The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

By R. W. Stallman | Go to book overview

GUSTAV MORF


On Lord Jim
(an excerpt)

*

IN SPITE OF his origin and of his careful education, Jim "jumps." In all probability, he would not have done it, had not his very superiors urged him to go, and had not the ship been sure to sink the next moment. This is exactly what happened to Joseph Conrad. The sinking ship is Poland. The very names are similar. Patna is the name of the ship, and Polska the (Polish) name of Poland.1 Poland (i.e., polonity) is doomed to disappear in a short time. There is, rationally speaking, no hope whatever for her. Such was at least the opinion of Jim's superiors, i.e., of Conrad's uncle and guardian, T. Bobrowski. The machines have been stopped, i.e., the independent Polish Government has ceased to exist. At this moment, Jim's superiors advise him to "jump," but Jim did not want to for a long moment. As a matter of fact, Conrad's uncle urged him during more than seven years to become a British subject. And finally, Jim yielded and jumped, i.e., Conrad became a British subject.

But then, the ship is successfully towed to Aden by a French gunboat. This is the expression of the repressed hope that every genuine Pole ever cherished at the bottom of his heart ( Nicholas B., for instance, who prophesied that Conrad would see "better times"), the hope that the day would come when Poland would be saved. That is why of all things it is a French gunboat that rescues the Patna. Ever since the rise of Napoleon, the Poles have expected their help to come from France. The Polish national anthem "Poland is not yet lost" is a song which originated in the Polish legions serving under Napoleon.

These are the facts of Conrad's life, and his wishes and fears which underlie the first part of Lord Jim. The second part of the book (from chapter 19 onwards) is not less symbolic than the first. But while the first part is the representation of a real state of affairs, the second part is the expression of Conrad's fear that the desertion of his native country might ultimately prove a fault by which he had forfeited his honour. The final destruction of Jim consecrates the author's triumph over the guilt- complex. Tuan Jim's defeat is Joseph Conrad's victory. A man who, like Jim has suffered so much, and who has paid off his debt with his death, is no longer guilty. His death adds much to the poignancy of his fate; it really makes him a hero. If we did not regret Jim's fate (though feeling its inevitability), the novel would have missed the mark. This is the reason why Lord Jim must of necessity have what is called "an unhappy ending." In fact, Jim's death is the only satisfactory closing note. Now we can absolve Jim entirely. His memory will be that of a man of unstained

____________________
*
From Gustav Morf The Polish Heritage of Joseph Conrad ( Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1930), pp. 163-166.

-140-

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The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Part One 1
  • The Art of Conrad 5
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 13
  • Notes 19
  • Notes 35
  • Notes 45
  • Part Two 59
  • Notes 87
  • Notes 96
  • The Nigger of the "Narcissus" 121
  • On Lord Jim(an Excerpt) 140
  • On Lord Jim 142
  • Notes 154
  • Marlow's Descent into Hell 162
  • Conrad's Underworld 171
  • Three Notes On "Heart of Darkness" 179
  • Notes 186
  • On "Typhoon" and the Shadow Line 190
  • On Nostromo 191
  • Notes 198
  • Conrad's the Secret Agent 209
  • Notes 227
  • Notes 234
  • Adam, Axel, and "Il Conde" 253
  • Notes 254
  • Notes 275
  • Notes 275
  • The Secret Sharer 289
  • Joseph Conrad: Chance 296
  • Notes 304
  • The Hollow Men: Victory 313
  • The Knight: Man in Eden: the Arrow of Gold 317
  • On the Rescue 323
  • On the Rover and Suspense 330
  • Notes 331
  • Appendix I 337
  • Appendix II 345
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