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Under Western Eyes [Paperback]

Joseph Conrad

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Book Description

10 April 2013
To begin with I wish to disclaim the possession of those high gifts of imagination and expression which would have enabled my pen to create for the reader the personality of the man who called himself, after the Russian custom, Cyril son of Isidor—Kirylo Sidorovitch—Razumov. If I have ever had these gifts in any sort of living form they have been smothered out of existence a long time ago under a wilderness of words. Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality. I have been for many years a teacher of languages. It is an occupation which at length becomes fatal to whatever share of imagination, observation, and insight an ordinary person may be heir to.

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About the Author

Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) was a Polish British novelist, who became a British subject in 1886. He is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in English, though he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties (and then always with a marked Polish accent). He wrote stories and novels, predominantly with a nautical or seaboard setting, that depict trials of the human spirit by the demands of duty and honor. Conrad was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature. While some of his works have a strain of romanticism, he is viewed as a precursor of modernist literature. His narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many authors. Films have been adapted from or inspired by Conrad's Victory, Lord Jim, The Secret Agent, An Outcast of the Islands, The Rover, The Shadow Line, The Duel, Heart of Darkness, and Nostromo. Writing in the heyday of the British Empire, Conrad drew upon his experiences in the French and later the British Merchant Navy to create short stories and novels that reflect aspects of a worldwide empire while also plumbing the depths of the human soul. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not the best effort from this great author 6 Sep 2012
By E.J. Kaye - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Very similar in many ways to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. A Russian student turns in an assassin and lives to regret it as he enters a relationship with the assassin's daughter. The pop in this comes from the narrator, an Englishman with a Russian background (much like Conrad, except for his being Polish). His 'western' outlook is a challenge in understanding the other characters, and makes the point that the West could not understand in depth the Russian mind.

The prose is adequate, but the story moves a bit too slowly for my taste. Worth reading, but not one of the works by this tremendous author that I can put in the first rank of his work.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Russian Novel... 13 Dec 2011
By David Craig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Under Western Eyes is about living in a time of revolutionary urgency, individual fragility in a delicate system, and personal honor.

Razumov, the 'Hero' is a university student in Russia post 1905 but pre 1917 who keeps to himself and has no real family and no close friends. A fellow student and a revolutionary, Victor Haldin, assasinates a local oppressive Tsarist autocrat. He then takes a chance and takes momentary asylum with Razumov, asking him to help him get out of the city. Razumov is an evolutionary progressive, not a revolutionary. Not willing to risk association with a radical like Haldin and destroy his entire life, Razumov turns him in to the police, and Haldin is subsequently hung.

The rest of the novel deals with Razumov's struggle with himself- he betrayed, and he has to live with a lie. Complicating things, he falls in love with Haldin's sister in exile. Raz can't bear it though, and eventually he does the right thing, but things get messy.

Thats the general plot, but the real meat of the novel is in the characters and the ideas underlying the conversations between them. The idea of how you justify revolution, the chaos of revolution vs the order of gradual reform, the unwillingness and helplessness of the individual caught in it all. And there's a continual theme of the difference between East and West.

The Russia portrayed in this novel is a land of cynicism and naivete intertwined - hyper-emotionalism and psychological repression in equal measure - omnicompetent surveillance and hopeless myopia - ruthless bureaucracy and utter disorganization - a land in short of oxymoronic self-destruction. This is NOT, however, the Russia of Communism! The novel was written in 1911! This is Russia as it existed under the Tsarist autocracy, and everything about it clamors for revolution. It's interesting to compare Conrad's portrayal of the old regime with the nostalgic and idealized version served up by Vladimir Nabokov in his memoir "Speak, Memory." Nabokov wrote far more beautiful sentences, but Conrad saw deeper. The horror for us, post-Stalinist readers, in Conrad's depiction of the pre-revolutionary state-of-things is that we KNOW that change will not change much, that autocratic, arbitrary repression will be replaced by...more of the same.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Under Western Eyes 12 Dec 2011
By John Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Received the book on time and it wasn't too expensive. It is a very strange edition, though. The pages are larger than those in an ordinary novel and I found it to be a bit awkward to read. It kind of looks like someone printed it off at Kinko's. Also, there are a few points where the text runs together where there should have been breaks. For example, the second to last chapter runs into the last chapter without any seperation. This was a bit confusing. I wasn't sure if the last chapter was there or not when I first read it. Everything is there, but its not a perfect edition. If you can get past the strange format and occasional typographical slip-ups, go ahead and buy it. Its a good copy to mark up if you're studying it like I was, but I was less than impressed with its overall quality.
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriging story 5 Sep 2013
By emily dickinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book was well bound. Agreeable to hold, Type was very readable and the story raised many questions worth discussing.
4.0 out of 5 stars Imbecility whether from the right or the left 17 July 2013
By Greg Deane - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Written in 1911, Joseph Conrad wrote of "Under Western Eyes" that by 1920 that it had already "become already a sort of historical novel dealing with the past", given the changes that had occurred in Russia in particular in one short decade.

Even so, Conrad felt justified in congratulating himself on his prescience, voiced through his three principal characters: Haldin, Razumov, and Councillor Mikulin. He claims to have written the work with a detachment, and believes that is the reason for its lukewarm reception in England, though during the Russian Revolution it became widely read among the revolutionaries, though perhaps not the universal recognition for which Conrad congratulated himself, given the low levels of literacy in Russia at that time. Also, his claim to detachment is questionable given his resentment of the Russian state that had imprisoned his father.

Conrad explores conditions that existed in pre-revolutionary Russia that seem at least plausible in an autocracy, including tyrannical lawlessness, leading to a generalised despair. The detachment Conrad claimed to employ was intended to provide a perspective of a mysterious and feared land as seen through Western Eyes, specifically those of the narrator, an old teacher of languages. Despite his grasp of language, his eyes are unable to grasp the descent into mayhem unfolding before him, though he has a sense of what is to come.

The narrator is caught up in the drama that unfolds vicariously as he examines a journal left by a young, Razumov, who has no family, and who hopes to study in order to lift himself up through a career. Being ambitious, he keeps himself aloof from his more politically active peers. He is therefore taken aback when he finds a fellow student, Victor Haldin hiding in his apartment, confessing to him he has just committed a political assassination, and wants Razumov's help to escape the police. The entanglement is unwelcome to Razumov who sees his pathway out of obscurity and poverty being lost to him. Razumov is reputed to be Conrad's response to Dostoievki's protagonist, Raskolnikov, of a protagonist drawn into a web of intrigue and crime because of the demands of conscience. He contrasts with Raskolnikov who hopes to prove that he cannot commit murder of a social parasite without suffering the anguish of guilt.

In the ensuing battle of conscience, Conrad pits the ruthless "ferocity and imbecility of an autocratic rule rejecting all legality" that "provokes the no less imbecile and atrocious answer of a purely Utopian revolutionism" that led to the dystopian USSR.
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