Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

"The Warrior's Soul" and the Question of Community

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

"The Warrior's Soul" and the Question of Community

Article excerpt

AT FIRST READING "The Warrior's Soul" seems to be a characteristically Conradian tale dramatizing the moral ordeal of a young hero who must choose between two nightmares. The old Russian narrator, who for the most part speaks for Tomassov, the story's "warrior," provides no satisfactory clues to his hero's conduct, however, and thereby incurs Lawrence Graver's criticism of his "inadequate powers of explanation" (1969: 196). This essay argues that the narrator is less preoccupied with the individual characterization, suggested in the original tide, "The Humane Tomassov," than with the plurality of existence and collectivity. This change of tide from "The Humane Tomassov" to the more general "The Warrior's Soul" itself implies this shift in emphasis, one also indicated by the narrator's use of the "we."

Undermining a concept of self - of an autonomous, morally responsible individual human being, whose inner life is fully known through introspection, the old Russian narrator repeatedly associates the word "soul" with something relational, and yet avoids a nostalgic evocation of a lost community of warriors.1 Rather the narrative opens up the possibility of "being-together," to use Jean-Luc Nancy's term.2 Nancy's concept of "community," following the example of the deconstruction of the metaphysics of subjectivity, affords valuable insight into this late short story. Although ostensibly concerned with the moral agony of an individual subject, the old Russian narrator is, in feet, warning against the conventional "novelistic" portrayal of his protagonist even as early as his first introduction of him. The narrator takes over the narrative from the seemingly omniscient, impersonal narrator of the opening few lines to report on the terrible sight of war. In his vision, the image of Tomassov sitting erect in the saddle emerges from "a crawling, stumbling, starved, half-demented mob" of French stragglers on the frozen battlefield. The young narrator sees "That multitude of resurrected bodies with glassy eyes" seething round Tomassov's horse (4-5) and then goes on to emphasize his youth, drawing "near enough to have a good look into his [Tomassov's] eyes": "Those same eyes were blue, something like the blue of autumn skies, dreamy and gay, too - innocent, believing eyes. A topknot of fair hair decorated his brow like a gold diadem in what one would call normal times" (5).

The narrator's poetic diction here alerts the reader to his rhetoric. An external description of a character is usually followed by an exploration of psychological depths. Here, Tomasso^s inertia, in sharp contrast with his troopers "pointing and slashing" the enemy, requires the narrator's explanation. However, instead of letting us look into TomassoV^s inner feelings, the narrator's self-referential comment,

Subsequently, suspending the image of a paralysed Tomassov on the battlefield, the narrator introduces an episode of passionate love and friendship in France three months before the war. In France, Tomassov had an affair with a French woman and was saved from arrest by a gallant French officer, De Castel, who was also in love with her. At her request, De Castel ascertained the real truth about a rumour which was saying that the Emperor Napoleon had made up his mind to have the Russian envoy arrested, and he warned Tomassov to escape from France immediately. In deep gratitude for the generosity of someone who was later to become, in fact, his enemy, Tomassov swore that if it ever became necessary he would give up his life for De Castel. After this episode, the narrative abruptly returns to the battlefield from where the young narrator and Tomassov ride after the charge against the main column of Napoleon's Grand Army.

Significantly, immediately after the temporal and spatial dislocation, the narrator states, "So I had not been very surprised to see our Tomassov sheathe deliberately his sword right in the middle of the charge" (17). …

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