First UK book edition
(publ. William Blackwood & Sons)
|Genre||Psychological novel Modernism|
Lord Jim is a novel by Joseph Conrad originally published as a serial in Blackwood's Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900. An early and primary event in the story is the abandonment of a passenger ship in distress by its crew, including a young British seaman named Jim. He is publicly censured for this action and the novel follows his later attempts at coming to terms with himself and his past.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Lord Jim 85th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Recovered from an injury, Jim seeks a position on the Patna, a steamer serving the transport of 800 "pilgrims of an exacting belief" to a port on the Red Sea. He is hired as first mate. After some days of smooth sailing, the ship hits something in the night and begins taking on water. The captain thinks the ship will sink, and Jim agrees, but wants to put the passengers on the few boats before that can happen. The captain and two other crewmen think only to save themselves, and prepare to lower a boat. The helmsmen remain, as no order has been given to do otherwise. In a crucial moment, Jim jumps into the boat with the captain. A few days later, they are picked up by an outbound steamer. When they reach port, they learn that the Patna and its passengers were brought in safely by a crew from a French navy ship. The captain's actions in abandoning both ship and passengers are against the code of seamen and the crew is publicly vilified. When the other men leave town before the magistrate's court can be convened, Jim is the only crew member left to testify. All lose their certificates to sail. Brierly, a captain of perfect reputation who is on the panel of the court, commits suicide days after the trial.
Captain Charles Marlow attends the trial and meets Jim, whose behavior he condemns, but the young man intrigues him. Wracked with guilt, Jim confesses his shame to Marlow, who finds him a place to live in a friend's home. Jim is accepted there but leaves abruptly when an engineer who had also abandoned the ship appears to work at the house. Jim then finds work as a ship chandler's clerk in ports of the East Indies, always succeeding in the job then leaving abruptly when the Patna is mentioned. In Bangkok, he gets in a fistfight. Marlow realises that Jim needs a new situation, something that will take him far away from modern ports and keep him occupied so that he can finally forget his guilt. Marlow consults his friend Stein, who sees that Jim is a romantic and considers his situation. Stein offers Jim to be his trade representative or factor in Patusan, a village on a remote island shut off from most commerce, which Jim finds to be exactly what he needs.
After his initial challenge of entering the settlement of native Malay and Bugis people, Jim manages to earn their respect by relieving them of the depredations of the bandit Sherif Ali and protecting them from the corrupt local Malay chief, Rajah Tunku Allang. He builds a solid link with Doramin, the Bugis friend of Stein, and his son Dain Waris. For his leadership, the people call him "tuan Jim", or Lord Jim. Jim also wins the love of Jewel, a young woman of mixed race, and is "satisfied... nearly". Marlow visits Patusan once, two years after Jim arrived there, and sees his success. Jewel does not believe that Jim will stay, as her father left her mother, and she is not reassured that Marlow or any other will not arrive to take him from her. Her mother had been married before her death to Cornelius, previously given the factor's role by Stein for her benefit. Cornelius is a lazy, jealous, and brutal man who treats his stepdaughter cruelly and steals the supplies Stein sends for sale; he is displaced by Jim's arrival and resents him for it.
"Gentleman" Brown, a marauder captain notorious for his evil ways, then arrives in Patusan, his small crew on the brink of starvation. The local defence led by Dain Waris manages to prevent the marauders from looting the village and holds them entrenched in place while Jim is away in the island's interior. When Jim returns, Brown deceptively wins Jim's mercy, who hesitantly negotiates to allow them to leave Patusan unobstructed, but reminds Brown that the long passage down river to the sea will be guarded by armed men. Cornelius sees his chance to get rid of Jim. He tells Brown of a side channel that will bypass most of the defenses, which Brown uses, stopping briefly to ambush the defenders he finds. Dain Waris is killed among others, and Brown sails on, leaving Cornelius behind; Jim's man Tamb' Itam kills Cornelius for his betrayal. Jim is mortified when he receives word of the death of his good friend, and resolves to leave Patusan. Jewel, who had wanted Jim to attack Brown and his ship, is distraught. Jim then goes directly to Doramin and takes responsibility for the death of his only son. Doramin uses his flintlock pistols, given him by Stein, to shoot Jim in the chest.
On his regular route, Marlow arrives at Stein's house a few days after this event, finding Jewel and Tamb' Itam there, and tries to make sense of what happened. Jewel stays in Stein's house.
