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"No need of words": Joseph Conrad's use of the typographical ellipsis in Under Western Eyes and "The Secret Sharer".

"I must be very prudent with him," he warned himself in the silence during which they sat gazing at each other. It lasted some little time, and was characterized (for silences have their character) by a sort of sadness imparted to it perhaps by the mild and thoughtful manner of the bearded official. (Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes 86)

The word frightened is fatal. It seems as if it had been written withought * any thought at all. It takes away all sense of reality--for if you read the sentence in its place on the page You will see that the word frightened (or indeed any word of the sort) is inadequate to express the true state of that man's mind. No word is adequate. The imagination of the reader should be left free to arouse his feeling. (Letter from Joseph Conrad to Hugh Clifford, 9 October 1899; CL 2 201)

Silences, secrecies, gaps, absences: Conrads fiction is full of them. But this characteristic of his work typically has two aspects. On the one hand, as my opening quotation makes clear, the silences in Conrad's fiction mirror and represent silences in the world about which he writes, a world in which it is dangerous to say too much but in which it is also necessary to learn as much as possible about what other people are trying to conceal. On the other hand, however, the gaps in Conrad's work constitute an essential aspect of his modernism, encouraging "the imagination of the reader" to become an active participant in the search for truth. Writing to Richard Curie late in his life (24 April, 1922), Conrad explodes in annoyance at Curie's use of biographical details from Conrad's own life to cast light on his fiction.

It is a strange fate that everything I have, of set artistic purpose, laboured to leave indefinite, suggestive, in the penumbra of initial inspiration, should have that light turned on to it and its insignificance (as compared with I might say without megalomania the ampleness of my conceptions) exposed for any fool to comment upon or even for average minds to be disappointed with. Didn't it ever occur to you, my dear Curie, that I knew what I was doing in leaving the facts of my life and even of my tales in the background. Explicitness, my dear fellow, is fatal to the glamour of all artistic work, robbing it of all suggestiveness, destroying all illusion. You seem to believe in literalness and explicitness, in facts and also in expression. Yet nothing is more clear than the utter insignificance of explicit statement and also its power to call attention away from things that matter in the region of art. (CL 7 456-7)

The comment is consistent with other comments on his fiction made by Conrad at the beginning of his writing career. In a letter to Nita B. Wall of the 22 of March, 1896, Conrad writes: "Therefore I thank You for Your letter with perfect gratitude which is the more great because I know very well that only half of the book comes from the hand of the author--the other half is only to be found in the heart of some rare and precious reader" (CL 9, 25). A year later Conrad expresses a similar sentiment in a letter to Cunninghame Graham (CL 1, 370).


The typographical ellipsis and the dash represent and indeed constitute gaps at the micro-level of writing. As I will go on to argue below, they may on occasions be understood as "silence transcriptions," rendering pauses in verbal delivery in narrated written form. But they may have quite different functions from this, representing not a transcription of something else, but rather something in themselves, a sign created to draw attention to and comment interpretively upon some aspect of a spoken or written text or utterance. It is worth adding that even when an ellipsis or a dash represents some element in, say, a spoken utterance or exchange, it almost inevitably also carries with it an interpretive force, again both representing and commenting on the silence or pause that prompts it or that it represents. Silences are often comments upon what has preceded them or what might follow them, and to draw attention to a silence is to encourage consideration of its significance in the larger context of an exchange.

Nowadays we generally understand "typographical ellipsis" to refer to a sequence of either three or four points: [...], with the three-point ellipsis used to indicate a gap within a sentence and the four-point one used to indicate a gap between complete sentences. However the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us that the word "ellipsis" was formerly used as the name of the dash when it indicated missing letters. Thus in Under Western Eyes (a novel obsessed with names and labels) it can be said that Mr de P--, General T--, Madame de S-- and Prince K-- are all ellipsis-names. An authors use of typographical ellipses often intersects with his or her use of dashes. Although these two marks of punctuation overlap in their use, they are generally possessed of a slightly different force in writing, a distinction that appears to be easily recognized by common readers. Consider for example the following short passage from early on in Under Western Eyes. Razumov is being told about Ziemianitch by the innkeeper, after having insisted on being taken to witness in person the former's drunken state. '"Who could bear life in our land without the bottle?' he says. A proper Russian man--the little pig.... Be pleased to follow me" (Under 28). The dash here, I suggest, does not represent a pause in the innkeeper's delivery, but rather indicates a syntactical transition from statement to complement, a transition that in the implied original speech might have been indicated intonationally. The ellipsis, though, suggests that there is a pause following the word "pig" and the start of the third sentence. However the ellipsis also implies that some form of pondering or rumination (on the part of either Razumov or the innkeeper) follows the statement about Ziemianitch. A relevant term from classical rhetoric is aposiopesis, used when a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination and thus giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue.

