Providence, Anti-Providence, and the Experience of Time in The Shadow-Line.
Further attention to the use of the supernatural in The Shadow-Line can reveal, however, an even subtler awareness of its conventions. The novella does far more than appropriate, and slightly re-inflect, the devices of nineteenth-century ghost stories. Conrad's tale of development, moral testing, and ontological doubt adumbrates a reflection on the constraints and power of the aesthetic. It evokes a far-ranging intertextual horizon, thus drawing attention to representations of the supernatural in previous genres and their ethical meanings. The beginnings of this reflection can be found in an essay Conrad wrote more than ten years before The Shadow-Line, "Henry James: An Appreciation" (1905), which sets forth lasting principles of his approach to narrative. In this short but vibrant praise of James's fiction, Conrad treats it as a crucial step in the super-session of outworn formal devices such as the comic endings and the artificial denouements that made many Victorian novels pleasant to read:
Why the reading public which, as a body, has never laid upon a story-teller the command to be an artist, should demand from him this sham of Divine Omnipotence, is utterly incomprehensible. But so it is; and these solutions are legitimate inasmuch as they satisfy the desire for finality, for which our hearts yearn with a longing greater than the longing for the loaves and fishes of this earth. Perhaps the only true desire of mankind, coming thus to light in its hours of leisure, is to be set at rest. One is never set at rest by Mr. Henry James's novels. His books end as an episode in life ends. You remain with the sense of the life still going on; and even the subtle presence of the dead is felt in that silence that comes upon the artist-creation when the last word has been read. It is eminently satisfying, but it is not final. Mr. Henry James, great artist and faithful historian, never attempts the impossible. (18-19)
Conrad rightly claims that for a long time novelistic plots functioned as simulacra of an absent or waning Providence, with the narrator internalizing the prerogatives of God as a "sham of Divine Omnipotence" catered to the public's "desire for finality"--this being a key word, as we will see, to understanding The Shadow-Line. Conversely, Conrad values James's endings because they do not "set" readers "at rest," resisting closure and implying that a novel's ending is not a reassuring fiction of metaphysical order. Conrad's critique targets novelistic plots that had been current in England since at least Henry Fielding, whose providential narrators in Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, though self-consciously fictional, set the tone for subsequent novels. This assessment, which conceives of fiction as a tool to raise questions and thus make readers "restless," is consonant both with Conrad's own narrative practice and with the implied judgment on other forms that his work often conveys. In particular, however, it is key to understanding The Shadow-Line, which, I will argue, evokes and rejects the "finality" of fictional narratives by using a vast array of conventions associated with the supernatural.
The Shadow-Line contains a far-reaching recapitulation of the main forms and uses of the supernatural in nineteenth--and early twentieth-century literature: (1) the "haunted ship" motif evokes not only seamen's folklore and, as has often been noticed, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but also Gothic imaginary, revamped in those late nineteenth--and early twentieth-century genres that Patrick Brantlinger has placed under the category of "the imperial Gothic," as well as in Conrad's own sophisticated use of supernatural imagery throughout his career. (2)
The scope of The Shadow-Line, however, goes far beyond a single genre. The novella also evokes divine Providence, and in doing so ties into a family of novels of development--including works by Fielding, Scott, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte--that make use of providential plots and were standard reading among British and European audiences. At times it also deploys fairy-tale imagery that seems reminiscent of Dickens's enchanted realism in David Copperfield and can easily be associated with the tradition of the bildungsroman. (3)
The rich supernatural subtext of The Shadow-Line is a finely tuned parodic revision of plots and rhetorical patterns that present time as teleological and, in doing so, devalue individual agency, personal responsibility, and the possibility for unpredictable change. (4) By consistently alluding to these plots and patterns, The Shadow-Line throws their limits into relief and highlights their common meaning. In an ontological reversal, the novella stages providential and antiprovidential interpretations of reality, showing how, although they look antithetical, they are based on identical assumptions: both delineate a teleological time that restricts and channels change. Having cleared the ground, however, The Shadow-Line takes a step further, piercing the limits of the forms it evokes. The novella envisions a new temporal horizon, one whereby returning on deck and trying to save the ship makes sense because events do not necessarily tend to a goal, whether positive or negative. While Conrad's works often question the idea that human beings are self-determined, (5) in The Shadow-Line he uses his skepticism to explode teleological fictions and their underpinnings and to value indeterminacy as an empowering condition, suggesting that responsibility may be a force for change. (6)
It is the bildungsroman model that defines the opening tone of The ShadowLine, while the supernatural theme takes hold gradually, emerging in the young protagonist's reveries. The first, surprisingly long part of the novella takes place ashore in the Officers' Sailors' Home and is marked by a chain of events that culminate in his unexpected appointment as captain, made possible, among other things, by his having resigned his previous post in a bout of restlessness. By chance, Captain Giles, a jovial but inscrutable father figure, detects that the steward of the Officers' Home was concealing a message for the protagonist and understands what it is about. Without explaining too much, he urges him to demand that the steward give him the message. In a sudden reversal, the young protagonist receives his first command, and, with hindsight, comes to see the way in which he acquired this new status as a sign. Indulging in a providential fantasy, he interprets the recent events and his ensuing appointment as proof that he has a special role in the larger order of things--that is, in his own imaginative, self-centered version of it. His view is not based on a fully-fledged supernatural creed; as commentators have highlighted, the young captain's fantasy hinges on an egocentric view and expresses a regressive feeling. (7) He does not fully believe in his miraculous election, but nevertheless experiences, in a peripheral area of his consciousness where logic is weaker, (8) a feeling of election, an airy detachment from the materiality of life. Initially, his supernatural imaginary is infiltrated by skeptical irony, which may also be attributed to his older self: regarding Captain Ellis, the Master Attendant, the narrator observes that he "looked upon himself as a sort of divine (pagan) emanation, the deputy Neptune for the circumambient seas. If he did not actually rule the waves, he pretended to rule the fate of the mortals whose lives were cast upon the waters" (Shadow-Line 42-43).
