Chance Characters (Joseph Conrad)

Joseph Conrad


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Charles Marlow, resurrected from an earlier lustrum, is both the narrator of the tale, its architect, and a principal actor whose chance encounters with other of the characters serve to link their lives in unexpected ways. As in "Youth" he reminisces with his new acquaintance, Powell, who agrees that "the happiest time in their lives was as youngsters in good ships." But Marlow has changed in the decade since his last narrational appearance: he is more long-winded but also more observant and can now attach meanings to his observations and can draw upon his knowledge to offer guidance, somewhat reluctantly at first, to the Fynes and Flora, then quite freely to Flora, and finally quite avuncularly to Powell and Flora. He is no longer a mere observer and commentator but allows his life to be touched, in hitherto uncharacteristic ways, as if by some secret sharer of his existence.

Flora de Barral first excites Marlow's interest and exasperation by her unaccountable actions, then his pity as he learns her story as a child ill-used by servants once her father is jailed, then his admiration as she purposefully sets her course with Anthony, and ultimately a friendly interest as he counsels her to make Powell a happy man. Powell himself is presented sympathetically, a fellow of the craft of seafaring, whose devotion to Flora is not at all the negative ruling passion it might have been in an earlier work of Conrad's but a life-giving, positive quality deserving of...

(The entire section is 304 words.)