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Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

Nostromo is set in the fictitious country of Costaguana, where Charles Gould has returned from England to run a silver mine. There is a revolution and the dictator, President Ribiera, is forced to flee the country, leading to civil war. Gould is determined to save the silver from the mine from being seized by the rebels. He is helped by a journalist, Decoud, and Dr. Monygham. They call on Nostromo, the foreman of the dock workers and a man who is loved and respected by all. Decoud and Nostromo take the silver away to a secret hiding place in a boat, colliding with the enemy on the way. The silver is buried on an island and Decoud is left to guard it, while Nostromo returns. Decoud, however, goes mad and shoots himself. Everyone else thinks the silver was lost at sea and Nostromo, seeing his chance, decides to steal it and stores it in the lighthouse, where his old friend Giorgio Viola lives, with his two daughters. Nostromo gradually steals the silver and courts the two girls. However, he is mistaken for an intruder and shot and, on his deathbed, confesses his crime to Emilia, Gould’s wife.

Walter Allen, in his seminalThe English Novel, says that Nostromo is undoubtedly the finest of Conrad’s novels and a good case could be made out for considering it the greatest novel in English of this century. Allen makes the claim that Conrad’s previous novels were concerned with man in isolation while, in Nostromo, while the characters are solitary, they are not detached from society but rather, their lives are dictated by the nature of the particular society in which they have their existence. What Conrad does do, is create an entirely isolated world, as this part of Costaguana is cut off from the rest of the country, so that Allen’s proposition that this is a true political novel is definitely true and it is undoubtedly this that makes it such a fine novel. Conrad examines man as a social animal and man, as usual, fails the test.

Publishing history

First published 1904 by Harpers