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Lord Jim

A book by Joseph Conrad

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A Grand Ungodly Godlike Narrator

  • Nov 22, 2008
Rating:
+5
By Giordano Bruno (Wherever I am, I am.) - See all my reviews

That title is a knock-off of Ishmael's description of Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick. My guess is that Joseph Conrad never read Moby Dick. His writing career unfolded during the decades before the rediscovery of Melville. I have no doubt that Conrad would have burst with appreciation if he'd encountered the other "greatest" writer of sea tales in English or any language. Lord Jim begins to remind me of Moby Dick in chapter four, when the straightforward 3rd person narrative suddenly shifts to Conrad's typically indirect narration in the first person voice of Captain Marlow. Thereafter, Jim's whole adventure is embedded in Marlow's rambling discourse, to the utter despair of high school sophomores and middle-age armchair travelers who "just want the story, ma'm."

So who is Marlow? Is he just a convenient mask for Conrad? Why is so much text devoted to Marlow's musing about his own "peripheral" role in the story and his own unresolved understanding of Jim? Does "Jim" really exist, outside of Marlow's penchant for entertaining friends with bizarre anecdotes? (The last few chapters, cast as a letter from Marlow to a friend, would seem to be intended to 'document' the truth of the tale.) Dear reader, you've better notice that Jim is remarkably inarticulate in Marlow's account; when he speaks, he almost never finishes a sentence, never establishes a discourse on his own terms. The Jim we get to know is as much a projection of Marlow's ego as Jesus of Nazareth was of the Apostle Paul's. And then, of course, we still have to wonder about the invisible author behind the so-obtrusive narrator.

What I'm arguing here is that the novel Lord Jim is about as much about the title character as Moby Dick is about the whale. Ahab's quest for ineffable vengeance by death is almost exactly parallel to Jim's quest for redemption by death. Both are ripping good adventure tales that COULD be told in eighty-page novellas or made into films from which the narrative voices are stripped and scattered on the floor of the editing studio. But just as the main character in Moby Dick is Ishmael, Marlow is the heart of obscurity in Lord Jim. To really relish either book, the reader has to take the narrator's epiphanies seriously.

Are we on any kind of solid ground in saying that Melville's novel is about a socially orphaned Ishmael projecting his need for a father Ahab? Shall we then risk the notion that Conrad's novel is about a psychologically impotent Marlow projecting his need for a son on Tuan Jim? Hey, reader! If you steal my notion and write a grad seminar paper with it, don't forget to vote "helpful" on my review!

This is an absurdly great novel, a book to read thoughtfully with mounting involvement until you can't attend to anything else before finishing it, a book to read again and again as your life changes perspective on itself. If you have doubts about Conrad's mastery of the English language, listen to this description:
"... we watched the moon float away above the chasm between the hills like an ascending spirit out of a grave; its sheen descended, cold and pale, like the ghost of dead sunlight. There is something haunting in the light of the moon... It is to our sunshine, which -- say what you like -- is all we have to live by, what the echo is to the sound: misleading and confusing whether the note by mocking or sad." That extended metaphor, to my mind, sets up perfectly the mood and the narrative thrust of Marlow's first long 'confessional' conversation with the disgraced sailor Jim, in which self-mockery and sadness afflict both parties.

I'd forgotten, or never realized, how deep this novel is, since I first read it perhaps twenry years ago. I hope I can come upon it with the same freshness and astonishment when I read it again, perhaps twenty years from now.

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More Lord Jim reviews
review by . September 19, 2012
On Bob Dylan's latest album, the title track "Tempest" is a relentless narrative of the sinking of the Titanic, the title itself repeating the title of Shakespeare's account of a shipwreck on a deserted island far from land, believed to be based on the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture on the islands of Bermuda at the turn of the 17th century.  These are seas Conrad sailed aboard ship and on paper as one of the great writers of his century, perhaps best known for this …
review by . November 22, 2008
A Grand Ungodly Godlike Narrator, November 22, 2008  By Giordano Bruno (Wherever I am, I am.) - See all my reviews     That title is a knock-off of Ishmael's description of Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick. My guess is that Joseph Conrad never read Moby Dick. His writing career unfolded during the decades before the rediscovery of Melville. I have no doubt that Conrad would have burst with appreciation if he'd encountered the other "greatest" writer of sea tales …
review by . November 22, 2008
That title is a knock-off of Ishmael's description of Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick. My guess is that Joseph Conrad never read Moby Dick. His writing career unfolded during the decades before the rediscovery of Melville. I have no doubt that Conrad would have burst with appreciation if he'd encountered the other "greatest" writer of sea tales in English or any language. Lord Jim begins to remind me of Moby Dick in chapter four, when the straightforward 3rd person narrative suddenly shifts …
review by . August 22, 2005
Young Jim was probably never meant for the sea. As described by Joseph Conrad, the title character of "Lord Jim" had no real love for ocean voyage or relish for adventure except when it was inside his own head. His "dreams and the success of his imaginary achievements" were "the best parts of life, its secret truth, its hidden reality." His passage to the Far East was destined to prove a ticket to failure, and so it was, when he abandoned a foundering vessel filled with pilgrims to save himself.   &n …
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WhenLord Jimfirst appeared in 1900, many took Joseph Conrad to task for couching an entire novel in the form of an extended conversation--a ripping good yarn, if you like. (One critic inThe Academycomplained that the narrator "was telling that after-dinner story to his companions for eleven solid hours.") Conrad defended his method, insisting that people really do talk for that long, and listen as well. In fact his chatty masterwork requires no defense--it offers up not only linguistic pleasures but a timeless exploration of morality.

The eponymous Jim is a young, good-looking, genial, and naive water-clerk on the Patna, a cargo ship plying Asian waters. He is, we are told, "the kind of fellow you would, on the strength of his looks, leave in charge of the deck." He also harbors romantic fantasies of adventure and heroism--which are promptly scuttled one night when the ship collides with an obstacle and begins to sink. Acting on impulse, Jim jumps overboard and lands in a lifeboat, which happens to be bearing the unscrupulous captain and his cohorts away from the disaster. The Patna, however, manages to stay afloat. The foundering vessel is towed into port--and since the officers have strategically vanished, Jim is left to stand trial for abandoning the ship and its 800 passengers.

Stripped of his seaman's license, convinced of his own cowardice, Jim sets out on a tragic and transcendent search for redemption. This may sound like the bleakest of ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 0451527674
ISBN-13: 978-0451527677
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Signet Classics

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