Joseph Conrad, "Youth":

In two days it blew a gale. The Judea, hove to, wallowed on the Atlantic like an old candle-box.

It might appear to be a strange question, but see for yourself:

no results in Oxford 1, 2 and Webster 1, 2. A strange band in the Free Dictionary. No results in other dictionaries as far as I got. No results in Google except for the band even with "-band" function and other similar functions.

Would you please point out to me what "candle-box" means?

  • Out of context I thought it might be a candle lantern, but that doesn't seem to fit the context of your quote. There are lots of search results for "candle box" as a two-word phrase, but most of them seem to be related to packaging for candle sales and mailing, which of course doesn't seem to fit your quote either.
    – nnnnnn
    Jul 23 '19 at 8:50
  • 3
    At the risk of stating the obvious, a box for holding candles! Why the ship should be compared to that kind of box rather than any other kind, I don't know. Jul 23 '19 at 8:50
  • @KateBunting I guess is is one of the kind of boxes that would be common enough on ships, where everything has to be stowed away, not left rolling about, but possibly also a foreshadowing of the later spontaneous combustion of the Judea's cargo.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 23 '19 at 10:11
  • @KateBunting possibly also referencing back to the 'gravediggers' work' they had to do by light of tallow-dips to right the sand ballast when they got caught in a storm coming up from London. .
    – Spagirl
    Jul 23 '19 at 10:20
  • 1
    The inestimable resource Furniture Glossary.com has: 'What is the meaning of the furniture term Candle Box? Answer: Tall hanging box of wood or tin, used for keeping candles.' Jul 23 '19 at 11:30

I haven't read this particular book, so I might be missing some context, but there are good reasons to think that candle-box in this case does refer simply to a box for candles (as Kate Bunting and Spagirl suggested above).

Heaving to is a common tactic for sailing ships to survive a storm. When a sailing vessel is hove to, it has very little forward motion, but just drifts slowly downwind, sideways. It will roll about on the waves in an irregular and ungainly fashion, compared to a boat making way under sail. So Conrad's simile suggests that the Judea appears more like a square-shaped box, after heaving to, than like a sleek craft that can glide through the ocean.

A Google Image Search for old candle box returns a lot of oddly shaped open wooden boxes for candles, like this one, which would just about float if jettisoned from a ship, but would be very liable to wobble or tip when dropped into choppy seas. A search for a ship's candle box returns images like the one here, which would float well, but have low stability and be liable to tipping.

A candle-box (whether maritime or onshore) would have been a very familiar object in the 19th century - so I think Conrad's metaphor would have been very clear to contemporary readers.

  • 1
    The text of the story also makes reference to the Judea having a very square stern, so she is already a box-like vessel.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 23 '19 at 11:35
  • The points in comments above, that the choice specifically of a 'candle' box hints a later cargo fire on the ship, are probably valid too - but I think it's clear that the basic image is of a wooden box wallowing unstably in the ocean. Jul 23 '19 at 11:37
  • OED does have this definition for "candle-box".
    – GEdgar
    Jul 23 '19 at 11:38
  • @Spagirl ... I didn't think you were quibbling :D I've upvoted your comment (my comment was about the comments on the question at the top of the page, it just happened to land at the same time as yours!) Jul 23 '19 at 11:41
  • Ah, okay... I was a bit confused!
    – Spagirl
    Jul 23 '19 at 11:46

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