According to M. B. Parkes's standard work Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West (1993),

Samuel Richardson--a master printer as well as a novelist--drew upon his taste for the drama, and his experience of printing plays, to introduce marks like the emrule, or dash, and a series of points to indicate those hesitations and sudden changes in the direction of thought associated with spoken discourse. Richardsons Clarissa (1748) was especially influential on the practice of later authors. (Parkes, Pause 93)

However if this sounds cut and dried, Parkes goes on to suggest that the precise function of dash and ellipsis can vary considerably from writer to writer. Discussing a passage from Charlotte Bronte's The Professor (1857), for example, he notes that "[t]he dash is employed to indicate interrupted discourse and changes in the direction of thought to recall to the reader the phenomenon of hesitations in the spoken medium" (Parkes, Pause 94). But with reference to Dorothy Richardson's Interim (1919) he reports that, "[t]he change from one speaker to another is indicated by a dash, changes in the direction of thought, or where the interior monologue is interrupted, are indicated by a series of points" (Parkes, Pause 94). It seems appropriate that these marks of absence may be used and read in a number of different ways. It is fundamental to the way in which these punctuation marks function that often there is more than one way in which the gaps that they both represent and constitute may be filled up by different readers and readings.

In addition to changes in punctuation conventions that can be attributed to historical variation or personal idiosyncrasy, cultural difference also plays its part. There seems little doubt that Conrad's own internalized conventions regarding punctuation bore traces of Polish and French usage. In considering his own writing habits, then, historical, cultural and personal elements may need to be taken into account. Moreover, Conrad's punctuation habits changed during his writing life. A comparison of the manuscripts of Almayer's Folly and The Shadow-Line, for example, reveals that while in the earlier manuscript he repeatedly follows a point with a dash, by the time of his writing of the later work he has rid himself of this habit. A plausible reason for this and other changes in his practice is that over time Conrad internalized some of the conventions he encountered in the work of British copy-editors and typesetters.

In the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries a difference of convention between American and British usage has emerged. American texts typically came to represent the dash in em or double-em form, without spaces between it and the words it separated. British usage settled on a standard end-ash or em-dash, preceded and followed by a space. Thus as the standard Dent edition of Conrad's works was printed from plates set for the American Doubleday edition it combines British spelling with American punctuation conventions, including those governing the representation of dashes.


The term "ellipsis" has enjoyed a new lease of life in the past two decades as a result of the extension of meaning granted to it within narratology, an extension that represents a classic example of the application of the linguistic paradigm by structuralist narratologists. Prior to such an extension of its meaning, the term enjoyed a relatively delimited meaning within the study of syntax. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1978), for example, defines ellipsis as "the leaving out of a word or words from a sentence when the meaning can be understood without them: There is an ellipsis of 'was' in the following sentence: 'In the accident the child was hurt and the mother killed' (= was killed)." Structuralist narratology transfers the scope of the term from sentence to narrative, allowing Gerald Prince to offer the following definition in his Dictionary of Narratology: "Where there is no part of the narrative (no words or sentences, for example) corresponding to (representing) narratively pertinent situations and events that took time, ellipsis obtains" (Prince, Dictionary 25).

"Narratively pertinent" begs, of course, many questions. Not only may your "irrelevant" be my "pertinent" (and vice-versa), but the phrase seems to take as its reference-point a non-fictional narrative in which the narrator chooses from a potentially very large stock of situations and events from which to construct his or her narrative. Fictional narratives in which, as recent commentators such as Richard Walsh (2007) have pointed out, the distinction between story/ fabula and plot/sjuzet is more problematic, raise additional challenging issues. According to Walsh, fabula "is not independent of any sujet--it is entirely dependent on sujet, is nothing other than the permutation and assimilation of sujet features into an ongoing interpretative version" (Rhetoric 68). To put it another way: where everything is invented, does it make sense to talk about something being left out? In fact I think that it may do, but such "leaving out" is undeniably of a different order from the leaving out of known information in the telling of a real-life non-fictional account.

Prince distinguishes between "frontal" and "lateral" ellipses--a distinction that probably owes much to the syntagmatic and paradigmatic distinction that forms such a useful part of the linguistic paradigm for narratologists, although this extension also reveals the limitations of the parallel. "An ellipsis can be frontal and merely institute a break in the temporal continuity [...], or it can be lateral (paralipsis): in that case, it is not an intervening event that goes unmentioned but, rather, one or more components in a situation that is being recounted" (Dictionary 25). Thus we can say that there is a frontal ellipsis in Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights after Cathy marries Edgar Linton and Fieathcliff disappears, up to the point when Heathcliff reappears, but there is a lateral ellipsis/paralipsis in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd when a crucial "component in a situation" remains unmentioned by the narrator until the very end of the novel.

