Lew Wallace's Ben Hur: Much more than swords and sandals
Next week sees the UK theatrical release of 'Ben Hur'. ...
From this week we will also be offering The Lingard Trilogy for the first time in a single volume. Fans of maths and linguistics will already have deduced that it consists of three novels.
What's more surprising is that the order in which they were written is the exact opposite to when they are set.
It begins, at the end, with Almayer's Folly, Conrad's debut and the book that introduces us to Captain Lingard. As the title of the novel suggests, however, Lingard is not the main protagonist, and it is a brief introduction to what seems like a bit-part player. Almayer is the central figure, a Dutch trader looking to make his fortune in the Borneo jungle. Like the rest of the trilogy it is concerned with themes of race, colonialism, loyalty and betrayal.
Conrad's second book, An Outcast of the Islands, is also the second in the trilogy. Again, though, Lingard does not play the lead. Instead, the anti-hero is Peter Willems.
Now, concentrate, it's gonna get a bit meta. T.S. Elliot quotes An Outcast of the Islands in his bleak, epic poem The Hollow Men. Brando, as Colonel Kurtz, then quotes The Hollow Men at the end of Apocalypse Now, based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Round and round we go...
Until we come to the end, of The Lingard Trilogy, at least, which Conrad finished with The Rescue, set, of course, at the very start of Lingard's story. And this time Lingard is the story. He is a young man, the owner and captain of a sailing ship who is on his way to help a native friend regain his land when he stops to save a foundering yacht, and never really gets his ship or life back on track.
The trilogy as a whole and each book individually plays around with time and with our perceptions of heroes and villains. Between them they are a vital part in the ongoing debate over Conrad's treatment of race and empire.
And they're an equally vital part of the oeuvre of the most fascinating and acclaimed writers of the last 150 years.