Lord Jim

by Joseph Conrad

Hardcover, 1979

Call number





Buccaneer Books (1979), 307 pages


This immortal novel of the sea tells the story of a British sailor haunted by a single youthful act of cowardly betrayal. To the white men in Bombay, Calcutta, and Rangoon, Jim is a man of mystery. To the primitive natives deep in the Malayan jungle, he is a god gifted with supernatural powers. To the beautiful half-caste girl who flees to his hut for protection, he is a lord to be feared and loved. Lord Jim-- Conrad' s classic portrait of a man' s guilt, his search for forgiveness, and his final, tragic redemption-- is a work of enduring value and one of the world' s great masterpieces.

User reviews

LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
As in Heart of Darkness and some of his short fiction, Conrad has a man named Marlow narrate the story to a group of contemporaries. Here we learn of Jim, an earnest and able young seaman who, at least in his own eyes, betrays the moral code he was born under, and spends the rest of his life trying to put that failure behind him and atone for it.

As first mate on a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, Jim is on night watch when the vessel strikes something, possibly the floating remains of a wreck, and begins taking on water. In the ensuing confusion, Jim's conscience is wracked--there are clearly not enough lifeboats to save all the passengers and crew. Most of the pilgrims are asleep and unaware of the danger. Should they be alerted, or allowed to go peacefully down with the ship? What is Jim to do? The captain and other officers having already made the decision to abandon the ship, they urge Jim to join them in their lifeboat. Although he does not make a conscious decision to do so, he finds himself in the lifeboat with them, having mindlessly jumped or been pitched over the side by the violent motion of the ship. Regardless of the "facts" so vehemently demanded by the official inquiry later on, this is an outcome for which Jim can never forgive himself. Ultimately he removes himself from civilization, with the help of Marlow and his contacts, finding a sort of refuge among native people in a remote village, presumably somewhere in Indonesia, where he brings an end to a local conflict and finally seems to have escaped the shadow of his past. To the grateful inhabitants, he has become Tuan (Lord) Jim. But (no surprise) this is only a relatively happy interlude in the man's full life story.

The novel is full of the descriptive passages Conrad did so well, of symbolism and philosophical musing, and of diversions from the main tale. The latter are never irrelevant, but some are more engaging than others. The reader is always getting Jim's story from at least one remove, as Marlow does not have personal knowledge of all of it himself. Nevertheless, he takes a life-long interest in Jim, feeling it is his duty to tell and interpret what he does know, to dispel rumors and assumptions among his fellow sailors, and to somehow "understand" Jim, who despite being "one of us", had repeatedly behaved otherwise. Taken down to its bones, this is a pretty simple, almost Shakespearean, tale of guilt, penance and retribution, with enough ambiguity and social commentary thrown in to make it very interesting.
Reviewed February 2017
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LibraryThing member endersreads
"He's one of us". Should you be familiar with Marlow, Tuan Jim, Stein, Conrad himself; you know very well what this means. Lord Jim is a story of a hero fallen, a hero risen, and a hero sacrificed. Perhaps hero is to strong a word. A man. Marlow meets Jim whilst he is in the courts relating the story of the Patna--the ship which Jim and several other dubious characters abandoned in fear--a failure of their duty. This haunts Jim eternally--he runs from his past incessantly. Marlow is the guiding hand of wisdom in Jim's life. Eventually Jim comes to Patusan, where he finds a redemption of sorts, Love, and all else he has ever dreamed for. Conrad's prose is as deep as the waters his words are masterfully set forth upon. Marlow's encounter with the aging Stein was simply stunningly and hauntingly beautiful. The glimpse into Steins past reminds me of a shining chivalrous character of Tennyson or MacDonald. It is a fitting fate that Jim's wife, Jewel, should end up residing with Stein. Absorb this, Conrad's experience of letters, and have your conscious and unconscious irreparably altered for the better.… (more)
LibraryThing member TadAD
I managed to fake my way through a superficial reading of this book in a high school Humanities class, unwilling to deal with the dense writing style. Shifting points of view that are largely un-signaled, conversations nested within conversations, sentences occupying the better part of a page, and manners of speech full of fragments and digressions were more work than I was willing to put in at the time. Yet, the central story has stuck with me more than most books from that time, encouraging a return.

