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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Conrad's narration and imagination in Nostromo

The third part of Conrad's Nostromo shows the scramble for advantage in the wake of the peasant revolution in the SA country of Costaguana: the temporary imprisonment of Dr. Moynaghan, Captain Mitchell. et al., as the revolutionary soldiers try to learn the whereabouts of the last shipment of bullion taken from the San Tome mine - the captives released when they learn (incorrectly) that the treasure sunk when the lighter collided with a passing steamboat. So we begin to focus on the various generals and toy soldiers allied with the leaders of the revolt, the Montero brothers, as the squeeze closer in on the silver mine - and we watch the European business leaders huddle for safety and advantage - with the thought that they will destroy the mine rather than turn it over to the peasants. Conrad's view of government, particularly in the Third World, a term that predated him by many years but where he sets most of his fiction, is quite condescending and Eurocentric - although his view is also just dark enough that we realizes the European colonists are not exactly exemplars of liberty, freedom, and justice - they're pretty much out for themselves, for what else is Gould doing but stripping away the mineral wealth of the country? - nothing that he does benefits the people of Costaguana, it just props up a sympathetic government (whose leaders get their cut) and brings the semblance of stability. This whole section of the novel, The Lighthouse, is colored by our known more than all of the characters - all of whom assume and believe that both Nostromo and Decoud are dead and that the silver is lost to the bottom. We read with anticipation of how the discovery that the two men are alive and that the silver is safely buried will changes attitudes and actions. The post-rebellion section contains some of Conrad's most detailed and beautiful writing - and this time not even about the sea. There are long passages describing the peasant armies, the political rally, the town of Sulaco at night with the moans and cries of the wounded - how did Conrad know all this? Today, we get so much info and have access to so much info that it's not surprising when a writer in, say, Idaho, writes about German soldiers and French scientists during WWII - but how did Conrad get so much info? Observation? Research? Imagination? He creates scenes that feel documentary and vivid based on places, situations, and outcomes that I would guess he never witnessed - storytelling at its finest, in the days when people, like so many Conrad narrators, actually told tales to one another.

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