Ellipses in both sentences and narratives can be unmarked or marked. The Longman Dictionary example is of an unmarked ellipsis, but ellipses can be marked at sentence level by typographical means and at narrative level by a range of other means, including such methods as direct statement and chapter division. In Joseph Conrads Victory, for example, it is clear that the break between the fourth and fifth chapters of Part III represents a temporal gap during which readers are encouraged to assume that Lena and Heyst make love.

By its very nature a typographical ellipsis cannot be unmarked: it is by definition the mark of an absence. It can, however, be either frontal or lateral, drawing attention to a temporal unit during which no event or situation is reported, or, alternatively, indicating the existence of some unreported element that falls within a temporal unit during which an event or situation is specified.

One of the complicating factors about narratological ellipses in a work of fiction is that gaps normally have to be left by someone. A narrative consisting of fragments of a story that the teller claims to have discovered may represent a counter-example to this rule, but when the fragments in question form part of a work of fiction the author rather than the narrator will be deemed responsible for the excisions or omissions. Generally speaking, readers may attribute narratological ellipses in a work of fiction to either the author, the narrator, or a character--or to any combination of these. For example: an unreliable narrator may misinterpret what has been omitted from a statement by a character, but the author may expect readers to perceive this misinterpretation. There are thus a total of four entities that may or may not be aware of and/or responsible for an ellipsis: author, narrator, character, and readers. (When readers of a detective story fail to spot an important clue, it can be argued that they are responsible for the ellipsis, even though the author may have intended that this happen.) A work with multiple narrators increases this count.

Discussion of the typographical and the narratological ellipsis throws up two important questions.

1. Is a typographical ellipsis also a narratological ellipsis? Never? Sometimes? Always?

2. Does an ellipsis in a statement or utterance made by a fictional character have a different narratological status from an ellipsis in a statement or utterance made by a narrator? In such a case, who is marking the gap: the character, the narrator, or even the author?

I will return to these questions when I consider examples from Conrad's Under Western Eyes.


In a letter of 11 July 1901 to Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford), Conrad refers to a review of their jointly authored The Inheritors in the Scotsman, published a week earlier on 4 July, and includes an ellipsis in his comment to make it clear what he is talking about:

Note the Scotsmans review. Obscurity!

Do you see what's the matter? It is the typographical trick of broken phrases: ... that upsets the critic. Obviously. He says the characters have a difficulty of expressing themselves; and he says it only on that account.

We must be careful as to that with our next. (CL 2 340)

The comment confirms that the Scotsmans review had made Conrad more aware of the possibilities for misinterpretation that the use of typographical ellipses entailed. But if his response was to vow greater care with regard to this sign in the future, his subsequent writing career shows an increase rather than a diminution in his use of the typographical ellipsis. That said, any investigation into his use of both the typographical ellipsis and the dash has to confront the difficulty of establishing whether their appearance in his works represents his own, or a copy-editor's, decision.

For example: not one of the 12 typographical ellipses (excluding dashes) included in the Dent edition of Almayer's Folly (set from the plates of the 1921 Doubleday Sun-Dial edition) appears in the new Cambridge critical edition of the novel, although ellipses do appear in the Cambridge edition that are not to be found in the earlier edition. These crucial punctuation marks seem often to be treated as the disregarded foot-soldiers of prose: sacrificed, introduced, or replaced (on occasions apparently at whim) by those heartless Generals: copy-editors, typesetters, and textual editors. Of all Conrad's full-length novels, Under Western Eyes appears on the basis of published versions to have the most extensive (and intensive) use of ellipses: the Doubleday/Dent text contains a staggering 383 examples. In contrast Nostromo, Conrad's longest work of fiction, contains only 79 ellipses, while Lord Jim--a long novel, but 40,000 words shorter than Nostromo--contains 267. These figures should be treated only as rough guides however as they are based on the available electronic copies of the works which, in general, descend from the unreliable Doubleday/Dent edition.

Some of the problems involved in mapping Conrad's use of the dash and the ellipsis can be neatly exemplified by looking at a pair of examples from "The Secret Sharer," written by Conrad during a break from work on Under Western Eyes.

"Aha! Something wrong?"

"Yes. Very wrong indeed. I've killed a man."

"What do you mean? Just now?"

"No, on the passage. Weeks ago. Thirty-nine south. When I say a man--"

"Fit of temper," I suggested, confidently. (Twixt (a) 101)

"Aha! Something wrong?"

"Yes. Very wrong indeed. I've killed a man."

"What do you mean? Just now?"

