Steve's Reviews > Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
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Jan 10, 12

bookshelves: fiction, e-books, 2d-readings-the-good-stuff
Read in January, 1980

I don’t know if there has ever been an out and out study of Conrad’s influence on T.S. Eliot, but I couldn’t help but feel, while reading Lord Jim that the influence goes beyond the footnote. The most famous is of course Eliot’s epigram from Heart of Darkness (“Mistah Kurtz -- he dead.”). (Lesser known is another Heart of Darkness epigram – before Pound waved it off – that got things rolling in “The Wasteland.”) However, buried deeper in the “Hollow Men” are the lines “Between the idea / And the Reality…/ Falls the Shadow.” These lines, which could come from a number of places (knowing Eliot) are so central to Lord Jim, and stated so prominently, that I’m certain Eliot had a copy squirreled away somewhere.

Jim is a romantic (much like Conrad must have been) who has dreams of the sea, and heroic ideas about himself. The “realities” Jim encounters will soon wreck these fixed assumptions, but Jim never abandons or adjusts his ideas regarding duty and obligation. No one is harder on Jim than Jim himself. This moral dilemma is pure Conrad, the kind of thing one encounters in a number of his stories and novels. Jim, in many ways, might be the perfect crystallization, in a character, of this dilemma (though an argument could be made for the darker Nostromo). Jim is Conrad’s flawed angel of light, his Billy Budd. It’s clear Conrad has much invested in him, so much so that plot mechanics seem secondary to the character. In fact, in my edition, before the start of the novel, Conrad says that, while believing an author should not favor (in public at least) one book more than another, he is not “grieved and annoyed by the preference some people give to my Lord Jim.” This is probably because Jim is the closest we will get to Conrad (who, as a young man, would attempt suicide) himself. Jim’s not a suicide, but he does want to lose himself after the shame of abandoning a ship full of pilgrims. This shame, this failure, creates an unbridgeable gulf in Jim. The resulting trial catches the eye of Marlow, who narrates Jim’s story.

But to say “narrates” is as simplistic as it gets. The storytelling weaves in and out, not following a linear path. Events are concealed or only partially revealed to the reader, as Marlow backs up, remembers, speculates, etc. All of this can get quite annoying – if you let it. For me, Conrad is a writer you should read aloud. He casts a spell, and at his best (and I would put Lord Jim among Conrad’s best), it’s a spell that will last. Little moments, such as a conversation with a French Lieutenant regarding Jim, struck me as modernist writing at its very best, pregnant with meaning, dense, in both image and word, as a poem. And yet, for all the misty musings, Conrad can be a writer of action. There are few writers I know that can so successfully muse over the tragic nature of man, and then write about shotgun duels on the beach. If you like that kind of range in your reading, Conrad’s your man.
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message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim Steve,
I really like your idea of this being a book to be read aloud. I've never read Lord Jim but its one of my favorite works by Conrad by virtue of having listened to it on books on tape. I didn't intend to listen to Lord Jim over and over again, but I did. It's a marvelous story, but one that is told rather than narrated. Plus, considering that English isn't Conrad's native tongue, this aural component makes a lot of sense to me. Lastly, that Eliot quote feels like it could have come straight from The Shadow Line, one of my favorites.


Steve Jim wrote: "Steve,
I really like your idea of this being a book to be read aloud. I've never read Lord Jim but its one of my favorite works by Conrad by virtue of having listened to it on books on tape. I didn..."


Jim, I think you'll like (reading) LJ. You know, I have never tried listening to books. I think the Kindle has the capacity. I'll have to try it. I think I have The Shadow Line downstairs. I read it years back, but I'm into rereading a number of books these days.


Martin Conrad and the "tragic nature of man." I think you've hit the nail here. I know Conrad's viewed as one of the first modern psychological writers, but I read him as one of the great writers of tragedies, Jim and Nostromo being fine examples. How else to view Jim's willing submission to the pistol except his unwillingness to give up his heroic sense of responsibility earned hard after his failure on the Patna?


Swan In the Clouds I've had my suspicions about Conrad being the author that few artists and writers prefer not to divulge that he inspired or had a heavy influence on and his greatest characters as well as himself being a man of action as appose to overly vain, i cant help but think that Conrad would have preferred for us to keep it discreet.


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