Joseph Conrad: Novelist of 20th Century

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      The modern experimental novel was inspired by Henry James, an American, Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) who was a Pole (a citizen of Poland) invites comparison with Henry James whose friendship he enjoyed and from whose example he learnt his indirect approach, his subtlety of psychological analysis and his high degree of intellect and artistry. Conrad introduced the indirect or oblique method of narration in Lord Jim where the incidents are indirectly presented by Marlow in a backward-forward manner building up a "picture through a series of brief sense impressions, which only reveal their full significance when they finally come together into a complete whole".

Conrad brought to the English novel a fine objectivity; he had observed men and lite closely, especially men under adverse conditions, the men in the grip of elemental fear.
Joseph Conrad

      Joseph Conrad's first novels An Outcast of the inlands and Almayer's Folly were followed by The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897) which is a moving story of life on board ship, remarkable for its powerful atmosphere, its sea description and its character study. The novel brought literary fame to Conrad. Lord Jim (1900) is the first important experimental novel of the era. The theme is guilt and atonement. Conrad analyses the mystery of Jim not in orthodox chronological pattern but as a curious questioner might discover the facts. The time sequence is therefore completely thrown aside and the events are related not in the order of occurrence but as they are ascertained by the questioner. Imagistic details and highly conscious symbols bring the characteristic features of contemporary poetry to the novel. Heart of Darkness included in The Judea is another noteworthy fiction. Typhoon (1903) is the most memorable tale in English upon the simple conflict between man and nature, It contains the best description of a sea storm in literature. Nostromo (1904), a strange story of adventure and daring exploits in the revolutionary broils of the South American Republic of Costaguana is used as a background for a subtle and poignant study of the conflict between moral idealism and material interest. Conrad's peculiar genius for analysing men and their motives is again shown in Under Western Eyes (1911) in his interpretation of Russian feelings and ways of thought. Chance (1913) is a story of two kindred souls who fail to recognise each other and who are caught up in an intricate web of misunderstanding. Victory (1915), The Shadow Line (1917), The Arrow of Gold (1919) are his other novels.

      Joseph Conrad brought to the English novel a fine objectivity; he had observed men and life closely, especially men under adverse conditions, the men in the grip of elemental fear. Atmosphere is important in a Conrad novel as landscape in Hardy. He conveys in his novels the sickening sense of evil that lurks in the dark places of the world. Conrad was influenced by the French naturalists as well as Russian novelists and Henry James. Conrad's art is a composite one which allies the novel of adventure with the objective spirit of French naturalism. Conrad has no other object than to transmit impressions of reality. His psychological curiosity finds scope in the analysis of simple, humble souls perplexed by the cruelty of fate. His aim was to portray man's wretchedness and helplessness. His philosophy of life is informed by a nineteenth century pessimism. He is more stoical than Hardy and retrains from reproaching the universe for the cruel lot of man. All Conrad's novels are tragic because his mind was filled with a profound sense of the pity of life.

      Conrad adopted the impressionistic technique and oblique method of narration. For Conrad, "the novel must not be a narration but a report" His method is ideal for the kind of psychological investigation in which Conrad was interested as well as for the creation of a subtle all-pervading atmosphere which gives the story its unity.

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