Deeply ambivalent, this description is, on the one hand, a mock-heroic rendition of Captain Ellis's self-importance and, on the other, a registration of the young captain's feelings and projections. In spite of the conceit of this "deputy-Neptune" (47), the young captain appears indeed honored to receive from Ellis "a gift of extraordinary potency" in a rhetorical move that also points to an expression of his self-importance and need for order. In fact, the mock-heroic reminiscence of Captain Ellis (who lays aside his "trident of deputy-Neptune" ) bleeds into a providential fantasy of purpose and enchantment. Under the impression of dealing with "dreamstuff," the young captain feels elated ("It seemed as if all of a sudden a pair of wings had grown on my shoulders" ), develops a deceptive sense of his role, and proudly sees himself as part of a transgenerational community of seamen. He creates his own narcissistic version of the great scheme of things. He enjoys the "miraculous manifestation of that day of miracles" and parts from the "head-shipping Master as if he were a mere symbol" (51), that is, a symbol of his status, or only a disembodied figure like those that surround Captain Ellis, who regarded other seamen as "mere symbols to juggle with in books and heavy registers" (50). Although his fantasies are introduced by comparisons and, with ambivalent irony, express his awareness of a reality that does not necessarily center on his desires, they also flesh out his egotistic impulse. He interprets the incidents that led him there as further evidence of his election: "It is true that the intrigue was feeble, but it helped the feeling of wonder--as if I had been especially destined for that ship I did not know, by some power higher than the prosaic agencies of the commercial world, [...] I was a little frightened" (53). His sense of "wonder" is further conveyed by fairy-tale imagery:
I was very much like people in fairy tales. Nothing ever astonishes them. [...] Captain Ellis (a fierce sort of fairy) had produced a command out of a drawer almost as unexpectedly as in a fairy tale. [...] A ship! My ship! She was mine, more absolutely mine for possession and care than anything in the world: an object of responsibility and devotion. She was there waiting for me, spellbound, unable to move, to live, to get out into the world (till I came), like an enchanted princess. Her call had come to me as if from the clouds. I had never suspected her existence. (58-59)
In a self-aggrandizing reverie, the young captain comes to see himself as a fairytale character who cannot be astonished because the exceptional has become the norm. Moreover, in a fantastic conflation of the ship with an enchanted princess, he sees himself as the instrument of higher forces, focusing on the fact that the ship has come to him "without the preliminary toil and disenchantments of an obscure career." At this point, his fantasy is still a self-conscious one: he sees the ship as "disengaged from the material conditions of her being. The shore to which she was moored was as if it did not exist. [...] The very gang of yellow coolies busy about the main hatch was less substantial than the stuff dreams are made of" (73). His attitude bespeaks not so much belief as self-indulgence, the desire of being free from "toils" and "disenchantment" (it is not coincidental that, later in the narrative, he will manage to overcome his stupor in the face of danger by watching his men toil "like Titans" ).
With this fantastic absence of toil goes along his sense of being different from his crew: fully expressing the young captains self-absorption, the fantasy finally specifies itself as a narcissistic feeling of having been chosen by Providence:
I was already the man in command. My sensations could not be like those of any other man on board. In that community I stood, like a king in his country, in a class all by myself. I mean an hereditary king, not a mere elected head of a state. I was brought there to rule by an agency as remote from the people and as inscrutable almost to them as the grace of God. And like a member of a dynasty, feeling a semi-mystical bond with the dead, I was immediately shocked by my immediate predecessor. (90)
In a characteristically Conradian fashion, the reverie of the young captain evokes a broad range of aesthetic, as well as ethical, conventions. Reminiscences of fairy tales, of romance imagery, and a faint echo of the medieval theory of the divine right of kings all blend together to generate the sense of a supernatural order, of the "remote agency" that has placed him in command. Such is the breadth of these references that Conrad seems to have in mind no literary or historical period in particular. However, these supernatural overtones should be considered in relation to the main genre he deploys in The Shadow-Line, the bildungsroman, which the novellas opening pages gesture towards, even though Conrad's focus is not on long-term development, but, as in Youth and Lord Jim, on a crucial moment of initiation, moral testing, and self-transformation. More specifically, this section of The Shadow-Line brings to mind all those novels of development that make use of supernatural imagery and/or a teleological plot evincing the invisible, but nonetheless effective, hand of Providence. The use of providential plots is a recurrent feature of the genre; it characterizes, in fact, one of its foundational works, Wilhelm Meisters's Apprenticeship. Despite his undisciplined heart, to which David Copperfield is heir, Wilhelm Meisters fate is shaped by the Society of the Tower, a secular, though in effect providential, force that gives him a place in society regardless of the fact that his Bildung may have been unfruitful. At the end, Wilhelm realizes that his story had already been written, thus embodying that passivity that Goethe regarded as a fundamental feature of the novelistic hero (Moretti 15-73).
In successful works of the British bildungsroman tradition, providential intervention was sometimes invoked and acknowledged, as in Jane Eyre; sometimes vaguely identified by means of supernatural intimations or evocative metaphors, as in Oliver Twist and David Copperfield; and sometimes unacknowledged and denied, but nonetheless evoked by the presence of poetic justice, as in Middlemarch. In general, the protagonists of these novels had to learn how to comply with what Thomas Vargish has called a "providential decorum" (16-31), a set of moral laws that mediated between individuals and a pervasive, though inscrutable, scheme. In the course of each narrative, this scheme makes itself felt through the poetic justice that governs the denouements of novels such as, at the inception of the genre, Pamela and Tom Jones, and later, David Copperfield and Jane Eyre. Providential plots sustained a fiction of order that made up for the disorder of history; at the same time, however, they disempowered characters, displacing agency onto larger forces that could easily be identified with an impersonal status quo. Drawing from D. A. Miller and Franco Moretti, one can say that, although realism often focused on social ills and ideological constraints, plots also existed to contain the potential for change in a bourgeois culture that was felt to be unstable, diversified, and contradictory: they represented a fictive order that was ultimately conservative. This use of plot can still be found in a sophisticated, pioneering work like Middlemarch where, especially through the character of Bulstrode, belief in Providence is exposed as a self-serving lie. Nevertheless, that novel is governed by poetic justice: a happy marriage is in sight, and the bad guys are punished.
