Tales of Unrest
Of the five stories in this volume, "The Lagoon," the last in order, is the earliest in
date. It is the first short story I ever wrote and marks, in a manner of speaking,
the end of my first phase, the Malayan phase with its special subject and its
verbal suggestions. Conceived in the same mood which produced "Almayer's
Folly" and "An Outcast of the Islands," it is told in the same breath (with what was
left of it, that is, after the end of "An Outcast"), seen with the same vision,
rendered in the same method--if such a thing as method did exist then in my
conscious relation to this new adventure of writing for print. I doubt it very much.
One does one's work first and theorises about it afterwards. It is a very amusing
and egotistical occupation of no use whatever to any one and just as likely as not
to lead to false conclusions.
Anybody can see that between the last paragraph of "An Outcast" and the first of
"The Lagoon" there has been no change of pen, figuratively speaking. It
happened also to be literally true. It was the same pen: a common steel pen.
Having been charged with a certain lack of emotional faculty I am glad to be able
to say that on one occasion at least I did give way to a sentimental impulse. I
thought the pen had been a good pen and that it had done enough for me, and
so, with the idea of keeping it for a sort of memento on which I could look later
with tender eyes, I put it into my waistcoat pocket. Afterwards it used to turn up in
all sorts of places--at the bottom of small drawers, among my studs in cardboard
boxes--till at last it found permanent rest in a large wooden bowl containing some
loose keys, bits of sealing wax, bits of string, small broken chains, a few buttons,
and similar minute wreckage that washes out of a man's life into such
receptacles. I would catch sight of it from time to time with a distinct feeling of
satisfaction till, one day, I perceived with horror that there were two old pens in
there. How the other pen found its way into the bowl instead of the fireplace or
wastepaper basket I can't imagine, but there the two were, lying side by side,
both encrusted with ink and completely undistinguishable from each other. It was
very distressing, but being determined not to share my sentiment between two
pens or run the risk of sentimentalising over a mere stranger, I threw them both
out of the window into a flower bed-- which strikes me now as a poetical grave for
the remnants of one's past.
But the tale remained. It was first fixed in print in the "Cornhill Magazine", being
my first appearance in a serial of any kind; and I have lived long enough to see it
guyed most agreeably by Mr. Max Beerbohm in a volume of parodies entitled "A
Christmas Garland," where I found myself in very good company. I was
immensely gratified. I began to believe in my public existence. I have much to
thank "The Lagoon" for.
My next effort in short-story writing was a departure--I mean a departure from the
Malay Archipelago. Without premeditation, without sorrow, without rejoicing, and
almost without noticing it, I stepped into the very different atmosphere of "An
Outpost of Progress." I found there a different moral attitude. I seemed able to
capture new reactions, new suggestions, and even new rhythms for my
paragraphs. For a moment I fancied myself a new man--a most exciting illusion.