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Acclaimed as one of Joseph Conrad's finest literary achievements, this gripping novel deftly depicts the political turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia and follows the dramatic developments in the life of a student, Razumov, as he prepares for a career in the czarist bureaucracy. In a plot that twists and turns, Razumov unwittingly becomes embroiled in a revolutionary consp Acclaimed as one of Joseph Conrad's finest literary achievements, this gripping novel deftly depicts the political turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia and follows the dramatic developments in the life of a student, Razumov, as he prepares for a career in the czarist bureaucracy. In a plot that twists and turns, Razumov unwittingly becomes embroiled in a revolutionary conspiracy when he gives refuge to a fellow student who assassinated a public official. Increasingly enmeshed in the radical's political intrigue, he betrays the anarchist who had placed blind faith in him. The authorities then dispatch Razumov on a mission to spy on the revolutionary's sister and mother. A fascinating character study, Under Western Eyes hauntingly reveals Razumov's preoccupation with questions of decency and accountability when confronted by the equally powerful truths and values of human integrity and moral strength.


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Acclaimed as one of Joseph Conrad's finest literary achievements, this gripping novel deftly depicts the political turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia and follows the dramatic developments in the life of a student, Razumov, as he prepares for a career in the czarist bureaucracy. In a plot that twists and turns, Razumov unwittingly becomes embroiled in a revolutionary consp Acclaimed as one of Joseph Conrad's finest literary achievements, this gripping novel deftly depicts the political turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia and follows the dramatic developments in the life of a student, Razumov, as he prepares for a career in the czarist bureaucracy. In a plot that twists and turns, Razumov unwittingly becomes embroiled in a revolutionary conspiracy when he gives refuge to a fellow student who assassinated a public official. Increasingly enmeshed in the radical's political intrigue, he betrays the anarchist who had placed blind faith in him. The authorities then dispatch Razumov on a mission to spy on the revolutionary's sister and mother. A fascinating character study, Under Western Eyes hauntingly reveals Razumov's preoccupation with questions of decency and accountability when confronted by the equally powerful truths and values of human integrity and moral strength.

30 review for Under Western Eyes

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    “I am quite willing to be the blind instrument of higher ends. To give one's life for the cause is nothing. But to have one's illusions destroyed - that is really almost more than one can bear.” Joseph Conrad Razumov is serious about his studies. He is quiet, and like most men who brood, there is attributed to him by the people he knows a depth of wisdom that isn’t due to his eloquent conversations or his grand standing on theories, but simply attributed to him because he doesn’t say enough t “I am quite willing to be the blind instrument of higher ends. To give one's life for the cause is nothing. But to have one's illusions destroyed - that is really almost more than one can bear.” Joseph Conrad Razumov is serious about his studies. He is quiet, and like most men who brood, there is attributed to him by the people he knows a depth of wisdom that isn’t due to his eloquent conversations or his grand standing on theories, but simply attributed to him because he doesn’t say enough to dispel the illusion. Razumov seems like a man who is stewing about the state of affairs, and might be hatching a scheme to do something seditious. He is, needless to say, lonely. ”Who knows what true loneliness is--not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion. Now and then a fatal conjunction of events may lift the veil for an instant. For an instant only. No human being could bear a steady view of moral solitude without going mad.” Razumov returns to his rooms one day, from the turmoil of the streets inspired by the successful assassination of a politician, to find the assassin lying on his bed waiting for him to come home. Joseph Conrad based this incident off of the real life assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve. Vyacheslav von Plehve, Minister of the Interior Yes, this mere acquaintance has decided out of all the people in St. Petersburg that he has to come to Razumov for sanctuary. Haldin asks for his assistance, and after debating the matter thoroughly with himself, Razumov agrees to help. It all goes wrong. Razumov flips out. He realizes that he is on the verge of being completely compromised by his association with Haldin. He goes to the police and reveals all. All he wants to do is go back to being a student, but he soon learns that his friends, really more like acquaintances, are now looking to him for leadership. Haldin had told their circle of friends that Razumov was a man they could count on. A friend named Kostia insists that Razumov must use him in his next plans. ”What was his life worth? Insignificant, no good to anyone; a