Youth (Conrad short story)

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First book edition
AuthorJoseph Conrad
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Frame story
Media typePrint (Serial)
Publication date1898 (Blackwood's Magazine); 1902 (Blackwood and Sons)

"Youth" is an 1898 autobiographical short story by Joseph Conrad[1] published in Blackwood's Magazine, and then included as the first story in Conrad's 1902 volume Youth, a Narrative, and Two Other Stories. This volume also includes Heart of Darkness and The End of the Tether, stories concerned with the themes of maturity and old age, respectively. "Youth" depicts a young man's first journey to the East. It is narrated by Charles Marlow who is also the narrator of Lord Jim, Chance, and Heart of Darkness. The narrator's introduction suggests this is the first time, chronologically, the character Marlow appears in Conrad's works (the narrator comments that he thinks Marlow spells his name this way).


Similar to Joseph Conrad's better-known Heart of Darkness, Youth begins with a narrator describing five men drinking claret around a mahogany table. They are all veterans of the merchant navy. One of the men, Marlow speaks of his first voyage to the East as second mate on board the Judea. The story is set twenty-two years earlier, when Marlow was 20. With two years of experience, most recently as third mate aboard a crack clipper, Marlow receives a billet as second mate on the barque Judea. The skipper is Captain John Beard, a man of about 60. This is Beard's first command. The Judea is an old boat, belonging to a man "Wilmer, Wilcox or something similar", suffering from age and disuse in Shadewell basin. The 400-ton ship is commissioned to take 600 tons of coal from England to Thailand. The trip should take approximately 150 days. The ship leaves London loaded with sand ballast and heads north to the Senn river to pick up the cargo of coal. On her way, the Judea suffers from her ballast shifting aside and the crew go below to put things right again. The trip takes 16 days because of 'the famous October gale of twenty-two years ago', and the battered ship must use a tug boat to get into port. The Judea waits a month on the Tyne to be loaded with coal. The night before she ships out she is hit by a steamer, the Miranda or the Melissa. The damage takes another three weeks to repair. Three months after leaving London, the Judea ships off for Bangkok.

The Judea travels through the North Sea and Britain. 300 miles west of the Lizard a fiery winter storm hits. The storm "guts" the Judea; she is stripped of her stanchions, ventilators, bulwarks, cabin-door, and deck house. The oakum is stripped from her bottom seams and the men are forced to work at the pumps "watch and watch" to keep the ship afloat. After weathering the storm they must fight their way against the wind back to Falmouth to be refitted. Despite three attempts to leave, the Judea ultimately remains in Falmouth for more than six months until she is finally overhauled, recaulked, and refitted with new copper hull sheathing. During the laborious overhaul, the cargo is wetted, knocked about, and reloaded multiple times. The rats abandon the reshipped barque and a new crew is brought in from Liverpool (because no sailor will sail on a ship abandoned by rats).

The Judea ships out to Bangkok, running at times 8 knots, but mostly averaging 3 miles per hour. Near the coast of Western Australia, the cargo spontaneously combusts. The crew attempts to smother the fire, but the hull cannot be made airtight. Then they attempt to flood the fire with water, but they cannot fill the hull. One hundred and ninety miles out from Java Head, the gases in the hull explode and blow up the deck; Marlow is hurled into the air and falls on the burning debris of the deck. The Judea hails a passing steamer, the Sommerville, which agrees to tow the wounded ship to Anjer or Batavia. Captain Beard intends to scuttle the Judea there to put out the fire, and then resurface her and resume the voyage to Bangkok. However, the speed of the Sommerville fans the smoldering fire into flames. The crew of the Judea is forced to send the steamer on without them while they attempt to save possibly most of the ship's gear for the underwriters. The gear is loaded into three small boats, which head due north towards Java. Before the crew leaves the Judea, they enjoy a last meal on deck. Marlow becomes skipper of the smallest of the ship's three boats. All the boats make it safely into a Java port, where they book passage on the steamer Celestial, which is on her return trip to England.

The story is loosely based upon reality. One of Conrad's pen-pals, or friends, discovered the secret of the port at which the boats called: the port was Muntok. Conrad became angry with him, calling Muntok 'a beastly hole'. The boats of the real ship reached the safety only after several hours, Marlow was a bit younger than Conrad, etc.[citation needed]

Publication history[edit]

Title page for Youth: A Narrative, and Two Other Stories, 1902

1898 (probably May) – Conrad begins writing "Youth"

3 June 1898 – Conrad finishes writing "Youth"

September 1898 – "Youth" is first published in Blackwood's Magazine

13 November 1902 – the book volume Youth: a Narrative, and Two Other Stories is published by William Blackwood – also contained the stories "Heart of Darkness" and "The End of the Tether"

1903 – First American edition was published by McClure, Phillips

1917 – Second British edition was published by J. M. Dent

1921 – William Heinemann brought out Youth: A Narrative; and The End of a Tether as part of a limited British edition of the collected works

1923 – published by Doubleday in America, and Dent in Britain as part of the first general collected 'editions'

Original forms that are still in existence

  • An incomplete manuscript
  • A section of typescript
  • The Blackwood's Magazine

Adaptions and works influenced[edit]

  • The Young One – a film adaptation directed by Julien Samani
  • Conrad's Youth plays a significant role in the life of the main hero of Graham Swift's 'Mothering Sunday'.


  1. ^ "Joseph Conrad | Biography, Books, Short Stories, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 March 2019.

External links[edit]