In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ELT 36:2 1993 forms the bulk of the novel. The balance, then, if we stand back and contemplate for a moment the finished book, the solid monument to Jim in our hands, is in favor of the judgement that both the inner and the outer have been retrieved. Murfin follows Batchelor clearly by claiming that Conrad's novel "shows us how every inarticulateness may turn out to be larger and more complete than its utterance." But Conrad's novel also shows us how even inarticulateness may turn out to be a form of articulateness, "how a life may turn out to be larger and more complete than its utterance." And Conrad's novel "shows us how apparent senselessness may yield sense" and how Marlow "has rescued some truth from the obscurity of Jim's story." Jim, then, is "one of us": he, 'like all of us who as readers have achieved—however we explain it—the end of our quest for meaning." But we are still baffled by the novel's last words: Who knows? He is gone, inscrutable at heart, and the poor girl is leading a sort of soundless, inert life in Stein's house. Stein has aged greatly of late. He feels it himself, and says often he is "preparing to leave all this: to leave .. ." while he waves his hand sadly at his butterflies. Bruce Teets Professor Emeritus Central Washington University Conrad and Literary Theory Richard Ambrosini. Conrad's Fiction as Critical Discourse. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1991. 248 pp. $49.50 A CLOSE EXAMINATION of "Conrad's theoretical enterprise," Ambrosini argues, is indispensable. He blames E. M. Forster, F. R. Leavis and Hewitt for slighting Conrad's literary commentary and frowns on Hewitt's achievement-and-decline thesis, though without telling us why. For the interrelations he seeks between Conrad's theoretical thought and his art he uses five Tropes": Work, Idealism, Fidelity, Effect, and Precision. As the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus states, Conrad "will make his appeal through the senses, as all art does: through a suggestively impressionistic language"; but the appeal fiction can make is dependent on a personal strain, "temperament," which "filters physical impressions so as to emphasize the subjective side of experience." What the argument here boils down to is that Conrad aimed scrupulously at revealing the truth which his consciousness found in and beneath facts. But one wonders whether he devised his narrative strategies from a feeling that there were between him and his British audience 264 BOOK REVIEWS temperamental gaps that could only be bridged by narrative subtlety. Was he not rather concerned simply with the optimalization of the particular kinds of Effect that his "temperament" made imperative for him? There are more such questions. In fact, Ambrosini's attempt to vindicate Conrad as a commentator on his own fiction does not convince. And this is not very surprising. He himself admits that Conrad's critical discourse fails to create a theoretical language capable of expressing the "something much larger" which Conrad claims distinguishes him from the Symbolists in his letter to Barrett H. Clark. In the discussion of The Nigger, "Karain" and "Youth" one encounters the tendency to view Conrad's fiction as a discussion per se of "the problematical quality of language." There are obvious dangers inputting theory before aesthetic judgment like this. Thus, because the sea in The Nigger appears "as the limit between the sayable and the unsayable," it is supposed to enrich Conrad's language, whereas in fact the passages on the sea as such show a painful rhetorical inflation. Again, when discussing The Nigger as a step ahead in perspectival subtlety, Ambrosini advances that the perspectival shifts do not jar, paradoxically relegating grumblers to a limbo inhabited by arid theorists. Reading the analysis of "Heart of Darkness" one wonders about the notion that in handling the frame narrator and Marlow Conrad is probing "the theoretical assumptions underlying the possibility of communicating past subjective experience" (84, our emphases). Neither is it easy to believe that Conrad designed his narrative apparatus to indicate that "realistic narrative is illusionary, whereas trying to establish a direct line of communication with the readers...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 264-268
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.