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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars

on 15 December 2010
I am writing this review of the OUP Oxford World's Classics paperback edition. I gather from the editor's preface that there may be minor textual differences between various editions. The base text is the English first edition with the current editor (Mara Kalnins) overseeing a process of correcting misprints, misspellings and inconsistencies of punctuation. Any residual ambiguities are made the subject of clear editorial notes to be found at the end of the book. In addition the notes explain references in the text which the general reader might not immediately appreciate. There is a short glossary of technical nautical words and words specific to the South East Asian setting of the book with which 21st century readers are likely to be unfamiliar.

This edition also has an informative, lively yet scholarly introduction also by Mara Kilnins which I certainly found helpful in explaining the circumstances in which this book came into existence and Conrad's ideas and experiences which went into the form and substance of the novel.

Victory, as other reviewers have explained, is in essence a simple story. A reclusive Swedish man of some 35 years of age Axel Heyst lives on a small island in the archipelago that stretches between Java and Timor (now Indonesia but then a Dutch Colony called the Dutch East Indies). On the island is a dormant volcano. It is the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Axel Heyst is a Swede of modest but independent financial means. He spent formative years in London under the tutelage of a father who was a philosopher with a philosophy that any student of Schopenhauer will recognise. Under the influence of this pessimistic Schopenhauerian world view the young man seeks to avoid involvement in life.

However Heyst cannot remain aloof and uninvolved. He cannot suppress his compassion for the suffering of others and in particular he is moved to action by the suffering of a young English girl called Alma, later she and Axel decide on a new name - Lena. She is 19 years old, without family or friends save for a father residing in a home for incurables following a severe stroke. She earns her living playing in an all female touring orchestra. She is cruelly mistreated by those around her. Axel and Alma/Lena meet at a hotel in Surabaya run by the noxious and noisone Wilhelm Schomberg. They form a close bond of compassion and affection. They do what I suppose one might call a "moonlight flit" back to Suraban, the Island where Axel lives.

Can Axel and Lena escape from the cruelties of the world in general and fellow human beings in particular? Well, this is Conrad so I imagine you will be able to supply the answer. I will say no more about how the story unfolds as I do not want to spoil the story for people coming to this novel for the first time. Suffice it so say, this novel gripped me back when I read it at the age of 17 and it has gripped me again at the age of 52.

I found the story of Axel and Alma/Lena touching. ALma/Lena is one of Conrad's most convincingly drawn female characters. In Axel Heyst we find an essentially good man who has the seeds of destruction already within him. Anyone who has experienced the deep and pervading sorrow of existence (and which of us has not?) will, I think, closely empathise with these two brave good people. This is a great novel which for me at least is the pinnacle of Conrad's great achievement.

Just as footnote can I quote a comment about bad music which I, as a music lover, treasure? We meet Alma/Lena when she is playing in a decidedly lacklustre all woman orchestra at the hotel run by the loathsome Schomberg. Conrad observes "The Zangiacomo band was not making music; it was simply murdering silence with a vulgar, ferocious energy."

If any reader wants a quick insight into the Schopenhauerian philosophy that is such an influence on the novel, can I suggest Christopher Janaway's "Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction" OUP 2002? In the alternative R J Hollingdale's introduction to the Penguin "Schopenhauer "Eassys and Aphorisms" covers the ground very well. An in depth study of Schopenhauer is quite an undertaking but these two excellent brief studies will equip any reader with enough Schopenhauer to appreciate his role in this novel or others like Tess, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Buddenbrooks, any of Borges' novels etc etc

Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Essays and Aphorisms (Classics)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 October 2012
The story is centred on the life of Axel Heyst, a modest Swede who lives quietly, but rather aimlessly, drifting about in the area then known as the Dutch East Indies. Eventually he settles on a small island called Suraban, improbably running a coal mining business with a partner. But when the business fails and the partner dies, all the workers, bar one, leave the island. Only Heyst remains, with a solitary, rather shadowy, Chinese servant called Wang. Heyst's world is turned upside down when on a trip to a nearby island called Sourabaya he forms a bond with a very young English girl called Alma, who is experiencing a miserable life as a musician in a travelling orchestra playing at a hotel. He `rescues' her and together they return to Suraban to live. But by his act of generosity he generates a bitter enemy, the unlikeable owner of the hotel, Wilhelm Schomberg, who had unsuccessfully tried to seduce the girl. Schomberg spreads malicious rumours about Heyst and persuades two vicious criminals who are running a card sharping operation at the hotel that Heyst has treasure that they could steal. The real world intrudes on the couple's idyllic life when the villians arrive on Suraban, and the tension between them and Heyst rises. The end is violent, but who, if anyone has `Victory' is uncertain, and left for the reader to decide.

