Monday, September 19, 2011

Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Years ago, when my wife and I were first married and had absolutely no money, I signed up to receive a book a month from The Easton Press. That decision nearly ended my marriage (numerous times). I wanted them because they were the classics, and with their leather binding, I loved the way they looked on the bookshelf. My wife was right though, I should have cancelled them after they sent the first one. But I didn't (and I'm still married,) so now every so often I take one of them down and I read it. When I do, I always feel a little tinge of residual guilt due to the monthly conflict that it caused. But these really are good books, so the guilt doesn't last long.

Lord Jim was published at the very end of the 19th century, just after Joseph Conrad published one of his other classic books: Heart of Darkness. It's about a man who lives on the sea. As a young man he gets a job aboard the Patna and spends much of his time dreaming about one day becoming a hero. It's on this ship that he gets that opportunity. When the ship collides with the wreckage of another boat in the middle of the night, Jim is sent down to determine the extent of the damage. What he sees leads him to believe that the ship's hull is close to breaching and that the Patna will soon sink. The crew decides to abandon ship and to ensure their survival, decides not to wake the sleeping passengers, leaving them behind to go down with the ship. Jim decides that he is too insignificant a member of the crew to go against their decision, and leaves with them.

Unfortunately for Jim, the Patna doesn't sink, and its passengers are rescued by another vessel and the crew of the Patna faces a judicial investigation where Jim becomes the scape goat and is the only one punished for the abandonment. Jim's decision to go along with his crew mates haunts him for the rest of his life and it becomes a defining moment for him. The rest of his life is spent running away from anything that reminds him of his experience on the Patna. Eventually he finds success in a fictional region called Patusan where he becomes a leader among the native inhabitants and ultimately finds a measure of redemption when he gives his life in their defense.

Lord Jim is a great story. At times it's a little slow and tends to get confusing at times as the narrator jumps back and forth in time, recounting the history of Jim as he had become aware of it through the reports of people he met throughout his life. But the themes in this book are what I think have elevated it to the ranks of classic English Literature.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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