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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conrad and Quinn : a case study in materialist canon formation Gardner, Rachael


This thesis examines Joseph Conrad’s legacy as a modernist writer and argues that patron John Quinn was instrumental to securing it. The novelist wrote before the peak of modernism, belonged to non-modernist social spheres, and ultimately attained popular and commercial success unavailable to – and undesirable for – most authors considered modernist. In 1922, Ezra Pound rejected T.S. Eliot’s reference to Heart of Darkness in drafts of The Waste Land, doubting that Conrad was “weighty enough to stand the citation.” Virginia Woolf, despite admiring Conrad’s writing, predicted in 1917 that he could “never be among the classics” (“Mr. Conrad: A Conversation”). Ultimately, however, literary history has refuted the refutations of two prestigious modernist figures to place Conrad alongside them. Not only is he “among the classics;” Conrad is also a standard topic in books on modernism and in undergraduate courses on the movement. I argue that lawyer, collector, and patron John Quinn provided a network of financial and social resources that distinguished Conrad’s name from popular, middlebrow literature and situated it among an insular and elitist grouping of modernist names. My research in this thesis takes its cue from scholarship that brackets close textual analyses to perform what Franco Moretti has called “distant reading” (1). It draws upon a branch of modernist studies– represented by scholars including Michael North, Lawrence Rainey, Catherine Turner, and John Cooper – that attempts to re-contextualize modernism into its socioeconomic milieu to determine how market forces affected the movement’s literary production. My first chapter is devoted to tracing Conrad’s absorption into a modernist canon, transitioning from cultural reviews by his contemporaries to the scholarship conducted by future generations of readers. In a second chapter, I outline Quinn’s contributions to Conrad’s career and lasting reputation. While Quinn is most remembered for his avant-garde artistic and literary associations, he was also the popular Conrad’s earliest collector and one of his strongest promoters and supporters in America. I argue that Quinn’s money and connections were instrumental in securing Conrad’s modernist legacy.

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