It has been over a week and a half since I last finished a book. This is so extremely unusual. I'm trying not to hold it against the collection of books I've been reading that week in a half, but at times it's hard. I find myself eyeing Ulysses suspiciously, poking The Reality Dysfunction every once in a while to see if it's moved, or tucking The Idiot in my purse to try to get through just a little more. (Does anyone else think it's odd that a 600+ Dostoyevsky book is the only one that will fit in my purse?)
And Lord Jim, which I've also had underway for most of that time. And is the first of the bunch I actually finished.
Studying masculinity as I do, it's hard to not see Lord Jim
as a novel about what it means to be a man. Jim, as a young man, is the
epitome of what a British sailor should be like. He looks reliable, he
looks like "one of us," he's got the bearing and stature that should, if
appearances mean anything, tell you that he is to be relied upon and
If, of course, appearances mean anything. Who can you trust if you can't trust a ruddy-cheeked, healthy Englishman?
there is an incident in Jim's past, one that haunts him, that makes
him, for a while, an outcast, and even after the point where everyone
else might have forgotten what he did, his own inability to do so, his
own consciousness that that at least once, his outward appearance was
not matched by word or deed, drives him further and further away from
white colonial society, and eventually to become the only white man in
the depths of a Malay settlement, where he rises to be considered "Lord"
Jim. But even that distance may not be enough.
happened on that fateful day is shot through with ambiguity - we have
Jim's version, of course. But there are doubts that he is telling the
whole truth, or even that he knows the whole truth. Jim's story is such a
threat to others and their own identities, who see a shadowy reflection
of something they themselves might have done, that it causes it to be
more harshly judged, more critically gossiped about, and the unease it
engenders in one of his judges drives that judge to an extreme act of
If one upstanding young man can act that way, what does it mean for the masculinity of the rest?
for the experience of reading the book, I found it dragged quite a bit
for the first 50-100 pages. I had to pull myself through it by sheer
force of will, as Conrad danced around the topic of what Jim had done
without ever quite spelling it out. But then as it started to become
clear, not necessarily the event itself, but what Conrad was examining,
the instability of masculinity in a colonial world, and thus the need
for it to be ever more vigilantly guarded, I became absolutely
Then, halfway through, it started to drag again. But
by the end, I was as caught up as ever. I'm not sure if the book ebbs
and flows that way, or if some days I was in the mood for this one, and
some days I certainly wasn't.
But the issues it raised about
white male identity in a colonial world, and the betrayal of self and
the long-lasting repercussions that had for both Jim and others, the
actions to which it drove them, the judgements they made, (view spoiler)and
the final action of Jim's life, where he atones for a second mistake in
the only way he thinks he can and still retain who he is, they made this a book well worth reading.