mere festivity. It would end some fine day in his getting his skull split with a champagne bottle in a drunken brawl. At such times, too, when men were sacrificing themselves to ideas. But he could never get any ideas into his head. His head wasn’t worth anything better than to be split by a champagne bottle.” The police have further uses for Razumov. He suddenly finds himself trapped into being this person he never intended to be. Mr. Razumov looked at it, I suppose, as a man looks at himself in a mirror, with wonder, perhaps with anguish, with anger or despair. Yes, as a threatened man may look fearfully at his own face in the glass, formulating to himself reassuring excuses for his appearance marked by the taint of some insidious hereditary disease.” The narrator of this story is an Englishman (also the source of the title) teaching English to the Russians in “Little Russia” Geneva, Switzerland. He is telling this tale from notes in Razumov’s journal, and through second and third hand information from various people who had some association with events. He also happens to be the tutor of Haldin’s sister. He is, without any doubt, an unreliable narrator, and one can’t help but think that Razumov is still being corkscrewed into a bottle with the wrong label. Our narrator does meet Razumov when Razumov is dispatched to Little Russia to interact with the revolutionaries. The Meeting of The Unreliable Narrator and Razumov ”He listened, without as much as moving his eyes the least little bit. He had to change his position when the beer came, and the instant draining of his glass revived him. He leaned back in his chair and, folded his arms across his chest, continued to stare at me squarely. It occurred to me that his clean-shaven, almost swarthy face was really of the very mobile sort, and that the absolute stillness of it was the acquired habit of a revolutionist, of a conspirator everlastingly on his guard against self-betrayal in a world of secret spies.” It is impossible to read this book without thinking about Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. Both characters have completely gotten away with their moral dilemma; and yet, the burden of the guilt consumes their lives. Their crime is spread across their faces and everyone they meet, they feel, will be the one to finally reveal their guilt to the world. You could believe that this book was written as an ode to Crime and Punishment, but that would be a wrong assumption. Conrad did not think much of Dostoyevsky’s writing style and was, in my opinion, trying to write a better book. This book almost didn’t see the light of day over a disagreement with his publisher. ”In the summer of 1909 J. B. Pinker, dissatisfied with Conrad’s failure to deliver the long-awaited manuscript, threatened to sever their business connection. In December they reached a crisis when Pinker refused to advance any more funds and the aristocratic Conrad, threatening to throw the manuscript into the fire, angrily exclaimed; ‘ in a manner which is nothing short of contemptuous you seem to holding out a bribe--next week forsooth!--as though it were a bone to a dog to make him get up on his hind legs.’” The relationship did not improve, but the manuscript was finally delivered in 1910. Andre Gide was a great admirer of this work. He supervised the translation of Conrad’s works into French. ”One does not know what deserves more admiration: the amazing subject, the fitting together, the boldness of so difficult an undertaking, the patience in the development of the story, the complete understanding and exhausting of the subject.” Poor Razumov, a man content to read his books and puzzle out the keys to a myriad of philosophies. He is intelligent, and in some ways fits the profile of a revolutionary leader. Certainly the revolution that comes to Russia shortly after this book is published was lead by men similar to Razumov. The moment that Haldin decided to come to his rooms Razumov was faced with an impossible decision with two paths equally beset by guilt or damnation. Conrad uses the fickleness of fate to toy with the reader and show how little control we have of our own lives. It is nearly impossible to know what series of decisions needed to be made for Razumov to escape his self-condemnation. Highly recommended! Rating: 4.25 If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Under Western eyes, is in many ways Conrad's Crime and Punishment, exploring the similar themes with that of Dostoevsky, Although this for me took longer to get into, the deep and personal aspects remain between the two. Taking place in St Petersburg and Geneva, Switzerland, the central character Razumov a student who aspires to become a member of the Russian civil service is roped into becoming a reluctant revolutionary by Haldin, who after completing the assassination of a minister, takes refu Under Western eyes, is in many ways Conrad's Crime and Punishment, exploring the similar themes with that of Dostoevsky, Although this for me took longer to get into, the deep and personal aspects remain between the two. Taking place in St Petersburg and Geneva, Switzerland, the central character Razumov a student who aspires to become a member of the Russian civil service is roped into becoming a reluctant revolutionary by Haldin, who after completing the assassination of a minister, takes refuse with Razumov. But with having an association with the police he gives