by Joseph Conrad

Hardcover, 1953

Call number





Modern Library (1953), Edition: Reprint


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member John
I don't remember the last time I read Conrad: probably Under Western Eyes about twenty years ago. I had this at the cottage and picked it up one afternoon. I enjoyed it. It is the story of Axel Heyst, a slightly mysterious and disenchanted Swede who lives a solitary life on an island in the Malay archipelago, following a failed coal-mining venture. Heyst has no need for other people, but he has a good heart and is ready to help others out of a sense of duty or "rightness". This leads him to help a young woman escape from a touring orchestra, and from the lecherous attentions of the owner of the hotel where the band is playing, a man who never much liked Heyst to start with, and who, after the flight of the young woman, becomes completely obsessed with his hatred of Heyst. He thinks he sees an avenue for revenge when he convinces a couple of hard-case Europeans that Heyst is sitting on a fortune all alone on his island. There is an added advantage in this for the owner as the two Europeans are turning his hotel into an illegal gambling den, and are running his life. So the two Europeans make their way to Heyst's island and the climax of the novel is set up in the confrontation between the two groups.

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.
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LibraryThing member Espey1
Axel Heist, a profound skeptic, lives in solitude on an island in the South Seas. His aloofness mystifies some and angers others, but no one invades his island or his moral self-sufficiency. When he brings Lena to Samburan, however, he is suddenly caught in the world from which he tried to rescue her - a world represented by the lecherous hotelkeeper Schomberg and the two criminals, Jones and Ricardo. Heyst's emergence from isolation to complete involvement is a victory, though an ironic one, over life.… (more)
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Victory (sometimes published as Victory: An Island Tale) is a psychological novel by Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924), first published in 1915. Through its publication, Conrad achieved popular success. The novel is seen as a highly complex allegorical work, with a narrative structure and psychological development laying the basis for the modern novel. Victory is initially somewhat difficult to follow because of the shifting narrative and temporal perspective. Part 1 of the book is written from the viewpoint of a sailor, Part 2 an omniscient perspective ofthe main character, Part 3 from an interior perspective of the main character, and Part 4 from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. The novel is very rich in literary allusions, and an annotated edition, such as by the Oxford University Press is recommended.

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.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
I didn't know anything about this book when I started it other than 2 facts: it was written by the author of The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, and it was on the Guardian's list of 1000 novels everyone should read.

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 as a cross between his earlier book Heart of Darkness and Romeo and Juliet. Heyst and Lena are surely just as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet and their end is just as tragic.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
I like Conrad, and this was no exception. The story is typically Conradian in pondering big moral issues. It examines if we are able to escape the society and live far away from the evils of this world. And then, how we deal with evil when confronted by it. The question of what makes one a hero, as pondered by Conrad in other novels, and probably most famously in Lord Jim, surfaces here again as well. The main character is an idealistic gentleman who lives by himself on a small island somewhere in the tropics. Life doesn’t leave him alone though, and through a chain of events he has to confront a situation of life and death.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I enjoyed this novel from the pen of Joseph Conrad - it may be my favorite of his works although Conrad has the knack for writing consistently good novels that makes it hard to rank them. Victory's most striking formal characteristic is its shifting narrative and temporal perspective with the first section from the viewpoint of a sailor, the second from omniscient perspective of Axel Heyst, the third from an interior perspective from Heyst, and the final section. I found the character of Axel interesting primarily due to his complexity. On a superficial level the novel reads like a melodrama more suited to a muddled opera libretto than a serious work of literature. But upon reflection the allegorical and psychological implications of the action, landscape and narrative structure redeem it as a modern novel worthy to be included with the best of Conrad. I am always more impressed when the author can make a serious work of literature appear on the surface, to be merely a "good story" (eg. Moby-Dick). The story line follows: through a business misadventure, the European Axel Heyst ends up living on an island in what is now Indonesia, with a Chinese assistant Wang. Heyst visits a nearby island when a female band is playing at a hotel owned by Mr. Schomberg. Schomberg attempts to force himself sexually on one of the band members, Alma, later called Lena. She flees with Heyst back to his island and they become lovers. Schomberg seeks revenge by attempting to frame Heyst for the "murder" of a man who had died of natural causes and later by sending three desperadoes (Pedro, Martin Ricardo and Mr. Jones) to Heyst's island with a lie about treasure hidden on the island. The ensuing conflict does not end well and has been compared to the ending of an Elizabethan drama where the stage is littered with corpses. The robust romanticism of Axel and Lena's story continues to haunt the reader long after one puts the novel down.
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
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
In the first part we get an outsider's view of Axel Heyst's character, actions and motives without being certain who he is or what actually drives him. I found this off-putting until the second part shared Heyst's perspective and we discover he's oblivious to being the centre of so much attention. In retrospect the first seems a case study foreshadowing what will come: Axel finds happiness through distance, but succumbs to connecting with the world through bouts of empathy that reward in the short term but later steer towards disaster. When real danger threatens it remains to be seen what else can stir him to action and whether he will prove to be 'wild' or 'tame'. What happens when the perpetual observer's hand is forced to commit action?

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.
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LibraryThing member carterchristian1
The love story is tender and delightful and the suspense at the end when the robbers have invaded the island really keep the reader involved.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
"Victory" is a difficult story for Conrad to relate. His principle characters have always been haunted fellows, such as Kurtz in his jungle hide-away, but here the emphasis seems to be on romance more than adventure, and Conrad struggles to make it work. The problem lies at the heart of his lead, and the fact that it is so difficult to involve the reader in a romance when one of the figures in that romance is such a closed book.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
Conrad managed to develop characters, imperfect, that all drove themselves forward on their own agendas to the story's conclusion- facilitating and enabling it along the way. He manages to keep the reader interested, but not quite on their toes, and the plot is logical and fluid. The setting and atmosphere of the novel is particularly interesting and the sense of urgency, and willingness to read, moves forward from the second third onward. Overall, not a bad book.

3 stars.
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LibraryThing member soraxtm
In some ways Joseph Conrad makes SInclair Lewis look like Theodore Drieser
LibraryThing member stillatim

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.… (more)
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