I live on a boat and enjoy writing about many media forms, including movies, books and plays.
One More Day by Joseph Conrad Summary
The plot of Joseph Conrad's One Day More, A Play in One Act, is deceptively simple. A retired coasting skipper, Captain Hagbred, spends every day preparing for when his son will finally come back home to him. They had parted many years earlier on less than good terms and Hagberd had received no word of his son's whereabouts or health in many years. Yet, despite their bitter parting and the lack of correspondence, Captain Hagberd had somehow convinced himself that the boy was only one day from coming home. In fact, he was so certain of it that he had been hoarding his wealth like a miser, creating a suitable home for his wayward son's return.
Attending to Captain Hagberd is the young Bessie Carvil who, with her father, lives in the cottage next door to Hagberd. The retired skipper owns both his cottage and the one that the Carvils live in, and Hagberd has grown extremely fond of Bessie. So fond that, in his mind, it has become a certitude that his son, Harry, would wed her almost upon the moment of his arrival.
Bessie's own father, Josiah Carvil, a retired shipbuilder and widower, now blind, is a bitter, angry old man who berates his daughter constantly and dispraises her close relationship with Captain Hagberd. He, along with everyone else, is quite certain that Hagberd has gone senile, but then one evening a young man shows up claiming to be the long-lost son, Harry, who had run away from home as a boy. Is it really him?
Warning, Thar Be Spoilers Ahead!
Before I get to the spoilers, let me say that this is an excellent piece of writing that I am certain you will enjoy. It deals with classic themes that we can all understand and will all have to deal with during the course of our lives. There are the failings of youth and the feeling of being helpless to extricate yourself from an unhappy situation as well as the losses we all suffer in old age. It's a wonderful read and only gets better the more you read it. On to the spoilers.
There's an awful lot of story crammed into this short play with only one location. The characters are delightfully colorful and impressively realistic despite the necessary theatrical nature of the piece. For me, this was one of Joseph Conrad's best works, partly due to its density of story.
There is Harry, the returned son who displays all the callous, ingratitude of youth. His mercenary attitude is vulgar and distasteful and yet, upon reflection, at the end of the tale, he is the only one of them that appears happy with his lot in life. It's as if Conrad is suggesting that only the self-serving brutes can find real happiness in life. Harry takes what he wants without regard to the feelings of others and loses no sleep over it. The other characters in this tale all suffer and they suffer directly due to the fact that they care for someone other than themselves. Is Conrad's message that caring for others is a weakness that will always lead to self-sacrifice? Harry reminds me of the British occultist Aleister Crowley who boldly proclaimed Do What Thou Wilt, is the whole of the law.
Bessie, the caring, young lady who selflessly looks after both her own father and Captain Hagberd, is utterly destroyed at the end of this woeful tale. She longs for escape yet cannot find it alone. Unlike Harry who liberated himself when he was just a boy, Bessie does not possess the strength of character to do the same without Harry's help. A help he ultimately refuses because it does not benefit him. If she were more calloused, more self-centered she would find the mental fortitude to put herself and her own needs above those of the two old men she cares after and, undoubtedly, create a much happier life for herself. But she cannot. Her feelings for others burden her with a life she does not want. While Harry's story seems to teach us that only the selfish are happy, Bessie's story seems to preach that putting others first is the road to certain unhappiness.
Regret is the millstone that hangs around the neck of all the characters except the selfish, young Harry. Bessie regrets that she cannot find the will to leave and create a better life for herself. Captain Hagberd clearly regrets the way that he and his son parted and so fabricates a fantasy that his son will return to him tomorrow, always tomorrow and all fences will be miraculously mended. Hagberd, of course, needs to believe that the reunion is always just one more day away because he could not face the specter of his son's return today. What if his son returned and nothing had changed between them? Denial is the mother of hope and the shield that protects us from regret. Bessie's father, Josiah, I suspect regrets certainly his loss of sight and the loss of his dead wife but I suspect he regrets more. His loathing of Bessie's almost familial relationship with Captain Hagberd reminds him of his own failings as a father and, lacking the skills to make amends, he instead lashes out at his poor daughter, driving her yet farther away.
