Form and Philosophy in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad

Tennant, Roger (1975). Form and Philosophy in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad. PhD thesis The Open University.



It is generally accepted that Conrad's fiction is something quite unique in English literature. An attempt is made to analyse the elements that give it this distinctive flavour. Emphasis is laid on a "confessional" aspect that is always disguised, but never absent from his major works, and this is shown to be related not only to his experience at sea, where his temperament made him unsuited to the life of action, but also to his experience as an expatriate from the "barbarism" of the East who could never feel at home in the bourgeois West.

In this way he came both to question all social values, and to develop an intense self-awareness. Avoiding any kind of explicit "self-revelation", he engaged in a continual vivisection of his own soul, and expressed it in his fiction by taking a character quite unlike himself in outward attributes, investing him with his own b sensibility, and then analysing him through a narrator who represented his own critical intellect. This virtually creates the "form" of his major works, from "Youth" onwards, until in the last of them, Victory, the critical intellect becomes itself the object of interrogation.

Even in less complex works, where the "confessional" aspect is lacking, similar problems--problems of the conflict between social ideals and the irrational forces of nature, both within the psyche, and. in the external world, are his governing interest.

Another distinctive element is an attitude of pessimism very close to that of Schopenhauer, whose works he admired, while his lonely life of "self-vivisection" has also parallels with that of Nietzsche, so that mar of his themes and attitudes can be illuminated by reference to these philosophers. His childhood, French influence, and other lesser elements of the "Conredian flavour" are also discussed.

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