Joseph Conrad had already cemented himself as one of the greatest English novelists with books like Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, but it wasn't until Victory that he achieved his peak fame. This tale of love, jealousy, and adventure is rife with all the tension and drama fans have come to expect from the great Conrad. Performed with a powerful dedication by award-winning actor George Guidall, Victory is the suspenseful tale of Axel Heyst and his misadventure on a small island in the South Seas.
From one of the greatest modern writers in world literature comes a magnificent story of love, adventure, and rescue, played out against the shimmering South Seas. Alone on a tropical island, a Swedish baron and a beautiful violinist discover the long-lost joys of love. But when two treasure hunters arrive on the beach, the lovers know that evil has invaded their romantic paradise-an evil they are powerless to stop.
Victory is a timeless classic that showcases the probing psychological insight, the masterful drama, and the breathtaking atmosphere that have won Joseph Conrad generations of fans.
Public Domain (P)1995 Recorded Books, LLC
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"Beautiful, sad and powerful"
"I had, in a moment of inadvertence, created for myself a tie. How to define it precisely I don't know. One gets attached in a way to people one has done something for. But is that friendship? I am not sure what it was. I only know that he who forms a tie is lost. The germ of corruption has entered into his soul."
The more Conrad I read/listen to, the more I love Conrad. Victory is a not just your standard story about good v. evil, West v. East, innocence and savagery. It is about being an actor in life and love and not just an observer. It is beautiful, sad and powerful.
"The floating abyss of emptiness"
This was a difficult book for me to read because of how personal it is. I felt myself identifying far too much to the main character, Axel, than I was comfortable with. Yet the very fact this book exists and was written a hundred years ago also tells me how I felt is not so uncommon - and in some ways that made it even more difficult.
The issue at heart here is isolation and insulation. Axel has nearly given up on the whole of humanity and has isolated himself from everyone believing himself to be safe that way. Yet this only made it easier for a man like Schomberg to spread lies and incite others against him. And so the very things Axel wanted to escape from causes greedy, vile men to come after him.
The entire book is filled with characters who have false impressions about everyone around them; nobody knows anyone in this book and all their troubles are caused by these misunderstandings. This is very much part of the human experience, however, it's even keener here since the book was written on the very eve of WW1 where whole nations, not just individuals, who all mistrusted each other, resented each other, and did not understand each other at all decided to kill each other in staggering quantities.
And so when I fully related to the isolation of Axel and began to feel a little depressed that I could identify such a trait in myself, I could also take at least a little comfort in knowing what I feel is not unique. Nobody really can know anyone else and we can either make up what we want about others (as Schomberg does and, to a different degree, Lena does), or we can try to hide away and hope nobody comes looking for some treasure we don't even possess.
Conrad goes even deeper by exploring the point of art itself as a means to bridge the gap between people when he shows the scene of Axel reading his father's book: "The son read, shrinking into himself, composing his face as if under the author's eye". Conrad is showing us that even art, even with the author himself staring over our shoulder, will not help us at all know one other person any better than we could if we stranded ourselves on a lonely, volcanic island in the South Pacific.
And there is nothing very optimistic here, either. The final word of the novel is "nothing", the absolute negation (and very unlike Ulysses whose final work is "yes", the ultimate affirmation in life). But the irony is that by writing this book, by telling and showing us how we can never know another person Conrad manages to soothe us somewhat by letting us know we all have this loneliness in common. He may be saying there is nothing to be done about this condition, but he shows us it's not uncommon and in a way this knowledge makes us feel a little less lonely.
Victory is a Möbius strip of the human condition, of sorts.
And what of the title, "Victory". Why that word when the last word of the novel is "nothing" and all the characters float about like shadows ready to evaporate into the heat of noon? What is the victory over? Lena for sure finds her strength and her purpose as her victory but on top of that the victory is in achieving an understanding of something we all share in common as human beings but can't do anything about. Just the fact that we know we are all alone is enough to bring us together.
Of course the other issue here is misunderstanding. In place of actually getting to know each other, how often do we just make assumptions about another person's behavior? How often do we look at a person who is distant and aloof and assume they are hiding something or that they disdain us or think they are better than us? Why do we make these assumptions instead of asking ourselves if there is something we can do for that person because they may have been hurt, or are shy, or have any number of issues that have nothing to do with us? Instead of always thinking the world is against us, maybe the problem is just that we don't see the world correctly because we are too wrapped up in ourselves? That seems to be very much the problem for all the characters in this book until Lena figures out what she wants - she is not guilty of not having loved.
This is a very complex book even if the story is incredibly simple. Very little happens over the course of the novel in terms of action but there is so much "going on" here. I feel you could spend a lifetime unfolding this novel (and I use the term unfold rather than the more typical term unpack because it feels more appropriate when dealing with Conrad). The novel also leaves me with a lot of competing emotions, so much so it took me nearly a week just to write this review because I had a hard time wrapping my brain around what I had just read.
If only every novel could be this good.
"Uneven tale of good and evil"
This book takes place in the tropics. Conrad is a wonderful writer, and he sailed the tropical seas in real life. Heart of Darkness is one of my favorite books.
