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Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Updated on December 23, 2009

Still one of the most widely known and studied novels of the 20th century, Lord Jim has been adversely criticized for an overly elaborate narrative method and as being too long in relation to the material it contains. It remains notable, however, as a portrait of a romantic youth, as a psychological and ethical study of impressive range and subtlety, and as a somber, brooding search for those few values without which existence is meaningless. For Conrad and for Jim these values were honor, loyalty, and courage.

Lord Jim is a novel by the Polish-born English author Joseph Conrad. It was first serialized in an English magazine and was published as a book in 1900.

Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad

Story and Characters

Lord Jim is a tale of both the sea and the land. It tells the life story of a young merchant sailor who redeems a single moment of cowardice at sea by a compensating moment of fatal, extravagant courage ashore among the dark-skinned inhabitants in a "native-ruled State" in the Dutch East Indies. In his own words, Conrad created "a free and wandering tale," in which the hero's desertion of his disabled ship was an event "which could conceivably colour the whole 'sentiment of existence' in a simple and sensitive character." Conrad, cites his inspiration: "One sunny morning in the commonplace surroundings of an Eastern roadstead, I saw his (Jim's) form pass by - appealing - significant - under a cloud - perfectly silent. Which was as it should be. It was for me, with all the sympathy of which I was capable, to seek fit words for his meaning. He was 'one of us.' "

As is often the case in good fiction, the minor characters in Lord Jim are likely to hold a greater illusion of reality for the reader than its major figures. Lord Jim aside, certain lesser characters are unforgettable. They include the ill-fated Brierly, who inexplicably drowns himself at sea in the midst of a brilliant career, and the slow, meticulous French naval officer, who intimately knows the meaning of fear but remains sublimely ignorant of what it is to give way to that fear.


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      Dale Anderson 4 years ago from The High Seas

      I have too admit that, although I like Joseph Conrad, he does seem to over-write stuff a bit. The most powerful parts of his stories always seem to be those that he tells with efficiency rather than volume of words.