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BOOK REVIEWS advanced students and scholars of Conrad with new materials that have only recently come to light. It is a most welcome volume. Martin bock University of Minnesota Duluth Conrad's Narratives of Difference Lissa Schneider. Conrad's Narratives of Difference: Not Exactly Tales for Boys. New York: Routledge, 2003. xiv + 159 pp. $65.00 THIS SLIGHT but suggestive book purports to examine Conrad's treatment of women or "the feminine" as both a thematic and structural device in his works. Taking as its starting point Conrad's pleased exclamation to his friend and literary mentor Edward Garnett that the perfection of "The Secret Sharer" lies in the fact that there are "no damned tricks with girls there. Eh? ... Luck, my boy. Pure luck" (33), Schneider explores what Conrad's representations of women signify, and how he attempts to combine the "masculine" genre of sea-tales of adventure with the "feminine" genre of romance. Tales ostensibly even without women, she argues, nonetheless include "the feminine": both ships and "the East" are categorized as female, for instance, and the sailors' relationships to them as erotic; or Conrad overlays racial with gender differences , as in The Nigger of the "Narcissus", where James Wait in his effeminacy is urged to "be a man." Even the artist/narrator here, as Garnett's wife Constance so astutely pointed out, is "more than half feminine " (87). Schneider begins by examining Conrad's central representations of women as blinded or veiled yet carrying a torch (in Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, The Rescue, and "The Return") within the context of what she terms "Western art and iconography": Britannia, Columbia (the Statue of Liberty), Delacroix's Marianne, and the statue of Justice. Pointing out how Conrad exploits their traditional associations with revolutionary liberty, impartiality, and knowledge vs. ignorance, she herself "illuminates " their complexly ambiguous status as at once everything and nothing: the idealisms or "saving illusions" men live by, but idealisms ironically undermined as mere illusions by Conrad himself. She offers an intriguing discussion of the narrative role of Nathalie Haldin in Under Western Eyes as a character Conrad admitted served as "a mere peg" or "pivot" for the action, arguing this emphasizes the extent to which he did consider women characters and a "romance" plot to be necessary structural devices or "tricks" essential to his narrative 479 ELT 48 : 4 2005 method, often at the expense of real thematic import or full characterization . Much of this is interesting and useful; the frequently quoted letters between Conrad and Garnett concerning Conrad's intentions and methods are fascinating, and the book's best feature, along with a clear direct approach that blessedly fails to deliver on the introduction's sweeping promise to explore Conrad's treatment of women in the context of "current feminist, historicist, and psychoanalytic debates about subjectivity, female iconography, fetishism, genre theory, narrative satire, audience address, and the gaze" (4). But in the end the book is unsatisfying, too sketchy to be convincing in its generalizations about "the feminine" in Conrad, and oddly thin and bloodless in its discussion of individual characters. Given the bulk of Conrad's oeuvre, some omissions are unavoidable: still, one misses in particular any discussion of Nostromo's Mrs. Gould, or the extraordinary Lena of Victory, the most powerfully realized of all Conrad's women except perhaps Winnie Verloc. (Lena merits only a brief and erroneous mention as one of Conrad's "fair-haired women" such as Mrs. Gould.) Winnie herself receives lamentably short shrift in Schneider's extended analysis of The Secret Agent, preoccupied as it is with demonstrating the extent to which the novel collapses the distinction between the private, domestic, feminine "house" and the public, political, masculine "House of Commons," turning a mystery into a mere "domestic drama." Here Schneider's reliance on Nancy Armstrong's by now too familiar feminist argument (in Desire and Domestic Fiction) that the private is the political raises what is probably the central problem for her book's thesis: that Conrad's motives for collapsing the private-public (or female-male) distinction to "domesticate" his "secret agent" are emphatically not feminism 's. Far from privileging the feminine or indeed any of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 479-482
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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