So, I wish I liked this one more. It seemed like Conrad kept trying to beat home his points about his characters and about good vs. evil. Sometimes he would go on and on about something, and even though I thought I knew what he was trying to get at when he started, by the time he was done I'd be only confused. He kept bringing up what it means to be a gentleman, but I honestly am not sure what he was trying to say on that particular subject. But, it was still a good story, and it was uncanny how it kept pulling me back in. Also, I was glad I'd been alerted to the fact that the narrator point of view shifts through the story.
"Conrad's Masterful Storytelling..."
shines through again in this intriguing and romantic Elizabethan style tale of love and revenge. We see some of the psychological elements again in this story for which Conrad is so well known, but more in the subtle Shakespearean sense rather than the more obvious symbolism used in Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. Conrad is always reliable and this stands as one of his great novels.
"The World Will Send Envoys, Even to Your Island"
In Part One of Joseph Conrad's Victory (1915) the narrator introduces Axel Heyst, a Swedish "baron" drifting about the Tropical Belt of Eastern Asian islands (Timor, Saigon, Manila, and many small ones). Heyst is a mystery because he doesn't do anything to make money, unlike the narrator and his peers who cruise around on their ships trading with the locals. Everyone calls him derisive nicknames: "Enchanted Heyst," "Hard Fact Heyst," and "Utopist Heyst." Everyone thinks he's a harmless eccentric except for Schomberg, a coarse and cowardly Teutonic hotel owner who hates him with a passion and spreads foul rumors about his perceived perfidies. Heyst is completely unaware of how people see him.
Heyst, it develops, was molded by his failed philosopher father to live life as a rootless and detached spectator, feeling contempt and pity for the follies and plights of human beings who, after all, have nothing to do with him. Will he discover that it may not be so easy to go through life untouched and unentangled? What will become of his father's philosophy when Heyst's aloof observer orbit collides with four Brits? There is Morrison, a pathetic trader who never calls in debts, Lena (AKA Alma or the Magdalen), a beautiful, laconic, audacious, and sad damsel in distress, and "plain Mr. Jones," a cadaverous and misogynistic "gentleman" who has fallen Lucifer-like from his proper class and country to languidly gamble, thieve, extort, and kill up and down the world with the help of Martin Ricardo, his faithful lower-class feline thug of a "secretary" henchman.
Victory is a character study, a tropical romance, a crime thriller, and a philosophical debate. It may also be, not unlike Lord Jim, a triumphant tragedy involving a Pyrrhic victory leading, perhaps, to a romantic redemption. Its themes concern gender, class, race, colonialism, civilization, fate, love, and life in the world and apart from it. The novel is often strangely funny, and of course (Conrad being Conrad) it is shot through with wonderfully evocative and vivid descriptions of sea, sun, and people and cool insights into human nature.
Here is some neat humor, description, and character:
"His nearest neighbour--I am speaking now of things showing some sort of animation--was an indolent volcano which smoked faintly all day with its head just above the northern horizon, and at night levelled at him, from amongst the clear stars, a dull red glow, expanding and collapsing spasmodically like the end of a gigantic cigar puffed at intermittently in the dark. Axel Heyst was also a smoker; and when he lounged out on his veranda with his cheroot, the last thing before going to bed, he made in the night the same sort of glow and of the same size as that other one so many miles away."
Here is some serene beauty:
"The islands are very quiet. One sees them lying about, clothed in their dark garments of leaves, in a great hush of silver and azure, where the sea without murmurs meets the sky in a ring of magic stillness. A sort of smiling somnolence broods over them; the very voices of their people are soft and subdued, as if afraid to break some protecting spell."
Here is some ominous suspense:
"Behind his back the sun, touching the water, was like a disc of iron cooled to a dull red glow, ready to start rolling round the circular steel plate of the sea, which, under the darkening sky, looked more solid than the high ridge of Samburan."
And here are some wonderful lines:
"For the use of reason is to justify the obscure desires that move our conduct..."
"The Zangiacomo band was not making music; it was simply murdering silence with a vulgar, ferocious energy."
"The world is a bad dog. It will bite you if you give it a chance."
"Man on this earth is an unforeseen accident which does not stand close investigation."
"That girl, seated in her chair in graceful quietude, was to him like a script in an unknown language, or even more simply mysterious, like any writing to the illiterate."
"An insane bandit is a deadly combination."
"I find it easier to believe in the misfortune of mankind than in its wickedness."
If there were an American I'd like to listen to reading a British novel, it would be George Guidall. Instead of affecting British accents he speaks a limpid international English, all the while enhancing the various emotions and agendas and personalities of the characters with his at times sardonic at times sympathetic and always savory voice. However, for the interplay between Mr. Jones and Martin I did long for greater differentiation between their high and low classes via accent than Guidall conveys.
Fans of Joseph Conrad, great prose, and bleak yet hopeful visions should give Victory a try--though Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness would be better Conrad works with which to begin an acquaintance with the twinkling-eyed master of existential exotic adventure.
"Classic told well."
Terrific reading highlighting the subtleties of Conrad's prose. Well done.An incredibly villainous villain and a naive hero.
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