Pondering Pipes with Conrad, Gide, & Dostoevsky

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Pondering Pipes with Conrad, Gide, & Dostoevsky

Each of the five sections of Les caves du Vatican (Lafcadio’s Adventures) begins with an epigram. The fifth section, “Lafcadio” begins with an epigram from Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900),[1] written fifteen years prior. Gide writes:

His beaver hat was pulled down over his eyes and kept out the landscape; he was smoking dried juniper, after the Algerian fashion, in a little clay pipe and letting his thoughts wander at their will.[1]

Now compare Lord Jim:

When he moved, a skeleton seemed to sway loose in his clothes; his walk was mere wandering, and he was given to wander thus around the engine-room skylight, smoking, without relish, doctored tobacco in a brass bowl at the end of a cherrywood stem four feet long, with the imbecile gravity of a thinker evolving a system of philosophy from the hazy glimpse of a truth.[3]

On the other hand, Dostoevsky’s character of Makar Devushkin can do anything but think when he puffs his pipe:

Frankly, sweet, I can sit with them, listen to what is said, even smoke a pipe like them, but when they begin to argue about all sorts of lofty maters, I just keep quiet. Yes, dear, I’m sure that both you and I, we’d have to keep quiet most of the time. I turn out to be a real, poor fool, and I am ashamed of myself sitting there all evening, trying to put in a word on those lofty subjects, but never finding that wretched word! And I’m sorry that I’m not up to them, Varinka, that, as the saying goes, “a man can be fully grown and still have no mind of his own.” For what do you think I do with myself in my spare time? Well, I just sleep like a fool. Ah, it’d be better if, instead of wasting my time sleeping, I could do something useful—sit down and write, for instance. It’d be good for me, and perhaps of some use to theirs. Why, my dear, you can’t imagine how much they get for it, God forgive them![4]

So what was Gide getting at? Why did he feel the need to rewrite the passage from Conrad? What was the basis for the Frenchman’s anxiety of influence?

NOTES

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[1] Gide, André. Les caves du Vatican. (Lafcadio’s Adventures.) 1914. Translated by Dorothy Bussy. NY: Knopf. 1953.  “V. Lafcadio,” i, 176.

[2] Gide, Les caves du Vatican. (Lafcadio’s Adventures) “V. Lafcadio,” i, 178–79. The quotation runs:

“There is only one remedy! One thing alone can cure us from being ourselves! …” “Yes; strictly speaking, the question is not how to get cured, but how to live.”

–Ch. XX

[3] Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim. 1900. Lord Jim: The Authoritative Text. Edited by Thomas C. Moser. NY: Norton. 1968.  III, p. 15–16.

[4] Dostoevsky, Poor Folk. 1846. In Dostoevsky – Three Short Novels. Translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew. Bantam Books, NY. 1966. “June 26,” p. 70.


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