Telling tales : Conrad and narrative technique.
This thesis seeks to suggest that prevailing critical approaches to
Conrad's work serve to restrict interpretative possibilities rather than to free
them. I argue that the segmenting methods of classical narratology have
been carried over to Conradian criticism, but that these methods prove
inadequate to the technical versatility of Conradian narrative. Furthermore,
I suggest that these methods have sometimes been applied inflexibly, to the
extent that some of Conrad's most technically original works have been
condemned simply because they do not adhere to the narrative structures
I examine in detail Conrad's use, and critical responses to that use, of
non-linear chronology, variable perspective, narrative levels, personalised
narrators, fragmented narrative, binary thematics and the quintessentially
Conradian technique delayed decoding. My illustrations are not drawn
exclusively from Conrad's major works, but from wherever I find narrative
originality. Consequently, as well as references to many of Conrad's minor
works, there are extended discussions of focalisation in the short story 'The
Partner', of narrative levels in 'The Tale', and of narrative multiplicity in The
Nigger of the ·Narcissus~.
My conclusion is that Conrad was a more technically inventive writer
than has been recognised, and that that invention tends one way: away from
the notion of a single truth hidden at the heart of a work, and towards an art
recognising the limits of representation. Many of the techniques I discuss
can be seen as provoking the reader to see differently: incommensurable
presentations of the same events from different perspectives, multiple
conflicting interpretations of characters, narrators whose unreliability is
explicitly highlighted rather than implied, narrative mobility, covert plotting.
I suggest that in addition to asking his readers to see differently, Conrad, in
his most successful works, actually requires us to be otherwise as we read.