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181 VISION AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE AMBASSADORS AND LORD JIM By Elsa Nettels (College of William and Mary) A good way to appreciate all that James and Conrad have in common is to compare their novels with those of their best known English contemporaries and friends. The reader has only to place TonoBungay . The Man of Property, or Clayhanger beside "The Turn of the Screw" and "Heart of Darkness" - two works between which several critics have perceived a connection! - to see what unites James and. Conrad and distinguishes them from other novelists of the period« their preoccupation with matters of form - most evident in the scenic construction of James's novels and the dislocations in the time framework of Conrad's» the detailed analysis, often by the characters themselves, of mental processes and emotional states» the expression of characters' experience in patterns of imagery that create a richness and density absent from the novels of Wells or Galsworthy or Bennett. Essential to achieving these qualities in James's and Conrad's novels is the creation of characters who serve as centers of consciousness and whose point of view provides a unifying frame for the work. Conrad never insisted, as James did, that the intensity of the work depends upon the richness of the reflecting consciousness , upon the extent to which it is "subject to fine intensification and wide enlargement."2 A number of Conrad's characters, however, exhibit powers of feeling, observation, and analysis that distinguish them from those around them and make them, no less than James's central characters, "intense perceivers. . . of their respective predicaments" (V, xvi). Because James believed that his method was best exemplified in his third person narratives, one might think that the characters of Conrad who most nearly resemble the central consciousness of James's novels would be the intelligent and reflective protagonists of the novels narrated mainly in the third person - Découd of Nostromo. for instance, or Heyst of Victory. But as a number of critics have observed, Conrad penetrates more deeply into character , he commands greater vividness of image, when he exchanges the omniscience of a third person narrator for the consciousness of a first person narrator.3 Ian Watt is surely right in his observation that "it was through Marlow that Conrad achieved his version of James's registering consciousness."4· The narrator of Conrad who I believe is most like James's central consciousness, however, is not the Marlow of Chance. but the Marlow of Lord Jim. In the portrayal of Marlow's efforts to comprehend the nature of Jim and the meaning of his life, Lord Jim.more than any of Conrad's other novels, invites comparison with the novels of James which represent the efforts of one character to divine the motives and feelings of others. Most of James's novels, from Roderick Hudson to The Golden Bowl, dramatize, with more or less fullness, the process by which one character discovers the nature of another. Of all his novels, however, The Ambassadors presents the most 182 sustained and the most fully analyzed picture of the observer's efforts to read appearances and to comprehend the realities they express or conceal. Comparison of The Ambassadors and Lord Jim, both written during 1900, should, then, reveal as clearly as any two novels the likenesses and differences between the dramas of consciousness of James and Conrad. One cannot help wondering whether either James or Conrad ever noticed the resemblances between the novels they wrote in the last year of the century. Both The Ambassadors and Lord Jim portray the bond between a man of middle age and a young man at the start of his career, a bond created by the older man's feeling of responsibility and concern for the younger. Both Strether and Marlow initially see their protégés as persons who must be rescued - Chad Newsome from what Strether and his patroness Mrs. Newsome believe to be a sordid affair with a base woman» and Jim from the dangers of the derelict's life to which his desertion of the Patna threatens to condemn him. Both Strether and Marlow see the young men whom they propose...


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pp. 181-193
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Will Be Archived 2021
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