Under Western Eyes

Under Western Eyes

Acclaimed as one of Conrad's finest literary achievements, this gripping novel deftly depicts the political turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia and follows the dramatic developments in the life of a student, Razumov, as he prepares for a career in the czarist bureaucracy.In a plot that twists and turns, Razumov unwittingly becomes embroiled in a revolutionary conspiracy when he gives refuge to a fellow student who assassinated a public official.

Reviews of the Under Western Eyes

Joseph Conrad Razumov is serious about his studies. He is quiet, and like most men who brood, there is attributed to him by the people he knows a depth of wisdom that isnt due to his eloquent conversations or his grand standing on theories, but simply attributed to him because he doesnt say enough to dispel the illusion. Vyacheslav von Plehve, Minister of the Interior Yes, this mere acquaintance has decided out of all the people in St. Petersburg that he has to come to Razumov for sanctuary. Haldin had told their circle of friends that Razumov was a man they could count on. He is, without any doubt, an unreliable narrator, and one cant help but think that Razumov is still being corkscrewed into a bottle with the wrong label. The Meeting of The Unreliable Narrator and Razumov He listened, without as much as moving his eyes the least little bit. It is impossible to read this book without thinking about Raskolnikov from Dostoyevskys novel Crime and Punishment. Their crime is spread across their faces and everyone they meet, they feel, will be the one to finally reveal their guilt to the world. Conrad did not think much of Dostoyevskys writing style and was, in my opinion, trying to write a better book. Poor Razumov, a man content to read his books and puzzle out the keys to a myriad of philosophies. Certainly the revolution that comes to Russia shortly after this book is published was lead by men similar to Razumov. The moment that Haldin decided to come to his rooms Razumov was faced with an impossible decision with two paths equally beset by guilt or damnation.

Under Western eyes, is in many ways Conrad's Crime and Punishment, exploring the similar themes with that of Dostoevsky, Although this for me took longer to get into, the deep and personal aspects remain between the two. Taking place in St Petersburg and Geneva, Switzerland, the central character Razumov a student who aspires to become a member of the Russian civil service is roped into becoming a reluctant revolutionary by Haldin, who after completing the assassination of a minister, takes refuse with Razumov.

Under Western Eyes, first published in 1911, had moments of greatness and had many very observant quotes about the Russian character, and Conrad brilliantly creates a mood of introspection and almost surreal soul-searching, but I just could not stay with it.

Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." -- Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes I'm beginning to think there are absolutely no whimsical novels written about the period between Bloody Sunday and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

"Their Uptopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality." Conrad had little optimism for the revolutionary urge : his Polish parents died as Russian political prisoners and he was orphaned as a child.

"Words are the enemy of reality." Truly. I liked a lot of Conrad's thoughts, depressing as they were. This could have played out with half the words & been twice as impressive.

Better that thousands should suffer than that a people should become a disintegrated mass, helpless like dust in the wind. Obscurantism is better than the light of incendiary torches.

He meets a small group of Russian political exiles living in little Russia- the group is led by a Madame Blavatsky-like pseudo-occultist named Eleanora Maximovna de S---- and Peter Ivanovitch, the latter supposedly a great author and brilliant revolutionary. Razumov also meets Haldins young sister, Natalia, who is straight out of Dostoevsky: young, beautiful, intelligent, stoic, she believes Razumov is a trusted friend of her brothers, the last to see him alive, and is the one character in the novel who seems to suggest hope for Russias future. It's probably safe to say that he never became too unfamiliar with events in Russia; and one of the main themes of the novel is the way autocracy affects ordinary people, perhaps like his parents, and forces them into moral conflict. Whenever two Russians come together, the English narrator (who nevertheless, were told, spent a few early years of his life in St. Petersburg, and is therefore, like Conrad, someone familiar with both the west and the east) says, the shadow of autocracy is with them, tinging their thoughts, their views, their most intimate feelings, their private life, their public utterances- haunting the secret of their silences. Its true that there are aspects of the book that seem like a satire and homage toCrime and Punishmentand Dostoevsky in general- the main characters name, the insouciance of language and emotion, the unlikely meetings and coincidences, the beautiful and suffering Russian woman who helps the main character find a form of redemption, the themes of political dissidence and revolution (Dostoevsky was once a young revolutionary as well, and nearly died for it), and even the strange quality (intentional, I'll claim, having read enough of Conrad now to see how he varied his style from book to book) that it seems to have been translated from Russian. Conrad is far from the first to suggest autocracy as a defining aspect of Russian life, and many have invoked it in a positive light. InCrime and Punishment, Raskolnikov ultimately succumbs to his conscience and the beneficence of Orthodoxy; he vanquishes in himself the western ideas that allowed him to believe he had the moral right to take a life.

The fact that the Westerner narrator is an uncomprehending observer (whose character's eyes are in the title 'Under Western Eyes') and that the Russian character of the story, Razumov, has the reputation as a great listener (strikingly so, pun intended) is told us, gentle reader, upfront by the author Joseph Conrad, made strongly explicit. (In this silent listening he is unusual because apparently most Russians are observed to talk much like parrots.) Throughout the book people seem to be uncomprehending observers and listeners and speakers of disjointed words. Back to Razumov, it is noted in the first pages many people think he is a strong personality because of his lack of speech. The narrator, as a teacher of languages he comprehends many words; however he admits he can make no sense of how the Russians feel about things. I think Conrad is also making a point that the West finds the East difficult to understand due to lack of philosophical words we can comprehend which the West assumes is due to language differences, but Conrad seems to be saying the West can't understand the East because the East is incomprehensible to itself.

It is fairly safe to say at this point that Conrad was looking to present his view of the opposite of pan-Russianism, whether red or white, or at least to point to the cracks in the foundation. That the orphaned Conrad's father was a patriotic Pole who flaunted the authority of Russian hegemony, that it was an era when the world was on the brink, would both have been influential. It does miss, though, and there is some evidence that Conrad was looking to settle certain scores with his novel that set the whole project into the 'contrivance' category. As often with Conrad, locale, character and exposition on-the-fly are frontloaded and forced into the narrative mix quite early in the story; much as a modern film will mesh those elements directly into the first few shots, rather than languish in establishing shots or chit-chat from minor characters to set the stage. Even in looking to upset the mystic, pan-Slavic logic of revolution, Conrad wants to indict not the ideals but the weaknesses of the personality types to whom a broad revolution will appeal. Almost the entire novel is accomplished in terms of the "walk & talk", where much is described by characters exchanging their take on the proceedings, while walking through Geneva (much beloved of television copshow writers, who need these wordy strolls to further their under-budgeted plots).

Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ) was a Polish-born English novelist who today is most famous for Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized account of Colonial Africa. This was useful when, because a need to come to terms with his experience, lead him to write Heart of Darkness, in 1899, which was followed by other fictionalized explorations of his life.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 3.71
  • Pages: 240
  • Publish Date: November 17th 2003 by Dover Publications
  • Isbn10: 0486431649
  • Isbn13: 9780486431642