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Old 06-07-2014, 07:50 AM   #31
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I share a lot of Caleb's thoughts on this one. I actually quite like Razumov as a character, only I wish Conrad had stopped at Razumov's exit from the room of revolutionaries after his confession with NN and his henchmen in tow, maybe leaving some doubt as to his end - being crushed by the tram and destined to Tekla's care was too forced and symbolic for my taste.

I found the first part engaging, but really had to plod through the second part the characters too grotesque, the dialogues too disjointed to draw me into the novel.

I did like the perspective offered by Razumov - as Caleb wrote, he was doomed from the moment Haldin stepped in his rooms, and in that kind of political climate, you simply could not sit on the sidelines. In some respect I think this novel has not aged well: the world is much closer, and the whole premise of western eyes contemplating the inscrutable Russian society applies surely much less, if at all, to the sensibility of any contemporary Western European. In addition, many of the sex stereotypes, though well meant, sound quite tired.

All this said, I did enjoy it, and I enjoyed the discussion so far even more!
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Old 06-11-2014, 02:19 PM   #32
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This book wasn’t a sucess in the “west”, but it was in Russia. The milquetoast narrator may have had something to do with it - if he represents the west, then to a westerner his blandness is neither accurate nor engaging and may be off-putting, but perhaps Russians of the time might have been more likely to accept him without much thought since to them he was the foreigner of the novel.

Non-protagonist first-person narration can be less than ideal because the narrator is almost always wallpaper, so I have the same problem with this story as with any story with this type of narration, but aside from that I don’t think Conrad’s use of it was any better or worse than par. Using the narrator had an important function - with the title of the book and the many mentions of western eyes watching, Conrad wanted to convey not only the paranoia of any Russian possibly spying on or watching another, but also of the west constantly watching them all; even the book itself was written by the narrator under his western eyes.

What was most interesting to me were the themes of autocracy versus revolution and the faults of each. I find it extraordinarily interesting that he wrote this before the successful revolution in Russia that turned out so badly in the end and for such a long time. It was as if he were a prophetic sage delivered in the character of the much-maligned narrator (as also quoted by BelleZora earlier):

Quote:
…in a real revolution—not a simple dynastic change or a mere reform of institutions—in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement—but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, of disenchantment—often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured—that is the definition of revolutionary success. There have been in every revolution hearts broken by such successes...
This book is also interesting because the theme can apply not just to the Russia of the early 20th century but also to any country with revolutionary fervour. I couldn’t help but think of the Arab Spring while reading, and what chaos that has turned into in many countries.

Razumov was an interesting character. He reminded me a bit of Conrad himself - only a bit - because in Razumov’s half-aristocratic/half-other lineage that left him isolated without a family or a proper class to fit into, I could see a glimpse of Conrad’s various nationalities that left him writing in English in England yet also intrinsically understanding the Russian mind. Razumov’s parentage was also symbolic in its duality which creates in Razumov a conflict that led to his trouble in the first place. Yes he was conservative, but Haldin mistakenly trusted him because he had been willing to entertain revolutionary discussions with him. This also led Razumov to not immediately throw Haldin out of his rooms and not immediately go to his father. I even believe that if Ziemianitch had been lucid, Razumov would’ve set up the meeting and perhaps told no one. As it was, Ziemianitch forced Razumov’s hand.

Aside from the political and Russian themes, this was also a psychological portrait of a man who is placed in a very uncomfortable situation that ruins his entire life through almost no fault of his own. These kinds of stories are usually just one unbelievably bad thing after another happening to the same person presented in an almost leering manner, but I think Conrad handled it here with skill. It’s interesting that the central conceit of Crime and Punishment is an action the protagonist takes while the central conceit of Under Western Eyes is an action taken upon the central character. The strength of Razumov’s character can be seen by the various opinions on it within the interesting discussion of this thread.

This book doesn’t compare to Heart of Darkness but nevertheless it was a quality read.
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Old 06-11-2014, 08:08 PM   #33
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An interesting pair of posts. I really liked your final point, sun surfer.
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Old 06-14-2014, 05:07 PM   #34
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Conrad also challenges us with the unrealiability of the narrator. The quick perspective switches from first person to omniscient are jarring at points and undercut the validity of the narrator. The journal itself, if the narrator really used it, is also of questionable reliability. We are left wondering how much of this story is “true” and how much is distorted or made up.

One other thing of interest - While writing this novel, Conrad had a nervous breakdown that lasted for weeks during which he talked with the novel’s characters in Polish.
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Old 06-19-2014, 02:34 PM   #35
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Personally, this would not be one of my favourite Conrad novels. It lacks the narrative power of both Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. I agree with those who find the narrator annoying. Further, the influence of Dostoyevsky is so strong that it seems simply imitative rather than conveying the sense of a powerful psychological drama.

However, some might enjoy this excerpt from a review of the book from the 1911 issue of The North American Review: (Author not given)

"Mr. Joseph Conrad has more than great talent; he has genius; and his latest novel is one of absorbing interest. Its very defects, seeing that it is too unrelieved like that of a previous book, The Secret Agent appeal just because of the " little more" that would have so greatly strengthened and have made more effective the picture. But just here comes in this confounding of values. The picture is too unrelieved for art, and yet is doubtless admirable as history. But Mr. Conrad thoroughly knows his Russia and Russians, the land and its people, with their strange mental and moral obsessions, their worship of an Unknown God which they call Liberty. There are mighty minds that have, nevertheless, little or no selective and constructive faculty. They are like human suns and take the picture of life accurately, but their work remains photographic; and while no one ever questions the truth and use of photography, one must equally recognize its limitations. Mr. Conrad is far from being merely photographic, however, since his work has unusual psychologic and subjective qualities. For in subtle fashion does he put before us the in versions and perversions of the Russian revolutionist mind. Just as there are physical diseases due to climate and modes of living, so there are mental diseases due to political conditions. And Russian terrorism is one of them. The " subliminal uprush" of intrigue and assassination is inevitably consequent upon the schooling of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries superimposed upon the political conditions of the thirteenth. The Russian revolutionists are schooled in French, German, and English ideas, and then are expected to live submissively under a semi oriental form of government. So the strain upon the mental and moral nature is intense, and the effect alike disastrous to the individual and to the cause he seeks to serve. The motto of this book, like that of Anna Karenina, might be 'Vengeance is mine'; for life rights itself, corrects, and revenges.

"Mr. Conrad's book, somber as it is, gives an impressive idea of human nature under terrible conditions, and it is well worth a serious and careful reading by all who are interested in present history and in human, every-day life."

Last edited by fantasyfan; 06-19-2014 at 06:56 PM.
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Old 06-19-2014, 07:39 PM   #36
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Thanks for this fantasyfan - an interesting review, especially as it was written at the time, without knowing what was to come.
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Old 06-23-2014, 03:12 AM   #37
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Thanks for this fantasyfan - an interesting review, especially as it was written at the time, without knowing what was to come.
agree, great find!
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