up Haldin for his good. Razumov is then recruited as a spy for the police and sent on a mission to Geneva to infiltrate the Russian community in exile there who are plotting against the system in Russia. He does so and but falls victim to love, with that of Haldin's sister. From here things would escalate into darker territory, where the actions of man's strengths and weaknesses are explored in great detail. The overall plot allows several themes and ideas to be developed, where one's true self and that of an internal imposter brings this period in time vividly to life. The central character of Razumov is exceptionally drawn, put under the microscope and the great emotional strain of the situation he finds himself in, his misanthropy nature leaves him out in the cold with no one to turn to, a lost sheep surrounded by hungry wolves and tormented to the core. It would be love that sees his world start to disintegrate, and a confession would lead to a course of action that would change his life forever. Joseph Conrad exercises a remarkable prescience about the nature of revolution and revolutionaries, and the revolutionaries here are the most grotesque and evil I have come across, there is a heavy menace that takes hold the further we progress through the novel, in particular a fellow by the name of Nikita, who could quite easily be the son of Satan. The metaphysical aspect of the novel is deepened and refined by Conrad's use of creepy Gothic resonance to the text, and even draws comparisons with writings of the Occult, bringing a depth to the narrative that works well. The fact there is actually a narrator who presides over events makes the whole reading far more multi-layered and is distinguished by the way Conrad handles the subject matter. With a masterly and commanding authority.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    Conrad's gripping espionager influenced Graham Greene, Maugham and LeCarre. An apolitical student accidentally becomes a Czarist spy after he betrays a rebel friend ; later as a secret agent in Geneva he falls in love with the fellow's sister.* Psychological trauma amid deception, manipulation and turmoil of the Russian soul. "Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth," he fears. "Their Uptopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality." Conrad had little optimism for the revolutio Conrad's gripping espionager influenced Graham Greene, Maugham and LeCarre. An apolitical student accidentally becomes a Czarist spy after he betrays a rebel friend ; later as a secret agent in Geneva he falls in love with the fellow's sister.* Psychological trauma amid deception, manipulation and turmoil of the Russian soul. "Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth," he fears. "Their Uptopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality." Conrad had little optimism for the revolutionary urge : his Polish parents died as Russian political prisoners and he was orphaned as a child. Pub in 1911, his novel examines the blurry boundaries of East- -West, language-culture. Fact-fiction add to the spider-web. === *Budd Schulberg, a Commie writer, stole Conrad's basic plot and used it for the movie, "On the Waterfront." - 7/4/2020

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    Conrad's books always seem to start slow as he methodically creates a solid foundation and base of characterization. This one very much so and yet stays minimalistic and obscure throughout. Under Western Eyes, first published in 1911, had moments of greatness and had many very observant quotes about the Russian character, and Conrad brilliantly creates a mood of introspection and almost surreal soul-searching, but I just could not stay with it. One of the very few of his works that I just did no Conrad's books always seem to start slow as he methodically creates a solid foundation and base of characterization. This one very much so and yet stays minimalistic and obscure throughout. Under Western Eyes, first published in 1911, had moments of greatness and had many very observant quotes about the Russian character, and Conrad brilliantly creates a mood of introspection and almost surreal soul-searching, but I just could not stay with it. One of the very few of his works that I just did not get. I may try it again down the road. I liked The Secret Agent so much more.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "The belief in a super natural sources of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." -- Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes I'm beginning to think there are absolutely no whimsical novels written about the period between Bloody Sunday and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Written in 1911, Conrad's 'Under Western Eyes' is a lot of things: It is his response to the revolutionary fervor in Russia and Eastern Europe. It was a response to Dostoevsky's novel 'Crime and Punishme "The belief in a super natural sources of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." -- Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes I'm beginning to think there are absolutely no whimsical novels written about the period between Bloody Sunday and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Written in 1911, Conrad's 'Under Western Eyes' is a lot of things: It is his response to the revolutionary fervor in Russia and Eastern Europe. It was a response to Dostoevsky's novel 