The Rover

by Joseph Conrad. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1923. 12mo. viii+371 pp. $2.00.
IT is a misfortune in some ways that it conflicts with our modern conventions to identify a writer of prose romances as a poet. But if there be anything at all in poetry, beyond metrical and musical skill, then the works of some of the major novelists should be included in the classification. And if a poem is a work of the imagination evoked by the conflict of the human heart with fate, then surely a great deal of the trash now published under the name of poetry drops out of sight automatically, and we are left with leisure to contemplate some of the things that remain. In a general survey it is clear that the poem so-called, the story in metrical and rhyme form, is not suited to the genius of the modern English tongue. Most of our poems are written in what is acceptably styled ‘prose,’ but they are inevitably marked by a singular subordination of the subject-matter to a conception of the world arising from the emotions and experiences of the artist. It may be a poor subject and a contemptible or threadbare philosophy. Such works are to be found in every bookstore. On the other hand it is our good fortune to have at times the grand conjunction of subject, philosophy, and artist at the right moment, and the result is a work of enduring art.
The works of some writers are cumulative. They form a chain of increasing valency like the elements in periodic tables, so that the later members of the group owe their existence and easy perfection to their forerunners. Such a book is The Rover. It is by no means so great an imaginative achievement as Nostromo, nor has it the glamour and novelty of Heart of Darkness. But one imagines it to be a book the author has long desired to write and over which he has pondered for years with a brooding affection. The character of Jean Peyrol, the tough old buccaneer, a Brother of the Coast, is homogeneous and complete. It is his story; and nothing, not even Lord Nelson, is permitted to interfere with the consummation of his magnificently conceived plan to defeat the English, whom he respected, and bring happiness to Arlette, for whom he felt one of those charming and beautiful affections which invade the hearts of the elderly and illiterate as well as those of youthful poets.
Arlette herself is not so successfully projected. Conrad’s women never are. Even the horrible accidents of the Revolution, when the streets of Toulon ran red, or the unpleasant proximity of Scevola,the lunatic communist, are insufficient to explain the vagueness of Arlette’s character in the book. She shares with Doña Rita in The Arrow of Gold that elusiveness and lack of substance which occasionally invalidate that alluring lady, reality. One wishes Arlette had less blood in her body and more in her veins, so to speak.
But Peyrol is a great character, greatly conceived. He is greatest of all, at the last, afloat once more, wounded, the enemy in chase.
' He beheld in a flash the days of his manhood of strength and adventure. Suddenly an enormous voice like the roar of an angry sea-lion seemed to fill the whole of the empty sky in a mighty and commanding shout: “Steady! ” . . . And with the sound of that familiar English word ringing in his ears Peyrol smiled to his visions and died.’