In doing so, I’ve found a story that is well worth the effort one expends to read it. The first half of the book is a bit extended, and the language requires close attention. Several times I found myself suddenly saying, “Who is speaking? What are they speaking about?” as a moment’s inattention let me lose track of who ‘I’ was. Yet the building of the rich characters and the understanding of the natures of their internal struggles is necessary and rewarding. The second half caught me up and was finished in almost a single sitting.

Others I’ve talked to have characterized this as a novel about redemption—Jim struggling to redeem himself from a disgraceful act and succeeding in a final act of heroism. That is not how I view this book. I would characterize this as a novel about egoism, the destruction of a man and his works because he cannot accept that it is not all about him. In Jim, we see a young man who allows his entire life to be destroyed because he does not live up to his romantic ideal of himself when he unthinkingly jumps to a lifeboat from a ship he believed to be sinking. Far from resolving to strive to do better in the future, let alone to atone for it, he removes himself from society, fleeing embarrassed should anyone learn of his history. He even partially rejects his confessor and friend, Marlow the narrator, because he knows Jim’s story. In the end, Jim’s sense of himself as a heroic figure, his unwillingness to consider the needs of those other than himself, ironically result in the destruction of all the good he has done to those close to him and to his community.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Reading Joseph Conrad sometimes feels downright intimidating. Every one of his stentences is so erudite, so perfectly formed, and so detailed that it's hard to even imagine how he -- or anyone else -- might improve on it. Conrad just might be the platonic ideal of an English-language prose stylist, and he's so good that he can be scary.

At the same time, I'm glad that there are plenty of authors who don't write like him. His stuff can be dense and slow; I suspect that some authors could reel off three novels and two short stories in the space it takes Conrad to get things exactly right in one. "Lord Jim," then, is vintage Conrad. It's dense and weighty and immaculately written -- each one of its chapters seems so perfectly self-contained might as well be a short story in itself. It covers much of the same ground, in a sort of roundabout way, that he would revisit in his more widely read "Heart of Darkness." At the center is Jim himself, a curiously hollow character whose likable exterior conceals an eerie emptiness and makes him particularly unsuited for life in the East. It's often been said that it's this concern with interiority that marks Conrad as a modernist writer, and I'd agree. In a sense, though, the novel's most original and intriguing modernist figure is Stien, an organized, perceptive mentor to the book's narrator who, in my eyes, bears a striking resemblence to Sigmund Freud. This is all the more astonishing when one considers that "Lord Jim" was written at about the time that "The Interpretation of Dreams" was published.

