(E-)Book Read! TYPHOON & FALK by Joseph Conrad
First sentence: “Captain MacWhirr, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact counterpart of his mind: it represented no marked characteristics of firmness or stupidity; it had no pronounced characteristics whatever; it was simply ordinary, irresponsive, and unruffled.”
Last sentence: “I think that he got out of it very well for such a stupid man.”
Plot summary (Wikipedia):
This is a classic sea yarn that describes how Captain MacWhirr sails the Siamese steamer Nan-Shan into a typhoon—a mature tropical cyclone of the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. Other characters include the young Jukes and Solomon, the head engineer. The novel classically evokes the sea-faring life at the turn of the century. While Macwhirr is emotionally estranged from his family and crew, and though he refuses to consider an alternate course to skirt the typhoon, his indomitable will in the face of a superior natural force elicits grudging admiration.
First sentence: “Several of us, all more or less connected with the sea, were dining in a small river-hostelry not more than thirty miles from London, and less than twenty from that shallow and dangerous puddle to which our coasting men give the grandiose name of ‘German Ocean’.”
Last sentence: “I should not wonder if Schomberg’s tongue had succeeded at last in scarin Falk away for good; and, indubitably, there was a tale going about the town of a certain Falk, owner of a tug, who had won his wife at cards from the captain of an English ship.”
A young mariner takes charge of a ship in the far east (Bangkok) when the previous captain dies. The crew are sickly and unfriendly, the ship has no provisions, and there are delays in getting under way. He befriends Hermann, the captain of the Diana, a German ship which is moored nearby. Hermann lives on board with his wife, his four children, and his niece – who is a simple but physically attractive young woman. Also passing time with this family is Falk, the captain of a tug with a monopoly of navigation on the river leading out to the coast.
Falk is a remote, taciturn, and rather forbidding figure who is not popular with the local officials and traders. When the young captain’s and Hermann’s vessels are ready to depart, the young captain is annoyed to discover that Falk takes the Diana out first, damaging Hermann’s ship in the process. The captain tries to hire the one possible alternative navigator, but discovers that Falk has bought him off.
It transpires that Falk has taken this precipitate action because he is consumed with a passionate desire for Hermann’s voluptuous niece, and thinks the young captain is a rival. The captain confronts Falk, reassuring him that he has no designs on the girl. Falk asks for his diplomatic assistance in re-establishing good relations with Hermann, so that he can propose to the niece.
The young captain opens negotiations, and Hermann very reluctantly allows Falk to plead his case. But Falk explains that there is one thing the niece should know about him if she is to accept his offer of marriage.
Contrary to what I expected (short stories about sailors!), I was quite impressed with these two tales about life at sea. In fact, though they seem very different from each other (except their subject, of course), they both have a common theme: how nature and its destructing effect can affect men’s life in so many ways.