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  • Polyphony in Lord Jim:On Übermensch
  • Patrick Tourchon

If Jim becomes a "Lord" (a Tuan) in the second part of the eponymous novel, set in Patusan, it is because in this remote area he is as powerful and influential as James (= Jim) Brooke used to be in Sarawak. Jim, there, is a lord in the same measure as James Brooke was a white "raja." And yet, this very second part (hereafter referred to as Lord II) exists only because such a power, in Jim's case, cannot be taken for granted. After the Patna episode, the readers cannot help wondering when and how Jim is going to fail again. This underlying question enhances their interest and expectations, and prevents them from taking Lord II as an umpteenth colonial story: many characters keep questioning Jim's status in Patusan, and Marlow's discussion with Jewel on this topic spreads over an entire chapter (chapter 33). Needless to say, incompatible conclusions are drawn, even though it is very difficult to decide which is right and which is wrong. A multiplicity of voices can then be heard, and no clear hierarchy can be established among them: by definition, a genuine polyphony therefore takes place in Lord II.

Two Perceptions of Jim's Past

Marlow, as well as Jewel, try to assess Jim's present status by referring to his past. Marlow in the first place worried too much about the possible consequences of Jim's "leap" from the Patna ("I was concerned as to the way he would go out. It would have hurt me if, for instance, he had taken to drink") not to base his speech on that point: Marlow extrapolates, foreshadows Jim's future as a shockwave from his previous failure (Lord 223). Thus, when Jewel insists on her own extrapolation, [End Page 71] which forecasts Jim's departure, Marlow just makes use, as a counterargument, of what he thinks he knows about Jim's past, which Jewel ignores: "I was immensely touched: her youth, her ignorance [, . . . ] and her ignorance made the unknown infinitely vast" (Lord 309).

At this stage, it only means that both Marlow and Jewel try to draw a continuous timeline, assuming that the future must be consistent with the past, so that Jim's next deeds depend, either on his aoristic fault on the Patna, or on the iterative departures of arrogant colonists. In the process, Marlow's voice is weakened. He does not fully master his narrative any longer, for he speaks with Jim's voice at times: "Jim's voice, suddenly raised with a stern intonation, carried across the courtyard"; "He [Jim] told me so"; "This is the very thing he [Jim] said" (Lord 316, 317, 318). Marlow loses his voice because, like Jim, he keeps asserting the impossibility of going back to "the world beyond the forests":

Nothing—I said, speaking in a distinct murmur—there could be nothing, in that unknown world she fancied so eager to rob her of her happiness, there was nothing neither living nor dead, there was no face, no voice, no power, that could tear Jim from her side. [ . . . ] No one wants him [ . . . ] "No one," I affirmed, feeling myself swayed by some strange excitement. [ . . . ] What I had to tell her was that in the whole world there was no one who ever would need his heart, his mind, his hand. . . . From all the multitudes that peopled the vastness of that unknown there would come, I assured her, as long as he lived, neither a call nor a sign for him. Never. I was carried away. Never! Never!

(Lord 316–18)

Nevertheless, if the common point between Marlow and Jewel is that they both conceive time as unified, the Past they refer to is radically different (aoristic versus iterative aspects) and accounts for their utter mutual incomprehension.

They utterly fail to understand each other. Neither of them gets the other's conclusions: Marlow does not understand Jewel's doubts ("And is it possible that you—you! do not believe him?"), while Jewel fails to understand Marlow's explanations ("she listened without a word, and her stillness now was like the protest of an invincible disbelief"). Moreover, neither of...


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