2007-08-29: Lord Jim

Lord Jim (1900)

by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Conrad wrote in an era when people wanted more description and less action than today. For his time, this was no doubt a very popular book.

The distance between Jim and my conception of a literary hero is fairly large. Jim is measured by a very specific ideal, that of an English ship’s officer of the late nineteenth century. The population of men (only men) to whom this ideal was applied was certainly never very large; the population who actually understood its ramifications was probably not very large; the population that thought they knew what it was must have been large enough to form a market for Conrad’s book. The specific failing of Jim to live up to the ideal completely dominated the rest of his short life.

In my view, a hero should be closer to the ordinary person, or at least understandable by the ordinary person. Everyone has shortcomings, but few lives are completely determined by them. Most people (I hope) have an ideal that expresses many or most aspects of common human nature (whatever that is), and it ought to be possible to create a hero who lives closer or further to those ideals (plural). It might be an interesting project.


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