Yngvild's Reviews > Youth

Youth by Joseph Conrad
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Feb 14, 10

bookshelves: adventure

I like sea-faring yarns, and Youth is a great example. Joseph Conrad called it a “feat of memory”, a semi-fictional retelling of a trip in a leaky tramp ship hauling coal from England to Bangkok. The narrator is Marlow, Conrad’s irresistibly chirpy and invariably competent and responsible alter ego.

The mention in Youth of a crew that refused to take the leaky Judea out to sea made me look up maritime law for the period. Until 1871, it was illegal for seamen to refuse to go to sea even in a so-called “coffin” ship. The United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, driven by Samuel Plimsoll, made painted load lines on the outside compulsory. The fictional trip of the Judea in the late 1880’s has one crew refusing to take her to sea because she was unseaworthy, forcing her back into port for extensive repairs -- after which the ship’s rats deserted.
Mahon: “They leave a good ship for an old rotten hulk, where there is nothing to eat, too, the fools! . . . I don’t believe they know what is good for them any more than you or I.“

And after some more talk we agreed that the wisdom of rats had been grossly overrated, being in fact no greater than that of men.

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