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Under Western Eyes (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 18, 2007
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“A century after its publication, Under Western Eyes is as compelling and as relevant to our own age as it was to an earlier age of political terrorism. John Peters’ introduction and ample appendices offer a magisterial guide to the composition of this novel, which Conrad struggled to complete at the cost of his own mental health, and to the revolutionary struggles that were an integral part of the political, social, and intellectual crises of the decade leading up to the First World War. Like other Broadview Editions, which never skimp on the materials that make for a thorough understanding of the text, this edition of Under Western Eyes is the one to read.” ― Sanford Schwartz, Pennsylvania State University
“This new edition of Under Western Eyes will significantly enhance our understanding of the novel. Peters’ introduction is lucid, informative, and extremely well written. The appendices are superbly chosen. Together, they clarify why and how Conrad wrote the novel, and why it was such a major challenge for him, artistically, personally, and psychologically. The scholarly apparatus is brilliantly done; it is concise, compelling, well written, and illuminating. Any and all readers of the novel, even those who think they already know it well, will benefit enormously from this edition.” ― Stephen Ross, University of Victoria--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The central character, Razumov, is the most dislikable anti-hero in all fiction, so it's an amazing feat of empathy by which Conrad brings us to care about his fate. Conrad's genius as a narrator is his ability to place himself and the reader in a realm of detachment, so that every event and every character can be observed from several angles at once. The "unreliable narrator" is child's play for Conrad. I don't want to spoil any of the prismatic effect of Conrad's narrative structure by telling any more of the tale of Under Western Eyes, but I will mention that the title is not insignificant.
The Russia portrayed in this novel is a land of cynicism and naivete intertwined - hyper-emotionalism and psychological repression in equal measure - omnicompetent surveillance and hopeless myopia - ruthless bureaucracy and utter disorganization - a land in short of oxymoronic self-destruction. This is NOT, however, the Russia of Communism! The novel was written in 1911! This is Russia as it existed under the Tsarist autocracy, and everything about it clamors for revolution. It's interesting to compare Conrad's portrayal of the old regime with the nostalgic and idealized version served up by Vladimir Nabokov in his memoir "Speak, Memory.Read more ›
To summarize; Razumov, the 'Hero' is a university student in Russia post 1905 but pre 1917 who keeps to himself and has no real family and no close friends. A fellow student and a revolutionary, Victor Haldin, assasinates a local oppressive Tsarist autocrat. He then takes a chance and takes momentary asylum with Razumov, asking him to help him get out of the city. Razumov is an evolutionary progressive, not a revolutionary. Not willing to risk association with a radical like Haldin and destroy his entire life, Razumov turns him in to the police, and Haldin is subsequently hung.
The rest of the novel deals with Razumov's struggle with himself- he betrayed, and he has to live with a lie. Complicating things, he falls in love with Haldin's sister in exile. Raz can't bear it though, and eventually he does the right thing, but things get messy.
Thats the general plot, but the real meat of the novel is in the characters and the ideas underlying the conversations between them. The idea of how you justify revolution, the chaos of revolution vs the order of gradual reform, the unwillingness and helplessness of the individual caught in it all. And there's a continual theme of the diference between East and West.
Razumov reminds me a bit of Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov- an isolated university student waxing the time away in a single apartment, brooding over Big Ideas and being slowly crushed by a powerful conscience. The stuff of modernity. Dostoyevsky was a little bit better, so thats why Under Western Eyes only gets 4 stars.
The most important character in the novel (I discount the narrator, as I would myself, although he is of great importance - you may think the greatest) is a young student, Razumov, who betrays Natalie's brother and then is imposed on by the powers to spy on Russian dissidents in Geneva. There he meets Natalie and others who are totally unaware of his role in Natalie's brother's betrayal and subsequent execution. But it is known that he was a fellow student of Natalie's brother so they are drawn to him. Would Natalie and Razumov become romantically allied? Only if the secret is kept?
I will not answer these questions.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The psychology, the descriptive passion, the hallucinatory dialogue, the portraits according to type, can not be bettered by any writerPublished 2 months ago by Kim Chernin
One of Conrad's three best novels -- Under Western Eyes, The Secret Agent and NostromoPublished 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very masterfully told story. To me, it ended like a symphony. Among some of Joseph Conrad's best. This one is worth reading.Published 4 months ago by OlDavyBoy
Expensive book but had to buy it as it was required reading for school.Published 6 months ago by bharat
Although Conrad was originally from Poland (which was then part of Russia), most of his books give no evidence of this; they are tales of the sea or stories taking place in England... Read morePublished 9 months ago by G W W3
Not a very good read. More like a psychological profile manual.Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
This book is free to download in amazon kindle store. I am happy to own it.Published 12 months ago by V Roy