The Secret Sharer

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Author: Joseph Conrad (Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski)
Published: 1912
Language: English
Wordcount: 16,295 / 54 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 85.6
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 2,883 1852

A captain, suddenly called upon to take a strange ship on a long voyage, while getting acquainted with his vessel during the quiet hours of the night, is startled to see a naked swimmer alongside, resting, holding to the rope ladder which had not been drawn in.

Show Excerpt

e poop. Together we moved right aft, barefooted, silent.

"What is it?" I asked in a deadened voice, taking the lighted lamp out of the binnacle, and raising it to his face.

"An ugly business."

He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light eyes under somewhat heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth, square forehead; no growth on his cheeks; a small, brown mustache, and a well-shaped, round chin. His expression was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might wear. My sleeping suit was just right for his size. A well-knit young fellow of twenty-five at most. He caught his lower lip with the edge of white, even teeth.

"Yes," I said, replacing the lamp in the binnacle. The warm, heavy tropical night closed upon his head again.

"There's a ship over there," he murmured.

"Yes, I know. The Sephora. Did you know of us?"

"Hadn't the slightest idea. I am the mate of her--" He paused and


Average Rating of 4.5 from 2 reviews: *****
Henry L. Ratliff

(1912) Adventure (Nautical)
R: * * * *
Plot bullets

  • A sea captain meets his near double as a fugitive.

  • The captain hides the man from the crew and tries to help.

  • His attempt to spare one life, may mean the wreck of his ship and the life of all aboard.

  • Until then, he has become, The Secret Sharer.


Conrad is one of the great geniuses of modern English literature, and “The Secret Sharer” is my favorite among his works I’ve read.

The story is sort of a non-story, in the modern fashion: A newly appointed ship’s captain rescues and hides a fugitive from another ship. The fugitive eventually leaves. That’s about it as far as narrative goes.

Instead of a linear story progressing from A to B, “The Secret Sharer” spins in upon itself as an exploration of character and situation, especially that of the captain. The hows and whys of rescuing and protecting the fugitive—the causes and effects of the captain’s guilt—are the questions at the core of the novella. The metaphorical referent of the Sharer is something I don’t think can be determined definitively, any more than the many other questions raised. Above all, “The Secret Sharer” leaves much room for thinking and drawing conclusions. It is a “writerly text."

Of course Conrad’s distinctive prose and the strength of all the characterizations in this book make it enjoyable for those things, no matter what one makes of its other aspects.

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