Conrad is not a naturalist, naturist or nature writer in the line of George Meredith (whose work he detested), 1 or W. H. Hudson (whom he admired), or Richard Jefferies (whom he nowhere mentions), or even his young friend Edward Thomas. However, what I argue in this essay is that “Nature” remains an essential term in a discussion of Conrad’s fictional universe at exactly that crucial point for his writing when he has to find his way forward from what he knows are the major achievements of Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. In his favorite book, Bleak House, Conrad no doubt read that Sir Leicester Dedlock “would on the whole admit Nature to be a good idea (a little low, perhaps when not enclosed with a park-fence)”; Conrad does not think Nature a good idea, but a necessary one, and the “nature” of his novels and short fiction is definitely not of the park-bench variety. It is the very opposite of the transcendentally restorative nature of Emerson, whose widely read 1836 essay “Nature” seeks to abolish atomizing separation and bring us into unity with God. It belongs rather to the severely disillusioned regard of later nineteenth-century philosophy and science, of which Mill’s “Nature” can be taken as a representative statement:

In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature’s everyday performances…Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold,…All this Nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and of justice, emptying her shafts upon the best and the noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst…Such are Nature’s dealings with life. 2