In Almayer’s Folly, his first novel, Joseph Conrad blends together several of the characteristic themes that would pervade his later and more powerful works: the conflict between two mutually uncomprehending civilizations, Western and Eastern; the fearsome and nearly unconquerable power of human sexuality, especially as embodied in the female; and his harsh, dismal belief that all human beings are condemned to live out their lives in isolated worlds of individual illusion. In this early work, Conrad is also exploring and refining his distinctive methods of presenting these themes through setting, characterization, and style. Since Almayer’s Folly can be seen as a precursor to such later tales as Heart of Darkness (1899) and Lord Jim (1900), it has the double value of being an important work in itself and the first step in Conrad’s development as one of English literature’s most powerful writers.
The conflict between European and Eastern cultures underlies the novel. Sambir, the setting for the tale, is the prize in an interlocking series of conflicts for power between forces ranging from the imperial to the domestic. Nominal control of Sambir is disputed between the Dutch, who initially claim the territory as part of their possessions, and the British, who as the more dynamic and progressive imperial power seem poised to exert their influence over the deceptively sleepy tropical site. It is in response to what he perceives as an imminent change of rule that Almayer begins construction of the house that, never completed, becomes a “new ruin” and is dubbed “Almayer’s Folly.” Almayer’s house fits the traditional architectural sense of the word “folly,” in that it is an expensive but useless building that serves no practical purpose. More significant, however, is Almayer’s true folly: that he neglects the true politics of Sambir, which center not on distant empires but on local domestic concerns. The rajah of Sambir, Lakamba, is Almayer’s implacable enemy not least because he believes that the European knows of a rich source of gold. Lakamba commands Almayer’s native wife to leave him by playing on the disgust she feels at her white husband’s sloth and failure. Almayer, convinced of his innate superiority—after all, he is a European—hardly notices, much less combats, his decline. In this sense, he prefigures Kurtz of Heart of Darkness, who becomes more savage than the natives among whom he lives.
Almayer is betrayed twice...
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Almayer's Folly, published in 1895, is Joseph Conrad's first novel. Set in the late 19th century, it centres on the life of the Dutch trader Kaspar Almayer in the Borneo jungle and his relationship to his mixed heritage daughter Nina.
Almayer’s Folly is about a poor businessman who dreams of finding a hidden gold mine and becoming very wealthy. He is a white European, married to a native Malayan; they have one daughter named Nina. He fails to find the goldmine, and comes home saddened. Previously, he had heard that the British were to conquer the Pantai River, and he had built a large, lavish house near where he resided at the time, in order to welcome the invaders. However, the conquest never took place, and the house remained unfinished. Some passing Dutch seamen had called the house “Almayer’s Folly”. Now, Almayer continually goes out for long trips, but eventually he stops doing so and stays home with his hopeless daydreams of riches and splendor. His native wife loathes him for this.
One day, a Malayan prince, Dain Maroola, came to see Almayer about trading, and while there he falls in love with Nina. Mrs. Almayer kept arranging meetings for Nina and Dain. She wanted them to marry so her daughter could stay native, because she was highly distrustful of the white men and their ways. Dain left but vowed to return to help Almayer find the gold mine. When he does return, he goes straight to Lakamba, a Malayan rajah, and told him that he found the gold mine and that some Dutchmen had captured his ship. The rajah tells him to kill Almayer before the Dutch arrive because he is not needed to find the gold now. The following morning, an unidentifiable native corpse is found floating in the river, wearing an ankle bracelet very similar to Dain’s. Almayer was distraught because Dain was his only chance at finding the secret mine. (The corpse was actually of his slave, who had died when a canoe overturned. Mrs. Almayer suggested that Dain put his anklet and ring on the body.)
Mrs. Almayer planned to smuggle Dain away from the Dutch, so he would not be arrested. She snuck Nina away from her father, who was drinking with the Dutch. When he awoke from his drunken stupor, a native slave girl told him where Nina had run away to, and Almayer tracked her to Dain’s hiding place. Nina refused to go back to avoid the slurs of all the white society. During all this arguing, the slave girl had informed the Dutch of Dain’s whereabouts. Almayer said that he could never forgive Nina but would help them escape by taking them to the mouth of the river, where a canoe would rescue them from the Dutch. After they had escaped, Almayer erased the lover’s footprints, and went back to his house. Mrs. Almayer ran away to the rajah for protection, taking all Dain’s dowry with her. All alone, Almayer broke all his furniture in his home office, piled it in the center of the room, and burned it, along with his entire house, to the ground. He spent the rest of his days in “[His] Folly”, where he began smoking opium to forget his daughter. He eventually died there.
As Conrad's earliest novel, Almayer's Folly is often seen by critics as inferior to the author's later work because of its repetitive and at times awkward language. However, recent critics have paid more attention to Conrad's depiction of Nina as a self-determined female non-European character along with Aissa from Joseph Conrad's second novel, An Outcast of the Islands.
Main articles: Almayer's Folly (film) and Hanyut (film)
- A French-Belgian adaptation was made in 2011 directed by Chantal Akerman, with filming started in November 2010. It was later released on September the next year.
- A Malaysian film adaption of the novel is produced under the title Hanyut, written and directed by U-Wei Haji Saari and starring Peter O'Brien as Kasper Almayer. The film was planned to be released after production finished in 2012, but it had to be postponed due to lack of funding for marketing and local distribution until it is eventually slated for screening on 24 November 2016.
- ^Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century.
- ^Harry Sewlall, "Postcolonial/Postmodern Spatiality in Almayer's Folly and An OUtcast of the Islands. Conradianna; Spring 2006; 38, 1. pp. 79–93