My husband just started reading Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes (1911), and stumbled over the following sentence in the introduction to the 1985 Penguin edition:
‘There is the MS complete but uncorrected,’ Jessie wrote; ‘and his fierce refusal to let even I touch it.’
The quotation is from a letter Conrad (1857-1924) wrote to a certain David Meldrum on 6 February 1910. Looking at it, I myself also stumbled over the sentence that follows:
It lays on the table at the foot of the bed.
The use of lay for lie was already commented on in grammars and usage guides from the eighteenth century, and it is a well-known usage problem even today.
Conrad was not a native speaker of English, and the Wikipedia entry reads that “he did not speak [English] fluently until he was in his twenties (and always with a marked Polish accent)”. But he is quoting his wife Jessie George here, so this must be her usage. Her use of lay for lie is understandable, given that many speakers confuse the two verbs, but how could we explain the other instance? Does anyone know anything about Jessie George and her background?