The Duel [Conrad]

By Joseph Conrad.

What I liked about this Duel episode was that a point of honour arose out of nothing. Following this, the reason for the bad blood became shrouded in mystery and neither participant was able to set the record straight without losing face. The public could only guess at the reasons and let their imaginations run wild while each man remained silent. This story was based on two officers in Napoleon’s army who carried out a series of Duels over fourteen years while traipsing all over Europe. Also of interest is the army’s attitude to dueling – it was frowned on to an extent but it was almost part and parcel of a military man’s life and at least one duel was a rite of passage. Though, your prospects for promotion could be damaged. Both the duelists in question did still manage to make the rank of General despite the dueling handicap. I liked this novella more than the Von Kleist ‘Duel’.






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Lord Jim

Lord-JimBy Joseph Conrad.

Quite a good story. Unfortunately some of the language seemed dated – a problem which I don’t notice when reading novels in translation from this era as the translation is usually reasonably modern. Or, it could be that the Conrad’s descriptions are particularly of their time, long and suffused with colour, a hint of hyperbole similar to turning your gaze towards an exotic island noting every crevice, nook and cranny and paying equal attention to each specific detail as all is important in order to give the overall panorama the breadth of vision the written word can lack. Writing is a lot more sparse now, maybe to its detriment, but perhaps Conrad was more extreme with his detail and vocabulary as English wasn’t his first language (Polish was) and he had something to prove.

Various sentiments in this book are of their time. There are no positive female characters: only the one character in the entire novel – Jim’s ‘woman’. His treatment of the local population too is ambiguous, but this could be the point as the white men are not viewed in a terribly good light either. Given the fact Conrad was a reactionary conservative who didn’t believe in democracy, I think maybe you need to assume the worst. However this doesn’t mean as readers that we can’t take something of interest out of the novel.

I listened to this an an audiobook from Librivox and I really had to grit my teeth to get through the novel. The narrator did the voices. They were awful. In future, if an audiobook grates after the first few minutes I will have to stop. This is eminently preferrable to cursing the narrator, who is probably a very nice chap, for the hour and a half it takes me to get to work each morning. Just don’t do the voices.

Soundtrack: Guided By Voices – A Salty Salute.

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The Secret Agent

conradBy Joseph Conrad.

A fine novel and I think quite unusual for its time. The camera or narrator follows each of the characters for a while and then moves on to another and doesn’t return to their view again – apart from the main character Verloc. The best thing about the novel are the things left unsaid and you are not given any of the characters in their entirety. They have a history and possibly a future that is only hinted at. When you first read the back cover you get the gist of the plot and this pans out as expected but the details are not expected and the questions left unanswered make this novel incredibly satisfying. I can’t remember the last time when I was free to imagine scenarios and outcomes after finishing a novel; even in considering how the characters had got to the place that the novel covers. So, this is definitely a creative novel and one where someone could pickup writing where Conrad left off and… maybe ruin it. I will read more Conrad over the dark London winter.

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