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Under Western Eyes

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,466 ratings  ·  124 reviews
Political turmoil convulses 19th-century Russia, as Razumov, a young student preparing for a career in the czarist bureaucracy, unwittingly becomes embroiled in the assassination of a public official. Asked to spy on the family of the assassin— his close friend — he must come to terms with timeless questions of accountability and human integrity.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 17th 2003 by Dover Publications (first published 1911)
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Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradNostromo by Joseph ConradLord Jim by Joseph ConradUnder Western Eyes by Joseph ConradThe Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Best Joseph Conrad Novels
4th out of 18 books — 28 voters
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaPeter Pan by J.M. BarrieHowards End by E.M. ForsterA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Best Books of the Decade: 1910's
69th out of 196 books — 317 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
“I am quite willing to be the blind instrument of higher ends. To give one's life for the cause is nothing. But to have one's illusions destroyed - that is really almost more than one can bear.”

 photo JosephConrad_zps086a605c.jpg
Joseph Conrad

Razumov is serious about his studies. He is quiet, and like most men who brood, there is attributed to him by the people he knows a depth of wisdom that isn’t due to his eloquent conversations or his grand standing on theories, but simply attributed to him because he doesn’t say enough to d
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sckenda
Russians love words. The revolutionaries in “Under Western Eyes” seem drunk on their own wild and whirling words.
They gather them up, they cherish them, but they don’t hoard them in their breasts; on the contrary, they are always ready to pour them out by the hour or by the night with an enthusiasm of, a sweeping abundance, with such an aptness of application sometimes that, as in the case of very accomplished parrots, one can’t defend oneself from the suspicion that they really understand what
...more
Sketchbook
Conrad's gripping espionager influenced Graham Greene,
Maugham and LeCarre. An apolitical student accidentally
becomes a Czarist spy after he betrays a rebel friend ;
later as a secret agent in Geneva he falls in love with
the fellow's sister. Psychological trauma amid deception,
manipulation and turmoil of the Russian soul.

"Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth," he fears.
"Their Uptopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a
disgust of reality." Conrad had little optimism for the
revolution
...more
J.
That propensity of lifting every problem from the plane of the understandable by means of some sort of mystic expression is very Russian.
It almost seems that Conrad needs the fecundity of the South Seas, or of the African Interior, to counterbalance his methods, his approach. Here in the awfully civilized central European capitals we may find him unusually soap-operatic and slightly overdone. Or maybe it is so close to home for the writer, Polish and born in the Ukraine, that every last semi-lo
...more
Darwin8u
I'm beginning to think there are absolutely no whimsical novels written about the period between Bloody Sunday and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Written in 1911, Conrad's 'Under Western Eyes' is a lot of things: It is his response to the revolutionary fervor in Russia and Eastern Europe. It was a response to Dostoevsky's novel 'Crime and Punishment', and if previous scholarly works are to be believed, it may have also been a response to his own father who was a famous Russian revolutionary. La ...more
Paola
For me this was a book of two halves - as much as I enjoyed the first two parts, I found myself plodding through the second two. Perhaps it is just that this novel has not aged well: the world is much closer, and the whole premise of western eyes contemplating the inscrutable Russian society applies surely much less, if at all, to the sensibility of any contemporary Western European. In addition, many of the sex stereotypes, though well meant, sound quite tired. The third part, in which Razumov ...more
David
Aug 13, 2009 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Shelves: read-fiction
From Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes:

-- To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much more wonderful than a parrot.

That's on the first page! I knew at that moment that I had chosen the right book. Also:

-- In Russia, the land of spectral ideas and disembodied aspirations, many brave minds have turned away at last from the vain and endless conflict to the one great historical fact of the land. They turned t
...more
Libyrinths
Writing before the Russian revolution, Conrad tries to elucidate Russia for the western reader. As such, you get some revolutionaries and bureaucrats, and a protagonist caught in between.

The strength of the book is what Conrad's strength often is, his ability to see into the hearts and minds of characters. In this case he is aiming to see into the psychology of Russia as a country, and hits a few bull's eyes. I think the characters suffer a bit from it, but in some ways it makes his points more
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Peter

I'll start with 2 questions;
Why, I wonder, isn't this novel better known or more widely acclaimed? It shows's moments of insight into the beginnings of World War I and the nature and outcome of the 2nd and successful Russian revolution. All the more remarkable then, is that being published in 1911, it pre-dates both of those two momentous events. Secondly, how to write a review that shows the novels worth without giving it away so as to spoil it for others?

