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Under Western Eyes

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,839 Ratings  ·  149 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 ConradThe Secret Agent by Joseph ConradUnder Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
Best Joseph Conrad Novels
5th out of 29 books — 32 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
61st out of 255 books — 429 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 09, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies, the-russians
“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
Jan 27, 2014 Sketchbook rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jun 19, 2013 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
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-l
Jun 07, 2014 Paola rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, russia
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
Very much in the style of Dostoevsky (not my favorite Russian author) but intriguing look at a young man caught between revolutionaries and self-interest. The double meanings of much of the text are marvelously done. This Conrad novel, from 1911, is quite different from his most famous "Heart of Darkness".
Aug 13, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
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

I'll start with 2 questions;
Why, I wonder, isn't this novel better known or more widely acclaimed? It shows moments of insight into the beginnings of World War I as well as 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 D
Felice Picano
Sep 03, 2012 Felice Picano rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 10, 2015 Lyn rated it liked it
Conrad's books always seem to start slow as he methodically creates a solid foundation and base of characterization.

This one very much so and yet stays minimalistic and obscure throughout. Under Western Eyes, first published in 1911, had moments of greatness and had many very observant quotes about the Russian character, and Conrad brilliantly creates a mood of introspection and almost surreal soul-searching, but I just could not stay with it. One of the very few of his works that I just did no
sun surfer
Jul 03, 2014 sun surfer rated it really liked it
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
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
Brendan Hodge
Dec 22, 2014 Brendan Hodge rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-great-war
Re-Read: I re-read this as a sort of atmospheric background reading for the novel section I was writing at the time, and enjoyed it as much as the first time.


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 agita
Apr 10, 2016 Nick rated it liked it
I don't think this provides the insight into the Russian psyche J- Co clearly intended. His moral evaluations, usually astute, seem mired in a hatred of Russia and Russians expected (and not wholly unjustified) in Poles like Josef Konrad. His sneers toward Dostoyevsky did not curry favor with me either. Furthermore I thought the middle was plodding, a crime for spy novels. Clearly not his best.
Marian Allen
Dec 02, 2013 Marian Allen rated it it was ok
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
Peter Ellwood
Apr 20, 2015 Peter Ellwood rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. I don’t see this as one of Conrad’s best works. One has to add immediately that it’s still better than most contemporary novels; but it crunched and groaned a little along the way, in my book.

One thing I’ve always marvelled at in Conrad is his sinewy, perfect, use of English. As a student of languages I’ve admired his total mastery of one of the world’s more difficult languages (at least, in terms of using it perfectly). But not in Under Western Eyes. For me, it’s frequently
Nov 08, 2014 Dan rated it liked it
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
Sep 16, 2010 DoctorM rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
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.
Vit Babenco
May 09, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Hanz MacDonald
Jul 18, 2011 Hanz MacDonald rated it it was amazing
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
Greg Deane
Apr 09, 2013 Greg Deane rated it really liked it
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
Oct 09, 2011 Tocotin rated it liked it
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
Tim C
Jul 28, 2012 Tim C rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
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
Apr 08, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it
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:
Nov 17, 2015 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read this book twenty years ago and really didn't understand it. This time round it impressed me as one of Conrad's very best. And more timely than ever.
Jun 28, 2011 Beth rated it really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2016 Sini rated it it was amazing
Laat ik er niet omheen draaien: Joseph Conrad was naar mijn smaak een buitengewoon grote en uitzonderlijk geniale schrijver. Jaren geleden las ik bekende highlights als ‘Lord Jim’, ‘The heart of darkness’ en ‘Secret Agent’ en stond ik paf. Kort geleden las ik ‘Nostromo’, en stond ik alweer paf. Nu heb ik dan ‘Under western eyes’ uit, en wederom ben ik helemaal flabbergasted. Allejezus, wat een boek en wat een schrijver!

Het boek draait om Russische revolutionairen in Rusland zelf en (als complot
Jan 18, 2015 Rdt rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Czarny Pies
Sep 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
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
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Espionage Aficion...: Joseph Conrad's "Under Western Eyes" 1 5 Dec 24, 2014 09:59AM  
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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 Br
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“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” 447 likes
“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.” 63 likes
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