Lord Jim Critical Overview
by Joseph Conrad

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

In the 1992 article Lord Jim: After the Truth, Ross C. Murfin notes that the book "was generally well received" on its first publication in 1900. Murfin says that reviewers were fond of "the novel's romance, the faraway feelings it evoked, and the original poetry of Conrad's language." However, they "decidedly did not like....Conrad's way of telling his story, the odd narrative method that gives structure to the novel." The anonymous reviewer in the New York Tribune notes that even though the book "is a long narrative ... it should be read, if possible, at a sitting....because Mr. Conrad's mode of composition demands it." However, this reviewer was ultimately able to look past what could be an inconvenience and declared Lord Jim "a book of great originality, and it exerts a spell such as is rarely encountered in modern fiction." Another anonymous reviewer, for the Spectator, called the book "a strange narrative" and named it "Mr. Conrad's latest and greatest work."

Reviewers throughout the twentieth century had various reactions to the work, which was in retrospect identified as a modernist creation for its tendency to break the narrative conventions of the day. Although many early critics were confused by Conrad's ambiguous narrative structure, later critics, such as Paul B. Armstrong in the 1950s, note that Marlow "paradoxically feels at times that he knows less about Jim the more he acquires opinions about him. Each interpretation seems 'true,' at least to some extent." Another critic from the 1950s, Albert J. Guerard, notes the ambiguity of the novel but talks about the "psycho-moral" implications, which have "no easy solution."

In 1979, Ian Watt, in Conrad in the Nineteenth Century, drew attention to the sources that Conrad used in his composition, following the progression of the novel from its first appearance as a small sketch. Watt believes that understanding this path is important "because it provides some initial clues both to the narrative form and the thematic development of the novel." In Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan's 1991 book, Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper , the author notes that "A somewhat crude but useful distinction can be made between 'first generation' and 'second generation' critics of the novel." Erdinast-Vulcan identifies this first generation as focusing on creating "a stable ethical code by which Jim's story is to be judged," while she sees the second-generation critics regarding the novel...

(The entire section is 595 words.)