'Crime and Punishment', and if previous scholarly works are to be believed, it may have also been a response to his own father who was a famous Russian revolutionary. Lastly, it was a response to the way the West viewed all of these things; the way the West couldn't fully grasp the depth of Russian despair and the innate conflicts within Russian ideals and Russian movements. It isn't my favorite Conrad, but it definitely belongs in the pantheon of Conrad's great novels. It is a novel without heroes but with amazing heroism. Conrad is able to tap into the emotional currents of several unique groups of Russians during one of its most fascinating times. Anyone interested in the Russian Revolution and the period right near its inception should not skip this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Joseph Conrad stood at the beginning of all modernistic literature of the twentieth century and he was one of the most sagacious writers of all times. Generally speaking Under Western Eyes is a modern Judas tale ostensibly based on the traitor's confessions. There are two sides of barricades: “You suppose that I am a terrorist, now — a destructor of what is, but consider that the true destroyers are they who destroy the spirit of progress and truth, not the avengers who merely kill the bodies of th Joseph Conrad stood at the beginning of all modernistic literature of the twentieth century and he was one of the most sagacious writers of all times. Generally speaking Under Western Eyes is a modern Judas tale ostensibly based on the traitor's confessions. There are two sides of barricades: “You suppose that I am a terrorist, now — a destructor of what is, but consider that the true destroyers are they who destroy the spirit of progress and truth, not the avengers who merely kill the bodies of the persecutors of human dignity. Men like me are necessary to make room for self–contained, thinking men like you.” “All that means disruption. Better that thousands should suffer than that a people should become a disintegrated mass, helpless like dust in the wind. Obscurantism is better than the light of incendiary torches. The seed germinates in the night. Out of the dark soil springs the perfect plant. But a volcanic eruption is sterile, the ruin of the fertile ground.” And there are men on the both sides and nothing can make them live in peace.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    What is Joseph Conrad writing about in this novel? Russians and the political situation in Russia before and between the first failed Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Revolution of 1917. Conrad is of Polish descent. The antagonism existing between Polish and Russian people is evident. In any case, Conrad’s disfavor of the Russian people, Russian revolutionaries as well as the autocracy in place is manifestly shown in this novel, published in 1911. One cannot help but draw comparisons between J What is Joseph Conrad writing about in this novel? Russians and the political situation in Russia before and between the first failed Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Revolution of 1917. Conrad is of Polish descent. The antagonism existing between Polish and Russian people is evident. In any case, Conrad’s disfavor of the Russian people, Russian revolutionaries as well as the autocracy in place is manifestly shown in this novel, published in 1911. One cannot help but draw comparisons between Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment! Both novels deal with the themes of alienation and guilt. I am by no means saying the two are equally good. The writing styles are very different. One I like. One I don’t. I feel empathy for Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov. I feel nothing for Conrad’s Razumov! I will explain why Conrad’s book does not work for me. The writing is wordy. The language, the words strung together into sentences are those of one who is articulate, educated and learned, and yet they fail to flow naturally. The tale jumps back and forth, both in time and in place. It is set in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Geneva, Switzerland. This is confusing. A sentence begins, and you don’t know who is speaking, where you are or which events have already occurred. What should have been explained earlier in the book is withheld until later. The narrator of the story is one of the characters in the story. He is a teacher of languages. It is he that represents the “western point of view”, referred to in the book’s title. He has access to diaries written by Razumov. The diaries and what he sees, hears and is told by others are the basis for the story told. It is he who teaches English to Natalia –she is the sister of a revolutionary who is executed and also, as we comes to see, the love object of (view spoiler)[Razumov (hide spoiler)] . It is through the narrator that the story’s characters are connected; he functions as the story’s hinge pin. His role, and the manner by which the different parts of the story are tied together is however not smoothly executed, adding to the general confusion of the novel. The book does not feel properly worked through. It is said to be a reworking of Conrad’s earlier book The Secret Agent. Clearly the author sensed an inherent weakness in the tale, which in my view, has not been fixed. The behavior of characters is not logical. It doesn’t make sense that (view spoiler)[Victor