The opening event in Lord Jim may have been based in part on an actual abandonment of a ship. On 17 July 1880, S.S. Jeddah sailed from Singapore bound for Penang and Jeddah, with 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. The passengers were Muslims from the Malay states, travelling to Mecca for the hajj (holy pilgrimage). Jeddah sailed under the British flag and was crewed largely by British officers. After rough weather conditions, the Jeddah began taking on water. The hull sprang a large leak, the water rose rapidly, and the captain and officers abandoned the heavily listing ship. They were picked up by another vessel and taken to Aden where they told a story of violent passengers and a foundering ship. The pilgrims were left to their fate, and apparently certain death. However, on 8 August 1880 a French steamship towed Jeddah into Aden – the pilgrims had survived. An official inquiry followed, as it does in the novel.
The inspiration for the character of Jim was the chief mate of the Jeddah, "Austin" Podmore Williams, whose grave was tracked down to Singapore's Bidadari Cemetery by Gavin Young in his book, In Search of Conrad. As in the novel, Williams created a new life for himself, returning to Singapore and becoming a successful ship's chandler.
Conrad may also have been influenced by the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace's 1869 account of his travels and of the native peoples of the islands of Southeast Asia, The Malay Archipelago; the character Stein is based on Wallace. The second part of the novel is based in some part on the life of James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak. Brooke was an Indian-born English adventurer who in the 1840s managed to gain power and set up an independent state in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. Some critics, however, think that the fictional Patusan was intended not to be part of Borneo but of Sumatra.
In 1998, the Modern Library Board ranked Lord Jim 85th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 1999, the French newspaper Le Monde conducted a contest among readers to rank which of 200 novels of the 20th century they remembered best. Seventeen thousand responses yielded the final list, which placed Lord Jim at number 75. The complete list is found in Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century in English, and also in French Wikipedia.
The novel is in two main parts, firstly Jim's lapse aboard the Patna and his consequent fall, and secondly an adventure story about Jim's rise and the tale's denouement in the fictional country of Patusan, presumed a part of the Indonesian archipelago. The main themes surround young Jim's potential ("he was one of us", says Marlow, the narrator) thus sharpening the drama and tragedy of his fall, his subsequent struggle to redeem himself, and Conrad's further hints that personal character flaws will almost certainly emerge given an appropriate catalyst. Conrad, speaking through his character Stein, called Jim a romantic figure, and indeed Lord Jim is arguably Conrad's most romantic novel.
In addition to the lyricism and beauty of Conrad's descriptive writing, the novel is remarkable for its sophisticated structure. The bulk of the novel is told in the form of a story recited by the character Marlow to a group of listeners, and the conclusion is presented in the form of a letter from Marlow. Within Marlow's narration, other characters also tell their own stories in nested dialogue. Thus, events in the novel are described from several viewpoints, and often out of chronological order.
The reader is left to form an impression of Jim's interior psychological state from these multiple external points of view. Some critics (using deconstruction) contend that this is impossible and that Jim must forever remain an enigma, whereas others argue that there is an absolute reality the reader can perceive and that Jim's actions may be ethically judged.
However, there is an analysis that shows in the novel a fixed pattern of meaning and an implicit unity that Conrad said the novel has. As he wrote to his publisher four days after completing Lord Jim, it is "the development of one situation, only one really, from beginning to end." A metaphysical question pervades the novel and helps unify it: whether the "destructive element" that is the "spirit" of the Universe has intention—and, beyond that, malevolent intention—toward any particular individual or is, instead, indiscriminate, impartial, and indifferent. Depending (as a corollary) on the answer to that question is the degree to which the particular individual can be judged responsible for what he does or does not do; and various responses to the question or its corollary are provided by the several characters and voices in the novel.
The omniscient narrator of the first part remarks of the trial: "They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!" Ultimately, Jim remains mysterious, as seen through a mist: "that mist in which he loomed interesting if not very big, with floating outlines – a straggler yearning inconsolably for his humble place in the ranks... It is when we try to grapple with another man's intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun." It is only through Marlow's recitation that Jim lives for us – the relationship between the two men incites Marlow to "tell you the story, to try to hand over to you, as it were, its very existence, its reality – the truth disclosed in a moment of illusion."
Postcolonial interpretations of the novel, while not as intensive as that of Heart of Darkness, point to similar themes in the two novels – the protagonist sees himself as part of a 'civilising mission', and the story involves a 'heroic adventure' at the height of the British Empire's hegemony. Conrad's use of a protagonist with a dubious history has been interpreted as an expression of increasing doubts with regard to the Empire's mission; literary critic Elleke Boehmer sees the novel, along with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as part of a growing suspicion that 'a primitive and demoralising other' is present within the governing order.
The book has twice been adapted into film:
The 1979 Hindi film Kaala Patthar has strong traces of Lord Jim.
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