85. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

You guys, I am having issues trying to decide how to order all of these different little details that I give in addition to the reviews. Does anyone have issues with the Uncomfortable Plot Summaries being at the beginning, since they're potentially spoilerful? Should the ratings go at the beginning? Am I worrying too much?! -M.R.

Lord Jim (Oxford World's Classics)Uncomfortable Plot Summary: A young man commits suicide by Malaysian.

Year Published: 1900
Pages: 417
First Sentence: He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

I've been supremely curious about Joseph Conrad for a long time, but I have no idea why, only that it involves a reference to Heart of Darkness in something else I devoured, somewhere along the line.

I'm trying to write some slightly more comprehensive reviews, but unfortunately I'm pressed for time right now, so this time I'll just work through a list of points that I made while reading. Basically, please forgive me if this isn't very coherent.

The summary goes first, though. Jim is the sailor son of an English parson. According to Captain Marlow, who tells most of the story, Jim has the look of the finest sort of English naval man. However, he commits a truly great sin while serving as chief mate on a steamer carrying a vast cargo of pilgrims, which I won't spoil because it's just too good, only to say that it results in the loss of his honour. For some time after he works as a water clerk, and ends up withdrawing from the world to a place called Patusan, all in a struggle to recover that honour.

Like I said, Captain Marlow tells Jim's story. I have to say, I'm not a fan of Conrad's choice here. For one thing, Marlow repeats everything with way too much detail and at way too much length. According to the author's note in the edition I read, a lot of reviewers agreed with me on this when the book was first published. Conrad claims that Marlow's narration can be read aloud in under three hours, which I seriously doubt. I had the same issue with Nelly Dean's narration in Wuthering Heights. Nobody remembers anything this accurately or eloquently.

Things were made even worse because Marlow repeated entire stories within his own, so that it was often really hard to keep track of who was "I" at any given time. I hate having to work that hard when I'm reading something. Elizabeth Kostova did something like this in her novel The Historian, but she was quoting books and letters and things, and best of all, she used different fonts so everything was a lot more clear. Not that I really expect a book published in 1900 to do anything unusual in the way of typography, of course.

Having just read The Call of the Wild, I also couldn't help comparing Joseph Conrad to Jack London. To my knowledge, they're both sort of "adventure novelists," which I have to admit I find extremely romantic. Conrad's Jim is an amazing tragic hero (am I using that label properly?) but once again, I can't help but be more interested in the writer. However, Conrad doesn't show through his writing in Lord Jim to the extent that London does in The Call of the Wild. London is less verbose, and I like that better. Lord Jim has a solid ending but it drags horribly in the middle, partly because I didn't like Marlow, partly because Conrad waxes philosophical way too often. He writes beautifully sometimes, but others he falls victim to this sort of wall of text issue that required me to go back and read several pages several times.

Finally, I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've ever thought that a book would make a better movie. Apparently one was made, and was terrible, but really I think that it could be awesome if done properly.

Oh, I almost forgot! This is just sort of a passing observation, but Arnold Bennett did it, too, and I wanted to mention it in my review of The Old Wives' Tale, but I forgot. Okay, so there are parts in both books where the characters are speaking French, and it's indicated very subtly by literally translating certain phrases instead of giving the English phrasing. I'm not sure how clear I'm being. For example, the statement, "You are extraordinary—you others," in a place where "vous autres" would be used in French and the English expression would be something along the lines of "you guys." (Alas, I'm not much of a translator.) Bennett actually did a much better job of this than Conrad, who couldn't resist putting the French in anyway.

And that's about everything. The book is a slog, but I highly recommend that you go and see the movie if it ever comes out.

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The ship moved so smoothly that her onward motion was imperceptible to the senses of men, as though she had been a crowded planet speeding through the dark spaces of ether behind the swarm of suns, in the appalling and calm solitudes awaiting the breath of future creations.
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A certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last, the desire of peace waxes stronger as hope declines, till at last it conquers the very desire of life.
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And besides, the last word is not said,—probably shall never be said. Are not our lives too short for that full utterance which through all our stammerings is of course our only and abiding intention? I have given up expecting those last words, whose ring, if they could only be pronounced, would shake both heaven and earth. There is never time to say our last word—the last word of our love, of our desire, faith, remorse, submission, revolt. The heaven and the earth must not be shaken. I suppose—at least by us who know so many truths about either.
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