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Joseph Conrad: Almayer’s Folly

Almayer’s Folly was Conrad’s first novel, written while he was still travelling to the Far East. Almayer, based on the trader Olmeijer whom Conrad met in Berau, is (unlike the real Olmeijer) a ruined man. Like Olmeijer, Almayer married a Eurasian woman and has a daughter by her, Nina. Tom Lingard, who appears in this and other Conrad novels, is loosely based on Olmeijer’s partner, William Lingard. The novel immediately plunges into what is to become one of Conrad’s favourite themes, namely the relationship between East and West and how, in particular, Westerners are often out of place and unable to cope in the East. Almayer is a case in point, as he dreams of all the gold he should have had but does not have. He has married a Eurasian woman but, when the novel opens, they are bitterly estranged. Almayer’s business is failing and his only hope lies in his daughter, Nina, whom he hopes to take back to the Netherlands and educate as a white woman. Of course, it doesn’t work out the way he wants, as Nina has grown up a Malay and when she falls in love with a Malay prince, his plans fail, as does his business.

It may be his first novel and may show signs of immaturity but it is a novel that is to set the themes, environment and even characters for many of Conrad’s future novels. The character of Almayer, the failed Westerner, prefigures other flawed characters who will appear in his later novels.

Publishing history

First published in 1895 by Fisher Unwin