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Conrad's lost masterpiece?,
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This review is from: The Arrow of Gold (Kindle Edition)
It's fair to say that this novel, produced towards the end of Conrad's career, has fallen into a certain obscurity. It hasn't helped that FR Leavis, the famous English critic who championed Conrad's literary reputation, thought it was a bit rubbish and so it has languished since then. I'll be honest and say - despite having read a lot of Conrad's work - I'd never heard of it until I stumbled on it while browsing on Amazon. And reading around, it was apparently written at the request of Conrad's publisher for a "pot-boiler" adventure novel
So, I started it with very low expectations. Maybe that was a good thing because I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is.
Firstly, it's a love story. And within the confines of its late Victorian setting and Conrad's heavily descriptive style, it is extremely intense and passionate. In Victorian (and earlier) novels, it's common for characters to disagree and argue in very polite terms, indicating displeasure with a particular phrase. (think of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy for example). So when one of these polite drawing room scenes ends in an intense row between the narrator and Rita I found it genuinely shocking.
It's also a very claustrophobic novel. Almost all the action takes place in drawing rooms, salons or living rooms. Despite the fact that there is a civil war taking place, and the narrator is running guns for the rebels, this is almost incidental. And as a result the dramatic finale is extremely tense.
I can see why some don't like the book. It is very dialogue heavy, and in Conrad's usual way very descriptive. Rita herself appears to form one of the "idealised" women that Conrad has been accused of creating - although to me she comes across as a powerful woman who is frustrated at living in a male dominated society and having to exercise her power through manipulation and influence, rather than directly.
Conrad has been accused of racism in the past (though there are plenty of counter arguments) and it's interesting therefore that he makes the thoroughly unpleasant Captain Blunt (the narrator's love rival) a confederate (and by implication a former slave plantation owner) who has left the US because of their defeat in the Civil War.
The similarity of plot between this novel and Casablanca has been noted by a few, and certainly this is one of Conrad's more "film-friendly" novels - though it never has been to my knowledge.
Maybe "a lost masterpiece" is a slight exaggeration. But worthy of a reappraisal? Definitely
One final point - as a free Kindle book, transcribed by volunteers, there are several proofing/typing errors - more than you'd expect in a professionally produced version. Not a major annoyance but worth being aware of.
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Initial post: 13 Sep 2013 01:57:05 BDT
I've found that even less than top-notch Conrad is good and better than a lot of stuff now classified as great. As for Leavis, he was extremely tendentious and I doubt whether many now find his criticism that convincing. Anyone who dismisses Dickens (apart from his worst novel Hard Times) must have a blind spot somewhere.
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