- Under Western Eyesby Joseph Conrad
The beautifully crafted Cambridge edition of Under Western Eyesputs an end to the sense of uncertainty associated with the novel by carefully documenting each step of Conrad’s process of composition and revision in order to establish what can now be considered a definitive text. The editors trace the novel’s beginning from December 1907 when on his fiftieth birthday Conrad began the short story “Razumov” in which he set out to depict the student Haldin’s betrayal to the secret police by his fellow student Razumov. By mid-March 1908, Conrad had come to realize that the short story had a great deal of potential and began to expand it. From mid-March 1908 until mid-October of that year, Conrad worked steadily at his agent Pinker’s insistence to prepare five chapters for serial publication. Conrad also promised that the sixth and seventh chapters would soon be finished. The novel’s progress then slowed considerably due to Conrad’s interest in launching The English reviewwith Ford Madox Ford and writing four essays for publication in the journal which would later become his memoir A Personal record.
It was not until January 1910 that Conrad was able to finally complete the novel Under Western Eyes. The Cambridge editors detail every step of its fitful path to completion as well as Conrad’s nervous breakdown and the final revisions he made of the typescript. They have also provided a series of emendations and variations for each of the novel’s four parts with the result that the story of the novel’s writing becomes in many ways as fascinating as the work itself. Conrad’s efforts to satisfy his literary agent Pinker, who had loaned him money and wanted the novel to be published as quickly as possible, put severe pressures on Conrad as he worked long hours to finish Under Western Eyes. The sense of desperation experienced by Salmon Rushdie’s author-protagonist in Midnight’s [End Page 217] Childrenas he rushes to complete a novel offers some measure of possible comparison for the situation in which Conrad found himself.
No literary stone has been left unturned by the editors in their effort to collate the wealth of material now available to scholars of the novel. An appendix of forty pages entitled “Major Typescript Deletions” indicates the painstaking changes made by Conrad to the typescript before the novel was published in book form. A careful study of the deletions produces what is perhaps the most exact picture we can construct of Conrad’s purpose in writing Under Western Eyes, one which in his author’s preface to the completed novel he defines as “an attempt to render the psychology of Russia itself,” a tragic lack of vision of the kind which leads Sophia Antonova to say in what we can now be assured are the last words of the novel: “Peter Ivanovitch is an inspired man.”
Anne Luyatis a Professor of english at Université d’Avignon. She is author of a number of articles on Conrad and other twentieth-century authors (in both english and French) and is translator of Jacques Darras’s Les Signes del’empire( Joseph Conrad and the West, 1982).