In The Shadow-Line, the providential plots become figments of the young captains mind. This is not a striking innovation, the young captain resembling many Quixotic protagonists of novels of development such as Edward Waverley and Isabel Archer, and is wholly in line with the skeptical remarks on providential beliefs that Conrad's narrators often tend to drop. (9) But an even more destabilizing turn of plot occurs, complicating his attitude and the overall meaning of the novella. Not long after the departure, he finds himself in dire straits, with a sick crew, a becalmed ship, a storm, a delirious first mate and, as his only help, a cook with a bad heart. In response, he abandons the providential pattern of interpretation and resorts to an anti-providential scheme. His fantasy of having been placed in command to accomplish a higher mission turns into its opposite, his feeling the victim of malevolent forces. As I will show, The Shadow-Line suggests that, although they look antithetical, these interpretive patterns are analogous in deriving from a self-centered vision of events. The novella demystifies them, questioning all those systems, most prominently Christian teleologies and late-Victorian determinism, which devalued agency and discouraged creative change. The anti-providential subtext is not, in other words, an outdated piece of Gothic machinery, but rather a way of combining philosophical symbolism with a keen interest in the workings of individual cognition. The young captain's pessimistic point of view finds a correlative in the superstitious delusions of Mr. Burns, his feverish first mate; they both project their feelings and beliefs onto unfavorable events. (10)
The providentialist pattern of thinking of the young captain begins to reverse as he comprehends that his predecessor was an irresponsible, corrupt, selfish man who died after a stint of senile debauchery. He had fallen in love with a white woman that the American serialized version of The Shadow-Line describes--in a passage omitted in subsequent editions--in terms that are recognizably Gothic: she "was said to be a vampire or wizard with music and played on men's hearts as easily as on a violin" (Shadow-Line 2013,193). Moreover, the old captain's last trip seemed dictated by his death wish, and his actual dying wish was to see the ship destroyed. Considering the fate of the old man, the young captain falls prey to a Gothic reverie that casts shadows on the enchanted realm he glimpsed after his appointment: "It appeared that even at sea a man could become the victim of evil spirits. I felt on my face the breath of unknown powers that shape our destinies" (Shadow-Line 90). The "evil" here is not a literal one: it is a broad-ranging metaphor for what escapes one's control and determines one's destiny. With a logic not unlike that of his providential fantasy, the young captain sees the fate of his predecessor as a reminder of the fact that he, too, may be destined to fail disastrously. This pattern of thinking persists as the narrator reflects on Mr. Burns's illness, in the closing sentence seemingly reporting the feelings of his younger self: "I believe he had partly fretted himself into that illness, the climate did the rest with the swiftness of an invisible monster ambushed in the air, in the mud of the river-bank. Mr. Burns was a predestined victim" (97).
The anti-providential plot, that is, the perception that malevolent, individualized forces may be toying with the ship, becomes increasingly stronger, and the shadows thicken, taking on overtones that are recognizably Gothic. After the fever has begun to spread, the young captain seems close to the hesitation typical of the fantastic: "The late captain--ambushed down there under the sea with some evil intention. It was a weird story" (108). (11) Upon finding an envelope on the quinine bottles, he approaches a full-fledged hesitation, but his awareness of being in a dreamlike state keeps his perceptions within the disenchanted realm of the individual psyche: "I perceived that it was addressed to myself. It contained a half-sheet of notepaper, which I unfolded with a queer sense of dealing with the uncanny, but without any excitement as people meet and do extraordinary things in a dream" (118). However, he keeps using Gothic metaphors: his feeling of obverse forces at work is so insistent as to betray his belief in an alien agency that strongly resembles a supernatural force: "Its like being bewitched, upon my word!" (125).
The young captain does not acknowledge the supernatural; rather, he uses it as a metaphor to talk about something else, a force with which it seems to have much in common. In the face of Mr. Burns's ravings about the old captain's evil spirit, he plays the part of the skeptic: "[You] cannot expect me to believe that a dead man has the power to put out of joint the meteorology of this part of the world" (125). And he regards Mr. Burns's convictions as misconceptions induced by his illness: "Whether he meant this for a promise to grapple with supernatural evil I couldn't tell [...] the mate, I could see, was extremely weak yet, and not quite rid of his delusion, which to me appeared but a symptom of his disease" (126). However, his rejection of Burns's supernatural interpretations appears to be a misleading, half-hearted performance of rational-empirical understanding. He and Burns are far from antithetical, far from staging--as in The Mysteries of Udolpho or in The Hound of the Baskervilles--the post-Enlightenment battle between superstition and skepticism. Burns rather works as a foil for the young captain's outlook. Besides enabling a hesitation between the natural and the supernatural, he serves to throw into relief the young captain's own inclination to deny his own agency and displace it onto external forces that he feels are endowed with volition.
In fact, the young captain keeps finding examples of a purposeful evil at work to hinder him:
The sun had risen clear of the southern shoulder of Koh-ring, like an evil attendant [...]. Then just about sunrise we got for an hour an inexplicable steady breeze, right in our teeth. There was no sense in it. It fitted neither with the season of the year, nor with the secular experience of seamen as recorded in books, nor with the aspect of the sky. Only purposeful malevolence could account for it. It sent us travelling at a great pace away from our proper course (128).
His need to find purpose in the surrounding environment becomes all the more apparent when he responds to crisis with an act of faith that seems meant to resuscitate the providential forces he evoked after his appointment, his transfiguring the quinine into a supernatural catalyst for change:
I believed in it. I pinned my faith to it. It would save the men, the ship, break the spell by its medicinal virtue, make time of no account, the weather but a passing worry, and, like a magic powder working against mysterious malefices, secure the first passage of my first command against the evil powers of calm and pestilence. (131)
His use of supernatural metaphors is charged with fear and desire, blurring the boundaries between metaphor and belief. However, his perception of a higher power is not firmly embedded in a supernatural ontology, but rather represents nature itself as a negative agent: "I faced an empty world, steeped in an infinity of silence, through which the sunshine poured and flowed for some mysterious purpose" (134). Moreover, the young captain remains aware of the tricks played by his mind, of the Gothic visions that haunt him: "When I turned my eyes to the ship, I had a morbid vision of her as a floating grave" (135); "In my endless vigil in the face of the enemy I had been haunted by gruesome images enough. I had had visions of a ship drifting in calms and swinging in light airs, with all her crews dying slowly upon the deck. Such things had been known to happen" (151). His imaginative perception of a malevolent force takes multiple shapes, at times, more lucidly, recalling a bleak post-Darwinian nature, at others, in emotionally charged metaphorical leaps, evoking demonic possession and black magic: "Indeed, on thinking it out, it seemed incomprehensible that it should just be like this: the bottles emptied, refilled, rewrapped, and replaced. A sort of plot, a sinister attempt to deceive, a thing resembling sly vengeance [...] or else a fiendish joke" (137). The young captain gives full vent to his feelings in his journal, which epitomizes, and makes fully explicit, his interpretive attitude:
There they are: stars, sun, sea, light, darkness, space, great waters: the formidable Work of the Seven Days, into which mankind seems to have blundered unbidden. Or else decoyed. Even as I have been decoyed into this awful, this death-haunted command. (144) [T]he fever devil who has got on board of this ship [...] often in darker moments I forgot myself into an attitude towards our troubles more fit for a contest against a living enemy. (153)
The journal also specifies his psychological state. The emotional correlatives of feeling the victim of a cosmic conspiracy are self-disparagement and the awareness of always having been unfit to command: "Now I understand that strange sense of insecurity in my past. I always suspected that I might be no good. And here is proof positive. I am shirking it. I am no good" (158). The fantasy of a willful, hostile universe goes along with a self-representation that does not leave room for change and adumbrates a determinist conception of personality and agency. Self-understanding and ontological understanding appear to be analogous and complementary, both envisioning a dreary lack of chances, a doomed outcome.
