These five stories were collected and published as Tales of Unrest in 1898, shortly before Heart of Darkness, the first of Conrad's major novels. Ranging from the faraway and unfamiliar, where the acquisitiveness of colonial adventure is damningly exposed, to an ostensibly ordinary London household, these disparate tales display Conrad's ability to explore and lay bare human nature. Set in Central Africa, `An Outpost of Progress' is suffused with irony and represents a ruthlessly mocking view of European imperialism.
`Karain' and `The Lagoon' are exotic tales of the Malay Archipelago, with the former telling of disharmony and discord between Western traders and the indigenous inhabitants. `The Return' recounts the story of, in the author's own words, "a desirable middle-class town residence which somehow manages to produce a sinister effect". The collection also includes `The Idiots', the first of Conrad's short stories to be serialized in an English magazine.