Halldin goes to Razumov’s apartment (hide spoiler)] in the first place, nor that he has no viable (view spoiler)[escape plan in place after the killing (hide spoiler)] . It is crazy that at the end Tekla (view spoiler)[chooses to care for Razumov (hide spoiler)] . The entire ending is overblown, as is the love relationship between Natalia and (view spoiler)[Razumov (hide spoiler)] . It feebly explains why (view spoiler)[Razumov (hide spoiler)] acts as he does but the reader never sees or feels the love that grows between the two. So, the book is confusing, the writing is wordy and its parts not smoothly interconnected. The characters act illogically, and the melodramatic, overblown ending is not to my taste. I am done testing Conrad. His manner of writing does not fit me. Geoffrey Howard narrates the audiobook very well. He speaks clearly and at a good pace. I have no complaints whatsoever with the audiobook narration—four stars for Howard’s performance. I believe the book intends to show what living under autocratic rule does to people. *********************** *Typhoon 4 stars *Heart of Darkness and Other Tales 3 stars *A Personal Record 3 stars *Victory 1 star *Under Western Eyes 1 star *The Nigger of the Narcissus maybe *Lord Jim maybe *The Secret Agent maybe

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Published in 1911, Conrad’s Russia novel (or so I’ve decided to call it) seems to predict the Bolshevik Revolution. It begins with a young student of philosophy, Razumov, who returns to his flat one night to find a classmate, Victor Haldin, standing in his kitchen- or rather, in Conradian fashion, with an English narrator relating Razumov’s story, pieced together from Razumov’s diary and a few encounters with the man. Haldin, it turns out, has just assassinated a high-ranking Russian official, t Published in 1911, Conrad’s Russia novel (or so I’ve decided to call it) seems to predict the Bolshevik Revolution. It begins with a young student of philosophy, Razumov, who returns to his flat one night to find a classmate, Victor Haldin, standing in his kitchen- or rather, in Conradian fashion, with an English narrator relating Razumov’s story, pieced together from Razumov’s diary and a few encounters with the man. Haldin, it turns out, has just assassinated a high-ranking Russian official, the repressive Minister of State, Mr. de P ---- (read: Vyacheslav von Plehve); Haldin and an accomplice lobbed bombs at de P ----‘s carriage from the side of a road. A few innocent bystanders, we’re told, were also killed. Haldin wants Razumov to help him organize his escape; they are not close friends, in fact they barely know each other, but Haldin, having noticed Razumov listening quietly to the other students’ discussions about the injustice of the Tsar and the autocracy, has inferred that Razumov shares his, Haldin’s, convictions. There is something a little unbelievable about this, especially when we learn how many sympathetic associates Haldin had; why not go to one of them? Furthermore, his entirely improvised getaway seems inconsistent with the meticulously planned assassination. But setting that aside, Haldin has inferred wrongly; Razumov, after searching his conscience (although who can with absolute certainty distinguish in one’s self moral choice from the fear of punishment?), makes the decision to go to the police. “Razum”, or “разум”, in Russian means “mind”, but Conrad renders Razumov’s decision almost as a darkly religious experience, particular to Russians: In Russia, the land of spectral ideas and disembodied aspirations, many brave minds have turned away at last from the vain and endless conflict to the one great historical fact of the land. They turned to autocracy for the peace of their patriotic conscience as a weary unbeliever, touched by grace, turns to the faith of his fathers for the blessing of spiritual rest. Like other Russians before him, Razumov…felt the touch of grace upon his forehead.Haldin is promptly arrested and hanged without trial. But the reader comes to understand what Razumov, consciously or not, knows immediately; from the moment Haldin appeared in his apartment, his life as he understood it was over. Sheltering Haldin would have drawn him into revolutionary activity, and he’d likely have shared the same fate. But reporting to the authorities, while simultaneously receiving the confidences of Haldin’s friends and associates (who, after Haldin’s execution, believe Razumov to be one of them), also places Razumov under the authorities’ suspicion- and insures that he will serve as their well-placed vassal. Soon enough he travels to Geneva, although it’s not clear whether he is acting as that vassal or as the person Haldin believed him to be. He meets a small group of Russian political exiles living in “little Russia”- the group is led by a Madame Blavatsky-like pseudo-occultist named Eleanora Maximovna de S---- and Peter Ivanovitch, the latter supposedly a great author and brilliant revolutionary. Razumov also meets Haldin’s young sister, Natalia, who is straight out of Dostoevsky: young, beautiful, intelligent, stoic, she believes Razumov is a trusted friend of her brother’s, the last to see him alive, and is the one character in the novel who seems to suggest hope for Russia’s future. “I believe that the future will be merciful to us all”, she tells Razumov. “Revolutionist and reactionary, victim and executioner, betrayer and betrayed, they shall all be pitied together when the light breaks on our dark sky at last.”  