Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

November 27, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Originally published as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900, Conrad’s great novel of guilt and redemption follows the first mate on board the Patna, a raw youth with dreams of heroism who, in an act of cowardice, abandons his ship. His unbearable guilt and its consequences are shaped by Conrad into a narrative of immeasurable richness.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I enjoyed Marlowe as the narrator — mostly because I recognized his name from Heart of Darkness. This guy really got around, didn’t he? Although parts of his narrative were based on second- or even third-hand information, I found him to be quite trustworthy overall.
  • I am intrigued by the theme that one youthful mistake can plague your life forever. For some people that’s true, but others seem to be able to rebound from their indiscretions. Of course, I suppose that depends on what it was exactly that you did. In this case, I didn’t think Jim’s actions were so terrible. He was one of the youngest crewmen of the Patna; what was he supposed to do?
  • The early scenes and the courtroom stuff were pretty good. From the beginning, I was interested in what would happen to Jim.
  • It’s weird how small the world was even back at the turn of the 20th century. You’d think that Jim would be able to escape his past in the days before radio, television, and the Internet, but his reputation followed him wherever he went. And it was odd that Marlowe kept hearing about Jim in different ports of call, too. Jim couldn’t even escape when he exiled himself to Patusan, for god’s sake.

Disliked:

  • Whenever the book focused squarely on Patusan, I found it to be boring. The political situation there was boring, as were Jim’s various personal affairs (the woman he loved, his best friend). I had a lot of trouble slogging through that section.
  • I couldn’t help but wonder why Jim felt the way he did about his past actions. Why couldn’t he himself get over it? If it bothered himself so much, why didn’t he assume a new identity or change occupations? The other crew members of the Patna seemed to be able to move on, but not this guy. Why not?
  • The ending was rather unsatisfying — not because Jim died but because of the way he died (being shot by his best friend’s distraught father). That was kind of a waste because it didn’t really have any bearing on the Patna situation (except in the very roundabout argument that Jim was only on Patusan because of the Patna). I think it would have been more fitting for Jim’s death to have been at the hands of a Patna crew member or one of the pilgrims or something.

Rating:

I really wanted to like Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad because of its place in the canon of early 20th-century literature. But despite the fact that there are many interesting scenes, the book just didn’t work for me as a whole. Long stretches of it were incredibly boring and Jim wasn’t a particularly likable or sympathetic character. For these reasons I give it just 3 stars out of 5.

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