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ELT 42 : 4 1999 Conrad (& Hardy): Solitude vs. Solidarity Ursula Lord. Solitude versus Solidarity in the Novels of Joseph Conrad: Political and Epistemological Implications of Narrative Innovation. Montreal: McGiIl Queen's University Press, 1998. vii + 358 pp $55.00 URSULA LORD is ambitious in stating the general aim of her book: "a structural, thematic, and theoretical analysis of early modern British fiction, Hardy and Conrad ... in terms of critical and theoretical paradigms established by great thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries whose treatises revolutionized our perception of our universe and our role in society." Beginning with a brief discussion of Thomas Hardy's failure to accomplish a successful union of a postDarwinian worldview and novelistic form, Lord goes on to analyze Conrad 's Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, and Nostromo in terms of the radical insights of major figures like Arendt, Weber, Mannheim, and Marx. Her primary focus is on the ways Conrad's novels illustrate the modernist crisis of faith, particularly the tension between "individual freedom and commitment to social cohesion." Although Lord's dense study draws out illuminating connections between Conrad's themes and formal innovations and the philosophical challenges of his time, her neo-Marxist readings at times seem programmatic and too restricted in their theoretical scope. As "a prism or model for the exploration of formal innovation in Conrad ," Lord begins with a solid study of the influence of Darwinian evolutionary theory on three key works by Thomas Hardy. She focuses in particular on the effects of the "diminishing of the human" created by Darwin's expansion of the span of cosmic history, especially as it reveals in Hardy's novels "the insignificance of the deeds and tragedies of the individual , and the transience of the human effort to establish civilization in a permanent, indestructible form." Her reading οι Jude the Obscure shows how the novel's sense of progressive time and traditional narrative are disrupted as the consciousness of the narrator and tragic hero converge in painful awareness of the doomed clash between Jude's aspirations and the limitations of his socio-economic position. Lord uses The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D'Urbervilles to illustrate the development of Hardy's skeptical relativistic epistemology, especially as reflected in the ineffectual efforts of the Romantic protagonists to assert their individuality in the face of the oppressive influence of the past and the social conventions of market capitalism. Ultimately, Lord argues that Hardy's novels reach an impasse that is manifested in the way "the 478 BOOK REVIEWS fatalistic theme of the entrapment of his characters in the past" correlates with "his own anachronistic clinging to traditional narrative structure ." The issue of betrayal is the thematic locus of Lord's analysis of Conrad 's work. In each of the three novels, the hero begins as an ideal representative of the code of cultural solidarity (colonialism in Heart of Darkness, the mariner's code in Lord Jim, and imperialism in Nostromo ). However, being "cursed with a greater degree of sensitivity and self-reflexivity than is tolerable" in such a society, he goes on to shatter the code and loses faith in any ultimate communal values. Drawing from Max Weber's notions of charismatic domination and its routinization in capitalism, Lord presents the texts as illustrating how "Romantic individualism had been superceded by a social ideal founded on the principles of conformity, efficiency, and subjugation to the group." Coupled with Lord's thematic exploration of the apparent moral relativism that emerges in these tales of betrayal is her treatment of the epistemological relativism that seems to exist on the level of narrative form. The formal structure of each novel, marked by multiple and limited narrative perspectives, raises serious questions about the naming power of language and the possibility of true knowledge of oneself and others. Lord concludes that, unlike Hardy, Conrad succeeds in creating "a formal device that acknowledges and reflects the alienation and fragmentation of the modern experience." However, in contrast to more pessimistic readings of the texts, Lord also claims that Conrad does not embrace "ultimate nihilistic despair" but represents in his unique narrative structures a "faith in the nobility of the quest to understand." To...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 478-481
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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