The novel is prescient, but prescience often seems to involve just paying a reasonable amount of attention in the present. It probably would’ve been hard for Conrad not to: he was writing after the failed revolution of 1905 and during the social unrest that followed. Furthermore, both of his Polish parents, when he was a child, were persecuted by the Tsarist authorities for dissidence. It's probably safe to say that he never became too unfamiliar with events in Russia; and one of the main themes of the novel is the way autocracy affects ordinary people, perhaps like his parents, and forces them into moral conflict. “Whenever two Russians come together”, the English narrator (who nevertheless, we’re told, spent a few early years of his life in St. Petersburg, and is therefore, like Conrad, someone familiar with both the west and the east) says, “the shadow of autocracy is with them, tinging their thoughts, their views, their most intimate feelings, their private life, their public utterances- haunting the secret of their silences.” But if the autocracy is unjust, the revolutionaries as Conrad depicts them are grotesque and sadistic, tyrannical in their dealings with others; they’re as fit to be heads of government as Colonel Kurtz. So what’s the correct form of government? Well, that’s not Conrad’s job- he had a tragic view of life, and it seems to me in line with the sentiment expressed in his earlier novel, Nostromo: things may not be great, but revolution doesn’t really fix anything, and it might make things worse. As the narrator says, ...in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first...such are the chiefs and the leaders. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures...may begin a movement- but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims...The book’s introduction calls Under Western Eyes a “response” to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It’s true that there are aspects of the book that seem like a satire and homage to Crime and Punishment and Dostoevsky in general- the main character’s name, the insouciance of language and emotion, the unlikely meetings and coincidences, the beautiful and suffering Russian woman who helps the main character find a form of redemption, the themes of political dissidence and revolution (Dostoevsky was once a young revolutionary as well, and nearly died for it), and even the strange quality (intentional, I'll claim, having read enough of Conrad now to see how he varied his style from book to book) that it seems to have been translated from Russian.  Conrad is far from the first to suggest autocracy as a defining aspect of Russian life, and many have invoked it in a positive light. Count Sergei Uvarov, for example, in the early 19th century, proposed three pillars of Russian identity: autocracy, Orthodoxy and nationality. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov ultimately succumbs to his conscience and the beneficence of Orthodoxy; he vanquishes in himself the western ideas that allowed him to believe he had the moral right to take a life. In Under Western Eyes, the country’s true religion, the presence that people carry with them even in “the secrets of their silences” and eventually find peace in, is autocracy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    In a word, this book was torturous, a long, slow torture. An unreliable narrator intimate with so many details, supposedly due to a diary, & yet unable to truly understand the Russian mind. "Words are the enemy of reality." Truly. I liked a lot of Conrad's thoughts, depressing as they were. There is a dark incisiveness to them, but as good as they were individually, I found the whole unconvincing & melodramatic. What impressed me the most were the incredible similarities between Russia under the In a word, this book was torturous, a long, slow torture. An unreliable narrator intimate with so many details, supposedly due to a diary, & yet unable to truly understand the Russian mind. "Words are the enemy of reality." Truly. I liked a lot of Conrad's thoughts, depressing as they were. There is a dark incisiveness to them, but as good as they were individually, I found the whole unconvincing & melodramatic. What impressed me the most were the incredible similarities between Russia under the Czar & under Communism. Razumov's entire way of thinking from 'Mother Russia, the only family he's known' to his paranoid interviews with the police, intercession of a high 'party' official, & his subsequent use as a spy could all have come from a Solzhenitsyn novel. Weird - the more things change, the more they stay the same. It must be in the character of the society to manage to shape such disparate governing systems into a twin. That lends a lot more weight to the title. As much food for thought as this provides, it's often boring as hell. Right at the beginning he makes a point of the Russian's love of words, but they have nothing on him. This could have played out with half the words & been twice as impressive. I'm tempted to give it 2 stars, but will bump it to 3. Geoffrey Howard did a great job reading it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    The fact that the Westerner narrator is an uncomprehending observer (whose character's eyes are in the title 'Under Western Eyes') and that the Russian character of the