Painter, musician, bibliophile...
This second collection of "Great Classic Stories" is just as rewarding as the first, with something for everyone, including comedy, tragedy, suspense, and romance.
From Huxley's brassy lunchtime companion to the sad teller of Gilbert's love story, nearly every story reveals an unforgettable character or two, and the narrators are first-rate. I particularly enjoyed Bill Wallis and Simon Vance.
Here are the stories in order:
YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN by Nathaniel Hawthorne
THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO by Edgar Allan Poe
COUSIN WILLIAM by Harriet Beecher Stowe
HOW I EDITED AN AGRICULTURAL PAPER by Mark Twain
A PIECE OF STRING by Guy de Maupassant
ANGELA, AN INVERTED LOVE STORY by W. S. Gilbert
THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE ROSE by Oscar Wilde
THE STORY OF AN HOUR by Kate Chopin
A JURY OF HER PEERS by Susan Glaspell
ARABY by James Joyce
THE MARK ON THE WALL by Virginia Woolf
THE INTERLOPERS by Saki
HEAD AND SHOULDERS by F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE STRANGER by Katherine Mansfield
THE BLIND MAN by D. H. Lawrence
NUNS AT LUNCHEON by Aldous Huxley
What a bargain this collection is. It contains a couple of Conrad's often anthologized short stories, but also includes some wonderful ones which are only infrequently recorded. Greg Wagland's performance is admirable. If you're an old fan of Conrad or a new reader, this little selection has much to recommend it.
YOUTH finds Marlow yarning again, this time about his youth, when he was on a ship called "The Judea." In age, we find our "weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, something that while it is expected is already gone" until we have lost the last of our illusions.
KARAIN: A MEMORY is often called Conrad's "attempted ghost story," but as ever, the story is far more than its surface appearance. Ambiguous, haunting, and not quite resolved at its finish, KARAIN is, for me, as full of memorable phrases as is HEART OF DARKNESS and almost as interesting.
As with the other stories here, there is much regret, loss, and sadness. At one point, Conrad speaks of "...all the exiled and charming shades of loved women; all the beautiful and tender ghosts of ideals, remembered, forgotten, cherished, execrated; all the cast out and reproachful ghosts of friends admired, trusted, traduced, betrayed, left dead by the way..."
AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS is a must-read: Conrad considered this his finest story. It is the story of two ivory traders, Kayerts and Carlier, and what happens to them in their isolation and power struggles.
THE LAGOON is another tale in which illusions are laid waste. Unpredictability reigns and what one believes is secure vanishes before one's eyes. "There is no light and no peace in the world, but only death for the many."
AMY FOSTER is another of his deceptively simple tales. An emigrant sailing from Hamburg is shipwrecked off the coast of England. He settles with those who rescued him and eventually marries a servant girl, Amy Foster. The story and its tragic ending address familiar Conrad themes, most especially that of the stranger in a strange land, and the meaning of home.
THE ANARCHIST is the final tale, and possibly the least interesting, though you may disagree.
The late Josephine Hart opened her first novel: "There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul. We search for its outlines all our lives." The reason I return to Conrad again and again is that he attempted to chart this landscape. He is politically incorrect, and a bit of an old curmudgeon, but I love him. He looked at the human condition without flinching and told the truth of his life. I couldn't ask more of any writer.
Having listened to all three volumes of the complete stories, I am once again amazed by the talents of WSM. Were I an aspiring young writer, I would study his work as we figure painters study the draftsmanship of Degas and Klimt. He maintains intense focus, clear motivation, and never wastes a word as he captures character, dialogue, and situation. Times have changed, to be sure, but excellent technique endures, which is reason enough to study the masters.
The short story is a merciless, demanding mistress: one wrong move and there will be no end of trouble. When an author is a master of this medium, it shows his talents to best effect.
Some listeners have groused about Charlton Griffin's not being British. I don't mind that, though some of his pronunciations can be a little eccentric. His rich, world-weary voice is perfectly suited to the character of WSM's observations here. I highly recommend this series to students of human nature, good writing, and days gone by. Enjoy.