Conrad's Marlow

Conrad's Marlow: Narrative and death in 'Youth', Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Chance

Paul Wake
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 160
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    Conrad's Marlow
    Book Description:

    Variously described as ‘the average pilgrim’, a ‘wanderer’, and ‘a Buddha preaching in European clothes’, Charlie Marlow is the voice behind Joseph Conrad’s ‘Youth’ (1898), Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900) and Chance (1912). Conrad’s Marlow offers a comprehensive account and critical analysis of one of Conrad’s most celebrated creations, asking both who and what is Marlow: a character or a narrator, a biographer or an autobiographical screen, a messenger or an interpreter, a bearer of truth or a misguided liar? Reading Conrad’s fiction alongside the work of Walter Benjamin, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger, and offering an investigation into the connection between narrative and death, this book argues that Marlow’s essence is located in his liminality – in his constantly shifting position – and that the emergence of meaning in his stories is at all points bound up with the process of his storytelling.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-197-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. A note on the texts
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. viii-xii)
  6. Introduction: Marlow, realism, hermeneutics
    (pp. 1-15)

    Charlie Marlow, whose forename is given on only two occasions, is the most celebrated of Conrad’s narrator-characters. Variously described as ‘not in the least typical’, ‘the average pilgrim’, a ‘wanderer’, and ‘a Buddha preaching in European clothes’, Marlow is the voice behind ‘Youth’ (1898),Heart of Darkness(1899),Lord Jim(1900) andChance(1912).¹ All four stories, whose texts are supposedly faithful reproductions of his words, are transcribed by an unnamed and largely unobtrusive narrator, or narrators, of whom we learn little beyond the fact that he has, like Marlow, some connection to the sea and, we are invited to...

  7. 1 Marlow: ‘Youth’ and the oral tradition
    (pp. 16-35)

    The description of Marlow given in theOxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad, distilling, as it does, decades of critical discussion, provides a useful place from which to begin a study of his role, its authors tell us:

    He has often been seen as Conrad’s autobiographical alter ego, since his narratives are based on Conrad’s own experiences in the ill-fatedPalestine(‘Youth’) or in the Congo (‘Heart of Darkness’). At the same time, Conrad and Marlow differ fundamentally in their ethnic background (Marlow is an Englishman, without Slavic origins) and their marital status (Marlow never marries, and becomes increasingly misogynist).¹


  8. 2 Heart of Darkness and death
    (pp. 36-65)

    Heart of Darkness, as even the most cursory of readings will reveal, is a novel that is preoccupied with death: its 118 pages are littered with representations of the dying and the dead, and death is referred to on almost every second page. From the moment that Marlow steps into the shoes of Fresleven, his murdered predecessor, ‘killed in a scuffle with the natives’, the death toll rises: Marlow variously recalls: a Swede who hangs himself, discarded slaves ‘dying slowly … in the greenish gloom’, an ‘invalid agent from up-country’ dying in a corner of the accountant’s office, a ‘middle-aged...

  9. 3 Lord Jim and the structures of suicide
    (pp. 66-100)

    InWriting as RescueJeffrey Berman makes the claim that ‘a higher suicide rate inheres within Conrad’s world than within that of any other major novelist writing in English’, a bold statement that Todd G. Willy echoes, identifying a ‘chronic epidemic of suicides that broke out in the late Victorian fiction of Joseph Conrad’, whilst Ian Watt notes that ‘the role of suicide in Conrad’s fiction is certainly of exceptional importance.’¹ Certainly there is a prodigious suicide rate among Conrad’s characters. Jocelyn Baines counts nine ‘leading’ characters who commit suicide inJoseph Conrad: A Critical Biography, C. B. Cox lists...

  10. 4 Chance and the truth of literature
    (pp. 101-127)

    Conrad’s conception of the artist’s work as an act of ‘translation’ in which the writer wrestles with words ‘worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage’ evinces a similar concern to that of the Russian formalists who set literature the task of responding to the ‘habituation’ of perception and an everyday language that, through its very overuse, ‘devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war’.¹ In his attempts to ‘appeal to the senses’, which are close to the formalist notion of defamiliarization, Conrad repeatedly allies the processes of reading with the processes of perception – making the...

  11. Epilogue: the sense of an ending
    (pp. 128-135)

    Who exactly is Charlie Marlow? Or, is it perhaps more appropriate to ask ‘what’ exactly is Charlie Marlow? In its attempts to get to grips with Conrad’s most famous creation, this study has certainly approached Marlow in both senses: asking of him both who and what. Is Marlow a character or a narrator, a biographer or an autobiographical screen, a messenger or an interpreter, a bearer of the truth or a misguided liar? It might be expected of a conclusion to offer a definitive answer to one, or all, of these questions, but following an argument that has been concerned...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 136-142)
  13. Index
    (pp. 143-145)