Various Aspects of Joseph Conrad as Novelist

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      Joseph Conrad was a consummate artist who considered Novel as a serious art from. The Preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus may be regarded as his critical manifesto, in which he explicitly states the theories regarding the art of the novelist. Conrad, in his novels, not only aimed at entertainment and moralizing, but at the same time, he recorded the complex pattern of human existence. He had a penetrating insight into the human situation and he, very skillfully; studied, analyzed and presented the human motives to convey his vision of life. He, very tenaciously, pursues this purpose, and his art and technique, his methods of storytelling and characterization, sue all devoted to the achievement of this aim. Every aspect of his novel - the language, the setting, the characters and the mode of narrational together form a single organic whole and contribute to the total effect.

Joseph Conrad: An Impressionist

      Conrad's purpose, as a novelist, was not merely to amuse his reader or teach any moral or ethic; but to analyze the complex pattern of life, to portray life as it is. In his works, he conveys to us, very realistically and convincingly; his own vision of life and human beings. The technique which he employs, adheres to this purpose. To render human psyche in its complexity, he employs impressionistic technique. He gives the exact impression of life in its various facets; and his art, language and style, all are oriented to this purpose. Conrad is a serious artist who, to render his narration realistic makes his personal experience the substance of his novels, and from this depiction of personal, he goes to generalize the truth of life-a technique that is evident from works like Youth, The Shadow Line, and Heart of Darkness.

      As a seaman, Conrad can not be ranked among ordinary class of seamen' because of possessing such features like observation, reflection, meditation and psychological insight into the behaviors of men. His primary and pivotal task was to transfer his own vision of life to the minds of readers. As he said, "I have tried with an almost final regard to render the vibration of life in the great worlds of water, in the hearts of the single men who have for ages traversed its solitudes"

      Conrad's technique of narration was impressionistic to give accurate, absolute, pointed and exact expression to what is going to be said. He achieved it with the device of symbols, metaphors, impressive and accurate language and style. Conrad "pours out sensations and impression as they occur to a spectator of serious sensibility, visual impressions especially, which we can put together and explain to ourselves, as we are doing at every moment of our existence. He goes back to the initial stages of experience and gives what falls upon ear and eye, not the thing as the understanding grasps it" His aim was to let us 'see' the incidents and characters in the words of the Novel. Like an impressionist, he gives the instantaneous reactions of his characters, the effect upon the senses, not a rational or factual description of the things felt or seen or heard.

      A.E. Baker had, very boldly, remarked Conrad as an impressionist. He said that "Conrad was never anything else but an impressionist, whether in the evocation of scenery and the great phenomenon of nature or in its way of conducting a story... It was a mode of seeing and transcribing that came naturally to him." He further said, "No one ever relied so entirely as Conrad on sense impressions, almost to the exclusion of the intellect as a collaborator."

      Marlow is a literary device of great value and significance because it is Marlow who enables the novelist to achieve objectivity. He falls between the novelist and reader in the novels like Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Chance etc. He is a persona for Conrad himself who was a sea-man of vast experiences. But in the novels like Heart of Darkness, he becomes more than a persona, a character in his own right. Thus, "Marlow is a device and nothing more." He is the connoisseur of the fine conscience, the evaluator as well as the recorder.

      Conrad is also called a master of suspense but it is "not the suspense of mere incident as in tales of mystery, but the suspense of incidents, words and action, that determine character. To gain suspense of this kind, it was his habit to begin with long conversations about men and women before they actually appear on the stage. Kurtz, in the Heart of Darkness is perfectly visualized from what is told of him. We never see him in action; we see him only dying; and yet we know him well."

      Thus Conrad was essentially an impressionist who, perhaps, had carried further the inferences from external behavior more than any other modern novelist, except Henry James.

The Striking Characteristics of Conrad's Plots

      Conrad was a careful and conscious literary genius. The organic unity of his novel is wonderful. Every thing-character, setting, language, all contribute towards the final effect of the novel. The Preface to the Nigger of the Narcissus is the best instance that shows Conrad's high regard for Novel as a definite art like painting and music. The story telling was secondary to him. His purpose was, as he said, by the power of the written word, "to make you feel.... before all to make you see." According to Conrad, the novelist had to endeavor for the consummate blending of form and substance.