I have argued so far that The Shadow-Line stages a dialectics between Providence and anti-Providence, casting in narrative form a transhistorical opposition between genres: in the minds of readers medieval hagiographies and David Copperfield can vie for attention. At the same time, however, it stages an actual process of historical as well as formal transition. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the use of providential plots, particularly strong in British fiction, became more and more questionable, especially under the pressure of Darwinism. Significantly, Henry James disparaged plot, and Thomas Hardy wrote novels, among them Tess of the d'Urbervilles that, by bringing tragedy back into the comedic realm of the English novel, presented themselves as an explicit negation of providential action. But it was difficult to disentangle fictional narratives from deeply seated habits of mind. In particular, Hardy's work is suggestive of how the negation of Providence could easily translate into plots that were still based on coincidences and driven by powerful teleologies. These plots inverted the outcomes and moral polarity of their providential models while at the same time maintaining essential components of their form and meaning. In novels like Tess, a malevolent fate controls the lives of characters, and the way in which its effects are presented leaves, unlike in The Shadow-Line, little room for ambivalence. Events are highly structured and teleologically arranged, thus demonstrating the agency of a superior force and, with a veer towards determinism, devaluing individual agency. As has often been noted, Hardy makes abundant use of devices such as thwarted coincidences: for instance, when Tess decides to tell Angel about her relationship with Alec, her letter gets wedged under the carpet. But he also uses traditional coincidences to bring about disastrous outcomes, as in book 4 of The Return of the Native. At times, carried away by his urge to show the insignificance of human beings in the great scheme of things, he has his characters see Gothic clouds brood over the horizon, though his narrator, who seems to have read Feuerbach, also shows an anthropological understanding of this attitude: "Like all the cottagers in Blackmoor Vale, Tess was steeped in fancies and prefigurative superstitions; she thought this an ill omen-the first she had noticed that day" (Hardy 75). (12) The writer and critic Frank Swinnerton was probably right when he wrote in 1924 that Hardy and Gissing, like other writers from their generation, "are a little inclined to recognize only the failures of Providence" (54). Due to well-established fictional and philosophical biases, this pessimistic representation of the cosmic order could not (yet) be neutral: the demystification of Providence in late Victorian fiction entailed staging the work of an anti-providential force, one that is not simply indifferent, but puts some effort into wreaking havoc in the lives of characters, thus showing quite a strong interest in humankind. The novelists of naturalism identified this force with a hostile nature or with an unfavorable environment but left unchanged the anthropocentric quality of its representations (Levine).
To understand The Shadow-Line's range of allusions, it is also crucial to highlight that the transformation of Providence into a negative force made itself felt also in the resurgence of the Gothic, whose foundational work, The Castle of Otranto, depicts the operations of a perverse Providence, in particular in that body of fiction that Patrick Brantlinger has called "imperial Gothic" (227-54). Brantlinger shows how in late-Victorian Gothic plots the fascination with the occult and the fear of atavistic regression went hand in hand, suggesting a pessimistic anthropology. The idea that civilization was reverting to a previous state found symbolic expression in uncanny plots that center on super- or non-natural events. The repressed irrationality of the colonizers, disturbingly close to that of the colonized, returned with a vengeance in narratives haunted by ghosts, monsters, and demonic possessions, narratives whose protagonists are, quite literally, overwhelmed and deprived of a stable, active identity. The late Victorian Gothic questions the idea that colonial expansion and, more broadly, moral and intellectual life in Europe, is a felicitous march towards progress that channels the efforts of a plurality of rational subjects into a constructive enterprise. Reason, civilization, and the Whig version of history are evidently at a loss in these stories; it is significant that in works like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the forces that escape understanding are triggered by science itself, which proves to be impotent, not to say harmful. Abstracting from Brantlinger's view, one can say that many works by such authors as Stevenson, Haggard, Kipling, Doyle, Stoker, and Buchan stage and symbolize a widely felt crisis of agency and gesture towards a negative teleology, nourished by Darwinism, the determinist outlook, and fin-de-siecle nihilism. In the imperial Gothic, not only do anti-providential forces conspire to torment characters, they also, at a symbolic level, convey common anxieties over future developments of the self and society. They reverse the idea that human actions are part of an underlying order that will bring individual and social history to increasing happiness, and the curses they describe are meant to raise misgivings and suggest that the rational British subject may be spiraling towards annihilation. The "prefigurative" attitude that Tess's narrator finds in the heroine's superstitious apprehensions is recurrently implied by Gothic narratives. Unlike realism, these tales generate suspense by constantly foreshadowing threats that look all the more dangerous insofar as they are impossible to pin down to a specific physical object and pose a challenge to reason.
Such an attitude informs the point of view of the young captain in The Shadow-Line. Despite his professions of skepticism, he is frequently oppressed by misgivings: he keeps using Gothic metaphors that convey his troubled sense of being stuck in a teleological dead-end. (13) Given its date of publication and its vast array of anti-providential stereotypes, The Shadow-Line can easily be read as the parody of a genre that was already on the wane. However, the fact that the critique of anti-Providence is intertwined with that of Providence should alert us to a broader significance. The Shadow-Line's treatment of these declining structures of meaning expresses, I believe, far more than a parodie detachment from Victorian narrative conventions. It is rather meant to contribute to the depiction of a non-teleological horizon of action, of an open temporality, one that conveys a strong investment in ethical responsibility and individual action. This horizon takes shape in the remaining part of the novella, subsequent to the journal episode, in which the young captain experiences the culmination of his personal Gothic teleology. He finds himself in a seascape of absolute, nearly metaphysical darkness where no further progression seems possible and where time itself seems to have stopped. Initially, he perceives "no hint of the direction from which any change would come, the closing in of a menace from all sides" (160). lhe absence of change implies the absence of time: the temporal meaning of these experiences makes itself apparent shortly afterwards, in a new description of the cloud of nothingness that has enveloped the ship:
The immobility of all things was perfect. If the air had turned black, the sea, for all I knew, might have turned solid. It was no good looking in any direction, watching for any sign, speculating upon the nearness of the moment. When the time came the blackness would overwhelm silently the bit of starlight falling upon the ship, and the end of all things would come without a sigh, stir, or murmur of any kind, and all our hearts would cease to beat like run-down clocks. (160)
In a nightmarish seascape, the young captain feels that his first voyage may have come to a conclusion. His Gothic apprehensions bleed into a fantasy of annihilation and self-annihilation that smacks of determinism, recalling Conrad's own pessimistic fantasy--expressed in his famous 1898 letter to Cunninghame Graham--of a cosmos that is heading towards death because of the second law of thermodynamics: "the fate of a humanity condemned ultimately to perish from cold is not worth troubling about. If you take it to heart it becomes an unendurable tragedy. If you believe in improvement you must weep, for the attained perfection must end in cold, darkness and silence" (Collected Letters 2:16). After days of toil and restlessness, the young captain finds some peace in an imaginary loss of his individuality, similar to the attitude of "cold unconcern" that, in his letter, Conrad regarded as the only possible way to come to terms with entropy: "It was impossible to shake off that sense of finality. The quietness that came over me was like a foretaste of annihilation. It gave me a sort of comfort, as though my soul had become suddenly reconciled to an eternity of blind stillness" (Shadow-Line 160). It is precisely at this point that the prefigurative fantasy of the young captain seems to culminate, that his apprehension of death reaches its climax. In fact, in spite of its aura of "finality," this experience is not yet conclusive. It is, rather, a "foretaste," the prevision of a collapse that seems closer and closer.
