Mark Blumenthal

An Interesting Comment

At the University of Pennsylvania I took a course in short stories taught by Tristam Coffin. To my knowledge he never played bridge. One day the class was discussing a work by Joseph Conrad. Professor Coffin said that there are two types of people who will never trust a stranger’s being proficient until that person has proved himself— sailors and bridge players. I don’t know about sailors, but that seems pretty accurate for bidge players.  Has anybody else heard something similar?


Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 2nd, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Mark: Your professor left you with a curious statement. His having referenced a work by Joseph Conrad, the “sailor” part of his admonition must have alluded to ‘Lord Jim,’ one of Conrad’s most famous literary contributions. If I remember correctly (and I am tapping into my college memories which took place eons ago), Lord Jim was a mate on a British ship headed from Singapore to Mecca in the late 1880s — entrusted with the safe passage of hundreds of pilgrims. If I am not mistaken, terrible weather conditions caused the ship to take in water and begin to sink — but the VIPS (captain and officers) abandoned ship and were picked up by another vessel, unconcerned for the safety of those left behind Miraculously, the endangered pilgrims were discovered adrift and taken to a safe port — no thanks to those seamen in command who feared only for their own skin.

Apparently, the boat incident was a real life story but the characters were fictionalized by Conrad when he created ‘Lord Jim’ — a novel revolving around the sailor’s later experiences. Thus, your professor’s remark about the untrustworthiness of sailors is explainable from the above tale about the pilgrims. As to his attack on bridge players — that’s a rather broad assessment — but I am certain we all have our own views.

M BlumenthalJanuary 2nd, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Judy, Given LORD JIM is the only l work by Conrad I’ve read that I remember , I didn’t feel qualified to name a title. As Conrad retired as a Polish ship’s captain I assume he wrote other works about sailors. As the course was short stories I doubt we were discussing LORD JIM. I may have read I may have read the novel more recently than you, but it must be close to fifty years for me. I’m sure I remember this sort of offhand remark about bridge players only because I was already playing,

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 3rd, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Mark: Since the only work I ever associated with Joseph Conrad was ‘Lord Jim’ — the pieces

seem to fit together. Perhaps your professor’s observation stemmed more from a personal experience of his own rather than the coincidence of his mentioning Conrad and the sailor/bridge player commonality — all in the same breath. I guess we will never know.

Keith ZennerJanuary 3rd, 2009 at 6:54 pm

“Heart of Darkness” ??

Mike MillerJanuary 4th, 2009 at 11:10 pm


Tris Coffin was teaching folk tales at Penn when Mac Leach was running what became the Folklore department. This must have been around the time you started coming to Bob Miller’s club on Walnut Street. I am glad to hear your name again. It has been a long time. Be well.

Mike Miller

M BlumenthalJanuary 5th, 2009 at 5:56 am

It was my junior year at Penn making it ’61-’62. That figures to be about right. Judy played there about that time also.

Mike MillerJanuary 6th, 2009 at 5:32 am

Yes she did. So did Bobby Goldman, Billy Landau and Phil Brady. You guys were pretty good.

M BlumenthalJanuary 6th, 2009 at 8:18 am

I mentioned Judy because she writes on this site. I could mention a lot of people. Walvick, Mike Carson, Mile Garner and I were the youngest. Brady was well after us.

Mike MillerJanuary 6th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

We were all younger back then. The best players, Norman and Bob Jordan, played pinochle at the Cavendish Club. Carson played for the highest stakes he could find. What a talented tactition he was. I joined the Cavendish in the early sixties when the two cent game had Billy Landau and Skippy Becker, rest their sweet souls.

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