Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Baron Axel Heyst
Baron Axel Heyst, a man who has deliberately attempted to stand aloof from life, an effort that has made him a pathetic man if not a tragic one. He is innately and fastidiously virtuous, but by detaching himself from the entanglements and consequences of experience he has made himself incapable of coping with evil. Consequently, when he is forced to defend Lena, the only person he has ever dared or tried to love, he fails miserably and destroys himself. He is characterized aptly by epithets: His apparent willingness to drift forever within a “magic circle” in the East Indies earns him the name “Enchanted Heyst”; his naïve optimism, the “Utopist”; his attempt to establish organized trade in the islands, “the Enemy”; his isolated retirement on Samburan, “the Hermit”; and his alleged exploitation of Morrison, his former partner, “the Spider.” After Lena dies as the result of a wound inflicted by Mr. Jones, Heyst sets fire to his bungalow and burns himself and her body.
Lena, the new name Heyst gives to Alma, a young entertainer in Zangiacomo’s orchestra, after he meets her while she is performing at Wilhelm Schomberg’s hotel in Sourabaya. He quixotically thinks that the new name symbolizes her break with her sordid past. It is to Lena that the “victory” of the title applies. Realizing that Heyst is completely incapable of meeting evil with action, she resolves, out...
(The entire section is 830 words.)
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Whatever happens in Victory, readers must admit that it contains a memorable cast. The central figure is Axel Heyst, a Swedish Count, and the son of a disenchanted philosopher whose pessimistic books discourage involvement in life. The elder Heyst, whose influence hangs over his son's actions, much as his portrait hangs in Heyst's bungalow, appears to have espoused a philosophy modeled on Arthur Schopenhauer's intellectual pessimism. Perhaps more relevant to a discussion of the younger Heyst is the presence of several parallels between Heyst and Hamlet. Both Hamlet and Heyst are Scandinavian in heritage, both are aristocrats, both are greatly influenced by a father's spirit, and both are brooding and philosophical personalities whose characteristic stance is a detachment from action and involvement in human life.
The parallels extend further. Heyst's sympathetic actions toward Morrison and Lena lead him away from his isolation from humanity and involve him with others, much as Hamlet's acts of kindness and his feeling for Ophelia take him away from his brooding on revenge. Heyst's immediate failure to act decisively when Lena and he are threatened is also Hamlet-like, and his suicide after Lena's death reaffirms parallels with Hamlet, whose methods of avenging his father turn out to be self-destructive.
In Heyst, Conrad seems to have written a study about the attractions of withdrawal from humanity and the tragedies attendant on such...
(The entire section is 1507 words.)