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Some Reminiscences

Chapter 4
It must not be supposed that in setting forth the memories of this half-hour between the
moment my uncle left my room till we met again at dinner, I am losing sight of
"Almayer's Folly." Having confessed that my first novel was begun in idleness--a holiday
task--I think I have also given the impression that it was a much-delayed book. It was
never dismissed from my mind, even when the hope of ever finishing it was very faint.
Many things came in its way: daily duties, new impressions, old memories. It was not the
outcome of a need--the famous need of self-expression which artists find in their search
for motives. The necessity which impelled me was a hidden, obscure necessity, a
completely masked and unaccountable phenomenon. Or perhaps some idle and frivolous
magician (there must be magicians in London) had cast a spell over me through his
parlour window as I explored the maze of streets east and west in solitary leisurely walks
without chart and compass. Till I began to write that novel I had written nothing but
letters and not very many these. I never made a note of a fact, of an impression or of an
anecdote in my life. The conception of a planned book was entirely outside my mental
range when I sat down to write; the ambition of being an author had never turned up
amongst these gracious imaginary existences one creates fondly for oneself at times in
the stillness and immobility of a day-dream: yet it stands clear as the sun at noonday that
from the moment I had done blackening over the first manuscript page of "Almayer's
Folly" (it contained about two hundred words and this proportion of words to a page has
remained with me through the fifteen years of my writing life), from the moment I had, in
the simplicity of my heart and the amazing ignorance of my mind, written that page the
die was cast. Never had Rubicon been more blindly forded, without invocation to the
gods, without fear of men.
That morning I got up from my breakfast, pushing the chair back, and rang the bell
violently, or perhaps I should say resolutely, or perhaps I should say eagerly, I do not
know. But manifestly it must have been a special ring of the bell, a common sound made
impressive, like the ringing of a bell for the raising of the curtain upon a new scene. It
was an unusual thing for me to do. Generally, I dawdled over my breakfast and I solemn
took the trouble to ring the bell for the table to be cleared away; but on that morning for
some reason hidden in the general mysteriousness of the event I did not dawdle. And yet
I was not in a hurry. I pulled the cord casually and while the faint tinkling somewhere
down in the basement went on, I charged my pipe in the usual way and I looked for the
matchbox with glances distraught indeed but exhibiting, I am ready to swear, no signs of
a fine frenzy. I was composed enough to perceive after some considerable time the
matchbox lying there on the mantelpiece right under my nose. And all this was
beautifully and safely usual. Before I had thrown down the match my landlady's daughter
appeared with her calm, pale face and an inquisitive look, in the doorway. Of late it was
the landlady's daughter who answered my bell. I mention this little fact with pride,
because it proves that during the thirty or forty days of my tenancy I had produced a
favourable impression. For a fortnight past I had been spared the unattractive sight of the
domestic slave. The girls in that Bessborough Gardens house were often changed, but
whether short or long, fair or dark, they were always untidy and particularly bedraggled