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Joseph Conrad, Chance

Joseph Conrad's most successful novel, a modern version of a Victorian Damsel in Distress plot

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Marlow's fourth and most complex tale: new sense of irony

  • May 14, 2009
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This is one of the few Conrads that I had not read before. From the descriptions I had gotten a wrong impression and had stayed away in the past. I expected a sombre rumination of female problems. Wrong expectations!


It is Marlow's last performance, and it is more land-based than his 3 previous tales; but not entirely! Marlow has matured and has broader interests, he is looking into society, describes a strangely modern financial fraudster, takes up women's movement as a subject, with less than full enthusiasm.


Marlow has changed his sense of humour, he is an ironist now. Past Marlows were entirely un-humorous, to the extent that I mistook him for Conrad and was surprised how funny some of Conrad's non-Marlow tales are. Take Secret Agent!

Chance is as funny as Secret Agent. And yet it is also a Victorian standard plot, a damsel in distress story as any of the wildest romances of the previous century. If one would want to summarize the 'plot', it would sound very pedestrian, so I don't do it.


Like Lord Jim, this novel started as a short story, initially called Dynamite. Like Rescue, Chance was interrupted and took years to be completed. Like Victory, it was an amazing commercial success for a writer who was a typical writer's writer: high reputation, little business. This book sold like hot cakes in the US and gave Conrad a comfortable last decade of his life.

One might suspect the bestseller status was due to a misunderstanding, and the introduction to this edition presumes that Chance was a very unread bestseller. I am not so sure. The novel is quite entertaining. While the plot (fraudster's daughter in existential trouble gets rescued by sailor after going through all kinds of other people's schemes) is nothing spectacular, the manner of telling it is a very amusing way of the Marlow narration style: he collects bits and pieces from several sources and the tale's story is happening over 17 years. It is never a difficult structure and Marlow's ponderous style in, say, the Heart, is replaced by light-handed banter.


I found it very enjoyable.

'Luckily people are for the most part quite incapable of understanding what is happening to them; a merciful provision of nature to preserve an average amount of sanity.'

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Ranked #468
Member Since: May 6, 2009
Last Login: Jul 4, 2009 01:36 AM UTC
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About this book


Conrad's most technically ambitious work is a psychologically penetrating portrait of a young woman's transformation from a vulnerable, almost tragic figure to a self-respecting woman--and Conrad's only novel to feature a female protagonist.
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Books, Literature, Conrad, Financial Fraud, Joseph Conrad, Damsel In Distress, Marlow, Womens Lib, Complex Narration


ISBN-10: 0140186549 (pbk. : Penguin ed.)
ISBN-13: 9780140186543 (pbk. : Penguin ed.)
Author: Joseph Conrad
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Date Published: c1913, January 5, 1993 (reprint)
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