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Customer Review

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conrad sampler, February 3, 2009
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This review is from: The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' and Other Stories (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Both previous reviewers of this edtion have focused on the title story, the 'Narcissus', which could be called a short novel or a long story. Fair enough, it is a brillant one with some issues that need discussion.
But don't overlook that this Penguin edition also contains other texts: the equally brillant sea tales 'Youth' and 'The Secret Sharer', and then some more.

'The Lagoon' is possibly the weakest story here. A white man travels in Borneo, stays over night in the house of a Malay friend, on the title lagoon, and finds that the woman of the house is dying of fever. The husband tells his guest the story how he eloped with the woman with the help of his brother, who died in the escape, killed by the pursuers. The death of the woman is seen as heavenly retribution for the desertion of the brother, and now the man will go and take revenge. Not very impressive.

'An Outpost of Progress' is a sarcastic story on the pretensions of colonialism. Two Belgian imbeciles (minor Almayers, one could say) try to run a trading station in the Congo colony and fail in cluelessness.

'The Idiots' is set in the Bretagne, where Conrad picked up the story during his honeymoon. A wealthy and anticlerical farmer gets married, so as to have sons who can inherit. Tragically, the couple is hit with misfortune and the first 3 sons turn out to have some kind of unspecified mental handicap, hence the title. The man gets talked into going to church to confess and pray for healthy offspring, but, as the Doors told us: you can't petition the Lord with prayer. The next child is not only a girl, bad enough, but again not mentally right. The parents are devastated. The man holds it against the woman, he becomes violent and abusive, she kills him in defense, gets rejected by her mother, and commits suicide.

'The Informer'is a brillant prelude to the 'Secret Agent'. We have one of the anarchists, an aristocratic traitor of his class, tell the narrator, a collector of porcelain, the story how he rooted out a police informer in a London terrorist group by faking a police raid. This is by far the strongest among the 'not sea'-stories in this volume.

'Il Conde' is about an aging count living alone in the Naples area, who gets mugged by a young Camorra (ie local mafia) member. A lot of the tension in this story comes from the fact that Conrad steps very carefully around a central aspect: the count probably solicited sexual services from the mugger. We don't know that for sure from the text, though. Conrad picked up this story from a fellow Pole when vacationing in Capri.

'The Duel' is a lengthy semi-farce about two swashbuckling cavalry officers in Napoleon's grande armee. It makes great fun of military codes of honour. The story was filmed with Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine under the name 'The Duellists'. Amusing, but not much depth here. But you can learn some about the Napoleonic times. (The Poles loved him because he promised them statehood. He couldn't quite deliver on the promise due to the winter campaign disaster, but true love withstands reality.)

If you thought of Conrad only as a seaman, here you have him in a broader spectrum. Not all of it is brillant, but none of it is uninteresting.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 3, 2009 8:11:27 PM PST
Gio says:
Good wrap-up of this book. With your previous reviews of Youth, the Secret Sharer, & Narcissus, you've made four dinners out of one leg of lamb!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 3, 2009 8:21:51 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
that must be the reason for my overweight!

Posted on Feb 3, 2009 10:19:46 PM PST
Actually, Helmut, (chuckling), overweight comes from overeating (oh my, that was tacky of me!)

"Outposts of Progress"--I was swept away to my first upper level English course: Short Stories. This was one of the stories we read. I made a C in that course because I had no clue how to read serious literature. "Rocking Horse Winner" "A Good Man Is Hard to Find''-- I want to reread this Conrad story. I bet I still have that textbook.
A memorable review!

Posted on Feb 4, 2009 5:27:25 PM PST
You certainly are quite a scholar, Hermit!
I admire you. Thanks for another good review.
Take care, Matt

Posted on Feb 4, 2009 8:29:28 PM PST
Excellent - you are truly voracious in your exhaustive exploration of Conrad's full list. I haven't heard of any of these and now it's all I desire...

Posted on Feb 4, 2009 10:16:14 PM PST
This was an interesting review, you are certainly a Conrad specialist. That story "The Idiots" seems a little depressing (well a few others do too).

Posted on Feb 5, 2009 2:29:24 PM PST
Linda Bulger says:
Not exactly a Pollyanna, our Conrad. These do look interesting though, as you say. Is there still quite a lot of Conrad to appear on your pages? An epic set, your Conrad period.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2009 3:31:16 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2009 3:35:17 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
o yes, tons more to come! rejoice!
(what is a Pollyanna, actually? something with positive thinking?)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2009 7:32:15 PM PST
Gio says:
Pollyanna, yes, positive 'thinking' but without any inkling that sometimes negative is closer to right.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2009 7:58:47 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
ok, then Conrad for sure was no such
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