"Lord Jim" has many of the pleasures that you find in other Conrad novels -- the author's familiarity with the exclusive fraternity of experienced seamen makes one the reader feel part of a privileged circle, and there are some lovely period details for readers who find the age of sail, or the age of empires, romantic and exciting."Lord Jim," like many of Conrad's books, is told through a complex and effective narrative frame and it's an undeniable pleasure to spend some time with Marlowe, his favorite narrator, who is at once one of the most charming and the most throughtful men who ever sailed the fictional seas. There are, I admit, some equally familiar Conrad problems in "Lord Jim," too. Women and non-Europeans are portrayed mostly passive or pitiful and, as sordid as Jim's tale is, I'm not sure that the project of empire as a whole is really ever put up for debate. Still, it'd be difficult to argue that "Lord Jim" isn't a prose masterpiece and a good -- perhaps even great -- novel. It is recommended to patient readers in search of a book that is both challening and curiously engrossing.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A retro read. It was one of the most thought provoking and influential books of my youth. On human nature, nature of honour, romantic dreams, and how we don’t know what fabric we are made of until we are tried.
Still very good, even though some episodes could have been shorter.
LibraryThing member pbjwelch
Most reviewers have written of the psychological story (guilt/redemption) and plot, but I picked it up again after first reading it several decades ago, because of the setting behind the story--details of life in 19th century Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago. Conrad was inspired by a true story of a pilgrim ship carrying Muslim pilgrims whose crew did desert it when it appeared to be sinking on August 8, 1880. The novel's trial and much of the story takes place in Singapore and Southeast Asia -- hence an interesting read for anyone who has previously read this book but was unmindful of the incredibly evocative and realistic details of the story's scenes and people--monsoon rains, endless chirping insects, the sharpness of a Malay kris, the gentle brush of palm leaves in a breeze...and how the threat of an imminent death was so often a possibility.… (more)
LibraryThing member pickwick817
In a similar way to "Nostromo" which I recently read, I struggled through the first half of the book. Things seemed to move very slowly as Conrad introduced his characters. Several chapters would pass in one conversation, and I would stop reading for a day or two, then pick it up again and assume one character was a part of the conversation, only to find out at the end of the chapter that it was another character. A little frustrating, but worth it because I really enjoyed the last half of the book, (again like Nostromo). What I like most about this book is the depth to which Conrad thinks through each characters personality and individual motivation in the plot. Its really a lesson in human pschychology, and group dynamics.… (more)
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
If you love a sea story you can't resist this. Has it all, handsome white,young sailor, British empire, starcrossed lovers, swashbuckling, wonderful descriptions. Loved it, old as the tale is.
LibraryThing member _eskarina
Some restless notes:
1) Structure of writing. Sophisticated/complicated structure of narration is imho the first problem reader has to deal with. Although the story is in principle quite simple, it is divided into several layers and it is sometimes difficult to switch from one to another without getting lost. But once you accustome yourself to the text, it becomes readable :). This makes the text „thick“ (at least in my case, the book exhausted me a lot more than other ones and after reading 10 pages I had the feeling like having read 30. It was somehow similar to Mann’s Doctor Faustus, you have to dwell on it, because it does not allow you to go further without thorough understanding.)
2) It seems to be tedious, from time to time. The interpretation implicit in the text itself (author’s intention maybe) is unclear, which - again - makes the book more complicated. But it has a great advantage: on one hand, Marlow (the narrator) is uncompromisingly strict to Jim, on the other he tries to understand Jim‘s motives and even justifies him. And this gives the text fabulous tension; you are confronted with two polar standpoints, but none has the priority, the „truth“.
3) That leads me to the final question: is Lord Jim a novel about redemption (honour lost and regained), or about selfishness? It is not to be decided „once and forever“, nor the „right“ answer is to be found. With my personal preferences and opinions, I would insist, that Jim could not act differently; one’s personal „existence“ (Existenz in Karl Jaspers‘ conception) is the base layer he is responsible for and everything else is to be derived from it. Jim could not act differently :).
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LibraryThing member Coach_of_Alva
I first read this book when I was thirteen, which of course was too young.
Conrad’s novel is about a young English lad full of Victorian ideals and zeal who fails his first opportunity to be a hero very badly and goes to his death when his second opportunity is ruined. I liked the first half of the novel the best, which described in the lush psychological detail I love how Jim failed, how he reacted to his failure, and how he tried to find a new place and a new purpose.
I was not as pleased with the second half, where Jim turned an island backwater into a mini-Eden until a serpent entered it. Conrad tried to ground this section in realism but I couldn’t help feeling that the author was becoming as romantic as his hero. I admired his villain, a psychopath of Shakespearian proportions, but winced at the inevitable primitive girl who provides the love interest.
What I loved about all was Conrad’s prose, always soothing the heart, stimulating the soul, demanding and rewarding attention. I rarely found affected or overdone.
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LibraryThing member KendraRenee
I really like Joseph Conrad's writing style; English is his third language and yet his vocabulary constantly outstrips my own. He describes people and events in a very unique manner, as some other reviewers on here have already mentioned. It's fascinating to experience..

