Beginning with a detailed discussion of Conrad's ambivalence toward the function of language and the meaning of fiction, Ted Billy explores the problematical sense of an ending in Conrad's tales and novellas. ""A Wilderness of Words"" is unique in its exclusive focus on Conrad's shorter narratives, ranging from the undisputed masterpieces (e.g., ""Heart of Darkness"", ""The Shadow Line"", and ""The Secret Sharer"") to less familiar works such as ""The Informer"", ""Karain"", and ""The Return"". Billy demonstrates that Conrad's endings, instead of reinforcing the meaning of narrative or lending finality, actually provide a contrasting perspective that clashes with the narrative's general drift. Hence, Conrad's artistic endgames celebrate indeterminacy and uncertainty both in life and in the fictions we create to give our lives meaning. Billy also grounds his study of Conrad's paradoxical strategy in a theoretical consideration of how the concept of closure has evolved since the Victorian novel. Ultimately, Billy maintains, Conrad wrote with two distinct audiences in mind: the conventional reader who relishes the sustained illusion of a comforting coda, and the more sophisticated reader who would appreciate the clash of contradictory perspectives.
A Wilderness of Words