This is a novel about a man's lifelong efforts to atone for an act of instinctive cowardice. Young Jim, chief mate of the Patna, dreams of being a hero. When the Patna threatens to sink and the cowardly officers decide to save their own skins and escape in the few lifeboats, Jim despises them. But at the last moment, dazed by horror and confusion, he joins them, deserting the 800 Muslim passengers to apparent death. Tormented by this act of cowardice and desertion, Jim flees to the West. Living among the natives in Patusan, a remote trading post in the jungle, he is able to cease sacrificing himself on the altar of conscience. When he defends Patusan against the evil "Gentleman Brown," his efforts create order and well-being, thereby winning the respect and affection of the people for whom he becomes Tuan, or Lord Jim.
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
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.
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.
Still very good, even though some episodes could have been shorter.
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.
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.
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.
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 :).
Conrad's narrative is impressive.
After finishing: very very sad, I almost cried. Why don't the authors leave their characters alone!!! Foken Brown!
in Joyce's Ulysses.
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.
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.
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.