In this passage, Conrad has boiled the conventions of the late nineteenth-century Gothic down to their teleological backbone, uncovering their intimations of "finality" and death and amplifying their philosophical resonances to the utmost. Much seems to be at stake here, although the proliferation of philosophical meanings is ultimately subordinated to The Shadow-Line's metafictional reflection. It is not coincidental that Conrad uses the word "finality," the same word he used in his essay on James's art of fiction, to criticize the sham Providence of run-of-the-mill novels. Both in that essay and in The Shadow-Line, the perception of "finality" appears to be a deceptive one. In the above passage, the young captain does not yet seem too aware of having been misled by his feelings, locked as he is in a subjective, almost solipsistic perception. However, his vision begins to light up at the sight of his men who "toil like Titans." By giving their work supernatural overtones, the narrator suggests that at this point the ontological asymmetry between the crew and its antagonistic forces begins to collapse. The young captain has already begun to realize his responsibilities as a social being when Ransome shakes him from self-commiseration by implying that he is needed on deck, but the sight of his men making a supreme effort against all odds marks one further step. Fully reestablishing his role, he no longer simply performs his duty but comes to see his responsibilities as the foundation for a creative, constructive attitude. He breaks free from the fetters of a destructive teleology and encourages his men to explore the possibilities of an open time: "Now, men, we'll go aft and square the mainyard. That's about all we can do for the ship; and for the rest she must take her chance" (162).
It is far from surprising that he mentions "chance" here, because chance is not "chaos." It rather implies, in a Darwinian fashion, unpredictability, an open potential, a meaning Conrad also explored in Chance, in whose parodie marriage-plot the deus ex machina is not Providence, but chance itself. What follows is a sequence of sudden transformations in the surrounding environment that challenge all expectations and complete the young captains experience. Absolute darkness--"Such must have been the darkness before creation"--is interrupted by raindrops (167). Change still retains supernatural connotations--"I wondered at this mysterious devilry" (168)--however, the raindrops are "forerunners of something," something as yet unidentified. And a new, unpredicted event occurs: "suddenly the darkness turned into water [...] with no preliminary whisper or rustle, without a splash, or even without the ghost of an impact, I became instantaneously soaked to the skin" (224). These sudden transformations open up new possibilities for change. They run counter to the sense of finality that attends Gothic terrors while at the same time suggesting that no deterministic prediction is possible; the time of chance is punctuated, fractured, unconstrained. The young captain's perception, however, remains uncertain. It is hard for him to shake off his supernatural vocabulary and embrace the full potential of mutability: "perfect silence," the narrator recounts, mediating the impressions of his younger self, "proclaimed the yet unbroken spell of our helplessness, poised on the edge of some violent issue, lurking in the dark" (170). Finality resurfaces in these words, which project agency onto the surrounding environment and go so far as to anthropomorphize it. The "violent issues" already seem to exist as an invisible enemy ambushing the ship; time is an empty proscenium, ready to accommodate a villain that broods behind the curtains. And with this perception persists its psychological correlative, a disempowering feeling of self-commiseration: "I felt ashamed of having been passed over by the fever which had been preying on every man's strength but mine, in order that my remorse might be the more bitter, the feeling of unworthiness more poignant, and the sense of responsibility heavier to bear" (173).
The persistence of the "spell" is also emphasized by Mr. Burns's "exorcism," by his delirious fight against the ghost of the old captain, which constitutes, in fact, a turning point. Burns's delusional perception of and conversation with the ghost coincides with sudden changes in the weather, suggesting that a supernatural fight may actually be taking place. At the same time, it elicits the young captains skeptical, yet highly ambivalent condescension. In spite of his posing as a detached rationalist who derogates Burns's "crazy excitement" and his angry exchanges with the former captain, the "evil brute" that is tormenting and attempting to kill them all, he tends to detect willfulness in nature and still sees himself as trapped in an evil, annihilating teleology. Significantly, he is inclined to detect patterns in the changes of the weather: "He snorted defiantly. I noted with weary resignation that the breeze had got lighter while he raved" (175). In spite of personifying, in all appearance, the well-established dichotomy of reason against superstition, of little or no interest to Conrad, Burns's hallucinations and the captain's pessimism appear to be, once again, two versions of the same attitude, although the captain's is harder to cope with. The captain and his first mate suffer from a similar intellectual malaise, the tendency to impose anthropomorphic patterns on the world. But while Mr. Burns is physically sick and in his own way willing to act by confronting the "ghost," the young captains view is inseparable from his paralyzing self-derogation. This attitude resurfaces a few lines later, where the young captain both reproaches Mr. Burns and feels quite inconsistently that the "spell" still conditions the ship, so that there is only one possible outcome for their predicament:
The breeze had let go so suddenly that the way of the ship brought the wet sails heavily against the mast. The spell of deadly stillness had caught us up again. There seemed to be no escape. "Hallo!" exclaimed Mr. Burns in a startled voice. "Calm again!" I addressed him as though he had been sane. "This is the sort of thing we've been having for seventeen days, Mr. Burns," I said with intense bitterness. "A puff, then a calm, and in a moment, you'll see, she'll be swinging on her heel with her head away from her course to the devil somewhere." (176)
This passage constitutes an interpretive crux: once Burns has finished with his delirious "exorcism," the ship seems, in fact, to have broken free from the deadly spell: "The barrier of awful stillness which had encompassed us for so many days was broken. I felt that" (179); and "The breeze kept on freshening and blew true, true to a hair. At daylight by careful manipulation of the helm we got the foreyards to run square by themselves (the water keeping smooth)" (180). But considering this turning point as the closure and validation of an actual supernatural plot does not do justice to the novellas overall structure and concerns. The main question The Shadow-Line seems to raise after latitude 8[degrees] 20' has finally been crossed does not center on spectral presences and their tricks. Conrad's use of the patterns of the bildungsroman, which take over after the culmination of the Gothic subtext, leads instead to the question as to whether there has been some change in the protagonist. The Author's Note and Conrad's auspicious inscription of The Shadow-Line to his son Borys and his comrades seem to suggest that the young captain has learned something, that this is a story of experience and self-transformation: The Shadow-Line is not a novel of "failed development," running counter to modernist revisions of the genre that emphasized how difficult it was for young characters to reach a compromise with the world of their fathers. (14) The beginnings of his change can in fact be traced back to his return on deck and his decision to embrace "chance." Experience, however, has ushered him into a new state of mind, which becomes manifest after Mr. Burns has regained his balance:
