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Summer of Classics finally begins!

Procrastinator that I am, "better late than never" is one of the credos of my life. That said, I'm finally, at the very late date of July 11, launching into my Summer of Classics. Between finishing up the latest draft of Wheatyard and reading a contemporary novel written by a litblogger friend, I didn't start in on the classics as early as I had hoped. So I'll take substantial liberties with the calendar, and think of the period from today through October 11 as "summer.”

The first classic up is Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. I read Heart of Darkness last summer, online via DailyLit.org, liked it somewhat but am now thinking I need to give it another read, in print, to really do it justice. As for Lord Jim, I’ve started it maybe half a dozen times but for whatever reason never got past the first few chapters. But I’m giving it another try, and after reading those first few chapters again this morning, I’m wondering why I wasn’t able to continue previously - especially when I come across a passage as remarkable as the following.

Jim has just hired on as first mate aboard a tramp steamer which is ferrying a large group of Muslim pilgrims, presumably to Mecca. I was struck by the way the soaring, hopeful, lyrical prose of the first paragraph is cut short by the crude, abrupt rejoinder of the single line which follows. What a wonderful and powerful piece of writing.

They streamed aboard over three gangways, they streamed in urged by faith and the hope of paradise, they streamed in with a continuous tramp and shuffle of bare feet, without a word, a murmur, or a look back; and when clear of confining rails spread on all sides over the deck, flowed forward and aft, overflowed down the yawning hatchways, filled the inner recesses of the ship--like water filling a cistern, like water flowing into crevices and crannies, like water rising silently even with the rim. Eight hundred men and women with faith and hopes, with affections and memories, they had collected there, coming from north and south and from the outskirts of the East, after treading the jungle paths, descending the rivers, coasting in praus along the shallows, crossing in small canoes from island to island, passing through suffering, meeting strange sights, beset by strange fears, upheld by one desire. They came from solitary huts in the wilderness, from populous campongs, from villages by the sea. At the call of an idea they had left their forests, their clearings, the protection of their rulers, their prosperity, their poverty, the surroundings of their youth and the graves of their fathers. They came covered with dust, with sweat, with grime, with rags--the strong men at the head of family parties, the lean old men pressing forward without hope of return; young boys with fearless eyes glancing curiously, shy little girls with tumbled long hair; the timid women muffled up and clasping to their breasts, wrapped in loose ends of soiled head-cloths, their sleeping babies, the unconscious pilgrims of an exacting belief.

"Look at dese cattle," said the German skipper to his new chief mate.

July 11, 2008 in Books | Permalink


Oh god, Conrad. He's the perfect cure for insomnia. I read "Heart of Darkness" and "The Secret Sharer" last year and thought both were almost unbearable. In fact, I seem to have blacked out on both stories; I recall that "TSS" was about a doppelganger, but "HoD" ... I might as well not have read it because I remember so little about it.

Posted by: Brandon at Jul 20, 2008 6:55:34 AM