Character Types from Populist Genres in Joseph Conrad's Urban Fiction

Andrew Glazzard

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis investigates the relationship between literary and popular/populist fiction by examining Conrad’s use of five character types common in popular fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the detective, the informer/spy, the spymaster, the anarchist/terrorist, and the swindler. Conrad’s fiction has previously been situated in relation to ‘exotic’ genres such as adventure fiction; what is original about my thesis is its use of a very wide range of texts from ‘urban’ genres such as detective and espionage fiction to reconstruct what Conrad’s contemporary readers would have expected from novels featuring the character types listed above. This enables a more thorough examination of Conrad’s engagement with urban genres than has previously been attempted, using popular texts not previously examined in relation to Conrad.
The thesis argues that Conrad appropriated character types from populist genres for three reasons: as a commercial strategy to make his fiction marketable, as a way of responding to topical or contentious social and political issues, and as a means of creative experimentation. The thesis argues that Conrad’s fictions are simultaneously ‘literary’ and ‘popular’, and that Conrad achieved distinctive aesthetic effects by applying particular literary techniques – what he called “treatment” – to popular subjects such as crime and espionage. This rewriting of genre fiction enabled Conrad to balance the demands of the literary marketplace with artistic and ethical aspirations, and to produce a wide range of narratives that varied significantly in aesthetic effect. Finally, the thesis argues that reading Conrad’s narratives alongside examples from populist genres forces us to question critical judgments built on assumptions that popular fiction is necessarily inferior to literary fiction, and that Conrad’s own assertions that his fictions belong to an aesthetic realm untainted by commercial considerations are unreliable.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
  • Gilmartin, Sophie, Advisor
Award date1 Nov 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013

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