PORADOWSKA, Marguerite (1848-1937). Mariage Romanesque. Paris: Librairie Plon, [1903?]. 8° (front blank and half-title creased, first gathering loose, some spotting). Original printed yellow wrappers (some soiling, spine chipped). PRESENTATION COPY TO JOSEPH CONRAD from the confidante of his early years as a writer and a key figure in the writing of Heart of Darkness, the inscription on the front free endpaper reading: "À K[onra]d K[orzeniowski] -- Joseph Conrad [?]affectueux souvenir M. Poradowska".
Marguerite Poradowska was the wife of a distant cousin of Conrad's and his confidante and chief correspondent in the years 1890-95. Meyers speculates that he may have proposed marriage to her following the death of her husband, Alexander, in February 1890, and he certainly suggested literary collaboration (Jeffrey Meyers, Joseph Conrad, 1991, pp. 117-8). However, her most important contribution to his writing was to assist his appointment to the captaincy of a River Congo steamboat in 1890, an experience which inspired him to write Heart of Darkness. "I had an aunt," relates the book's narrator, Marlow, "a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: 'It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influence ...'" Conrad wrote to Marguerite from Kinshasha: "Everything here is repellent to me. Men and things, but above all men." (Collected Letters, I, 62). He also visited her in Brussels on his way back from Africa, an encounter which perhaps suggested the bitter closing pages of his novella in which Marlow calls upon the grieving fiancée of the book's central character, the nihilistic Kurtz. Meyers (p. 118) notes how, during the early years of their friendship, Conrad "grossly flattered [Marguerite's] competent but commonplace novels", but his patience seems to have run out by 1903. His copy of Mariage Romanesque is unopened after p. 60.