"No, on the passage. Weeks ago. Thirty nine south. When I say a man ..."

"Fit of temper," I suggested confidently. (Twixt (b) 88)

While the Doubleday/Dent edition's use of an extended dash may suggest that the Captain interrupts Leggatt with his comment, the use of the ellipsis in the Cambridge edition rather suggests that Leggatts explanation tails off into a silence that is broken by the Captains obtusely confident suggestion.

Well, we now have the Cambridge critical edition of "The Secret Sharer," so the problem of attributing meaning to ellipses or dashes for which Conrad was not responsible should be a matter of the past, should it not? Alas no. Here are two versions of another sentence from earlier in the same tale. The Doubleday/ Dent version is identical to that in the first English book edition.

All its phases were familiar enough to me, every characteristic, all the alternatives which were likely to face me on the high seas--everything! ... except the novel responsibility of command. (Twixt (a) 96)

All its phases were familiar enough to me, every characteristic, all the alternatives which were likely to face me on the high seas--everything!--except the novel responsibility of command. (Twixt (b) 84)

The problem here is that the Cambridge Edition's apparatus confirms that what Conrad actually wrote in his manuscript (the Cambridge copy-text) was "seas. Everything but the" (Twixt (b) 372).

In other words, the Cambridge text replaces the point after "seas" in Conrad's manuscript with a dash, following the reading in the first serial edition of the tale. Even in the Cambridge edition, then, the editors have been prepared to override the authority of their copy-text when it comes to the use of dashes and ellipses. Moreover the Cambridge edition here confusingly uses two different length dashes in one sentence for no apparent reason.


It seems that the thematic focus on secrecy and spying in Under Western Eyes foregrounds the natural and automatic human activity of filling in gaps and explaining absences, and that this leads Conrad to a more intensive use of the typographical ellipsis than in any of his other novels. This can only be half the story, however, as Conrad's previous novel The Secret Agent shares a concern with secrecy and spying but contains only 79 ellipses in the Doubleday/Dent edition.

There is considerable overlap in the use of dashes and typographical ellipses in Under Western Eyes. While Razumov is talking to Peter Ivanovitch, for example, the latter insists that "for us at this moment there yawns a chasm between the past and the future. [...] Bridged it can never be! It has to be filled up" (Under 211). Conrad cut from his manuscript a sardonic response from Razumov that he understood that this chasm had to be filled up with corpses and human victims, but retained in Indirect Speech Peter Ivanovitch's statement that "surely whole cartloads of words and theories could never fill that chasm. No meditation was necessary. A sacrifice of many lives could alone--He fell silent without finishing the phrase" (Under 212). Here the function of the extended dash seems hard to distinguish from that of the typographical ellipsis.

Characters in this novel realize that chasms and gaps invite filling-in. Thus General T--advises Razumov not to be away from Haldin for too long in case Haldin's suspicions are aroused. Miss Haldin tells the teacher of languages that she does not want to be away from her mother for too long--for the same reason. Characters know that in a world full of secrets others will try to fill in gaps of knowledge, and that the safest way to prevent this happening is by making sure that others remain unaware that there is a gap to be filled in. But Conrad, as against his characters, has very different motives. He seems clearly to want his readers to be aware of such gaps, and to work actively to fill them in. Thus the obsessive use of ellipses in this novel does not just reflect the fact that characters are always leaving gaps in their accounts that others attempt to fill, it also reflects Conrad's attempt to force readers too to become secret agents, perpetually completing unfinished sentences and interpreting silences just as Razumov, against both his will and his interests, finds himself unable to resist completing Mikulin's deliberately incomplete utterances.

Under Western Eyes is presented to readers as a written narrative: in the very first sentence of the novel the teacher of languages refers to his pen. As I will discuss below, however, the teacher of languages claims that his narrative depends very heavily on another written account: Razumov's journal. Part of this journal is actually reproduced at the end of the novel. What this means is that it is frequently open to readers to attribute typographical ellipses in the novel to either or both of the teacher of languages and Razumov. At the same time, in common with other Conradian narratives ostensibly delivered by character-narrators, the teacher of languages' account contains many paralepses, and these may encourage readers to read as if the narrator were a non-character narrator with the power to witness events (including mental events) that could not be witnessed by a character narrator. There is even one occasion in the novel where the teacher of languages apparently writes that he is not writing: "I turn over for the hundredth time the leaves of Mr. Razumov's record, I lay it aside, I take up the pen--and the pen being ready for its office of setting down black on white I hesitate" (Under 67).

The range of functions performed by the ellipsis in Under Western Eyes is partially dependent upon such manipulations of narrative conventions and expectations. What seems apparent is that the force of many of these ellipses is related to Conrads ability to get readers to attribute them to not just Razumov or the writing teacher of languages, but also to a shadowy non-character authorial narrator.

