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At a time when each annual MLA meeting generates its own particular critical ethos and younger scholars are worried about whether they—or their terminology—will be obsolete even before they submit their work for publication, it is good to have two studies of Conrad's novels that respect the author's values, the culture that produced those values, and the audience for which they were written. Such readings are sometimes now disdainfully called authorial readings in contrast to various forms of deconstructive or resistant readings that seek to read texts for evidence of omitted subjects or attitudes that reveal the author's supposed bigotry or foolishness or class indifference. John Batchelor and Steve Ressler write in the humanistic tradition; they believe that the critic's task is to recapture as much as possible the imaginative and moral vision that informed the author's conscious and unconscious intention; they believe that texts generate a structure of effects to which readers respond. Not for them resistant readings that look backward at texts from a steep and icy peak and respond to them in terms of current socioeconomic, historical, and cultural codes. Their Conrad, like that of Anthony Winner's Culture and Irony in Joseph Conrad, which I recently reviewed in NCF, seeks to understand Conrad in relation to his life and the historical and cultural context in which he lived. Like Auerbach in Mimesis, these critics seek to enter sympathetically, if not at times emphathetically, into the imagined world of the authors and to use that imaginative world to define the process of mimesis by which an anterior world is rendered.
Batchelor, author of an excellent study, The Edwardian Novelists, has written a thorough, readable study devoted to Lord Jim. Although it is part of the Unwin series devoted to a single work, it does not quite justify its length, except perhaps as a student companion for the British sixth form. Unlike Kenner's Ulysses volume in the Unwin series, Batchelor has not made a major contribution. However, he has brought together in one volume a great deal of information and has provided a careful if theoretically unsophisticated reading; whereas his book may be [End Page 318] useful to students, it may somewhat disappoint advanced critics of Conrad and prose fiction. Although Batchelor is at times unsure for whom he is writing, he does provide an eclectic and thorough reading that is informed by the work of prior critics. After beginning with a barely digested tidal wave of information in the first pages—a tidal wave that is indicative of his indecision about whom he is addressing—the opening chapter, titled "The Biographical Background," settles down to give a balanced view of Conrad's life. Following workmanlike chapters on "The Critical Reception and Literary Context of Lord Jim" and "Composition and Sources of Lord Jim," he has five critical chapters that do not always justify their length; indeed the titles of the first four, "Lord Jim Chapters 1-9," "Lord Jim Chapters 10-20," "Lord Jim Chapters 21-35," "Lord Jim Chapters 36-45," should be taken as clues to their occasionally slow-moving if not pedestrian nature—notwithstanding some splendid moments such as his discussion of Brown as Jim's double. After an interesting chapter entitled " 'Honour,' 'Dream,' and 'Tragedy'; Hamlet, La Vida es Sueño, and Lord Jim," Batchelor's study concludes with a rapid view of twentieth-century criticism on the novel.
Batchelor's knowledge of the entire Conrad canon ably informs his discussion. He is much better when discussing themes than technique. Because of its stress upon what we now call discourse—the narrative organization and presentation of the action—rather than upon a linear chronologically evolving story, Lord Jim does not easily break into chapter-by-chapter analysis or even analysis by discrete sections. Perhaps Batchelor's book would be more compelling had it been better organized into chapters on such topics as "Marlow as Character, Narrator, and Surrogate for...