Victory was the last of Conrad's novels to be set in the Malay Archipelago. It tells the story of Axel Heyst who, damaged by his dead father's nihilistic philosophy, has retreated from the world of commerce and colonial exploration to live alone on the island of Samburan. But Heyst's solitaryexistence ends when he rescues an English girl from her rapacious patron and brings her back to the island. She in turn recalls him to love and life, until the world breaks in on them once more with tragic consequences. In this love story Conrad created two of his psychologically most complex andcompelling characters in a narrative of great erotic power.This new edition uses the first edition text and includes a new chronology and bibliography.
This is a novel about the unreasonableness and unpredictability of fate in which life-lines cross, sometimes only tangentially, and with unforeseen consequences: sometimes good, sometimes unremarkable, and sometimes evil; all exacerbated, or magnified, by the equally unpredictable effects of personalities, unfathomable in and of themselves, and even more so in their impact on other life lines, with unlimited scope for misunderstandings, deliberate calumny, paranoia, self-delusion, and self-justification, that make a mockery of any sense of "objective" truth in relationships. That "truth" is only possible when Heyst is living on his own and for himself. Even the introduction of the woman whom he loves and who comes to love him introduces currents and warps that he cannot control:
Formerly, in solitude and in silence, he had been used to think clearly and sometimes even profoundly, seeing life outside the flattering optical delusion of everlasting hope, of conventional self-deceptions, of an ever-expected happiness. But now he was troubled; a light veil seemed to hang before his mental vision; the awakening of a tenderness, indistinct and confused as yet, towards an unknown woman.
A memorable quote from the book:
For the use of reason is to justify the obscure desires that move our conduct impulses, passions, prejudices, and follies, and also our fears.
Like many of Conrad's novels, Victory is set in the Indonesian archipelago, then the Dutch Indies. The story is fairly straight forward, although the narrative develops slowly. Axel Heyst, a Swede, resides on the virtually uninhabited island where a business venture failed. During a holiday trip visiting another island, he meets and unhappy young English woman, who is attached to a music band. They steal away together. This angers and frustrates the owner of the hotel, Mr Schomberg, whose wife is a hovering presence in the background. Out of spite, Schomberg puts three desperados, Mr Jones, Ricardo and their servant on Heyst's trail, suggesting that Heyst guards a hoard of money. The three men, ruthless, sail to the island, but Mr Jones idea of finding Heyst alone, and an easy prey, runs completely awry. On the island, Jones meets his nemesis.
The novel is beautifully written, and each character fits perfectly into the plot. The psychology of each character is very convincing, despite a slight sense og exaggeration. The plot and the outcome of the story are very compelling. Various elements and characters of the story suggest a strong relation between the book and Shakespeare's play The Tempest.
After I started, I quickly found myself engaged in this somewhat odd story about a very odd man, Heyst. A little farther into the story, I went back to find in which category the Guardian's list had placed this book & was surprised to find it was in the "Love" category rather than the "War and Travel" category I had expected. By the end of the book, I understood the placement! If I had to describe it in one sentence, it would be
Another of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, had this to say about Victory:
"I often reread Victory, which is maybe my favorite book in the world… The story is told thirdhand. It’s not a story the narrator even heard from someone who experienced it. The narrator seems to have heard it from people he runs into around the Malacca Strait. So there’s this fantastic distancing of the narrative, except that when you’re in the middle of it, it remains very immediate. It’s incredibly skillful. I have never started a novel — I mean except the first, when I was starting a novel just to start a novel — I’ve never written one without rereading Victory. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing.” — From a 2006 interview in The Paris Review
The joys of this novel come through in the dialogue, the divulging of character through confession and interplay. Being able to relate personally to Heyst's philosophy didn't hurt my enjoyment any, thrusting me into contemplating how I would react to similar pressures. Heyst lacks self-awareness, not realizing the advantage that he has in his opponents being unable to get a read on him. The disarray this lends to their plans is almost comical as they struggle to answer his supposed moves. The ending was a fitting answer to that comedy, tying everything together.
Authors of this period were learning to face the difficult challenge of retaining literary value while appealing to a broader audience and achieving greater sales. I found this to be a wonderful addressing of both objectives, very suspenseful and yet extremely engaging in its character portrayals.
As far as Conrad novels go, this was... well, pretty standard. The big difference is that it's not narrated by 'Marlowe,' so the prose is a little more readable. It's pretty pessimistic, of course. If you're into memorable characters, Lena/Alma's right up there. And I suppose Heyst is meant to be up there, but it's just difficult for me to take seriously a character with such a prominent mustache.