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90 THEMINNESOTA REVIEW HENRY J. LASKOWSKY CONRAD'S UNDER WESTERN EYES: A MARXIAN VIEW I Conrad's Under Western Eyes is a novel which is acknowledged to be good in spite of a major flaw: its narrator. Even Albert Guerard's otherwise excellent stylistic analysis of the novel1 is vitiated by a repetition of Edward Crankshaw's charge that "the schoolteacher simply will not do as a narrator."2 This is a charge which such well known critics of Conrad as Irving Howe, Morton Zabel, and Eloise Hay also support in varying degrees, Howe even going so far as to maintain that "the narrator is not simply an awkward intrusion: he signifies a wish on Conrad's part to dissociate himself from his own imagination."3 By far the most sophisticated study of the narrator's role is that by Terry Eagleton, who observes that the teacher of languages, created by Conrad to maintain a "scrupulous impartiality" toward the characters and events in the novel, nevertheless belies Conrad's intentions and is used to create a reactionary , anti-revolutionary bias in Under Western Eyes. After pointing out that both the narrator and Razumov "share a common, anti-revolutionary front," and that "in this sense there is a good deal of Razumov in the narrator himself (as there is, quite evidently, in Conrad). . ." Mr. Eagleton goes on to say: The narrator is instinctively unsympathetic to revolution, but since his judgment is the reflection of a characteristic English narrowness, it counts (as he is the first to acknowledge) for little; it must therefore be overridden by the judgment of a man who shares all the mysterious intensity of Russia and is yet himself politically conservative . Razumov, in other words, stands midway between anarchists and narrator: he has both the passionate 'soul' of the first and the 'normal, practical, everyday' scepticism of the second. Through him, a criticism of social revolution can be achieved which escapes the damaging corollary of a rigid incomprehension of the passions. OfficiaUy , this is once more part of the novel's effort at neutrality: Conrad strives to hold in balance a degree of pity for Razmuov and a sense of his alienness. In fact, that alienness finally works to confirm the book's political bias: if Razumov, a Russian sensitive to the issues which lie at the roots of anarchist action, is himself hostile to political change, then the conventional wisdom of English conservatism , as embodied in the narrator, is fundamentally confirmed.4 LASKOWSKY 91 Thus Mr. Eagleton joins those critics who believe that because of its narrator Under Western Eyes does not completely succeed. It is of course true that Conrad, as an assimilated English gentleman, may weU be suspected of being more tory than the Tories, but the important question is whether the limitations and biases of the narrator merely reflect Conrad's presumed class orientation and consequently damage the novel, or whether such an evaluation involves an underestimation of Conrad's accomplishments in Under Western Eyes. This is not the place for an extensive discussion of Conrad's politics, but in coming to terms with Under Western Eyes, we should remember that Conrad, unlike his English narrator, was not the embodiment of "the conventions of English conservatism." Indeed, as Avrom Fleishman has pointed out in Conrad's Politics: The ambiguity of Conrad's thought on political questions is a necessary condition for the power of his political fiction. Nowhere did his complex political viewpoint enter into his fiction as fruitfuUy as on the subject of revolution. In order to gather the full measure of the art of Conrad's political novels, we need to be aware of how deeply he struggled with the issues of social change, how he remained committed to nationalist revolutions and declared social revolution a potential shortcut for the popular will, yet recoiled from the emergence of the anarchic forces which he knew to be latent and volatile in men.5 After mentioning Conrad's particular hatred of imperialism, Fleishman goes on to discuss Conrad's refusal of a proffered Knighthood: "It would seem that Conrad conceived of the community as the feUowship of all working men, rather than as an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 90-104
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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