Fear is dealt with rather deftly too in this masterful tale by Conrad. Bessie fears the unknown world beyond what she already knows. That fear paralyzes her into staying in a life she despises. Captain Hagberd fears that he has driven his son away from him forever, eternally lost to him so invents a fiction that he has clairvoyance enough to predict that his absent son will return in just one more day. Josiah Carvil, Bessie's own father fears that he has been a bad father and that Bessie has more affection for Captain Hagberd than she does for him, her own flesh and blood. He fears that he has treated her so poorly that she might leave him one day, alone and blind in an uncaring world. Fear, as we all know, comes from the certitude of knowledge. Bessie is afraid because she knows she is not strong enough to leave and is trapped in a life she dislikes. Captain Hagberd knows he drove his son away and so fears that it may be forever while Josiah knows that through his continuing poor treatment of his daughter, Bessie, he deserves for her to leave him. Harry is the only one without fear because he knows he has made the right decision in leaving and never looking back.
It's a dense story with a lot going on. It is well worth a read or ten though, and you will be thankful that you did.
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Has Conrad Been Forgotten?
Oddly, when I thought about writing this article, I couldn't find many other reviews of this little gem penned by the masterful Joseph Conrad. I say that it is odd because it's a charmingly sad little story that I think has been forgotten or lost. It sparked a question in me as to how many of my friends were familiar with Conrad's work. In my inquiry, I uncovered an interesting division. Two interesting divisions, in fact.
The first was that sailors, and by that I mean people that live aboard their boats or spend an inordinate amount of time aboard their vessels, read a lot more than their landlubber cousins. I doubt that this is due to a significant, intellectual superiority, although we are smart enough to live on boats so perhaps I am wrong? It is more likely due to the obvious fact that, aboard ship, we don't have as many varieties of distractions available to us.
The second interesting discovery was that nearly all of my salt sea friends were familiar with the works of Joseph Conrad whilst almost none of my land-bound chums knew any of his work. A few asked, somewhat uncertainly, "Was he the Heart of Darkness guy?" Such a sad review for such a talented author.
After some reflection it seemed clear that my boating comrades knew Conrad's books and stories for two, simple reasons, they read significantly more and because Conrad wrote a lot about sailors and the sea, our favorite subject matter.
Upon further investigation, I saw exactly the same results when I asked about other legendary authors like Jack London and Herman Melville, except that, with Melville, all had claimed to have read Moby Dick. Personally, I suspect that some of them had only seen the Saturday morning cartoon version and were trying to pass it off like they had read it but that is just an unfounded suspicion of mine. Not a single soil grubber could even name another Melville book.
I urge you to re-discover these wonderful writers because they will take you to places that no longer exist and can only be known by their personal experiences and their stories. I can assure you that you will never regret reading a Joseph Conrad book.
© 2013 Dale Anderson
Have you read this play?
Dale Anderson (author) from The High Seas on May 24, 2019:
Peggy I am so glad that you liked this. I cherish this story because it is just so human and I can really see it happening to people. I watch friends get mixed up in messy misunderstandings like this all the time and it always makes me both frustrated and sad.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 24, 2019:
What a sad tale this is with the three lives caught up in this drama. From what you wrote, Harry is the only one who was happy at the end, although he would also have suffered in the beginning before leaving.
Dale Anderson (author) from The High Seas on December 19, 2013:
I would LOVE to see this made into a stage play as it was intended to be. Come on local theater groups, make this happen for me!
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 10, 2013:
I skipped the spoilers on this one! The premise really has my interest piqued. Now I have to find out if it really is his son or not. Thank you for sharing! I´ll see if I can find this title for my Kindle.