The contrasts of light and darkness, of land and sea, of innocence and experience common to Conrad's work are present in a vibrant way in Chance. Conrad's use of dialogue and physical description are also well-established techniques used in this work to great advantage. What is missing, however, is his generally poetic tone. In part, the change in tone is attributable to the necessity Marlow feels to explain each phase of the history he relates, which he is part of, and which he helps to change. The burden of narration, of storytelling, outweighs the tendency to brooding reflection and analysis characteristic of the earlier Marlow and Conrad. The narrative technique is a discontinuous narrative told over several meetings to the unnamed listener. Conrad then weaves the narratives of the Fynes, Powell, and Flora into Marlow's story, which moves back and forth in time over a period of several years. This is not an uncommon technique in Conrad but is exercised with chronological clarity in each attempt to delve into the past and to set the record straight regarding the full circumstances of each chance that forms part of the main Chance.
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Chance chronicles the potentially devastating effects of capital venture upon several characters, principally Flora de Barral whose father, exposed as a swindler, is revealed as merely an inept financier, more a victim of his scheme than a predator. Conrad probes the English class structure, chiefly the middle class and, to an extent, the world of governesses and domestic help. His presentation of the world of finance and capital venture follows the career of the unfortunate de Barral and amply illustrates both the sphere of finance and the courts and men of law eager to be in on the kill. But the central focus is on Flora in the role of social outcast who, under the weight of her alienation first appears to Marlow when she contemplates suicide on the edge of a precipice. Another focus of the narrative derives from its title, the chances or opportunities given to the several characters, among them Powell, Captain Anthony, Flora, de Barral, and Marlow himself; in Marlow's case this applies to chance meetings, the chance of arranging matters between Powell and Flora as the story ends, and the chance of telling the whole tale to his younger, unnamed acquaintance. The place of fate or chance in human endeavors has both positive and negative outcomes, but the main chances with which the tale begins and ends are affirmative, so that, like the role of chance in "The Secret Sharer," chance here has a life-affirming role in the narrator's concept of self and of...
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Conrad's principal literary precedent for the elaborately contrived swindles is found in the novels of Dickens, especially in his depiction of the Anglo-Bengalee fraud of Tigg Montagne in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844) and in some segments of Little Dorritt (1855-1857) and Our Mutual Friend (1864-1866) as they relate to wealth. The many coincidences or chances in the novel share in the novelistic traditions that make virtues of chance meetings; again Dickens comes to mind as one who perfected the technique. Indeed Chance closely resembles the plot of a Dickens novel; Conrad's novel contains a damsel in distress who is idealized and sentimentalized, and a parent who is the victim of his own manias and whose burden the daughter must bear. Indeed de Barral has much in common with Nell's grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841). And, surprisingly for Conrad's readers, Chance has no tragic ending but the promise of a happy one for Flora and Powell and for Marlow as well. These and other similarities with Dickens' works help account for the instant popularity of the novel.
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Marlowe appears as the narrator in several of Conrad's stories and novels, but his role varies. As in Heart of Darkness (1902), the characters listening to Marlow in "Youth" are the Director of Companies, the man of finance, the man of law and the teller of the tale. Marlow is, again, the principal actor and narrator of his own experience as second mate who gets his first command in a lifeboat of the ill-fated Judea and so lays eyes upon the East for the first time. Captain Beard and the first mate Mahon play important roles to Marlow who is bent on exploring the valor, strength, foolishness, optimism and evanescence of his own youth and youth generally.
The Marlow of Heart of Darkness is stronger than the present Marlow who is too deeply involved with his own past to avoid sentimentality and so becomes a victim of narrational and perhaps authorial irony, particularly if one recalls that the young Marlow of the tale is now about the age of Captain Beard in the story, sixty. In one sense the present Marlow is purged of idealism in "Youth" (written 1898) to appear in a stronger guise in Heart of Darkness (written 1899).
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