With that said, Lord Jim felt somehow inferior to the rest of his stories, in my mind. A bit too... long. Such a simple story and yet it takes him ages to get around to the point so that I gradually lose interest. Yes, intriguing subject matter: what IS honor, and conscience, and one's duty to mankind? Also, if the reader identifies as a romantic, his musings about Jim's needs and behavior definitely perks one up as well... But, in the end, simply too much. Needs condensing. I also don't like that it's in the form of a narrative told by the character Marlowe, either. Takes away from the overall feel of the story, reminds one that it IS just a story. Feels less real.

The ending? Just sad, in my opinion. Of course I don't always mind unhappy endings but this one didn't justify itself.

All in all, 3 1/2 stars, and not a book I'll keep on my shelf.
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LibraryThing member browner56
A young man, raised in a good family with good values, views himself as a fundamentally good person. He settles on a career at sea where his confidence, courage, and commitment help him quickly rise through the ranks to a position of considerable prestige and responsibility. On an ill-fated voyage, though, disaster strikes and, in a moment of panic, the young man’s courage deserts him in a way that imperils the lives of hundreds of passengers under his charge. Does this one action make the man a coward, either in his own mind or in the eyes of others? If so, to what lengths must he go to seek redemption for that single, critical transgression? What is the ultimate price that he must pay to restore his sense of honor?

These are the questions that frame the basic story in Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad’s psychological profile of one man’s fall from grace and subsequent struggle to redeem himself. In fact, for me, the novel actually works better on the level of a character study than it does as a compelling adventure tale. To be sure, the author’s writing is beautifully rendered throughout the book and some of the descriptions of the protagonist’s exploits at sea and in the remote Malay village where he ends up are amazing. However, there are also lengthy passages in which the narrator—the same Capitan Marlow from Heart of Darkness—drones on in a way that detracts considerably from the flow of the story. So, despite its reputation as one of the great novels of the past century, what will stay with me about Lord Jim is its timeless message about human fallibility and the power of second chances.
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LibraryThing member simonaries
Don Quixote on a journey tilts at the past seeks his fate while Dr Watson tags along to tell the tale.
LibraryThing member Kirmuriel
He is indeed romantic. He is more idealist than Julian (The Red and the Black).
Conrad's narrative is impressive.
After finishing: very very sad, I almost cried. Why don't the authors leave their characters alone!!! Foken Brown!
LibraryThing member dtal
Hard to go through the narrative form of the story. The first 30 chapters are tedious and the tale flows slowly for my taste. Conrad dives into many details and goes hence and forth in time. This book demanded from me a great deal of concentration. In spite of this, the "finale" was a compensation for all this.
LibraryThing member charlie68
A good book and perhaps disturbing in that it chronicles a man with a romantic view on life and himself, but when the finger points to him he falls short. Perhaps there is a bit of Jim in all of us. Superbly written narrative, it is hard to believe that English isn't his first language.
LibraryThing member mofictionwriter
Lord Jim is one of the finest novels written in the English language. It's story of lost honor is timeless; and Conrad's narrative structure is as innovative and daring as that found
in Joyce's Ulysses.
LibraryThing member nielspeterqm
Classic, now almost immortal, literary enhancement of the 19th Century colonial, adventure & coming-of-age novels. Having dishonoured himself by cowardice at sea, the protagonist Jim finally lands in the small, withdrawn realm of Patusan, where his wilful heroism lifts a local tribe from misery & oppression, only to choke its future all the more completely when his past & demons catch up with him. Shows the West's colonial paternalism in both its most radiant, exalted light & in its most ineradicable flaws - all by exposing the composite nature of humanity itself, of a single man, himself flawed, in fullest strength & despairing frailty.… (more)
LibraryThing member bexaplex
Lord Jim is a tale of honor lost and regained — a sort of adventure on the high seas with unsavory pirates and official Inquiries and almond-eyed damsels in distress. The narrator turns over the meaning of honor as he describes Jim's life, alternately sympathizing and feeling aversion, and never coming to a judgment, about Jim in particular and about honor in general. Jewel's misery and appeals to fight are challenges to this particular brand of honor (although since she's female and non-white, and this is 1900, her challenge is pretty feeble).

