Conrad, Language, and Narrative

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Conrad, Language, and Narrative

Marlow also offers the reader narrative blocks from a variety of sources, of differing degrees of reliability. Much of the story has come from Jim, but significant sections have come from other characters or have been pieced together by Marlow based on inference. Information is conveyed by letters, midnight conversations, deathbed interviews, forwarded manuscripts, and, most significantly, in the form of a tale told to an audience of listeners.

The narrative occasionally breaks to show Marlow telling Jim's story to a group of acquaintances at a much later date. Temporally, this scene of storytelling takes place after Jim's arrival in Patusan but before the arrival of Gentleman Brown and Jim's eventual defeat. Marlow must thus leave the story unfinished for a time. He completes it by sending a manuscript to one member of his audience.


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This shift from an oral mode of storytelling to a written form of narrative is significant. A storyteller has the power to shape his material to match his audience's response; a writer, on the other hand, who works in solitude, must offer his distant reader a predetermined message.

Reading Conrad

Marlow constantly ponders the "message"--the meaning of Jim's story. His language is dense with terms like "inscrutable" and "inexplicable," words that denote imprecision and indecipherability, but which also possess a certain quality of uncertainty in themselves, as words.

He struggles to name things, and is often reduced to wondering if there even is a meaning to Jim's story and his fascination with it. Sometimes he concludes that the meaning is an "enigma"; sometimes he decides there is no meaning to be found at all. Words are constantly being contested in this novel; at least three major episodes center around the misinterpretation of a single spoken word. This uncertainty about language is the key feature of Conrad's style.

Word Lists

Conrad is the master of a high, elegiac language that seems to contain depths of profundity nearly inexpressible in words. As one who did not learn English until he was in his twenties, he must certainly have been aware of each and every word he used, and each must have been carefully chosen.

His language is often deliberately difficult, and in that quality his prose shares some of the features of modernism. But his diction also matches, in its linguistic difficulty, the thematic and interpretive difficulty of his material. This synthesis between form and content is powerful, making Conrad's prose a thing of tortured beauty.


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  4. Even more tortured is the analysis of idealism and heroism that lies at the center of Lord Jim. Jim is a young man who enters the world motivated primarily by fantasies of daring and noble deeds lifted from cheap novels. His ideals break down, however, in the face of real danger; they are, in fact, untenable when applied to any form of reality. What is honorable behavior in this world? O4 Z Unknown. More options. Find it at other libraries via WorldCat Limited preview. Bibliography Includes bibliographical references p.

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    Marlow's Psychology and His Two Narrative Perspectives in Lord Jim

    Contents Introduction-- Part I. Speech communities: 1.


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    Marlow: 4. Modernist storytelling: 'Youth' and 'Heart of Darkness'-- 5. The scandals of Lord Jim-- 6.

    Examiners' Secrets: Narrative Writing

    Political communities: 7. Nostromo and anecdotal history-- 8. Linguistic dystopia: The Secret Agent-- 9. A trilingual Polish expatriate, Conrad brought a formidable linguistic self-consciousness to the English novel; tensions between speech and writing are the defining obsessions of his career. He sought very early on to develop a 'writing of the voice' based on oral or communal modes of storytelling.

    Greaney argues that the 'yarns' of his nautical raconteur Marlow are the most challenging expression of this voice-centred aesthetic. But Conrad's suspicion that words are fundamentally untrustworthy is present in everything he wrote. The political novels of his middle period represent a breakthrough from traditional storytelling into the writerly aesthetic of high modernism.

    Greaney offers an examination of a wide range of Conrad's work which combines recent critical approaches to language in post-structuralism with an impressive command of linguistic theory. Narration Rhetoric. Bibliographic information.

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