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

Chance and Its Intertextualities

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

Chance and Its Intertextualities

Article excerpt

THE ACCUMULATION OF ALLUSIONS and explicit references to literature turns Chance into a novel about writing a novel and a manifest game with literary conventions, rather than a mere sailor's yarn. The most obvious generic convention interwoven in Chance is the romance with the topos of "damsel in distress." A beauty in a dire predicament, Flora is placed in the modern context of financial ruin and the limitations imposed by her femininity and rescued by the Captain, a modern knight errant, lacking family bonds and with his loyal crew for retinue. As Allan H. Simmons indicates: "The very structure of the novel, Damsel / Knight, might be said to promise a romantic resolution, which the concept of knight, with its connotations of service and duty rather than love, resists" (1999: 261-62).

Another genre alluded to is the fairy-tale. Marlow presents Flora, whose childhood is tainted by evil stepmother figures (Eliza and Mrs Fyne), as the princess waking from a poisoned dream and Anthony as the prince who falls in love with her. In connection with the fairy-tale convention in "Heart of Darkness," Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère notices that: "Juxtaposing his sailor's yarns with folktales invites comparisons as well as contrasts, and Conrad arguably viewed his literary production as continuous with the story-telling tradition represented by Grimm while parodying the conventional plots, motifs, and structures associated with the genre" (2008: 3). This is also true with Chance, where the reader faces the question as to who the real Knight / Prince is: Anthony, who creates a new life for Flora, limited by the microcosm of the ship, in effect a prison; or Powell, who rescues her from the prison of solitude? Affiliations with the fairy-tale are not as all-encompassing as in "Heart of Darkness," where "the conventions of the genre as defined in the nineteenth century are subverted while traditional gender roles are reversed" (3), but like in the novella, they make the reader aware of the social criticism expressed in fairy-tales - "a dimension often ignored by those who see in them only escapist stories disconnected from reality" (15).

Yet another view on generic appropriations has been expressed by J. W. Johnson, according to whom: "Chance is a comedy of manners which deliberately parodies one kind of Victorian novel," while "Conrad's themadc interests are both original and significant, being chiefly the deficiencies of Victorian culture and the failure of chivalric idealism as the guide of life" (1968: 91). Thus Chance incorporates elements of various genres to provide a critical vision of society.

Conrad also plays with the convention of detective fiction by naming Marlow "investigator - a man of deductions" (326). While in The Secret Agent Chief Inspector Heat is a more typical detective-hero in an urban setting, a device that was already established by Conrad's times, following the example of Inspector Bucket from Dickens's Weak House (Walton 1969: 456), in Chance Marlow is a false detective, not interested in crime at all. The delayed criminal element in the novel makes Marlow an investigator in the sense of examining human fate and nature. He subverts the role of an objective detective by constructing clues himself. He provokes situations in which he gathers information. And then, rather than evaluating these puzzles objectively, he imposes his views.

Apart from introducing various generic affiliations, the narrators in Chance place their tales in a specific intertextual space. In this respect, Conrad's works can be analyzed on various planes, the major ones being the source of a literary reference, its explicitness and function. He draws on national literatures, the Classics, and the Bible. This is related to his cultural background and multilingualism. In his boyhood years, he read French writers and discovered English literature, initially in Polish translation. When he began to learn English, as a young adult, he primarily read Shakespeare, Byron, and Dickens (Baines 1960: 143; Najder 2007: 91). …

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