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Victory - A Novel by Joseph Conrad

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Book Overview

Joseph Conrad possessed a matchless gift for embodying life as it is lived under extreme physical and psychological pressure. Victory, his last masterpiece, tells the story of Axel Heyst, a radically... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Paradise was lost forever

"Victory" is not so much a conventional novel as a fable, with strong influences of the Bible, Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Shakespeare's "The Tempest". This story is absolutely marginal, that is, it occurs to people who inhabit the margins of the world, the margins of society, and within the margins of a common life. The characters also operate in one or the other of the two extremes of morality. Axel Heyst, a Swede son of a bitter and disenchanted philosopher, is extremely influenced by the parental way of thinking, to the point that he follows the advice provided by his dying father. When Heyst, disconcerted at the foot of the bed, asks him what is the proper way to live, Heyst senior answers: "Look on, and make no sound". So, after his father dies, Axel emigrates to the colonies in Southeastern Asia, where he makes a living as a merchant, coming and going about the islands. Heyst is a distant but kind guy, always with a smile on his face and willing to help others, but always refusing any kind of intimacy. One day, he enters a business about a coal mine with an associate, the death of whom (not a murder) he is later accused of provoking, which gives him a reputation throughout the islands as a mysterious, somewhat mischievous man. His main detractor is a hotel keeper, one Schomberg, a hateful, coward, and calumnious man. After the business goes broke, Schomberg escalates his tirades about "that Swede", slowly developing an irrational hatred towards him. Meanwhile, unaware of his reputation and of Schomberg's hatred, Heyst decides to stay on the remote island where the coal mine used to be, totally isolated from humanity, except for the silent and shadowy company of his servant, Wang. One day, on account of old business affairs, Heyst travels to the island where Schomberg's hotel is, and stays there. There he meets a young woman who plays in a "ladies orchestra", managed by a sinister couple who practically treats their employees as slaves. The girl, Lena, tells Heyst that the hideous Schomberg has been sexually harassing her, and begs him to get her out of there. Heyst, attracted by the beauty and mystery of the girl, manages to smuggle her out of the hotel and take her to his island. This, of course takes Schomberg's hatred to extremes. A little time later, three criminals arrive to the hotel. They force Schomberg to host illegal gambling, and make his life hell, practically taking over the place. As the secretary of the boss (one Mr. Jones), Martin Ricardo, reveals their past (true or imaginary, but certainly scary), Schomberg comes up with an idea. He tells them that Heyst keeps vast amounts of money on the island. Ricardo convinces his boss to go there and assault him. He hides from his boss the fact that there is a girl, for Mr. Jones has an irrational hatred and fear of women. Meanwhile, Heyst and Lena lead a loving, peaceful life. It's easy to see here the metaphor of Adam and Eve. One day, the three thugs arrive, almost dead, and H

Apparently you were not near enough for me.

'Apparently you were not near enough for me'. Is this the complaint of all men for women? The strange drawing together of the isolated man (so much as I once was) with the resourceful but unexpected woman so shocked the 'world', those who missed out, that evil had to come of it. But this novel is called 'Victory', Conrad saw it as upbeat. And it is in a strange sort of way. I was profoundly disappointed at the end, as indeed I am disappointed by the end of every life that is a part of my own. Considering the nature of this novel - the strength and support of man (ineffective, but well meaning) for woman, and the wisdom and courage of woman (committed, but perhaps foolish) for man, the end is still inevitable. But Conrad manages to craft an ending that is a victory - one in which neither party compromises their view of the world despite the threats it imposes on them.In Heyst - the 'hero' I saw much of myself. In Lena, the heroine who fails to succeed where success was impossible, I see a particular courageous woman in my own world. Perhaps you too will be able to find one? There are wonderful characters in this novel, but I do regret the lack of any native Indonesian flavour to the story - place is well portrayed, peripheral people less so. But, perhaps in Conrad's time - colonial times - this is just the way the Europeans were - blind to the people around them, not seeing them as truly human.

Pure Conrad

Out of all that Conrad has ever written (and I have read nearly all that he has), Victory is my favorite of his works. The book is full of meaning and nuance. It is a love story, an examination of love itself, an adventure, a drama, an allegory, an examination of human nature, a look into the soul, and ultimately a truly heart-breaking tragedy. The characters almost perfectly constructed and the story is driven by them. The main character, Axel Hyest, has to be one of Conrad's most complex heros. Lena, the female protagonist is a startling combination of innocence and power. A truly unique persona. The settings are masterfully described, with typical Conrad depth. Perhaps only Nostromo is more full of vivid descriptions. Like all great books, you end up falling in love with the characters. I didn't want the story to end, and when it did I was in awe. Hands down, one of the greatest authors of all time.

Learn while young to hope, to love...

This is an exquisite novel. The bulk of the story takes place on the near-deserted Indonesian island of Samburan, where Axel Heyst, the reclusive Swede, has chosen to make his hermitage. In an important vignette about midway through the novel Conrad lets us in on the origin of Heyst's cynical and disillusioned attitude toward life. Here, as his father lies dying, Heyst asks for some final guidance, some final advice about life. His father tells him that all people are pitiful, and "you... if you are anything, are as pitiful as the rest." "What is one to do then?" asks Heyst. "Look on - make no sound" were his father's last words to him. This profoundly affected Heyst, and stayed with him, and a fortnight later he started on his travels - "to look on and never make a sound".He leads a wandering life and avoids contact with others. Intimacy is foreign to him, but he has a truly magnanimous, altruistic heart, and one day on the island of Timor, he impulsively pays the fines for the captain of a trading ship (Morrison) and bails him out of certain financial ruin. As a result, Heyst is offered employment in a coal company, and when Morrison dies, Heyst becomes the owner. The company goes bankrupt, but rather than leave for greener... islands, Heyst decides to stay there with his servant, the "Chinaman" Wang.On a neighboring island, a hotel keeper by the name of Schomburg begins to circulate rumors about "the Swede", rumors that include blaming Heyst for the untimely death of Morrison. Heyst, (completely unaware of Schomburg's malicious hatred) makes a rare visit to the hotel, and while staying there, he is again moved to action by his sensitivity and altruism. This time, he becomes involved in the troubled life of one of the showgirls, a violinist by the name of Alma (Heyst changes her name later to Lena). He rescues her from the loathsome Schomburg's amorous intentions, and carries her off to his island. This infuriates the already hateful hotel keeper, and soon a wandering trio of deperadoes provide the perfect means for murderous revenge. Under the unfounded pretense that Heyst has hidden vast stores of loot on his island, Schomburg convinces these three thugs to invade Samburan, capture their due reward, and return the girl to Schomburg. What follows is an intense psychological/physical battle of wits and bodies. The scoundrels are armed and accustomed to shedding blood, while Heyst and Lena are completely unarmed and defenceless. When Lena is alone and suddenly confronted by one of the villains, she feigns sympathy for their plan, and begins to work a duplicity that even Heyst is unaware of. She takes it upon herself to divest the villainous Ricardo of his weapon. She becomes the sacrificial heroine... working a very, VERY bittersweet "victory". To say more is to say too much... I'm sure Conrad would visibly cringe to find that modern readers knew about the last chapter before reading the first.In many ways Victory ends up being a love story. A s
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