All the examples I discuss below have been checked against Conrad's manuscript, which suggests that the very high incidence of ellipses in this novel is not the product of non-authorial interference. It is also interesting to note that all of the ellipses discussed were written by Conrad in his first, initial draff of the novel, and not added in during the many subsequent stages of textual revision.

1. Simple silence following a completed statement

I could have helped. And now suddenly this appearance of recklessness--as if he had not cared...."

She remained silent for a time, then obstinately she concluded--

"I want to know ..."

Thinking it over, later on, while I walked slowly away from the Boulevard des Philosophes [...] [Under 138)

In one sense this might seem to be a straightforward example, as the narrating teacher of languages explains his first ellipsis by referring to Miss Haldin's silence. (As I note above, given that the teacher of languages is writing his account, he must normally be assumed to be the source of the typographical ellipses in his narrative.) But it is worth noting that the second ellipsis, which consists of three rather than four points, follows what could equally well be written as a complete sentence. The effect is not just to suggest that another silence follows these words, but to imply that they form part of a sentence that is uncompleted because Miss Haldin is not quite sure what it is that she wants to know (and perhaps also whether she really does want to know it). The force of the ellipsis is strengthened by the frontal narratological (but not typographical) ellipsis that follows, caused by the temporal jump forwards in the teacher of languages' account.

Do either or both of these typographical ellipses also constitute narratological ellipses? Both suggest that Natalia is puzzling over something that she cannot understand, something that she cannot reconcile with her knowledge of her brother. Readers know what it is that is missing from the version of events that she has: her brother was betrayed by Razumov. But Conrad's readers are locked out of exactly what it is that she is thinking, so that to that extent they may indeed be considered narratological ellipses.

2. Simple silence in the middle of an utterance

'"Some of us always go to see him when passing through. He is intelligent. He has ideas.... He talks well, too'" (Under 379). Here the teacher of languages provides no help to readers wanting to understand the ellipsis in the middle of Sophia Antonovna's comment to him as she reports on her visit to Razumov back in Russia. It seems probable that a simple pause in her utterance is indicated, but as to why she pauses, readers are left to find their own solution. Perhaps Sophia Antonovna starts thinking about some of Razumov's ideas, before adding the comment about his talking well (which Razumov does not do at the start of the novel according to the teacher of languages). Among the effects of this particular ellipsis is that of strengthening our view of Sophia Antonovna as an individual who is sensitive to the needs of others, someone who is a good listener, a shrewd observer of character, and an individual prepared to ponder on the needs of others. There is perhaps also a hint that she starts thinking about some of Razumov's "ideas," while feeling that it would be inappropriate to discuss them with her interlocutor. I discuss this example further below.

3. Pause where a character stops short to avoid saying too much

"Forced! Object!" he repeated, still keeping half a pace or so behind me. "You wanted to talk about women, apparently. That's a subject. But I don't care for it. I have never ... In fact, I have had other subjects to think about." (Under 186)

"We have some of our people there who ... but never mind. (Under 271)

"I wonder what ..." He checked himself. (Under 348)

The first two ellipses seem relatively easy to explain. Razumov stops short of admitting his lack of contact with women, while Sophia Antonovna stops short of revealing secret information to Razumov. The ellipses do not indicate pauses, but they offer readers an explanation of what would otherwise be puzzlingly ungrammatical sentences. The third is more tantalizing. In conversation with Natalia, Razumov's mind is set racing by her suggestion that her mother will end up by seeing her dead son. Presumably he is led to recall his own hallucinatory experiences involving Haldin, and stops short to avoid giving too much away to her about his own involvement in Haldin's death, but exactly what it is that he wonders we can but guess at. To this extent it seems to me that only the third of these examples constitutes a case of narratological ellipsis.

Note that whereas the first and third examples involve the teacher of languages representing in writing a pause or an aposiopesis that he observes directly while talking to Razumov or observing Razumov talking to Natalia, the second example must come from the teacher of languages' reading of Razumov's account, so readers might assume that the ellipsis is first written by Razumov then reproduced by the teacher of languages. In fact this is one of many points in the novel at which most readers probably forget the complexities of narrative transmission, and read the passage either as the description of a scene at which he has been present by the teacher of languages, or as if narrated by a noncharacter narrator.

4. Pause where a speaker is unable to continue

"But all these strange details in the English paper," she exclaimed suddenly. "What is the meaning of them? I suppose they are true? But is it not terrible that my poor brother should be caught wandering alone, as if in despair, about the streets at night...."

