Category Archives: Lord Jim

Lord Jim: Read from November 06 to 17, 2013

” …there are as many shipwrecks as there are men …”

Imagine, for a moment, that it was Brown’s sunken schooner which makes its way back to the beginning of the novel and becomes the wreckage that caves in the Patna’s bulkhead (“as though the ship had steamed across a narrow belt of vibrating water and of humming air”), thus setting the events in motion all over again. This novel would then be a wholly contained circle of doomed fate and circumstance destined to play out the same way over and over, time after time. Perhaps this is why Conrad chose to not only describe Jim as “inscrutable” but also to tell the story through Marlow – a story within a story so that Jim, in essence, more easily becomes us (“one of us” and, truly, “any of us”) and Marlow becomes a sort of God who dispassionately watches us folly.

The nested storytelling, the subtle wordplay, the idea that “three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination” creates an unreality that speaks to a truth of our own being better than if we were given an exact replica of Jim. Conrad gives us something infinitely better than an anatomically perfect recreation of a man who, for all the reasons and complexities that make a person a person, fails in his honor and shipwrecks his future – we get “the exact description of the form of a cloud” – a cloud in which we each see something different but is just simply a cloud – just simply us.

Ultimately, for me, the novel was about chances, specifically the chances that are missed in life; the missed chances we always remember and can never let go of and forgive ourselves for. And Jim could have easily asked for forgiveness, too – his father, a parson, seemed a very thin analogy with God himself, a God who will forgive if only you truly believe in him, but Jim couldn’t even forgive himself for the missed chance and for how he ruined his life.

And I kept wondering about his father. Jim kept that letter all those years so you knew it pained him to turn his back on his family and even though he ‘knew’ he could never go back, he also knew that he didn’t actually know that – he still held onto a sliver of hope, even if it was only a hopelessly romantic and boyishly nostalgic one.

I wonder if what Conrad was also trying to say is that man is always doomed? There really are no heroes in the novel, in fact the best man we come across, the most successful man, Captain Brierly, just up and decides one day to jump off his ship and drown himself. Did Brierly see his fate clearly to know that he too was doomed, like Jim? Or did he know that if push came to shove he would be just as cowardly as Jim and he couldn’t face it, not like Jim could? And how come the biggest bastard in the novel, Captain Brown, is most able to act ‘heroically’? Is Conrad trying to say that heroism is born only from selfishness? From wanting to fill one’s belly?

While I don’t know what Conrad actually thought, it seems clear to me that he felt it important to write an entire novel that makes you question the definition of morality, of honor, and of character. That’s why Conrad created the ‘character’ of Jim because he could be any of us, he could be all of us, he represents every one of our individual failures and missed chances and misunderstandings. Jim is like the inner doll of a Russian nesting doll and each character in the novel is one doll larger until we get to the outer doll, us.

However, I’m still unsure of what I think the novel was all about. Conrad plays such a literary master game with us that by the end I feel like my head is spinning. The language is beautiful but nonspecific (as Conrad always writes), and the “point” is unclear and open to really any interpretation – I have more questions than answers, but I love that he got me thinking about so many ideas.

And this has been the most difficult review of a novel I’ve ever had to write because it would be like trying to recreate one of Steins perfect butterflies from far away based off of just the verbal description given to us through multiple sources handed out from the jungle 300 miles in and pieced together over a life time. I could spend my life getting caught up in this beautiful novel, constantly going around and around, like Jim, or like fate, or like all of mankind.

95% done with Lord Jim

Everything comes full circle.

Brown is like a golum given life by the fates themselves to exact payment from Jim. Everything about him is dirty, earthy, unclean, but also sure of himself, honest in his brazenness, and not the least bit honorable or tied down to any ideal beyond that of filling his belly.

88% done with Lord Jim

If someone never trusts you, would that cause you to go do the very thing you are mistrusted for? Would you have never done it had you been trusted? How much of other people’s perception of us make us who we are?

Brown knows who Jim is, even if he hasn’t even met him yet. And through Brown we feel we know that Brown’s assessment is probably right, even if it isn’t nearly as layered as our own.


78% done with Lord Jim

the whole island now seems to be in shadows, as if darkness is slowly rolling in over it. Marlow says that when he leaves the whole place will be forgotten by the entire world and when Marlow dies so does Jim and his romantic paradise.

Even the open, felled fields are like as if a storm had passed through, uprooting everything and are now as flat as the sea the Patna steamed through.

Corenlius = Jim in a way

72% done with Lord Jim

“three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination.”

I love that the Jewel is a woman, not a precious emerald, but she is still a jewel, maybe even a talisman of sorts.

It’s interesting how Jim isn’t Kurtz; we get another way a man can go; his own ideal romanticism.

64% done with Lord Jim

“It was immense!”

Well, it’s relative, isn’t it? Like trying to find the truth about who stole some pots, or who was wrong aboard the Patna, or who Jim really is.

Is what Jim did on the island heroic and worthy of elevating him to the status of a deity? Or is it right to take a “white man’s point of view” and declare the island is a shit-hole in the middle of nowhere that nobody cares about or remembers?

54% done with Lord Jim

Whenever it seems as if we are going to get a black or white reading on Jim, Conrad suddenly gives us the opposing point of view and that muddies the waters even further.

We know Jim better at the beginning of the novel than we do as we learn more about him.

The Hamlet analogy is quite clever: it’s not ‘to be or not to be’, but rather ‘HOW to be’ that is the question – only here Marlow does all the asking.

46% done with Lord Jim

I wonder if Marlow is a little jealous of Jim? I mean, what’s to be jealous of, but still, he feels ashamed a little of Jim and tells the one man that Jim was mate on the Patna. He didn’t have to say anything.

It’s almost as if Jim could keep remaking himself, if only he could get away from himself. But, of course, you can never escape your past.

The Australian the captain felt like bookends of Jim’s life.

36% done with Lord Jim

Conrad loves slipping in subtle wordplay: my favorite being ‘a glorious indefiniteness driving us to sea (see, is the play here; to understand and to make others understand).

And that’s the whole point here, as if Jim is standing before St. Peter trying to plead his case and to confess it, too. Only we are not omniscient, we can’t see into the shade of a person’s heart, we either take the leap of faith or not.

28% done with Lord Jim

Jim always compares the voices of the other men to that of animals: owls, dogs, bleating.

One of us = Could be any of us

“There are as many shipwrecks as there are men”

What Conrad is doing here is brilliant because I find myself, at times, empathizing and even believing Jim and his cowardly excuse of a story.

Funny how the pilgrims actually did get to Mecca alive and Jim went to hell alive. A living wake

17% done with Lord Jim

I think I might understand Conrad’s fascination with the sea and sailors: he loves exploring people in an environment that has rules and known expectations and rigid consequences; everything is a known quantity: the ship, the mission, the sea, the charts, the night sky.

Men, on the other hand, are a total mystery. Who can ever know anything about another person?

Each system, man and navy, informs each other.

6% done with Lord Jim

My goal is over the course of my life to slowly read all of Condrad’s novels. This is number three having read Heart of Darkness and Nostromo – loved them both.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain why I love Conrad so much other than to say I love how so much is left to the imagination and how there is so much uncertainty within all his characters. Everyone seems to live on a knife edge in dangerous times