Well, for starters if you like Dostoevs
...more
Felice Picano
The title refers to the setting/milieu for 4/5 of this great, all but unknown today, Joseph Conrad novel: i.e. Geneva, Switzerland, in 1907. There, Russian conspirators and Russian secret agents are all gathered to either infiltrate and bring down the repressive Tsarist government or infiltrate and bring to grief the conspirators movement. It's one of the ongoing great stupidities of how literature is taught in American universities that people will graduate with honors having read two of Conrad ...more
Dan
Oh how I had hoped this would be so much more than it is.

I have to admit total confusion as to what Conrad hoped to achieve with this novel. What starts off as insight into how precarious and arbitrary life in Russia under the government was at the time of the novel, ends with the (almost) humiliation of the people who sought to revolt against it. Everyone comes out as a loser in the end. Was Conrad trying to say everything in Russia is bad, even the people trying to change Russia? Was he really
...more
DoctorM
Written in the years between the failed revolution of 1905 and the collapse of tsarism in 1917, "Under Western Eyes" is one of the finest political novels of the 20th-century. A meditation on the costs and uses of terror and on the nature of repression, and a novel that bears re-reading all through the new century.
sun surfer
Under Western Eyes deals with the Russian psyche, is critical of both autocracy and revolution, and gives a psychological portrait of paranoia, suspicion, guilt and despair. The protagonist Razumov is very complex and Conrad forces readers to come to their own conclusions about his character and actions, as well as the reliability of the narrative. While the oft-compared Crime and Punishment’s central conceit is an action the protagonist takes, this novel’s is an action taken upon the protagonis ...more
Brendan Hodge
I hadn't realized, until a friend recommended this book, that Conrad had written any books that weren't set "in the colonies". Come that that, I hadn't realized that he was Polish, which, given that Poland had been divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary meant that he grew up under Russian rule. (His father was an agitator for Polish independence and so part of Conrad's youth was spent in Tsarist political prisons.)

Under Western Eyes deals with a Russian student, Razumov, who finds himself su
...more
Hanz MacDonald
In an early episode, it is related how Haldin is tortured for information but doesn't speak. Razumov is presented with a record of that interrogation under torture, the questions are written out as are the silences, for 'pages and pages' of the text given to Razumov consist of the questions followed by the line 'Refuses to answer'.


Under Western Eyes, marks for me, a dramatic rendering of the creation of the modernist text itself; a text of a series of questions followed by recorded silences and
...more
Greg Deane
Written in 1911, Joseph Conrad wrote of “Under Western Eyes” that by 1920 that it had already “become already a sort of historical novel dealing with the past”, given the changes that had occurred in Russia in particular in one short decade.

Even so, Conrad felt justified in congratulating himself on his prescience, voiced through his three principal characters: Haldin, Razumov, and Councillor Mikulin. He claims to have written the work with a detachment, and believes that is the reason for its
...more
Tocotin
Conrad's books usually start very slowly and then they gain so much acceleration it's amazing. I enjoyed the first part immensely (the one where Razumov encounters and deals with the, um, problem presented by Haldin). The Switzerland part was okay, I thought it predictable at first, but then the climax was really very good. Tekla was my favorite character and as usual, I was happy to see the care and compassion Conrad showed in his treatment of "smaller people". Why only three stars then? Becaus ...more
Anthony Irven
This a very good read and allows an insight to the tensions that existed in Russia prior to the 1917 Revolution! The writing is superb, if at times a little impenetrable. The structure of the book is interesting and moves back and forth in time to allow the reader to understand what is going on in the plot line.
The story is told through a Westerner living in Geneva as a language tutor and his involvement with a Russian émigré family whose son and brother commits an assassination on a minor noble
...more
Tim C
I am a confirmed Conraddict, and this is possibly my favourite Conrad novel. I first read this book at an impressionable age around the time when the Berlin Wall came down and I had travelled on two school exchange trips, the first to the former West Germany, and the second to the former East Germany. Naturally this book keyed itself into my psyche, and I now have a small ritual whereby I re-read this novel every ten years (I'm due my third read this year), it's interesting to see how we find a ...more
Eric
Struggled with 4.5 to 5 on this one. How timely is a 100-yr old novel that tries to come to grips with terrorism, the Russian soul and the ability of words to capture any of this? Very. Conrad gets dinged, perhaps, for the narrative structure, perhaps hiding (?) his observations behind an uneasy language teacher with "western eyes." Then again, perhaps this device freed him. In any case, hard not to embrace many of the (tres modern) observations spoken thru various perspectives. A sample:
Narrato
...more
Marian Allen
I need another shelf called, "I'm still thinking about it." It struck me as, "What if Dostoevsky and Henry James got married and had a baby and named it CRIME AND PUNISHMENT UNDER WESTERN EYES?" I'm still uncertain whether this book is an exploration of individual characters; an allegory of "oppressive autocracy", "indifferent democracy", and "fanatical revolutionism"; a paean to the power of Woman, or what. Maybe all of the above.

