Dan Sandman

01: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 02/01/2015 at 12:00 pm

Lord Jim by Joseph ConradJoseph  Conrad (1857-1924) started writing novels at about the age of forty. In some ways, up to this crucial moment in the history of English literature, Conrad had been collecting the experience needed to let his imagination run free across space and time. He had worked in the British merchant navy and was a widely traveled man, able to speak several languages. When still a child, Conrad had lost his parents, two Polish nationalists who were punished under Russian occupation. Bearing this biography in mind, it is possible to view Lord Jim (1900) as a book very loosely based on the personal experience of a man with traveler’s constitution.

And this epic adventure is all about an heroic journey across the crumbling British Empire, and a man who is cast aside by  bumbleheads and bureaucrats. Stilted by his shame and pride after an incident involving a sinking steamer (biggish ship), Jim is destined to wander the seas in search of escape and meaning. All this time he is followed by the fair and just Marlow, who kind of takes the young lad on board as a friend and father figure. This same Marlow, the Marlow who narrates Heart of Darkness (1899), is the main narrator and is extremely observant and articulate. He is observant in the sense that he picks up on how people are feeling, and articulate because he can somehow express the emotions of characters who are unable to do so themselves. So in a way Marlow is a bit like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, able to observe and articulate the story, but at the same time slightly at a distance from it. The groundbreaking writing style, and the innovative focus on characters inner poetic sustenance, paved the way for the modernism (early twentieth century literary movement).

So this is where the nineteenth century ends; this, when the British Empire begun to shrivel and fall apart into something terrible closer to home: World War One. And as English literature started to breakup and spawn new ways of telling a story, so it would look back to Conrad, the great master of psychological suspense and the narrative adventures of white men, in a world that now feels alien to us – and perhaps a bit racist and sexist. I can imagine Virginia Woolf or T.S Eliot reading their copies of Lord Jim before whipping out another modernist classic. More likely than not, they would probably reread this sort of thing for inspiration, rather than opting for something by Sir Walter Scott or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I think Mr. J. Conrad deserves a (posthumous) knighthood.


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