Sunday, May 3, 2009

First Sentences: Joseph Conrad, Victory

Here's the way Joseph Conrad starts one of my favorite novels of all time, Victory. I have the Penguin Books edition published in 1989. The novel was written in 1915. World War I had just broken out.

The story begins on p. 57:

"There is, as every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close chemical relation between coal and diamonds."
Huh? What's this got to do with anything?

The note on p. 388 says,
Coal and diamonds are allotropic forms of carbon. Conrad uses this display of some degree of scientific knowledge as part of his characterization of the narrator (see notes 14 and 17)
Remember that the narrator, even if never named, is a character in the story through whose experience all the story gets filtered.

Well, in 1915, people were accustomed to this kind of stuff. All that scientific stuff in the first paragraph worked then. And you could get the point that
And I suppose those two considerations, the practical and the mystical, prevented Heyst -- Axel Heyst -- from going away." [p. 57]
I've reread this book at least four times and I can't ever get my mind around it. It's intrinsic inscrutability leads to my endless fascination with it.

This first sentence wouldn't work today. Conrad probably would never get published today. But we know about him already as one of the great writers in the English language and are going to go ahead regardless of the first sentence. And when we're done, we'll look back and say, "Of course, what a brilliant first sentence."

And English was his second language. He was actually Polish. Not bad huh? Try becoming one of the great writers in the Polish language.

What do you think? Tell me. Post a comment. I'd like to know. And follow me on

Writing is for me an entrepreneurial activity. For my ideas on entrepreneurship, go to and for entrepreneurial real estate go to and for my ideas on writing and publishing, go to


Ian Kearney, the director of the Kearney Music School, an elite musical training school in Philadelphia, dies after a fall from a balcony during a recital. World-famous cellist, Henry Harrier, recently forced from the faculty, returns to investigate Ian's death when his prized former student is arrested. Henry shows through his brilliant and single-minded pursuit of the truth that, as usual, they have it all wrong. This Sherlock Holmes-type mystery leads the reader through the world of classical music and lays bare the conflicts which dominate the lives of talented adolescents when placed under the pressure of studying for a demanding, stressful, and often elusive career as a classical music performer. Henry Harrier is part John Le Carre's George Smiley, part Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes, and part Orlando Cole the beloved teacher, renowned chamber musician, and until his own retirement, the premier cellist of the Curtis Institute.

Author Profile:

Tim was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1946. In 1951 he moved with his family to Schenectady, New York, where he lived through high school. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, from 1964 to 1968. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in history and philosophy. He received his Ph. D. in history in U.S. history in 1980 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after spending 2.5 years in the U. S. Army. Most of his army service was completed in Wuerzburg, Germany, from 1969-1971. In 1972 he returned to Madison to complete his doctoral study. His dissertation, Those Who Moved; Internal Migrants in American 1607-1840, combined the statistical analysis of genealogical and biographical data with the study of traditional literary diaries, letters, and journals.

Tim was a market and survey research consultant from 1983 to 2000 and a smoking cessation researcher from 2000 to 2003. His consulting practice focused primarily on conducting community health needs assessment. He authored hundreds of market research reports and published a number of his assessments in Community Health Needs Assessment published by McGraw Hill in 1996 and in a revised volume published in 1999. In 2000 he joined the staff of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he conducted smoking cessation research. He published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and spoke at national smoking cessation conferences.

In 2003 he moved to Philadelphia and earned his real estate license. He now practices real estate, works on publishing his novels, and studies and teaches entrepreneurship.Tim has written a dozen novel-length stories, a volume of short stories, and about a 3-foot stack of pages poetry. He is currently working on earning his 4th million in real estate sales, publishing his novels, and working on an entrepreneurish handbook as a support for his students.

Tim is a trained violist and an experienced string quartet player. He is an avid listener to classical music and regularly attends classical music concerts. He has two grown children by his first wife and a stepdaughter with his second wife. He likes to cook, read, write, entertain, develop relationships, and help other people. Formerly Tim used to travel frequently. He doesn't so much anymore. Now he regards the combination of real estate practice, writing and publishing, and the teaching and studying of entrepreneurship as enough of a trip.