Worth reading? Yes. I'm glad I did. I might even reread it some d
...more
Beth
The story takes place around the turn of the century (19th to 20th) partly in Geneva, partly in St. Petersburg. It deals with a similar topic as James’ Princess Casamassima, namely, the violent overthrow of oppression and the consequences for those who are caught in the struggle. It’s filled with betrayals, wrong turns, unrequited love, missed opportunities, and bitterness. Somewhat mannered, it is far more exciting and vibrant that James’ study of similar issues. Conrad found this book the most ...more
Czarny Pies
Sep 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in Russian history.
Recommended to Czarny by: I was a confirmed Conrad fan prior to having the slightest interest in Russia.
Shelves: english-lit
This is a great book about the Tsarist Police State which forced Conrad to leave the traditional Polish Territory of the Russian Empire in 1874.

After the unsuccessful Decembrist Revolt in 1825 led by Russian officers who had participated in the campaigns against Napoleon, the Tsar decided to creative a massive secret police in order to infiltrate any group suspected of revolutionary activity. This force slowly developed an expertise in recruiting informants that continued to improve up until th
...more
Vit Babenco
Joseph Conrad stood at the beginning of all modernistic literature of the twentieth century and he was one of the most sagacious writers of all times.
Generally speaking Under Western Eyes is a modern Judas tale ostensibly based on the traitor's confessions.
There are two sides of barricades:
“You suppose that I am a terrorist, now — a destructor of what is, but consider that the true destroyers are they who destroy the spirit of progress and truth, not the avengers who merely kill the bodies of th
...more
Bob
Betrayal. It's an ugly idea, that someone you trust would, behind your back, act against you. What Dostoevsky does with the idea and act and subsequent guilt of murder in Crime and Punishment, Conrad explores here around the idea of betrayal.

Our main character, Razumov, is an orphan sponsored silently by Prince K___, of the Russian nobility, as a student. Dark, quiet, studious, and a listener, he finds himself entrusted with the safety and escape plans of a fellow student, Victor Haldin, who has
...more
Andrew Vh
The first third of this book was excellent, and had me thinking this would turn into one of my favorite books. Conrad does an excellent job of conveying how a totalitarian society forces innocent people to choose between their personal ethics and their desire to lead a peaceful, prosperous life. It conveyed that there can be no middle ground. The entire novel looks at the dire consequences for the protagonist of not going immediately to the authorities to tell them a revolutionary/terrorist was ...more
Irving Koppel

Like the Russian novel,"Crime and Punishment",Conrad traces the agony of one
who has committed a crime by betraying a friend which leads to the friend's
murder. The novel portrays the agony this young student goes through until he
finally can no longer hold back and must confess his betrayal.

Interestingly,the action takes place in Russia and Switzerland at the turn of
the 20th Century. While the revolutionaries were plotting in Switzerland,at home
in Russia one had to beware of the secret police a
...more
Julian Meynell
Conrad channels Dostoevsky. Apparently Conrad did not care for Dostoevsky, but you wouldn't know it from this book. It is very reminiscent of Dostoevsky, in particular of Crime and Punishment. It's an interesting book. You can see what Conrad is trying to do, but it does not all come together and wonderfully gel as Conrad's best works do. That makes it overlong for what he acheived. The book is about Russian dissidents hanging out in Geneva and an enemy agent in their midst.

There is a puzzle to
...more
Eldan Goldenberg
The thing you have to be prepared for when reading Conrad's political novels, is that he was writing 100 years ago and a disturbing amount of what he portrays fits the present day, and probably always will. I suppose I should see this as the mark of a talented author--he's really just describing people, and we really don't change--but I can't read one of these without becoming somewhat disillusioned by just how little has changed in 100 years of "progress".

Anyway, to the story. This is the least
...more
Gee
Review tomorrow. Getting these thoughts out of my head is proving to be harder than I'd imagined.

Of course, if SEELE would quit futzing around with the Human Instrumentality Project, I wouldn't have this problem, now would I?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And here’s the review, such as it is. (Damn SEELE.)

With something resembling anguish he said to himself—
"I want to be understood." The universal aspiration with all its profound and melancholy meaning a
...more
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3345
Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ) was a Polish-born English novelist who today is most famous for Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized account of Colonial Africa.

Conrad left his native Poland in his middle teens to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He joined the French Merchant Marine and briefly employed himself as a wartime gunrunner. He then began to work aboard Bri
...more
More about Joseph Conrad...
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“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” 350 likes
“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.” 59 likes
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