Joseph Conrad Fans discussion

Lord Jim

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message 1: by bup (new)

bup I just finished the book (as an audio book), and I didn't particularly like it (or hate it).

I just have a few questions, for anyone who has read it.


1) Why did Brierly commit suicide? Is that explained, and I just missed it (entirely possible)?

2) Does Conrad tell us what the Patna 'bumped' (or scraped, or ran over) that caused it to start leaking? I know the inquiry didn't find out, but does Conrad tell us (or at least hint)? Did Brierly feel responsible for that thing (and thus, the whole Patna affair)? Brierly navigates to a very specific place to commit suicide - do we know what happened there?

3) What makes this a classic? I can spit back a plot synopsis, but I have this feeling I somehow didn't 'get it.' It seems like two stories stitched together (and Conrad's intro pretty much confirms that), but I'm not sure to what end. They seem like they should be separate stories (or the Patna part trimmed down, so that we still get Jim's motivation for escaping to anonymity, but where it's not half the book).

Thanks for helping me to appreciate Conrad...

message 2: by Margaretmcmillan (last edited Jul 09, 2011 12:09PM) (new)

Margaretmcmillan | 2 comments I'm so glad that you persevered! I know 'Lord Jim' is a long book, but well worth the hard effort.

My opinions. I'm not a Conrad expert, but I've read quite a bit on him, and I actually completed my undergraduate English Thesis on 'Lord Jim' about a year ago. So with those sad credentials in mind here are my hypothesis regarding your questions.

1) Brierly's suicide. An interesting question I don't think we are completely meant to understand. I think that Conrad's point in the book is that no matter how hard we try as humans, we are fallible. Things happen. Mistakes are made. This is the tragedy of Jim's choice in the novel. Through no action or inaction of his own, lives are lost or saved. SO, when Brierly sits on the panel for Jim's case, he confronts the reality of his on fallibility. This realization makes him, a methodical, arguably perfectionist, gentleman with a spotless career, take his own life. If he kills himself at the height of his career, he does not have to worry about making a similar, unpreventable mistake. Support for this argument would be that he leaves his watch behind on the rail at the time of his death. By doing so, Brierly steps outside of time, in a sense. He rejects his on temporality, and also by default, his human fallibility.

2) Conrad never specifies, although it is assumed that the Patna has gone over some kind of 'ghost ship.' In the 19th century and before, it was not unusual for ships to collide with Ghost wreckage. When a ship floundered at sea, sometimes it would not sink. It would simply turn upside down, rudder to the sky. As a result, these wrecks became highly dangerous for other passing crews.

As for Brierly's death place. I don't believe that he steered his ship to a particular spot. However, by jumping over board after the crew has 'marked their position,' Brierly has basically created a sort of tombstone for himself. Now, people will know where he perished. He is also fulfilling his last act as Captain. See how he gave the crew future orders to keep them safe? He tells them how to avoid the treacherous shoreline. NOTE: This scene also parallels the Patna sinking because just before the accident happens, the crew marks their position with a cross.

3) The status that this book has may be because of it's use of a new/modern style for it's time. Conrad was playing with something called Literary Impressionism, which was a style of capturing events in writing the way that they appeared at that moment to a character. This is why some of the episodes in the novel seem vague or blurry. It's as if the character is simply recording the impressions that he receives, even if he does not entirely understand what is occurring. There is a certain ambiguity of language in much of Conrad's work which I believe is an intentional attempt to create this new style.

Other critics would argue that layering the narratives by using multiple narrative 'frames' also contributes to the novel's groundbreaking status ie. A stranger is telling us this story which he heard from Marlow, which Marlow hears from a variety of other characters. (Another example of this would be 'Heart of Darkness' or 'Chance.')However, I myself would disagree that the use of a frame or multiple narrators is a 'modern' convention. We saw that before in Chaucer, and then at the beginning of the 18th century in full force in novels such as Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' and Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights.' Later in the next century other authors such as Faulkner will perfect this style. However, you have to give Conrad credit for being able to tell the story in this way without losing his audience. It's a difficult narrative method that takes considerable authorial kudos to accomplish effectively.

On another note, when reading Conrad don't worry so much about the style. Try to remember that Conrad was a foreigner, writing in a foreign tongue, living in a foreign land. His stories teach us how understand someone who is lonely, isolated, or far from home. 'Lord Jim' is a story of dealing with failure and guilt. Everyone deals with this at some time in their life or knows someone else with these struggles. Reading this kind of book keeps us all sympathetic to folks when we may not understand where they are coming from (just as Marlow listens sympathetically to the stricken Jim).

Hope this (ridiculously long) post helps!

message 3: by C. G. (new)

C. G. Telcontar | 3 comments I've listened to the audio version as well as read it and I'd say the audio leaves a lot to be desired. The narrator is dry as dust, fussy to a fault, and he sucks the life out of the tale. Kudos to you for getting through it!

I'd say the second half of the tale reflects the reality that life doesn't end with the most memorable moment in that life. People have to go on afterward, and Jim's life is one of decline and despair. From hopes of becoming a master someday, he is trapped in committing a crime by his master, and it's a moral shame or capitulation he never shakes off. He does not have the backbone to overcome this incident. so long as he's among 'lesser' races, secluded on the island, he doesn't have to be himself. He buys into the myth imagery of his hosts. the intrusion of the Europeans into his sanctuary takes away the certainty he's built for himself, and he is forcibly reminded of what he is; a failure.

Jim never grew up, basically. He did not learn from the tragedy of the Patna, he just ran from it. That's my take on it, anyway. And if you've not read any other Conrad, the island Jim ran away to features in his two earliest novels, Almayer's Folly and An Outcast of the Islands.

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