While Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim are both far better known, a sizable contingent of scholars and critics regard the masterpiece of Joseph Conrad’s fecund writing career to be the novel Nostromo. Among its admirers is the author of The Great Gatsby who singled out Nostromo as one novel he wished he would have written above all others. In his overview of the 100 greatest novel of all time (in any language), author Daniel S. Burt ranks Nostromo at number 44, above such better-known works as Les Miserables, The Stranger and The Grapes of Wrath.
Nostromo was published in 1904 after nearly three years of intensive writing inspired by actual events occurring a quarter of a century earlier. Perhaps had the original events which stimulated Conrad to write his monumental tome been related in a more linear manner told in a straightforward chronological manner, Nostromo might be as widely read as Heart of Darkness. Instead, Conrad was his most ambitious literary mode during the long compositional process and the novel is structured in a manner that requires some hard work by the reader merely to figure out where they are in the timeline of the story.
The history of Nostromo and the medium of film has been idiosyncratic to say the least. The very first adaptation was a silent film made in 1926 retitled The Silver Treasure that is now considered to be “lost.” An all-star cast was already in place and set to begin filming in 1991 under the direction of David Lean with Steven Spielberg as producer when Lean’s sudden death brought the film to a sudden halt. It is, too, now lost in a different sense of the word. To date, the most lasting impression that Conrad’s novel has had on film is that the spaceship on which the titular character in the movie Alien wreaks havoc is called the Nostromo.