      Conrad's handling of plots is a means of creating atmosphere and giving reality to the characters. The shape of the plot follows that "fidelity to the truth of his own sensation." Old impulses often overpower logic and reason, but this does not happen all the time, especially, when the story is invented. His approach to the narration of story is very complex and complicated. His characters are very close to life because his novel is the imitation of life, and his characters are judged through various perspectives and views and presented as complex creatures. He laid more emphasis on presenting them from within. The characters, who are the mouthpieces of his philosophy in novels, show that his approach to life could not be stamped as pessimistic, it is of a man struggling against the buffets of Time and Fate. Conrad himself had condemned despair and desolation.

      But there are a few flaws in Conrad's art of plot-constructions. A few critics say that he did not pay attention to the organization of the plots. Lord Jim and The Secret Agent were initially intended to be written as short stories, but both being too long, become novels. The ending, in a number of Conrad's works are hurried and unconvincing. Other critics of Conrad's art say that he shows very little interest in the love life of his characters. His inability in portraying female characters in a broader perspective, speaks of his limitations. But one would sum up that his astonishing skill as a novelist must not be blurred by these limitations.

Conrad's Art of Characterization

      Conrad's characters are generally drawn from real life. They are taken from life itself; wholly imaginary characters or situations are hard to find in his novels. They are like everyday people, we come across in our lives. Conrad's characters are given a 'poetic aura' because they are presented from three dimensions, thus sometimes they become larger than life. Several characters of Conrad possess legendary qualities. Kurtz in Africa, Heyst on his only island and Leggatt appear suddenly and mysteriously out of the sea; all are solitary figures uncertain about their past.

      But the legendary figures are also individuals in action. They come to the forefront where imagination informs their action, thus these actions become unexpected. Nostromo moves from expected to unexpected action.

      In general, Conrad's main characters are depicted through the minds of others (as Jim is analyzed by Marlow in Lord Jim; in the Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is judged by multiple characters). Besides, we see them in glimpses that are very catching, striking but strongly in contrast. Both these devices emerge from his reluctance to make a very clear judgment. When, in the early pages of Nostromo, we read Charles Gould as ''spare and tall, with a gleaming mustache, a neat chin, clear blue eye..." we get the assurance that Conrad will complicate this plain statement and he does.

      There are two types of characters in Conrad's novels. First, those who are taken from his own life and second, those who, in real life, did not meet him but whom Conrad has put together for dramatic clash, as he does in Nostromo and Victory.

      In Conrad's work, the minor characters are also given the same attention but because they appear on the fringe of the stories, they get no room for their development. Nikita in Under Western Eyes is a strikingly etched figure with only a small part in the story. He domes in the fourth section of Part-Ill of the novel; and at first, he is a typical shadowy figure supposed to have killed "more gendarmes and police agents than any evolutionist living." Yet when he acts, he becomes almost a caricature.

      The women in Conrad's fiction are treated as sentimental figures. In his The Arrow of Gold, we get her as 'the immature self.' In The Rover, the woman is "the symbolic figure of spiritual mystery." In Heart of Darkness, women are portrayed as very emotional and sentimental human beings living in their own imaginary world, and far from the crude realities of this world. They are drawn as loving, generous, kind and faithful.

Conrad's Experiences in His Novels

      A number of works of Conrad are based on his own experiences in life. The part of Poland to which Conrad belonged was, at that time, under the reign of Russia. At the tender age of five, Conrad had to undergo the tormenting experience of seeing his father being exiled from the country. His family had to shift to Russia where the government kept his father under its scrutiny. Conrad's mother died during the exile, and his father died a few years later, after returning to Poland. Being the only child, Conrad was left alone as an orphan at twelve and he lived under the guardianship of his maternal uncle. His early experience of exile and the loss of family ties, led to the development of a strong sense of patriotism in him. At the same time, this experience became the cause of Conrad's everlasting sense of loneliness. In his fiction, we see that the contrast between the fact of loneliness and the need for community, seems to have become his dominant preoccupation. They form the major themes of his work. According to Conrad, in one of his letters, life is all about "a tremendous fact of our isolation of the loneliness impenetrable and transparent, elusive and everlasting; of the indestructible loneliness that surrounds, envelops, clothes every human soul from the cradle to the grave, and, perhaps, beyond." The theme of loneliness is also reflected in the two phases of his career as a sailor and as a writer. His nineteen years of experience of sea life (1875-1894) is emblematic of his loneliness. In a letter, Conrad writes, "Most of my life has been spend between sky and water and now I live so alone that often I fancy myself clinging stupidly to a derelict planet abandoned by its precious crew."