We stood so close to each other in the dark ante-room that I could see her biting her lower lip to suppress a dry sob. After a short pause she said--(Under 117)

The absence of a concluding question mark following the ellipsis strengthens readers' sense of "unfinishedness," but we have less sense of "words left unsaid" here, more a feeling that Natalias whole consciousness is flooded with her sorrow.

5. Pause indicating that a character realizes the point is made so does not need to end the sentence

"That was Sophia Antonovna--you know the woman? ..."

"Yes, I know--the famous ..."

"The same. It appears that after we went out Peter Ivanovitch told them why I had come. (Under 330-31)

What is of interest with regard to this particular example is that it underpins readers' sense of the intimacy shared by the teacher of languages and Natalia. People who know each other very well, like long-married couples, can afford to speak in uncompleted sentences when they realize that they have been understood. There is in addition, perhaps, a sense that the teacher of languages has some difficulty in pinpointing the right noun to follow "famous." What is Sophia Antonovna? A revolutionary, an exile, a Russian, a conspirator? Razumov reacts against a comparable (but this time unwelcome) assumption of intimacy implied by a lack of words when he meets Necator and his lean companion and drops "his hand into a largely outstretched palm, fleshless and hot as if dried up by fever, giving a bony pressure, expressive, seeming to say, 'Between us there's no need of words'" (Under 265).

6. Deliberate pause designed to prompt another to speak

"Yes. I have listened with interest. I comprehend in a measure your ... But, indeed, you are mistaken in what you ..." Councillor Mikulin uttered a series of broken sentences. Instead of finishing them he glanced down his beard. It was a deliberate curtailment which somehow made the phrases more impressive. But he could talk fluently enough as became apparent when changing his tone to persuasiveness he went on: "By listening to you as I did, I think I have proved that I do not regard our intercourse as strictly official. In fact, I don't want it to have that character at all.... Oh yes! I admit that the request for your presence here had an official form. But I put it to you whether it was a form which would have been used to secure the attendance of a ..."

"Suspect," exclaimed Razumov, looking straight into the officials eyes. (Under 88-9)

Razumov's sessions with Councillor Mikulin are of great significance in Under Western Eyes because they allow Conrad to draw attention to a general human impulse to fill in gaps and to complete the uncompleted. Mikulin of course knows what he is doing: "It was a deliberate curtailment." Razumov's inability to hold himself back from what he recognizes is a dangerous talkativeness complements his inability to control his gestures and bodily movements. As we learn in the closing sentence of the first section of Part First, "there was nothing secret or reserved in his life" (Under 7). Even when secrecy is thrust upon him, his impulse is towards frankness. It hardly needs stating that in detailing these encounters Conrad is again stretching his ostensible narrative situation to breaking point. It seems impossible to believe that Razumov would write up his encounters with Mikulin so as to provide all this detail from Mikulin's speech and behavior along with his own public and private responses.

7. Transition indicating a break in a train of thought

"The fellow's mad," he thought firmly, but this opinion did not mollify him towards Haldin. It was a particularly impudent form of lunacy--and when it got loose in the sphere of public life of a country, it was obviously the duty of every good citizen ...

This train of thought broke off short there and was succeeded by a paroxysm of silent hatred towards Haldin, so intense that Razumov hastened to speak at random. (Under 59)

The sequence from Direct Speech through reported summary to Free Indirect Discourse is revealing here. The narrative move into FID occurs when Razumov starts to parrot the cliches of conservative belief. The ellipsis itself is unproblematic: the narrator tells us that it indicates where a train of thought breaks off and is supplanted by a (presumably wordless) paroxysm of silent hatred towards Haldin. The ellipsis, then, has to be attributed to the narrating teacher of languages, who wishes thereby to indicate not a pause, but a transition from the mental repetition of cliches to a wordless flood of hatred. It is worth noting that this passage is a good example of paralepsis: there is no way that, in a real-life situation, the teacher of languages would have been able to obtain all this information from his putative source: Razumov's written account. (Paralepsis, as against the previously defined paralipsis, involves the presentation of more information in a narrative that can be justified by strict reference to the ostensible narrative situation.)

8. Interruption by an interlocutor

"As we have at present no one affiliated inside the fortress so as to make it possible to furnish him with a packet of poison, we have considered already some sort of retaliatory action--to follow very soon ..."

Razumov trudging on interrupted--(Under 74)

This is clearly not a narratological ellipsis, but one used to indicated that the "long bony student" is interrupted. Presumably he has words that he was going to deliver that remain unuttered, but readers are not encouraged to be curious about what they were--in Prince's phrase, they lack "narrative pertinence."