By way of sanity test I alluded on purpose to the late captain. I was delighted to find that Mr. Burns did not display undue interest in the subject. He ran over the old tale of that savage ruffian's iniquities with a certain vindictive gusto and then concluded unexpectedly: "I do believe, sir, that his brain began to go a year or more before he died." A wonderful recovery. I could hardly spare it as much admiration as it deserved, for I had to give all my mind to the steering. In comparison with the hopeless languour of the preceding days this was dizzy speed. Two ridges of foam streamed from the ship's bows; the wind sang in a strenuous note which under other circumstances would have expressed to me all the joy of life. Whenever the hauled-up mainsail started trying to slat and bang itself to pieces in its gear, Mr. Burns would look at me apprehensively. "What would you have me to do, Mr. Burns? We can neither furl it nor set it. I only wish the old thing would thrash itself to pieces and be done with it. That beastly racket confuses me." Mr. Burns wrung his hands, and cried out suddenly: "How will you get the ship into harbour, sir, without men to handle her?" And I couldn't tell him. Well--it did get done about forty hours afterward. By the exorcising virtue of Mr. Burns' awful laugh, the malicious spectre had been laid, the evil spell broken, the curse removed. We were now in the hands of a kind and energetic Providence. It was rushing us on.... (183-84)
Both Burns and the young captain have recovered in this passage, no longer feeling tormented by evil forces. Burns's misperceptions were just symptoms of his fever, while the young captain's had a more elusive emotional and intellectual nature, which he seems to have outgrown like his first mate, conceived as his foil. Confronted by the problem of how to bring the ship into harbor without an efficient crew, the young captain seems now able to face the unknown, to embrace an open temporality in which future risks have become irrelevant: significantly, the process of returning to the port does not even deserve a passing description--"it did get done." That the young captains outlook has changed is especially apparent in his use of supernatural metaphors. In a new ontological reversal, he resuscitates "Providence": "By the exorcising virtue of Mr. Burns' awful laugh," says the narrator, "the malicious spectre had been laid, the evil spell broken, the curse removed. We were now in the hands of a kind and energetic Providence. It was rushing us on...." However, the meaning of Providence has shifted. There is not "Providence," that is, an absolute, permanent supernatural influence, but "a" providence--one among many possible forces or circumstances that may ease or direct human undertakings. These forces or circumstances are transient, as conveyed by the ellipses after "Providence," signifying that the young captain does not exist in a teleological time where "Providence" has the last word or where its manifestations and purposes can be understood or propitiated. So relative and precarious is in fact this providence that it can appear in the same sentence with a "malicious spectre" and an "evil spell," anti-providential forces that turn out to have been figments of a sick man's brain, as well as rhetorical tropes that a highly-strung young captain has used in his first professional misadventure. "Providence" is, in other words, equated with purely metaphorical definitions of a hostile nature and thus emptied of its residual metaphysical meanings. Providence and anti-providence are downgraded to interchangeable language constructions, and their subservience to the young captain's self-centered perception, alternatively tinged with hope and fear, has been undermined by the experience of finding out that he had not been elected for command and that crossing the shadow-line did not annihilate him and his ship after all. Along with this goes a new psychological state, no longer of euphoria or self-commiseration: "never mind. Remorse must wait. I had to steer" (186).
Providence and anti-providence are constructions of language, and so are the genres that have staged them. The targets of this novella are both the teleologies implicit in human language and the teleologies woven through narrative plots and descriptions, resonating with late-imperial pessimism as well as self-defeating determinist thinking. The thought and actions of the young captain represent a process of individual development toward a more open temporal and ethical horizon. At the same time, they delineate a trajectory of aesthetic change that culminates in The Shadow-Line itself, namely, in a narrative emphasizing agency, responsibility, unpredictability, chance. That The Shadow-Line easily lends itself to be read as a Gothic narrative of curses and exorcisms does not contradict my argument. The fact that the weather improves after Burns has engaged in a metaphysical fight with the ghost of the old captain does not provide evidence of the supernatural, nor amount to Conrad's covert attempt to preserve the Gothic and its horrors while denying them at the conscious level in a compromise between rational and irrational formations that seems to resuscitate the numinous. It suggests instead that reality lends itself to be structured and mystified by human patterns. Ironically, the early reception of The Shadow-Line as a tale of the supernatural proves that Conrad was right; Burns is not the only one to have seen an evil spell in a bout of bad weather. (15)
With this in mind, it is useful to go back to the title and the initial epigraph of the novella, devised, just like the title of Heart of Darkness, to invite interpretation, and now easier to understand because fully in line with this reading. The image of "the shadow-line" itself evokes an open time, suggesting not so much the act of reaching a zone of darkness as that of crossing it. The shadow exists to be experienced: what lies beyond it is uncertain, but it is not annihilation, at least, not an impending one. The symbolic emphasis on experience, on crossing a line, entails dismissing that "finality" that Conrad disliked in previous fiction and that the young captain wrongly perceives. That the crossing matters more than the reaching is confirmed by the way in which Conrad has structured the beginning and the ending of the novella. While at the psychological level the journey of The Shadow-Line does have provisional closure, the conventional (both in actuality and in the realm of narrative) sequence of departure, journey, and landfall remains unresolved. Conrad makes the ship go back to the same city where the young captain received his appointment, and the journey has to start again. Retrospectively, the disproportionate and somewhat puzzling opening section, in which a proliferation of details foreshadows many possible plot developments, seems itself instrumental in undermining the idea of a clear-cut linear progression.
