Mr. Conrad has no ideas, but he has a point of view, a “world”; it can hardly be defined, but it pervades his work and is unmistakable.
—T. S. Eliot, “Kipling Redivivus”
He [James] had a mind so fine no idea could violate it.
—T. S. Eliot, “On Henry James”
From T. S. Eliot, no praise for a novelist could be higher, one must conclude, than to be found without ideas. These two Eliotic quotations, along with manifold affinities, lash Henry James and Joseph Conrad together. As for their affinities, both James and Conrad were precursors of modernism in their profound contemplation upon the endless questions of form in literary creation. In the work of each writer, plot never supersedes artistic purpose and artistic purpose is never separated from moral vision. James invoked one to be a person on whom nothing was...