Enthusiasms

Containing whatever I enthuse over

Victory: an Island Tale

Posted by clissold345 on November 21, 2008

Here are a few notes on Joseph Conrad’s novel Victory, which I have just finished reading.

When Heyst meets Lena it is her voice that captivates him:

“But her voice! It seduced Heyst by its amazing quality. It was a voice fit to utter the most exquisite things, a voice which would have made silly chatter supportable and the roughest talk fascinating. Heyst drank in its charm as one listens to the tone of some instrument without heeding the tune.” (Part 2, chapter 1)

I confess that Conrad’s exceptional writing style has much the effect on me as Lena’s voice on Heyst. Heyst is a very limited character but Conrad keeps me interested in him. Once Jones, Ricardo, and Pedro arrive on Samburan the novel descends into melodrama but Conrad (mostly) keeps me interested anyway.

The key chapters are perhaps Part 3 chapters 1 to 5, which cover Heyst’s and Lena’s relationship on Samburan before the arrival of the Threat from Outside (that is, Jones, Ricardo, and Pedro). Heyst is still repeating his father’s ideas, the ideas he has lived by for so many years:

“I only know that he who forms a tie is lost. The germ of corruption has entered into his soul.” (Part 3, chapter 3)

He doesn’t entirely realise that he has (partially) abandoned his father’s ideas:

“The girl he had come across, of whom he had possessed himself, to whose presence he was not yet accustomed, with whom he did not yet know how to live; that human being so near and still so strange, gave him a greater sense of his own reality than he had ever known in all his life.” (Part 3, chapter 3)

Heyst doesn’t entirely understand Lena, and Lena doesn’t entirely understand Heyst. She thinks of him as “a strange being without needs”, whereas in fact she is essential to him, he needs her. In the melodramatic climax to the novel Heyst and Lena, without checking with the other, decide on a plan to safeguard the other: Heyst orders Lena to flee while he distracts the villains and Lena decides that Heyst will be saved if she can somehow gain possession of the villains’ knife. Heyst acts to save Lena but he will not act if it is just himself who is in danger.

Jones, Ricardo, and Pedro are creatures of melodrama. They are instantly recognisable each time they reappear, Conrad’s descriptions of them are, by his high standards, (mostly) lazy and repetitive, they have little or no inner life. (However, Ricardo has more inner life than the other two.)

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