This novel is usually considered the best of the Conrad's novels from his mature years, but for me it does not stand comparison with some of his earlier work, and lacks the brooding darkness of those novels. The relationship between Heyst and Lena (as he renames her) is too unreal, as is their action in fleeing to live in isolation on Suraban. Brave they may be, but totally unrealistic as well. Their conversations and the descriptions of their feeling for one another are curiously stilted and repetitive. The best parts are the descriptions of the interactions between Heyst and the villains. Here we see Heyst is a far more complex man than he appears in earlier sections. Overall, a very interesting novel, and well worth reading, but not one of Conrad's best efforts.
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on 9 September 2006
Victory is the last of Conrad's novels set in the Malay Archipelago. A young Axel Heyst emerges from the unhappy shadow of his father, a controversial philisopher, and embarks on self-imposed exile, not only from London, but from humanity. He moves stubbornly in his separate orbit until a chance meeting with a girl who is leading a miserable life with an itinerant orchestra. They elope and try to resume Heyst's habitual seclusion, but the outside world intrudes with brutal and fatal inevitability.

Conrad, as always, writes vividly of the turmoil of man set against the terrible beauty of Nature. His style might seem faintly quaint now, but Victory is in many respects a modern novel. There is a playfulness with which Conrad presents Heyst at first in a slightly ridiculous light, but then peels away the layers of his character to reveal a complex man who is deeply misunderstood. The narrator is elusive and peripheral, which emphasizes the dream-like quality of Heyst's fugue, and rather than unfolding the narrative in a linear fashion, he passes backwards and forwards over events from a constantly shifting perspective.

Conrad comments in the preface that he wrote the last word of the book - its title - in the dying moments of peace before the outbreak of the First World War. Victory, with its skilful blending of the classical and the modern, is is some ways a great novelist's epitaph to a passing age.
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on 8 April 2017
Classic Conrad: he uses the human mind to produce a tale far stranger than any computer graphics-aided adventure. Put out of your mind the fact that it was published during WW1 and the depiction of one character is clearly influenced by anti-german sentiment of that period. As with John Buchan's anti-semitism, the author was a man of his time, not a superhuman.
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on 15 December 2012
So far, this is my favourite book of Joseph Conrad's. I found it compelling in its portrayal of characters and building up of the atmosphere. The inter-textuality, references to The Tempest added to its richness.
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on 2 September 2004
Although rarely considered Conrad's greatest achievement - and I do rate other novels of his as even better myself - this is my favourite Conrad work. Heyst is an extremely complex and subtel character; his relationship with the woman he "rescues" is sublimely erotic, yet doomed to a plausible, moving and haunting end.
The vindictive hotelkeeper makes for a banal, believable fatal prime mover in the plot; and Mr Jones and his henchmen are successfully portrayed as hilarious and frightening. The enigmatic Chinese servant that floats around Heyst is another memorable minor character.
If you love Conrad, please do read this extraordinary novel.
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on 10 January 2014
Really enjoyable read. Recommend thoroughly. Up there with Nostromo with really interesting characters and unexpected twists and turns as had no idea where the story was going but it was beautifully written as went with the story..
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on 8 September 2014
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on 30 May 2012
In my opinion this story suffers in comparison to more celebrated Conrad works as much of the dark manic verbosity is somewhat lacking.It still has its moments though and sometimes its a relief not to have struggle with a two page description of a characters tortured conscience that gets so involved you loose the context of the situation,and in that respect its an easier read, but overall it lacks richness in comparison.
As I skipped the voluminous introduction and preface I've still no idea how the title relates to the story and as one last gripe, the notes are not numbered in the text only marked with an asterisk which makes keeping track of them more than tedious for the value information they offer.
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on 18 June 2009
I have always loved Joseph Conrad and this novel is another which didn't disappoint. The plot is very subtle and yet enticingly erotic. The characters excellently moulded as always with Conrad. There is a lot about the under surface sexual tension which remind me of DH Lawrence's work and this was written about the same time as Lawrence would have been writing `Sons and Lovers'.

Overall although this isn't my favourite of Conrad (that being `Lord Jim') this is still an excellent read.
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