Another crucial component of the threshold of The Shadow-Line, and one that contributes to the overall meaning of the novella, is the epigraph, which contains a quotation from Baudelaire's "La musique," a poem from Les fleurs du mal: "D'autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir / De mon desespoir." (16) This quotation signals a key theme of The Shadow-Line, the projection of one's feelings onto the phenomenal world. At the same time the epigraph centers on the way in which art itself represents, and engenders, subjective projections, not only because The Shadow-Line highlights the aesthetic deployment of Providence and anti-Providence, thus stabilizing the meaning of the quotation, but also because Baudelaire's poem itself is ultimately about aesthetic fictions. The subject of "La musique" is the ability of music to generate in its listeners an imaginary experience of the sea, of storms and doldrums, while at the same lending shape to their feelings through a conflation of the subject's own emotions and the imaginary perceptions engendered by art. This idea would fall back into the creative dialectics of subject and object typical of the aesthetic theory of Romanticism and German idealism, were it not that Baudelaire is disenchanted with the revealing power of art and interested in the perceptual state it induces with its artifice. (17) Read against the backdrop of The Shadow-Line, the poem points to fiction's ability to produce anthropocentric fictions, of accommodating the desires of its audiences as well as its authors.
In light of all this, situating The Shadow-Line in Conrad's oeuvre and career becomes easier. Given its implied reflection on how literary form shapes experience and in particular the experience of time, this novella can be read as a companion-piece to Chance. (18) As commentators have noted, Chance, published four years before The Shadow-Line, (19) responds to the determinist faith that had found its way into late naturalism and, more broadly, into novelistic realism: it constitutes an attempt to dismiss the aesthetic representation of a closed temporality while at the same time ironically using conventions of the Victorian marriage plot. (20) Conrad's later works mark a change from Marlows gloomy meditations on the workings of chance in Lord Jim. Pondering Jim's fate, Marlow claims: "It is not Justice the servant of men, but accident, hazard, Fortune--the ally of patient Time--that holds an even and scrupulous balance" (235). In Chance, with an emphasis on unpredictability and neutrality, he remarks how "By the merest chance, as things do happen, lucky and unlucky, terrible or tender, important or unimportant; and even things which are neither, things so completely neutral in character that you would wonder why they do happen at all if you didn't know that they, too, carry in their insignificance the seeds of further incalculable chances" (61). In The Shadow-Line, the young captain decides that his ship "must take her chance," confronting an open future: Conrad continues his critique of time and narrative by going back to another crucial novelistic sub-genre, the bildungsroman, and weaving within its patterns a new representation of chance and indeterminacy. He represents individual development as a cognitive as well as ethical test, demystifying teleological closure and presenting the encounter with the unpredictable as open-ended, with a renewed investment in the ideals of fidelity, self-sacrifice, and work.
This suggests, in turn, a way to situate The Shadow-Line in Conrad's own experience, with an eye to his purposes and his aesthetic consciousness. As his inscription to Borys suggests, The Shadow-Line was meant to deal, at the symbolic level, with the trials of World War I. It is perhaps significant that in his propaganda essay "The Unlighted Coast," written in 1916, Conrad described the war with words that recall the turning point of The Shadow-Line:
It had a strange sense of finality. The land had turned to a shadow. Of all scourges and visitations against which mankind prays to Heaven, it was not pestilence that had smitten that shore dark; it was war; with sudden death, another of that dreaded company, full of purpose, in the air, on the water, and under the water. That mere shadow--big with fate. (48)
While in his Author's Note Conrad denies that the novella, and the personal experience upon which it was based, could bear comparison with the immense trauma of war, he nevertheless remarks that between him and the young soldiers "there was a feeling of identity, though with an enormous difference of scale--as of one single drop measured against the bitter and stormy immensity of an ocean" (The Shadow Line 2013,6). As Jacques Berthoud has suggested, that identity lies not so much in material experience as in the perception and self-perception that go along with it: in The Shadow-Line Conrad combined autobiography and aesthetic vision to dismantle "ready made conceptions of the self" and "explore the "emotional instability that is the penalty of self-consciousness" (19,22).
Conrad's chief preoccupation in the novella is to be truthful to a spiritual experience that could connect different generations. This explains why he insisted on the autobiographical roots of his work; as he wrote to Sir Sidney Colvin in 1917: "To sit down and invent fairy tales was impossible then. It isn't possible even now. I was writing that thing in Dec 1914 and Jan to March 1915" (Collected Letters 6:37).
Paradoxically, the supernatural was part of this search for truthfulness. Conrad's disclaimer of the supernatural in his 1920 Author's Note to The ShadowLine should not be taken at face value. As his letters show, Conrad initially disliked the reviews that pointed to the supernatural aspect of the novella, instead emphasizing its foundation in fact. (21) Later, however, he admitted that the supernatural overtones were integral to the The Shadow-Line. In a letter to Helen Sanderson, he wrote: "I never either meant or 'felt' the supernatural aspect of the story while writing it. It came out somehow and my readers pointed it out to me" (Collected Letters 6:67). This acknowledgement should be read in light of the reflections on his art that Conrad shared with Sir Sidney Colvin in the previously cited letter in which he emphasized the autobiographical component of The Shadow-Line:
[As] a matter of fact all my concern has been with the "ideal" values of things, events and people. That and nothing else. The humorous, the pathetic, the passionate, the sentimental aspects came in of themselves--mais en verite c'est les valeurs ideales des faits et gestes humains qui se sont impose[e]s a mon activite artistique (Collected Letters after 6:40; original emphasis).
By identifying the "aspects" of his fiction as codified narrative tones, Conrad implies that his works are, to a certain degree, shaped by formal conventions. Moreover, he characterizes these aspects as unintended effects, ancillary to his guiding purpose: their presence is subordinated to the artistic search for the "ideal value" of human existence. Formal configurations, suggests Conrad, are instrumental in making us see key human events, but they should not be interpreted literally. The supernatural in The Shadow-Line seems to be one of the aspects Conrad discusses in his letter. Far from being an end in itself, it serves to undermine misleading perceptions--conveyed by beliefs, philosophies, genres--thus clearing the ground for a different vision. Indirectly, therefore, it contributes to the main aim of The Shadow-Line: representing the experience of an open temporality.
SAPIENZA UNIVERSITY OF ROME
(1.) Acknowledgments: I am grateful to Richard Ambrosini, Daniela Caselli, George Levine, Iolanda Plescia, and Natalie Roxburgh for their suggestions and insights.
Watts's reading of the "metaphysical" plot of The Shadow-Line is, so far, the subtlest and most extensive, also focusing on Conrad's sources.
