Originally published in 1986, this is a powerful and original book. It offers textual interpretation of Conrad’s major work and articulates the subtlety and richness of his treatment of social-political institutions and of the forces that complicate and distort private and public life.
Suresh Raval argues that the social-personal relations in Conrad’s fiction cannot be conceived apart from their existence in the political life of a community; but at the same time they cannot be accommodated institutionally. The author’s concern is with the problematic status of the self under various perspectives: experience and understanding (Heart of Darkness), an ethical ideal (Lord Jim), history (Nostromo), ideology (The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes), scepticism (Victory). What the self is remains ambiguous and elusive. Conrad’s fiction is concerned with exhibiting the failure of language, but always as a result of an immense effort of language itself. As language undoes itself in the act of seeking utterance, so Conrad’s fictional mode – romance – turns into the opposite of itself as it unfolds. Raval demonstrates that incompatible alternatives – intention and action, thought and experience, the individual and the social, the logical and the contingent – are entangled with each other, and how this entanglement works in the fiction.
Raval’s exploration of Conrad’s scepticism shows why Conrad cannot be characterized as a political conservative or radical without distorting the complexity and seriousness of his reflection on society. For his scepticism is the product not just of intelligence but of intelligence conscious of its limitations, and is thus able to make a devastating critique of the nihilism sometimes attributed to Conrad by critics. Only those who think that morality has to have a secure single foundation if it is to be real are pushed into regarding Conrad’s scepticism as a form of nihilism.
Professor Raval’s important study brings philosophical and literary interests to bear on Conrad’s major fiction and illuminates those aspects of his art which have puzzled and fascinated his readers. It will be deservedly valued by those studying and teaching modern literature.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments. Introduction. 1. Marlow and the Experience of Storytelling: Heart of Darkness 2. Narrative and Authority: Lord Jim 3. The Politics of History: Nostromo 4. Irony and Morality: The Secret Agent 5. Ideology and the Self: Under Western Eyes 6. Skepticism and Experience: Victory. Conclusion. Notes. Index.
Suresh Raval, University of Arizona, USA