Jim has a stubborn insistence in his own redemption by sticking it out. He seems to regard answering for his actions as both the most excruciating punishment and the only way to live with himself. While the external drama regarding society's official judgment of him plays out, he is concerned only with the personal — explaining himself to one sympathetic listener, appearing every day at the Inquiry, answering to Doramin.
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LibraryThing member WhatTheDickens
I am writing this review fresh after finishing Lord Jim. This was a dense book . . . so many layers and themes to digest. The narration of the story was clever and at the same time very distracting. All of the shifts in perspective made the story difficult to navigate. All in all worth reading and recommended, but it is unlikely I will tackle this work again.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Jim is the first mate on a ship called the Patna. While at sea an emergency convinces all the crew to abandon the ship and all of its passengers. They decide they have no other choice because there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone. They leave the passengers to their fate assuming they’ll perish at sea. Soon both groups are rescued and Jim is taken to court to be held accountable to abandoning ship.

Charles Marlow, another sea captain is our narrator. He gives us a bit of perspective (interestingly he is also the narrator of Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.) Marlow watches Jim’s trial and decides that he has a sense of honor that the rest of the crew, who fled, did not have. He decides to help Jim find work. As Marlow relates Jim’s story he can’t help identify with Jim’s struggle.

As Jim tells him what happened the night he abandoned the Patna he keeps asking Marlow, “What would you have done?” He knows that Marlow can’t possibly answer that question, but he wants him to understand how impossible the situation felt. He longs to be a hero, but his own flaws made him flee at the crucial moment.

As Jim tries to rebuild his life he is haunted by his past. He can’t let go of the guilt that overwhelms him and he longs to prove himself in another way. The second half of the novel became a bit muddled and convoluted. The point is that our sins and shame follow us through life. Even if we can leave and create an entirely new life, we are still the person we always were. Jim finally gets a chance to once again choose between fight and flight, but it’s still an impossibly hard decision.

One of the most fascinating parts in the book for me was a small section about Captain Brierly. His is just a tiny section of the book, but it really resonated with me. He is the presiding judge at Jim’s trial and he is a sailor beyond reproach. He is well respected and admired by his colleges, as close as you can get to perfection in the naval world. He tries to get Marlow to give Jim some money to escape so he doesn’t have to stand trial. When that does work he is truly bothered by the whole situation. A very short time after the trial he commits suicide, completely unexpectedly. There’s no major emphasis put on this plot point, but it was still startling.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved the philosophical questions this novel raised, but it was an incredibly slow read. I almost wish it was a novella that maintain the main points, but cut out a lot of the repetition. There were so many points in the middle that lagged. I enjoyed it more than Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I think I can safely say he’ll never be one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member auntieknickers
Here's another one that I read, wrote a paper on, and don't really remember much about. This Guardian list is not only giving me a lot of books to read, but a surprising number to reread.
LibraryThing member RajivC
This is a great book to read in terms of the lyrical style of the writing. I got lost in the ebb and flow of the writing, and got a little lost in the plot. This is not a simple tale, and I would need to come back to it again. I shall read it a bit more slowly than I did, and shall take it bit by bit.
I hope that they do not teach it in schools, because it is far too complex for most school kids.

While I got lost in the plot, I must say that I loved the writing.
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LibraryThing member RussellBittner
Difficult to follow. I'm currently reading an early edition, which may have a lot to do with the difficulty.
LibraryThing member Miguelnunonave
Interesting book on colonialism and travelling. But it dwells in so many details and the structure is so dense that it becomes a real chore to try and read it.




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