(2.) See Brantlinger 227-54. Commentators have often highlighted Conrad's highly diversified use of Gothic conventions: while "The Black Mate," to offer an obvious example, is a tale in the tradition of the rationalized supernatural, his major works use Gothic atmospheres and connotations to engage with pressing metaphysical questions. On this point, see Mark Wollaeger's abundant insights about Conrad's supernatural imagery.
(3.) On the sources of The Shadow-Line, see Knowles.
(4.) On open time in literary representation--especially in Russian fiction--see Morson, whose work is based on Bakhtin's philosophy.
(5.) For a reading that situates Conrad's work in the late nineteenth-century debate on determinism and free will, see Schnauder.
(6.) This reading is consonant with those interpretations of The Shadow-Line that stress Conrad's renewed investment in solidarity and work in his later fiction. On The Shadow-Line as a tale of responsibility, solidarity, and work, see Geddes 81-113; Schwarz 82-94; and Hawthorn i-xxv. See also Watt.
(7.) See, for example, Lester, who provides a brief but lucid treatment of the moral meaning of the supernatural in The Shadow-Line.
(8.) On "peripheral" feelings that are based on the anti-logic of the subconscious, see Ignacio Matte Blanco. For an explanation of the mental attitude of the young captain on the basis of Matte Blanco's revision of Freudian psychology, see Ciompi 233-52.
(9.) Conrad's narrators are always quite skeptical of the operation of providence, which they tend to present as a blind, disruptive force or a self-deception entertained by those who are in a position of advantage, such as in Almayer's Folly, Typhoon, and Lord Jim. The latter in particular distinguishes itself for Conrad's memorable description of the narrow-minded approach to religion of Jim's father ("Jims father possessed such certain knowledge of the Unknowable as made for the righteousness of people in cottages without disturbing the ease of mind of those whom an unerring Providence enables to live in mansions" ), and for Marlow's anti-providential interpretation of Jims incident: "But there--in those seas--the incident was rare enough to resemble a special arrangement of a malevolent providence, which, unless it had for its object the killing of a donkeyman and the bringing of worse than death upon Jim, appeared an utterly aimless piece of devilry" (94).
(10.) Conrad's interest in personifications and their anthropological meaning, wholly in line with the intellectual climate of the second half of the nineteenth century, is also evident in his essay "The Character of the Foe," included in The Mirror of the Sea. Conrad may also be revising his own use of what Cedric Watts has called the "antipathetic fallacy" (Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" 18).
(11.) A few lines after this reference to the old captain's "weird story," the manuscript section of the composite manuscript-typescript of The Shadow-Line (the earliest available version of the text) includes a long passage rich in supernatural imagery, which Conrad decided to excise. After a nightmare, the young captain mistakes the seaman on watch for "the apparition of the late captain" (Shadow-Line 2013,200). Afterwards, the surrounding environment assumes a ghostly quality--"The clink of the capstan forward, the voices of the men aloft losing [sic] the sails 'ready on the main' 'ready on the fore' floated past my ears like immaterial eerie sounds not of this world" (200)--and sailing itself is compared to magic: "And the gulf, dark still seemed a mysterious and inaccessible sanctuary in which my orders uttered quietly were like the formulas of a magic rite about to endow the inanimate ship with that motion which is life" (200-201). Conrad probably decided to delete the passage because its use of the conventions of the supernatural was too strong and would have led readers to focus too closely on the Gothic patterns evoked.
(12.) The use and meanings of coincidences in Hardy's plots have been the object of many studies. For a recent contribution, see Dannenberg (16, 54, 90-104, 161-62, 198-99); Pettigrew; and Elliott. On the decline of providential plots in the late Victorian period, see Hardy; Goldknopf; Forsyth; and Monk.
(13.) Part of the novella's critique of the young captain's attitude are the quotations from Hamlet: "an undiscovered country" (3; Hamlet, III.i.79-80); "that force somewhere within our lives which shapes them this way or that" (35; Hamlet, V.ii.10-11); "this stale unprofitable world of my discontent" (40; Hamlet, I.ii.133-34); "mortal coil" (106; Hamlet, III.i.66-67). Far from suggesting a close analogy between the prince of Denmark and the young captain, these quotations convey an ironic detachment from the latter's self-involvement and highlight that The Shadow-Line is not constrained by tragic teleologies. This is immediately apparent: the "undiscovered country" explored by the young captain is certainly not death.
(14.) On the transformation of the novel of development in early modernist culture, see Moretti (229-45).
(15.) The Shadow-Lines supernatural overtones are so strong that the novella's first publisher in book form, Dent, decided to make the most of them. The suspenseful question on the cover ("Why did the Captain and the silent crew of the ship in this story of the far east have such great and mysterious difficulty in passing latitude 8d 20'?") invites readers to read it as a tale of the supernatural, one that fits Tzvetan Todorov's influential idea of the fantastic as based on a prolonged ontological hesitation. This advertising strategy accords with contemporary readings. The novella's early reviewers were struck by its Gothic atmosphere, occasioning Conrad's famous disclaimer in his Author's Note. On the early reception of The Shadow-Line, see Sherry (32) and Knowles (xlvii-lvii).
(16.) "At other times, dead calm, the glass / Of hopelessness" (Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil 139, trans. James McGowan)
(17.) My understanding of Baudelaire draws on Friedrich and Berman.
(18.) The thematic relation between Chance and The Shadow-Line has already been highlighted, although in a different perspective. In his influential study of Conrad's artistic trajectory, Thomas Moser emphasizes that the role of "chance" in human events is a prominent theme in both works. Moser remarks how chance "serves to bring about awareness of evil" (135) in Chance, and how the "nonromantic" events of The Shadow-Line "depend also upon chance happenings" (133). Moser argues, moreover, that "in the later novels chance serves not only to reveal an evil external to the main characters, but also to blur the problem of their moral responsibility, to confuse failure of luck with failure of conscience" (140). In his view, these works idealize the moral standing of their protagonists: "the heroes and heroines of the later Conrad are sinned against, themselves unsinning" (141); they are "figures of purity afflicted by an external evil" (143). Mosers reading downplays, I believe, the key role played by temporality and change in The Shadow-Line, acknowledged by those commentators that have interpreted the novella as a story of individual development, and the aesthetic/epistemological focus it shares with Chance, which has, according to other critics, a strong self-reflexive component (Boyd 43-65; Wake 101-27).
(19.) Chance was published in book form in 1913 (US) and 1914 (England).
(20.) On Chance as a parody of the Victorian marriage plot, see Jones (34); on its attempt to describe a non-teleological development of events, see Dannenberg (164-66).
(21.) See Conrad's letters to Sir Sidney Colvin (Collected Letters 6: 37, 39), and to J. B. Pinker (6:51).
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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