      His life as a writer was dedicated to his art without popular appreciation, until the success of Chance in 1914. We also notice a constant pre-occupation with the idea of man struggling against the powers of evil, which are inherent in man's own irrational instincts and nature and are symbolized by the objects and forces .of nature.

Joseph Conrad: A Romantic Realist

      Romantic-realism is the keynote of Conrad's novels. Conrad is a romanticist as well as a realist. His novels contain exotic settings, wild surroundings and mysterious, mystical, sometimes natural background with a lurking evil spirit. The stories deal with heroism, they are based on adventure and enterprise. Simultaneously; Conrad is a realist also because his narration is meticulously accurate and they are replete with the stuff of his personal experiences. The story or character is not completely invented by him but the idea is rooted in real life. He is rooted in facts from ordinary life but they are dealt with the light of imagination until they become a suitable subject matter for the romantic-realistic novel. The actual facts wear the mantle of romantic color and adventurous exaltation and thus, appeal to us, more, because imaginative treatment of truth, in the long run, is more satisfying than mere invention.

Symbols in Conrad's Novels

      Conrad wanted to make his readers hear, feel, and above all, to "see" by the power of written words; and his visual images and symbols confirm it. He wanted to present a field of reality beyond the illusions in conventional style; stress was made on the ranges of sensory objects; thus Conrad's style was to go beyond the "darkness" and hence observing the disintegration of society which is called 'Modern.' In Victory, the most symbolic element in the triumvirate of evil rules Sourabaya and Samburan and takes Heyst to his self-destructive moral test. If we consider the beginning of Almayer's Folly as symbolic, we see the drifting log shifts our thought to Almayer himself, a man who lacks direction and, like the puppet, is completely in the hands of events. The river's "brutal violence'' suggests the hard blows that life has in store for us and Almayer's ultimate fate is presented by the log's future course. Conrad, intentionally and deliberately, presents his stories as suggestive of something beyond their confines. The whole of the Nigger of the Narcissus and The Secret Sharer are best examples.

Marlow's Role and Significance in Conrad's Novels

      Marlow is a technical device, coined by Conrad, who comes between the reader and the novelist. Marlow is a mouthpiece of Conrad through whom Conrad narrates his own personal development and experiences Of life. Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness are very famous and well-known works of Conrad as Marlow is a central figure among them.

      Marlow is a deliberate projection of the novelist in the novel. He much resembles the novelist in ideas, feelings, sentiments, attitudes, likes and dislikes. When we go through the Youth, Heart of Darkness, Chance and Under Western Eyes, we feel forced to conclude that Marlow is Conrad. Reading the dialogue of Marlow, often we get reminded of the Preface to a Personal Record of Conrad. For example, in Lord Jim, Marlow's references to "a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently," and "to fidelity to a certain standard of conduct" remind us of Conrad's view in Preface to A Personal Record that "I am trying to interpret for you into slow speech the instantaneous effect of visual impression."

      Conrad has used Marlow as a narrator in Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, etc. to give an outlet to his personal experience of life. Undoubtedly; there are other narrators also in his novels like Korean, narrator of Falk etc. but they are injected with Marlowian traits and attitudes and strike the reader often when they resemble Marlow.

Conrad's Idea of Fidelity

      Fidelity is the towering human virtue which begets other virtues. Much of Conrad's novels confirm it, they are just like a fantasia on fidelity. Conrad has himself stated in the Preface to Personal Record

      "Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests notably amongst others, on the idea of Fidelity."

      Razumov, Lord Jim, Almayer, the Professor of The Secret Agent, Willems are human beings and full of fidelity. What differentiates them from brutes is that they are subject to the laws of society.

      Sometimes fidelity takes the shape of the sense of responsibility towards a conception of life. The Goulds, the Lingard's, the Heysts are the best examples of it. On the contrary, the characters like Mr. Travers, Mr. Jones, Mr. Vladimir, Hemskirk etc. are called "the apes of a sinister jungle and are treated as their grimaces deserve."

