Stephen Crane
as a Source
for Conrad’s Jim

While working toward an MA in English at the University of New Mexico, I was assigned to write a paper for a seminar in American Naturalism. I’d recently read some books by Joseph Conrad for another class, including his brilliant and enigmatic Lord Jim, and now learned that he and Stephen Crane – an author covered in the seminar – had known each other. In fact, in 1923, nearly a quarter century after the young American author’s death, Conrad had written an Introduction to a biography of Crane written by Thomas Beer.

With great interest I turned to Conrad’s Introduction, amazed to find there many passages describing Stephen Crane that echoed the descriptions of Jim in Lord Jim. What was going on?

The months I spent researching the Conrad-Crane connection were a great adventure. My theory, that Conrad had based the character of Jim on Stephen Crane, provided answers to questions that had long plagued scholars, such as: Why did Conrad change his sketch, "Tuan Jim," into a two-part, forty-five-chapter novel that he seemed unable to bring to an end? Why did he re-title the story, grandly calling the young officer who abandoned his damaged ship, leaving its nearly 1000 passengers to their fate – "Lord" Jim. (Read the footnotes!)

My theory led beyond what some consider legitimate literary pursuits, going deep into two fascinating lives, two psyches. It raised and answered many questions, questions involving the very nature, craft, and inspiration of creative writing. Indeed, at times the stories of The Red Badge of Courage and Lord Jim seemed equaled by the drama that for nearly three years, until Crane’s early death, played out in the lives of their authors.

– NG

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