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BOOK REVIEWS Conrad the Impressionist John G. Peters. Conrad and Impressionism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xiv + 206 pp. $54.95 THIS SLIM, expensive book treats at full-length a subject that generations of Conrad critics have variously made obligatory nods to, tangled with, or run aground upon. Peters's interest in it lies mainly in how the impressionist elements in Conrad's fiction are germane to and insist on a "philosophical investigation into epistemological processes and their socio-political implications." A brief introduction sets out the book's aims, and Peters adumbrates his argument in five chapters tightly focused on the epistemological origins of literary impressionism, objectivity, subjectivity, temporality, and Conrad's response (sic, not responses ) to solipsism and anarchy. A two-page "epilogue," gesturing toward a summary, concludes the argument, and the remaining forty-some pages comprise Notes, a Selected Bibliography, and an Index. The latter is a particularly welcome feature in a critical study, and, happily , indices seem to be appearing more frequently in monographs published by major academic presses. Peters's opening chapter links literary impressionism to a number of developments in mid- and late-nineteenth century science that, in turn, altered philosophy and epistemology, and thus had wide-ranging, diverse , and now well-known impacts on the arts, in particular, literature and painting. Peters himself paints with a wide if steadily held brush here, seemingly eager to tackle his specific subject, which, despite his title , is less Conrad and Impressionism, which promises a historically based study, than impressionism as exemplified in a number of Conrad's works, both major and minor. While Peters makes a number of sensible assertions, in the main argues clearly and competently, and demonstrates a thorough reading of large tracts of the Conrad canon, the method of taking snippets from a wide array of texts, alluding to others, especially minor ones, and piling up examples to bolster a point is not cumulatively reader-friendly, and in the end becomes simply monotonous as one similarly structured chapter relentlessly follows another. More besetting a problem is that after his opening, Peters treats Conrad's work in isolation as if the wider artistic/philosophical movement that Peters is concerned with had only a single exemplar in one Joseph Conrad rather than a host of them at the turn of the twentieth century and beyond. 481 ELT 45 : 4 2002 A corollary to these procedures is an a-historical approach that ultimately disables some of the individual readings Peters offers. Just as the crisis and renewal of representation in art was a widespread phenomenon in a number of European countries, so was the new consciousness of and about temporality, registered in The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, and, more generally, at issue in the central modernist canon. Thus, while Peters deals adequately with kinds of time—human, mechanical, natural—in The Secret Agent, he misses out or opts not to comment on how revolutionary time as a separate category inflects the novel and shapes its representational techniques. Nor is there a discussion of the wider historical context Conrad's work was responding to, in particular, the intense international debate over establishing a universal time standard situated at Greenwich. There is a seeming insouciance, likewise, to distinctions in Conrad's conceptions, as if they emerged whole cloth and saw little or no evolution or alteration throughout his twenty-five year career. Thus, a single paragraph takes examples out of their enriching context from early and mid-period works to demonstrate a point that would only be susceptible to testing by the most dyed-in-the-wool Conradian, who happened to have at his or her fingertips the plots, characters, and thematic issues of the minor stories as well as the major works. On the other hand, little call is made on the late novels, in which Conrad abandons some of his earlier technical strategies to cast new perspectives on some of his own cherished beliefs, assertions, and methods. If, indeed, some of those works are more conservative and less experimental technically, the light they shed on the procedures of the earlier canon is all the more needed to understand what he was attempting there. Thus...


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pp. 481-483
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