4

In the below passage sourced from Joseph Conrad's Youth: A Narrative, Conrad describes a "conical flame with a twisted top". What exactly is it?

Of course they very soon found out in the steamer that the rope was gone. She gave a loud blast of her whistle, her lights were seen sweeping in a wide circle, she came up ranging close alongside, and stopped. We were all in a tight group on the poop looking at her. Every man had saved a little bundle or a bag. Suddenly a conical flame with a twisted top shot up forward and threw upon the black sea a circle of light, with the two vessels side by side and heaving gently in its center.

An ealier passage provides context to the situation:

The speed of the towing had fanned the smoldering destruction. A blue gleam appeared forward, shining below the wreck of the deck. It wavered in patches, it seemed to stir and creep like the light of a glowworm. I saw it first, and told Mahon. ‘Then the game’s up,’ he said. ‘We had better stop this towing, or she will burst out suddenly fore and aft before we can clear out.’

So I suspect that Conrad is describing one of the mast's being consumed with flames, and thus after fire has consumed the totality of the mast, the light produced by it creates a circle occuped by the both the steamer and the Judea(name of Marlow's ship).

3

As precise as Conrad is with his nautical descriptions, I think if he had meant a mast was consumed he would have said so.

He spent a number of years as a merchant seaman, though Im not aware he was ever in a ship that went on fire. My reading is that he is just describing the vigour of the first flame to break from the space below decks, and the effect of the rush of oxygen into the lazarette propelling it high and bright.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.