9. A break in syntax (anacoluthon) in response to some external stimulus

"For twenty years I have been coming and going, looking neither to the left nor to the right.... What are you smiling to yourself for?" (Under 245). Here again the ellipsis clearly does not indicate any temporal pause, but unlike the previous example the interruption comes from the speaker herself and not from her interlocutor. Sophia Antonovna notices that Razumov is smiling and interrupts herself. In a sense, she experiences a lack of knowledge--she does not know what lies behind Razumov's smile--and she attempts to fill this gap. But without the typographical ellipsis--which must be attributed to the narrating teacher of languages although again he might have taken it from Razumov's journal--readers would find the syntax of the sentence opaque and confusing.

10. Similar, but transition from private thoughts to awareness of interlocutor

All revolt is the expression of strong individualism--ran his thought vaguely. One can tell them a mile off in any society, in any surroundings. It was astonishing that the police ...

"We shall not meet again very soon, I think," she was saying. "I am leaving tomorrow." (Under 264)

We may note that a double ellipsis is implied here: what Sophia Antonovna has been saying unheard by Razumov, and what he would have continued to think to himself had not her voice penetrated his consciousness. But while the first ellipsis is frustratingly impossible for readers to fill, the second is of little interest. Again, it seems fair to characterize this passage as another example of paralepsis: this is information that could hardly have been included in Razumov's journal.

11. Self-interruption unprompted by external stimulus

"The devil's own game this ... He interrupted his earnest mental soliloquy with a jocular thought at his own expense" [Under 284). Here the sense of Razumov's doubleness subsequent to his betrayal of Haldin--alluded to on a number of occasions in the text--is underscored by having him interrupt himself. The ellipsis must be the responsibility of the narrating teacher of languages, but it does not constitute a narratological ellipsis. It is again impossible to imagine how this information could have been contained in the teacher of languages' putative source: a journal written by Razumov a long time after the event.

12. Used to indicate a sequence of cliches which are given in abridged form

It was to be a dangerous mission to Geneva for obtaining, at a critical moment, absolutely reliable information from a very inaccessible quarter of the inner revolutionary circle. There were indications that a very serious plot was being matured. ... The repose indispensable to a great country was at stake.... A great scheme of orderly reforms would be endangered.... The highest personages in the land were patriotically uneasy, and so on. In short, Councillor Mikulin knew what to say. [Under 308)

The interesting question here is not what is left out, but rather: who does the leaving out? As Mikulin is delivering a string of cliches we are not interested in working out what is missing. But who decides to spare us the full boring details of Mikulin's speech? If we assume that Razumov leaves the details out of his account then the teacher of languages merely reproduces his omissions. It is possible but scarcely credible that Razumov includes these details but the teacher of languages deems them superfluous to his account and replaces them with ellipses. It is more likely that at this point Conrad has slipped into noncharacter-narrator mode, and that readers attribute the omission of information to this shadowy narrating presence or even to Conrad himself. One interesting effect of the use of ellipses here is that we get a sense of Razumov himself ceasing to pay attention to what Mikulin is saying because he recognizes that it is not worth listening to. The example is moreover comparable to example 7 above, which also involves the replacement of cliches by an ellipsis.

13. Used to indicate a transition from character to narrator telling

'"Listen to my story, Razumov!..Her father was a clever but unlucky artisan" (Under 262). Here there is no pause, but rather the ellipsis helps readers to understand that the narrator is moving from providing Tekla's actual words to providing a summary of what she says in his own words. This then is clearly not a narratological ellipsis.

14. Used by a character in a written text

"... The most trustful eyes in the world--your brother said of you when he was as well as a dead man already. And when you stood before me with your hand extended, I remembered the very sound of his voice, and I looked into your eyes--and that was enough. I knew that something had happened, but I did not know then what.... But don't be deceived, Natalia Victorovna. [...]" (Under 358)

The first ellipsis here marks the entry of the narrative into the middle of Razumov's written text, and must be attributed to the narrating teacher of languages. But the second ellipsis must actually be in Razumov's text, as the narrator claims to be reproducing this text (it is enclosed in quotation marks). If we think about it, such a use of ellipses (there are other examples) in an intimate written confession would be extremely odd in a real-life example. The force of the ellipsis is to draw attention to Razumov's unwillingness to admit that at that point he had (without quite understanding that this had happened) fallen in love with Natalia. But in a real-life situation he would not draw attention to having revealed too much by use of the ellipsis, he would merely have taken a clean sheet of paper and rewritten the passage in question. Readers pass over the oddness, I think, because such a use of typographical ellipses maintains a consistency of tone and style in the novel as a whole. As is often the case in Conrad's works, we pass over faultlines in the narrative--especially those involving paralepses--because the underlying consistencies of the narrative that we perhaps half attribute to the implied or actual author, such as those of tone and ethical standpoint, carry us along.

