Samburan (sahm-BEWR-ahn). Also known as Round Island, one of the thousands of small islands in the Malaysian archipelago, on which Baron Axel Heyst establishes the center of his Tropical Belt Coal Company. At its height, his company has offices in London and Amsterdam. After the death of Heyst’s partner, the only person remaining in Heyst’s house is his Chinese servant, Wang. On the side of the island opposite the house is a native village.
Although Heyst finds island life fascinating, he is generally disenchanted with it, even though he rarely feels lonely. He often sits in the main room of his house, under a picture of his father—a misanthrope and famous writer—and reflects.
Into this deserted wilderness Heyst brings Alma (whom he renames Lena), a women he has rescued from an obsessive-compulsive hotel owner at the nearest civilized island, three days journey by boat. In his sitting room, Heyst assures Lena that nothing can break in on them there.
Schomberg’s Hotel. Hotel in Sourabaya owned by Wilhelm Schomberg, who is obsessed with controlling Lena, one of the eighteen women in his hotel concert hall. Desperate to escape the hotel, Lena persuades Heyst to take her with him after a concert.
Other residents of the hotel include two very suspicious characters, Mr. Jones and Martin Ricardo, who gamble in the hotel’s shabby gaming room. These desperadoes brag to Schomberg about their adventures in Bangkok, Manila, Colombia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. When these men tell Schomberg they intend to stay at the hotel for a month, he shows displeasure and is threatened by Jones. Nevertheless, Schomberg persuades the men to attempt to retrieve Lena and get revenge on Heyst by telling them a false story about a fortune that Heyst has hidden on the island.
Wang’s hut. Walled quarters of Heyst’s servant Wang, who retires to his hut at night and contentedly tends his vegetable garden by day. Heyst never enters the hut or its grounds. After Wang takes a village woman for a wife, she never emerges from this island of sanity, except to flee with Wang to her home village on the opposite side of the island when the desperadoes land on the island. The path to the woman’s village is strewn with logs on the trail as a warning to the outside world to keep away.
Heyst’s house. After Lena is shot by the invading desperadoes, Heyst takes her to his bed to die as his house catches fire. There Heyst apparently chooses to die with Lena, who is happy finally to be loved and free from Schomberg. Heyst, too, is finally free from a life of scorn. The lovers are both reduced to ashes, but ashes are as pure as their love. The island, too, is now purified from the influx of civilization. In this there may be victory.
Critics have debated over whether Victory is too schematized or allegorical in its conception. Although the story is credible as realism, if one accepts the reality of the villains, it has also been attacked as lacking sufficient realism. Without reviewing the different arguments here, it may be noted that Conrad employs a narrative of surface realism which contains obviously symbolic overtones.
In its moderate realism, the novel is reminiscent of Conrad's earlier Malayan stories, but the use of names and situations that contain a literary resonance is obvious. Axel, for instance (according to Robert Hampson's "Introduction" to the Penguin edition), Heyst's first name, appears to have been taken from the hero of the fin de siecle symbolist drama Axel by Villiers de Isle Adam, a work of late French romantic aestheticism that Conrad was acquainted with. Other characters in the narrative have been given symbolic significance as well, with Heyst being compared to the brooding Hamlet or the reclusive Prospero in Shakespeare, Lena being seen as analogous to Shakespeare's Miranda; and the villains being compared to Satanic figures.
Perhaps the concern for allegory and symbolism has been pushed too...
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