Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Lagoon" By Joseph Conrad

"The Lagoon" by Joseph Conrad (1896-11 pages)

I wanted to do as my next short story post a work by a new to The Reading Life author.    Of course there are 1000s of options so I was kind of looking for sign of some sort to guide me.   I got two of them.   On East of The Web:Short Stories one of the featured stories this week is  "The Lagoon" by Joseph Conrad. (1857 to 1924-born in Poland but became British citizen in 1886)   I have read some  of the major Conrad novels like Lord Jim, Nostromo and his novella Heart of Darkness but I have never read one of his short stories.    My second omen came in the form of a blog entry from the Katherine Mansfield Society blog in which they post a rhapsodical paean from Mansfield on Conrad:

it is, perhaps, a peculiar responsive sensitiveness to the significance of everything, down to the slightest detail that has a place in his vision. Even in the sober low-toned beginning the author succeeds in conveying a warning as of an approaching storm; it is as though the silence was made to bear a mysterious implication. And in this heightened, quickened state of awareness we are made conscious of his passionate insistence upon the importance of extracting from the moment every drop of life that it contains, wherewith to nourish his adventure.
I am currently reading Ford Madox Ford's great (though highly eccentric book) The March of Literature.    When I complete this book (835 pages) I will try to say why I like it so much and why I think it is as near must reading as a history of literature can be but for now I will just say that on any writer he covers I will give him the respect of thinking through what Ford says on them.    Ford and Conrad were close personal friends and collaborated on several novels.    Here is part of what Ford says about Conrad:
He was the most consummate, the most engrossed, the most practical, the most common-sensible and the most absolutely passionate man-of-action become conscious man of letters that this writer has ever known, read or conceived of.
"The Lagoon" is set in the riverine  jungles of Malaysia.   It is a story of love and betrayal.  Arsat, the teller of the story, kidnaps the woman he loves from the household of the Rajah where she is a bound servant.   His brother goes with him to help them escape the troops of the Rajah which come in pursuit of them.   In the course of the perusal the boat of the Rajah's men overtakes them as they are on the river bank.   Not to give away more of the plot but there is a terrible betrayal that shapes the life of the surviving brother.

There a number of  thematic readings one could impose on "The Lagoon".   It is about the inability of love to beat death, about the colonial experience of the western man to whom Arsat tells his story, about movement versus stillness, and the pervasive power of guilt.   As I read the story of the two brothers stealing the servant of the Rajah and the Rajah's pursuit of her I thought of The Iliad.     The prose of Conrad (his native language was Polish) is slow moving and may feel a bit  lugubrious to many, I think.  His prose at times sounds like English as if it might have been written  by Sophocles or perhaps another great sailor, Odysseus:

A white eagle rose over it with a slanting and ponderous flight, reached the clear sunshine and appeared dazzlingly brilliant for a moment, then soaring higher, became a dark and motionless speck before it vanished into the blue as if it had left the earth for ever
"The Lagoon" can be read online here.  

If anyone has any suggestions as to short stories I might like please leave a comment.  

Mel u


B said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm going to check this out.

I reviewed a short story a few months ago here is the link (with a link to read the story for free):

Mel u said...

Brenna-thanks for the link to this story-I will for sure read it in July and link back to your post when I comment on the story-it will be good for me to read some new stories.