      For Conrad, evil is an irresponsible force lurking everywhere in society. It is a perpetual menace and the only armor that can hold us against it is perfect integrity and fidelity which is the mother of other virtues like courage, endurance, self-sacrifice, decisiveness, etc. To sum up, Conrad is a man with a simple philosophy and a straightforward moral vision. His motives are as pure and uncomplicated as possible and they are called 'fixed ideas. To these fixed ideas, his characters stuck as to one firm spot in the wilderness of "shifting sands.

Conrad's Imagination

      The novelist should let his imagination be fully liberated in dealing with characters untortured and untroubled by the ordinary worldly circumstances without seeking for special and larger play of fancy.

       Regarding Conrad, his animal imagery is very important. For example, in Lord Jim, the chief engineer who flees from 'a legion of centipedes;" reports that the, "Patna was full of reptiles." Later we see the Patna crew "groveling on all-fours....snarling at each other venomously, ready to kill, ready to weep and only kept from flying at each other's throats by the fear of death;" then we visualize the Captain's "fishy eyes" and turtle-like neck. These kinds of images occur, from time to time, in Conrad's novels-as the swine imagery associated with Verloc in The Secret Agent.

      In relation with form and chaos imagery; Jim discovers a fundamental paradox placed in a position of much responsibility towards a human cargo in an indifferent universe. In Heart of Darkness, if we keep Marlow's journey to Congo away from light and towards darkness, it means away from form and towards chaos.

      The Victory possesses an excellent imagery in which Conrad has synchronized three points-the lightings, the hand laid on the arm, and the raised head. It has the intensity of that vivid dream and the reader, after forgetting the whole story, finds something irresistible in this image. Thus we see various kinds of amazing images in Conrad's novels. To sum up, Conrad's imagination is like Coleridge's, "esemplastic."

Conrad's Style

      Conrad's purpose, regarding the style, imagination, characterization, was to make the reader "see", through written words, his own experiences of life. Thus his prose style is an exact translation of thoughts, feelings and perceptions. It is extremely flexible, expressive and interesting. The opening paragraphs of The Secret Agent, the first few paragraphs of Supense, Typhoon etc. show Conrad's mastery over language. His aim was "to intensify the expression of things, so that heart and inner meaning is vividly visible." In impressionistic description, he used the adequate sense of the excellent evocative power of the prose. This poetic faculty of Conrad's genius imparts rhythm, music, rhetoric to his novels. Almayer, Nigger, Typhoon, Youth, Heart of Darkness etc. are the specimen of the rhythmical pattern in prose. Thus Conrad's power of imagination and exceptional command over language make him succeed in letting us 'see' the characters, events, described in his works. There is, somewhere, an inexplicable sense of familiarity, with his experiences of life, as we read his novels.

Conrad's World

      Life, Conrad was wont to say, is a spectacle of terror and pity; yet also of beauty. His reason is baffled by the mystery of a world whose beauty holds him in thrall. His most characteristic situation shows the conflict of the primitive and the civilized. Europeans who, in their own environment, might have led normal lives are set in alien circumstances which bring to the surface, the best or the worst qualities in human nature. A puny and courageous man struggles with natural forces but also with forces within his own nature. Conrad's interest is not in the typical human being but in the exceptional, whether in moral heroism or moral degradation. Cautious mediocrity provokes his contempt. In his ability to draw inferences from minute externalities of appearance, gesture, and behavior, he is like Henry James. He described James as "the historian of fine consciences," and he was such a historian himself. Cases of puzzling mental pathology; studies in hopeless degeneration, fascinated him but, though he sometimes contemplated them with sardonic detachment, he was pitiful, not cruel. In particular, he sought to trace the weakening of character through environment. Action is of secondary importance, despite the violence of many crucial episodes. Those critics are mistaken who hold that his "psychology" is merely one ingredient of his atmosphere. Rather the sensitive subtleties of atmosphere are part of the psychology. His gorgeous word-painting, especially in the earlier books before he pruned his luxuriance, won him more readers than did his probing into the human heart. He conveyed the spell of eastern islands lying "clothed in their dark garments of leaves, in a great hush of silver and azure, where the sea without murmur meets the sky in a ring of magic stillness." But all this was only the setting for the tragedy of man. The loneliness of an alien environment is often the symbol of the soul’s loneliness.

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