Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Book Review
Lord Jim
by Joseph Conrad
with a general introduction by Albert J. Guerard
p. 1899
This Edition:  The Laurel Conrad (DELL 5032) p. 1971

  The end of the year brings so many lists, and Lord Jim has made its share.   It's been touted by Modern Library and Le Monde for being in the "TOP 100" novels of the century.  Reading Lord Jim for the first time, I was struck by how pulpy the experience was.

  First, the book itself, a vintage early 1970s paperback that is of the size and weight to be sold in racks at a drug store magazine aisle in Topeka, Kansas.  The cover shows a fierce looking guy glowering, and next to that is a drawing of men cast adrift at sea- perched precariously acrest a wave.

  No doubt Lord Jim's classic status is over ascribed to the obvious psychological sophistication and under ascribed to the sheer mass market appeal of Conrad's exotic locations and multiple levels of accessibility.  Conrad is like a children's tv show that puts in stuff for grown-ups on the sly.

  Note that Lord Jim was originally published as a magazine serial, a mode of publication that requires popular audience interest.  When you are talking about the reaction of an audience to a specific cultural product, it is best to use the term "reception" to take into the account that there is a critical and popular response to every cultural product which is published.

  Lord Jim was published in serial the same year Heart of Darkness was published in book form: quite a one-two punch.  If you look at Conrad's Bibliography, it's very much the familiar pattern of an Artist achieving critical success early and popular success late.  Certainly, Conrad's catalog is not as well established as a Charles Dickens.  I would actually say that Heart of Darkness is really, really the only true, lasting hit, but obviously it's a "novella" so in some sense it must not "count."

    Heart of Darkness relates to Lord Jim exactly the same way an early 7" or EP relates to an LP relates for a musician: The first record demonstrates market potential to the audience, the second record fulfills that potential in the market place. Repeat. 

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