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125 REVI EWS 1 . The Politics of Loyalty E loi se Knapp Hay. THE POLITICAL NOVELS OF J-OSJEPH CONRAD. Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1963. $6.00. Mrs. Hay's "only case" is that Conrad saw "in 1 ife a political dimension that strongly affected his perspective on all human affairs." He was "compelled" to see this dimension, Mrs. Hay says, by accidents of national origin and family background." (p. 10) There is in this view something the serious reader of Conrad needs, but also something disturbing. He is a reader accustomed to sounding depths, political surely, as well as depths of other kinds. Even in desperation, however, the reader who has followed the stars with Conrad will not be too quick to agree that "accidents" "compelled" Conrad in any way whatever. Mrs. Hay's book has this reluctance on the part of her reader to overcome and this divi ion to heal, that is, the division between devoted interest and hesi tant acquiescence. She feels the same dilemma, busy with Conrad's Polish inheritance on the one hand and fascinated by the complexities of Nostromo or Razumov on the other. Her difficulty is not merely that she, like so many others, has a thesis and requires a demonstration. Her difficulty is that she sees more than her thesis, more than Conrad's Polish "background," and often, in her discussion of novels which she designates as the notably political among Conrad's work, writes well and suggestively about matters which engage us beyond—or perhaps in spite of—their political implications. The Polish background appears to be fairly treated, if an amateurish opinion may be allowed, especially in its ambiguousness, in its resistance to the ideological simplification. Thus Conrad's sympathies, formed in the unique climate of the Polish national experience, were neither totalitarian nor anarchistic; influenced by both uncle and father, Conrad, while he rejected the revolutionary politics of the nineteenth century, shared his father's admiration for the rebel who preserved a sense of the "spirituality of a national existence." (p. 47) Sceptical of political ideas and abstract ideals of conduct, Conrad believed that "scruples as regards ideas may absolutely distinguish the good man and the good society from the bad." (p. 52) This uncertainty, this seeming vacillation, pervades Conrad's political novels, as Mrs. Hay illustrates. In that area between honor and behavior where the ideal is realized or betrayed, Conrad found many of the possibilities for his dense narratives, as, for example, in the cases of Jim, Kurz, Dr. Monygham, and others. Here is one way of managing at least a part of the intractable stuff of Conrad's fictional world. Loyalty and deception, betrayal and illusion, are given, as Mrs, Hay knows and makes evident, in the fullness of their human embodiment; given, that is, in their relation to intent, to passion, and to human fate. LORD JIM, of course, is an example which occurs readily to Mrs. Hay, as to us. The desertion on the Patna, the observations of Marlow, the final act of courage, all are involved with the question of fidelity to an ideal. But Mrs. Hay does not regard LORD JIM as one of the political novels: THE RESCUE, HEART OF DARKNESS, NOSTROMO, THE SECRET AGENT, and UNDER WESTERN EYES. In thes* novels, she believes, the interest to which Conrad was compelled by the circumstances of his Polish origin is discovered. It will be enough, though not fully just to Mrs. Hay, to examine the chapters on NOSTROMO and UNDER WESTERN EYES, 126 particularly the former, in order to see the virtues and the limitations of her special analysis. Certain other details, however informative, will have to be ignored: the career of Sir James Brooke as it may have influenced THE RESCUE and the Boer War as it figures in HEART OF DARKNESS, for example. At two points in the analysis of NOSTROMO, the Polish background is introduced, first in the connection between Gould's childhood and Conrad's "memories of his father" (p. 183); then, in the constitution of'Decoud's mind, for which Poland supplied the "ligaments." (p. 197) NOSTROMO is a large canvas and "primarily a novel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 125-127
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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