What conclusions can we reach about Conrad's use of the typographical ellipsis in Under Western Eyes?. Perhaps the most striking point to be made relates to the crucial importance of agency--of who is responsible for the ellipsis. Because it is a typographical sign this sort of ellipsis cannot, like a word, be uttered by a character and then set down by a narrator. Moreover, because it is the sign of an absence (unlike a written word, it cannot represent its spoken self), it cannot have any sort of one-to-one relation to what it represents. Inescapably, then, it stands for a decision on the part of some writer to represent something else--or the absence of something else.

But who this writer is, is not always easy to determine. The complex of embedded narratives from which Under Western Eyes is constructed very often makes it far from straightforward for readers to establish who the ostensible source of a typographical ellipsis is. The teacher of languages may include a typographical ellipsis in his account because he is reproducing an ellipsis in Razumov's written account, or to indicate that he is omitting something found in Razumovs diary. But readers may interpret some of his ellipses as the equivalent of "scare-quotes"--signs that can be interpreted as "I the narrator draw your attention to something here." The typographical ellipsis is a two-edged sword: sometimes it draws readers' attention to the state or action of a character (Natalia pausing because she is overcome with grief, for example) and sometimes it points back to the narrator himself. "That was Sophia Antonovna--you know the woman? ..." (Under 330). Here the ellipsis tells readers something about the teacher of languages' attitude to Sophia Antonovna, and about his concern with what Natalia thinks or knows about the revolutionary. But the teacher of languages can become invisible to characters on occasions ("'How did this old man come here,' he [Razumov] muttered, astounded," when the teacher of languages speaks after Razumov's confession (Under 355)). In like manner he fades into invisibility for readers on numerous occasions. And on such occasions readers may attribute the ellipsis to the agency of what I earlier dubbed a "shadowy non-character authorial narrator."

In my view neither of the two examples given in the previous paragraph constitute narratological ellipses, as in neither case is "narratively pertinent" information omitted (which is not to say that the ellipses are stylistically unimportant--far from it). Much the same may be said of Mikulin's "deliberate curtailments" that are indicated by typographical ellipses. But when the teacher of languages, following his final meeting with Sophia Antonovna, reports her saying: "'Some of us always go to see him when passing through. He is intelligent. He has ideas.... He talks well, too'" (Under 379), then the ellipsis suggests that something "narratively pertinent" may well have been omitted. Were the ellipsis deleted, the text would make perfectly good sense, but its rich suggestive force would be reduced. Readers have to hazard some guess as to why the ellipsis is there. Does Sophia Antonovna pause between two completed sentences? Does she intend "He has ideas" to be the start of a longer sentence but then change her mind? And given that it is the teacher of languages who commits her spoken words to written form, what reason for his decision to use an ellipsis here are readers likely to adopt? As Conrad wrote in the 1899 letter I quoted at the start of this article, "No word is adequate. The imagination of the reader should be left free to arouse his feeling" (CL 2 201). A novel is not a multiple-choice exam, and there is no single "correct answer" to such questions.

Under Western Eyes is a novel that is full of silences, secrecies, gaps and absences, but it is also a novel that is surprisingly full of information that should not, logically, be there. Conrad's concern to encourage his readers to write half of the novel, to exercise his or her imagination, requires that he carefully control the information that readers are given. Where omitting "narratively pertinent" information will have the desired effect then information is omitted. Where readers need to be told something that, strictly speaking, the narrating teacher of languages should not be able to know, Conrad is not held back by too rigid a respect for the ostensible chain of narrative transmission that he has established. Like Mikulin playing with Razumov, Conrad plays with us. If Mikulin wants to force Razumov to speak, Conrad wants to force his readers to think and to exercise their imaginations.


Conrad, Joseph. 'Twixt Land and Sea. 1912. Dent Collected Edition. London: Dent, 1947. Cited as Twixt (a).

Conrad, Joseph. 'Twixt Land and Sea. 1912. Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad. Berthoud, J. A., Laura Davis, and S. W. Reid, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Cited as Twixt (b).

Conrad, Joseph. Under Western Eyes. 1911. Dent Collected Edition. London: Dent, 1947. Davies, Laurence, and J. H. Stape, eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Volume 7, 1920-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Davies, Laurence, Owen Knowles, Gene M. Moore and J. H. Stape, eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Volume 9, uncollected letters 1892-1923. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Karl, Frederick, and Laurence Davies, eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Volume 1, 1861-1897. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Karl, Frederick R., and Laurence Davies, eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol 2, 1898-1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Harlow: Longman, 1978.

Parkes, M. B. Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West.

Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.

Prince, Gerald. A Dictionary of Narratology. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1988.

Walsh, Richard. The Rhetoric of Fictionality: Narrative Theory and the Idea of Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.


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Date:Sep 22, 2011
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