A reading of a late work by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad’s 1916 novella The Shadow-Line is much more conventional, at least ostensibly or superficially, than some of his most celebrated earlier fiction, such as Nostromo (1904) or Under Western Eyes (1911), even though it was written later than both of those novels. In many ways it signals a return to Conrad’s earlier writing, from the 1890s, and in particular such stories as ‘Youth’ (1898). Unlike his most famous work, Heart of Darkness (1899), there is no frame-narrative device employed in The Shadow-Line; instead the narrator tells the story in the first person, direct to us, the reader (cf. Marlow in Heart of Darkness, who tells the story orally to a group of men on the boat with him in the Thames). Unlike Under Western Eyes, we are not encouraged to view the protagonist from a detached perspective, through the lens (or under the eyes) of another person; Razumov’s ‘confession’ may come to us, in his diary, mediated through the English narrator, but the narrator’s confession in The Shadow-Line (its full title is The Shadow-Line: A Confession) comes to us direct. Conrad also draws very closely on his own life experiences for the story of The Shadow-Line (he had served in the British Navy and taken command of a ship in the Gulf of Siam, like the novella’s narrator), unlike Nostromo, for which he had to rely heavily on written accounts of colonial life in South America. These features are important for any analysis of the style and structure of The Shadow-Line, in some ways an underappreciated work in Conrad’s oeuvre. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic poem
‘The Lamb’ is one of William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’, and was published in the volume bearing that title in 1789; the equivalent or complementary poem in the later Songs of Experience (1794) is ‘The Tyger’.
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb: Read the rest of this entry
The best religious poems
What are the best religious poems in English literature? Obviously religious faith – and, indeed, religious doubt – has loomed large in English poetry, whether it’s in the devotional lyrics of John Donne and George Herbert or the modern, secular musings of Philip Larkin in ‘Church Going’. We’ve excluded longer works such as John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, although naturally that’s a must-read work of English religious poetry, just conceived on a different scale from what we have here.
Caedmon, Hymn. Perhaps the oldest poem written in English, Caedmon’s Hymn was composed in the 7th century by a goatherd and takes the form of a short hymn in praise of God. It was Bede, or ‘the Venerable Bede’ as he is often known, who ensured the survival of Caedmon’s Hymn, when he jotted it down in Latin translation in one of his books. An anonymous scribe then added the Anglo-Saxon form of the hymn in the margins of Bede’s book. Read the rest of this entry