Originally published as a two-volume serial in T.P.’s Weekly
, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
is the 1904 epic
adventure novel written by Polish-British author Joseph Conrad. Set in the fictional South American country of Costaguana during a violent revolution, the story concerns an Italian longshoreman named Nostromo, who becomes entrusted to safeguard a priceless silver mine owned by an Englishman named Charles Gould, aka The King of Sulaco. Nostromo accepts the challenge as means of heightening his profile, but when he fails to reap the rich benefits he was promised, he becomes resentfully outraged and greedily corrupt. In 1998, Nostromo
was ranked 47th on the list of the 100 Greatest English-language Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library. It is hailed as one of Conrad’s finest pieces of long-fiction. F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted of the book, “I’d have rather written Nostromo
than any other novel.”
Narrated in the third-person-omniscient
perspective, the story begins with a basic description of the fictional South American republic of Costaguana. The time period is unspecified, but the geography of the region most resembles the country of Colombia. Following years of tyranny and war-torn revolution, Costaguana is now stable under the rule of dictator Don Vincente Ribiera. In the fictional mining town of Sulaco, a seaport on the west-coast of Costaguana, a native of English descent named Charles Gould overtakes his father’s silver mine. Gould is sick of the rampant corruption and volatility in his region, and plans to make the mine a success and donate his wealth to Ribiera’s regime in hopes the ruler will instill a sense of stability. Gould brings his wife, the elegant English-born Mrs. Dona Emilia, to Sulaco to help. When the mine becomes a lucrative success, the Goulds become powerful influencers in the politics of Costaguana. As soon as the Goulds help elect Ribiera to a five-year term as national leader, revolutionary soldiers led by General Montero (Ribiera’s former Minister of War) stage a violent coup to overthrow Ribiera. Costaguana is thrown into chaos as a result. Soon after the capital city is captured, Sulaco is invaded by Montero’s men.
Afraid of having his fortune seized, Gould orders Nostromo, an Italian sailor known in the area as "capataz de los cargadores
" (head longshoreman), to keep his silver safe. Gould orders Nostromo to transport the silver offshore so it can sell across international marketplaces. Nostromo, whose real name is Giovanni Battista Fidanza, is an expat who became the foreman of the Oceanic Steam and Navigation team (O.S.N.), caretakers who oversee the Sulaco shoreline. For his bravery and boldness, Nostromo climbed the ranks to become the official point man for everyone in Sulaco. The name Nostromo means “shipmate” in Italian, but also refers to nostro uomo, meaning “our man.” The word Fidanza means “trust,” meaning Nostromo is a trusted everyman in Sulaco who the wealthy see as a useful tool. Nostromo is considered by Gould and his men to be incorruptible. As Nostromo becomes the formidable town enforcer, ridding thieves and protecting the mine from rebel forces, he helps Ribiera flee Costaguana before he is captured by violent revolutionaries.
As a raging war ensues, Nostromo is tasked with a double mission. He must first move a shipment of silver out of Sulaco before rebels can seize it. On the way, Nostromo must also ensure a young journalist named Martin Decoud safely leaves town. If not, Decoud will face severe punishment for his critical writings of Montero once Montero invades the region. Nostromo arranges to meet a passing boat and transport Martin and the silver onto it for shipment. They manage to successfully flee Sulaco, but on their way out of the harbor, a frenzied stowaway named Hirsch is discovered onboard. Soon after, a vessel full of rebels led by Colonel Sotillo hits the lighter that transports the silver, causing the ship to flood. During the commotion, Hirsch falls overboard and gets picked up by the vessel. Nostromo and Decoud salvage the silver by placing the lighter on the shores of deserted island Great Isabel. The silver is buried underground. Nostromo leaves Martin behind to stay put, giving him a lifeboat just in case problems arise. To remain inconspicuous, Nostromo sinks the lighter and swims back to Sulaco to devise a new plan.
Nostromo ends up aiding the rebellion by bravely traversing the mountains to Cayta in order to bring General Barrios back to Sulaco. As a result, Nostromo’s efforts lead to the creation of the independent Occidental Republic. Meanwhile, left alone too long, Decoud loses his mind on the deserted island. Decoud eventually takes the lifeboat out to sea, weighs himself down with ingots of silver, and shoots himself until he sinks and drowns. Nostromo decides to keep the buried silver for himself, as it’s already assumed to be lost with the sunken lighter. This decision proves to be Nostromo’s ultimate downfall. In addition to feeling slighted and used for his efforts in the war, Nostromo becomes all consumed by his buried fortune. The O.S.N. builds a lighthouse on Great Isabel; the construction of which Nostromo thinks will threaten to expose the buried silver. Anxious and paranoid, Nostromo installs his friends, the Violas, to oversee the lighthouse. Nostromo decides to engage in marriage with the eldest Viola daughter, Linda, in order to stay close to the silver. The novel ends with Nostromo sneaking around the treasure one night. Giorgio Viola spots a man courting his youngest daughter, Giselle. Viola mistakes the man for Nostromo and shoots him dead.
In 1926, a silent film adaptation of Nostromo
was produced by Fox Film under the title The Silver Treasure
. The lost film was directed by Rowland V. Lee, starring George O’Brien. In 1991, British director David Lean was set to direct an adaptation, with Steven Spielberg in line to produce for Warner Bros., but Lean died weeks before principal photography was slated to begin. In 1996, Colin Firth starred as Gould in a TV adaptation directed by Alastair Reid.