I’m actually a little bit glad my old copy of Lord Jim took a walk. I feel like having a new copy of the book allowed me to have a fresh start without having the jumble of emotions tied up with my old copy: “Look how yellowed it is! I’m so old! Ugh, I hated carrying this book back and forth to school! Look how messed up it is and it smells funny.” I bought my new copy of the Penguin Classics edition at Beer’s Books in Sacramento and then stopped at Barnes and Noble in Natomas, had a Venti Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher, and read the first few chapters with pen in hand. It was a nice day.
The most traumatic part of finally reading this book from beginning to end is that I actually enjoyed it. It was good, and Conrad is a beautiful writer. Yes, it’s slow moving, especially at the beginning. Yes, the writing style is what Fr. Murphy used to call “dense prose.” Dense really is an understatement. You have to kind of chew on it and think and then reread, sometimes more than once, to get all the information out of it. I found this somewhat annoying now; I can only imagine how much it would have pissed me off when I was seventeen. And yes, the end is far from satisfying. But there’s a reason why people are still reading it over one hundred years after it was written. There’s so much to say about it. I underlined so many passages that I wanted to share with you guys, most of which I doubt I’ll have a chance to mention. Just know that if you can get past the obstacles, which are not small, this book is worth the effort.
If I were to make a list of books a person shouldn’t even attempt reading until he or she is out of his or her twenties, Lord Jim would be on that list. It might be the first one on the list. Rereading books is not something I’ve ever done, unless skimming a book in a series I’m reading before starting the newest one. I feel like there’s so many books in the world, why waste one’s time rereading old ones? Seriously, Lord Jim was a completely different experience the second time around. Gone was the hostility; I don’t even understand what there was about that book to feel hostile about. I mean, Jim made me awfully angry at the end, but I never even go to the end of the book the first time around. So how would I know of his failure?
Jim became the first mate of the Patna “without ever having been tested by those events of the sea that show in the light of day the inner worth of a man, the edge of his temper, and the fibre of his stuff; that reveal the quality of his resistance and the secret truth of his pretences, not only to others but also to himself (p. 10).” There’s also mention made earlier on in this passage about how the love of the work of a sailor “eluded” Jim. Conrad reveals all of Jim’s personality flaws that will come into play later on in the first paragraph of chapter II. He’s a genius! Of course, I didn’t remember all this until I went back and reread it today, but that is beside the point.
Joseph Conrad loved the sea; he loved the South Pacific. This love shines through in every description he writes in Lord Jim. Maybe it’s this love that helped me to enjoy this book more this time around. This was the first passage I marked that I felt showcased the beauty of Conrad’s descriptions of the sea. On page 15: “A marvelous stillness pervaded the world, and the stars, together with the serenity of their rays, seemed to shed upon the earth the assurance of everlasting security. The young moon recurved, and shining low in the west, was like a slender shaving thrown up from a bar of gold, and the Arabian Sea, smooth and cool to the eye like a sheet of ice, extended its perfect level to the perfect circle of a dark horizon.” Go ahead and read it a couple of times to let the words soak in. This is how the entire book is; it’s like bathing in words. Sometimes it’s like drowning, too….
The ending was surprising; I was led to believe by Marlow (who seemed like a reliable narrator) that Jim had changed. But he hadn’t. Or maybe he was afraid to be that person he was who fled the Patna; he was so afraid to fail that he wouldn’t even try to succeed. He is afraid to decide and make the wrong decision, and so his idyll in Patusan is destroyed. In rereading the last few pages of Lord Jim just now I’m struck by the hopelessness rolling off Jim. Everything is ruined, his best friend is killed, and there appears to be no going back. He simply gives up. So much of the words on these pages is beautiful and descriptive and reminds me of hopelessness I have felt in my life at various awful times. I could type it all in but then this review would never end, and you’d all get bored and stop reading. And it’s more important that we have readers. Bethany said Fr. Murphy called Jim’s affliction “diseased romanticism,” and I don’t remember that (wherever do these English teachers get phrases like that?), but it seems like a good description. Probably if he were alive today he would be in therapy and on a number of anti-depressant medications.
No one believes me that Lord Jim is worth a second glance. I told my boss she should read it (she’s a big reader too, even though she mocks me for having a book blog), and she said something along the lines of “not on your life.” There may have been profanity. But it is. I wish someone would believe me and pick it up again. It’s not easy going, and certainly not a book to be read with a tired brain—anything I read before bed I ended up rereading the next night—but I’ll be grateful for the lesson I learned from this book. And that lesson is that seventeen year olds reading books for AP English class are not always the best critics. I’m going to go into the rest of the Challenge with more of an open mind, which will be especially important in the dead of winter when we unearth Henry James.