This Time “Lord Jim”

So, I made my way through “Lord Jim” a second time, as I promised myself that I would do after reading “Victory”.

It’s an interesting character study.  “Jim” (no last name, like he came from nowhere) is a crew member on the Patna, a ship buffeted by bad weather, springing a major leak, and making it clear it would sink with 800 Muslim pilgrims on board.  The captain and certain other crew members decide to abandon the ship and its passengers in a life boat.  Jim is not among them, but is tending to a fatally injured crew member who was one of the absconders.  The men in the lifeboat don’t know that their friend is dead and keep yelling “jump”.  Jim does not intend to jump, but rather to go down with the ship, as sailors are to do, but something happens (he is not sure what) and he jumps.  He is saved.

The boat does not sink and everyone is rescued.  Jim and others are arrested for abandoning the ship.  The others, again, abscond, but Jim refuses to.  He jumped one time; he is racked by guilt.  He will not do it again.

By chance, Jim meets Marlow, the narrator of “Heart of Darkness” and of most of this book.  After his trial, it is clear that no one will hire Jim to serve on a ship, and his only job possibilities that Marlow can help him with are undesirable shore jobs.  Jim is willing to take the jobs, but not willing to disclose his past, so whenever his past looks like it might come out, he disappears.  Finally, Marlow connects Jim with Stein, who runs a major trading company and needs a man to try to resurrect his post on the island of Patusan.

Patusan is a dangerous place, home to competing tribes, no friend of the white man or trader.  But Jim accepts with relish and again is determined to do everything right – trade, relations with all the natives, everything.  He even finds a beautiful young woman, the daughter of his crazed predecessor.  He vows not to leave Patusan (he has nowhere to go, anyway), and not to leave his beautiful girlfriend.

Things on Patusan tense up, especially after another white bounty hunter and his men show up on the island, and he knows that his life is in danger from many sides.  But perhaps things will work out, and if they don’t……..

So the book has some similarities to “Victory”.  The East Indies, white traders, ships, native tribes, a ‘lost’ hero fleeing to an island with no whites, a beautiful young girl friend.  You see the connections.  (Even one character shows up in both – Schomberg, the German innkeeper, here with only a cameo appearance, and 15 years later in “Victory” as a major protagonist.)

But the books are very different.  “Victory” reads like a normal 19th century novel.  It follows a story line with short paragraphs, a mixture of dialogue and narrative, and few diversions.  “Lord Jim” is completely different – lengthy sentences that can run lines and lines, lengthy paragraphs that can run pages and pages, the majority of the books in quotation marks, because we are listening to Marlow’s story as he tells it.  The chronology is non-linear.  You see Jim awaiting trial well before you know why, to give an example. Somewhat stream of consciousness, filled with diversions, long descriptions filled with adjectives, many words that neither you nor anyone else have seen before.  It’s considered one of the first “modern” novels, and clearly it would be a literary shocker in the early 19th century.

But I didn’t enjoy or appreciate it now any more than I did when I first read it, decades ago.  And although there are many rave reviews on Goodreads, I am not sure that I understand why it is considered such a classic.


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