Departmental Seminar – Conrad’s Liberal Friendships

The English Department cordially invites you to join our first departmental seminar of this year, Conrad’s Liberal Friendships, to be organized on 12 October 2023 (Thursday).

Date: 12 October 2023 (Thursday)

Time: 2:30pm – 3:30pm

Venue: Room A314, S H Ho Academic Building

Speaker: Dr Jay Parker, Associate Professor of Department of English & MA-GELCS Programme Director

Registration: Complete this online form to reserve a seat. Available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Remarks: 1 iGPS unit will be awarded to undergraduate students who attend the seminar


My previous work on Lord Jim has argued that it engages with the genealogy of a key liberal term, franchise, linking it to a chivalric ideal that aimed to mediate social and political inclusion – membership of an elite “one of us”. Yet if inclusion in Lord Jim is a question that both vexes and opens our understanding of liberalism, in this paper, I want to consider the equally vexing and enlightening question of who Conrad himself chose to include in his own social circle. I will examine three of Conrad’s own friendships (Warrington Dawson, Bertrand Russell and R. B. Cunninghame Graham), arguing that Conrad’s own inclusions and exclusions both extend and add substance to a sense of his liberalism beyond the confines of his fiction. At the same time, I argue that through the triangulation of Lord Jim’s engagement with franchise and Conrad’s correspondence with these friends, a clearer outline of Conrad’s liberal aesthetic emerges. Whilst not arguing by any means for a purely biographical interpretation of Lord Jim, I suggest that reading his novel alongside these friendships highlights both the significance of liberalism to Conrad, and some of its more troubling dynamics. These problems do not entail a straightforward criticism or rejection of liberalism, but rather the need to frame its core values not simply as ideals or ends to be achieved, but rather as constitutive problems that must be continually negotiated and renegotiated.


Jay Parker received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge and his MA and PhD from the University of Leeds. An internationally recognized scholar in Conrad studies, he has won both the Juliet McLauchlan Prize and the Bruce Harkness Young Scholar Award from the UK and US Joseph Conrad Societies respectively. He has published in international journals, including Textual Practice and Law and Literature, and is Advisory Editor for The Conradian. As well as working on Conrad, his published work examines Walter Benjamin, Richard Rorty, and world-ecology theory. Based on the premise that literature embodies and enables distinctive forms of philosophical thinking, he researches the novel in relation to political theory, law and the environment. His last book was an edited collection: Joseph Conrad and Postcritique, and his current research includes a monograph on Conrad’s Liberalism and a new project examining the genealogy of poetic justice.

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