattered pieces of silver marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just within the bar, the tug steaming right into the land became lost to my sight, hull and funnel and masts, as though the impassive earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a tremor.

The imagery there is so vivid and perceptive. It reminds me of the first time I read Woolf’s description of the sound of church bells chiming the hour as ‘rings of iron dissolving in the air’. Truly gifted authors have the ability to make one say, ‘Yes, that’s just what it’s like,’ about a turn of phrase not conceived of before.

Another quote that spoke to me was:

…I wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one’s own personality every man sets up for himself secretly

This brings me back to the Derrida quote about how every man has an inner statue of the person he longs to be, something that rang very true to me. How often we fail to be the person we most want to be for reasons of the past defining the future, but in every moment one can choose to be the person one wants to be, the monument inside oneself. This is a part of being an Existentialist, so it’s no surprise Conrad expressed this idea, as he is an Existentialist.

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