story, Razumov, has the reputation as a great listener (strikingly so, pun intended) is told us, gentle reader, upfront by the author Joseph Conrad, made strongly explicit. It must mean something. Razumov is an unformed human being, which in the first chapter is spelled out both in the description of his face as well as his react The fact that the Westerner narrator is an uncomprehending observer (whose character's eyes are in the title 'Under Western Eyes') and that the Russian character of the story, Razumov, has the reputation as a great listener (strikingly so, pun intended) is told us, gentle reader, upfront by the author Joseph Conrad, made strongly explicit. It must mean something. Razumov is an unformed human being, which in the first chapter is spelled out both in the description of his face as well as his reactions in discussions -he is easily swayed. He is a third year philosophy (!?!) student who may lack intellectual power or trust in his own convictions, which might be the reason behind an unusual silent demeanor he affects in conversations; he is perhaps an uncomprehending listener. (In this silent listening he is unusual because apparently most Russians are observed to talk much like parrots.) Throughout the book people seem to be uncomprehending observers and listeners and speakers of disjointed words. The most uncomprehending is a drunken servant, beaten black and blue while passed out thus he has no idea of how it happened but that the Devil (father of lies!) must have done it, torments himself with misinformed ideas of what happened. Another servant, a woman acting as a secretary to a revolutionary, is doing the job but she feels unhappy. She is a very bad secretary because no one really notices who she really is. She herself had no idea that the job would make her so unhappy until she got the job and got to know the people she was working for. Back to Razumov, it is noted in the first pages many people think he is a strong personality because of his lack of speech. What is made clear to us, gentle reader, is he fears and respects authority and simply wants his college degree. Instead, the plot thickens when a group of revolutionary students mistake him for one of them. He is forced into choosing sides due to a fatal bombing by a student who then wants Razumov to hide him. Fear drives Razumov to turn the bomber over to the police, who then recruit him to be a spy. He reluctantly tries to spy, but he cannot rid himself of a strong distaste and disgust for it all. The expat Russians living in Geneva, where the action is taking place, believe him a hero and attempt to draw him into their plots against the czar. The sister of the bomber is desperate to hear of her brother's last moments from Razumov believing him to be her brother's friend. Her mother (Mother Russia?) sits in a room day after day dying slowly from incomprehension. The narrator, as a teacher of languages he comprehends many words; however he admits he can make no sense of how the Russians feel about things. In an interesting side note he finally understands more when he reads Razumov's diary; in other words, a book. While Conrad's book is about the conditions of the expat Russians he observed in Geneva which might represent the issues behind the Russian Revolution, I think since Conrad literally skims over those conditions with such a minimal use of words his real object was exposing why the Russians fail to politically organize as he saw it. The book is really a very sly, and harsh, condemnation of the Russian soul in not translating into effective self-help. 'Under Western Eyes' seems to follow the usual plot points of Dostoevsky's books but with a very different focus. Dostoevsky seems to explore the inevitability of personality over fate, along with the mores of culture and class over morality, of history over free will in shaping Russian soul and destiny. Conrad seems to be ascribing the inability of the Russian heart and mind to coalesce decisively into clear thoughtful words (philosophy) as the source of political failure. He also appears to be saying that that failure is fatally crippling to any action taken. I think Conrad is also making a point that the West finds the East difficult to understand due to lack of philosophical words we can comprehend which the West assumes is due to language differences, but Conrad seems to be saying the West can't understand the East because the East is incomprehensible to itself. Of course maybe I'm getting this all wrong but my musings allow me to feel Conrad is writing a clever book here.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tristram Shandy

    „In Life, You See, There Is Not Much Choice. You Have Either to Rot or to Burn.” As depressing as this limitedness of choice may seem – however, that is exactly what life as such boils down to –, what may be even more depressing is when the decision pounces upon you instead of being taken by you. In short, it is probably worse to be made to burn than to burn. So it happens to Kirylo Sidorovich Razumov, the tragic hero of Joseph Conrad’s political novel Under Western Eyes (1911), who would rather „In Life, You See, There Is Not Much Choice. You Have Either to Rot or to Burn.” As depressing as this limitedness of choice may seem – however, that is exactly what life as such boils down to –, what may be even more depressing is when the decision pounces upon you instead of being taken by you. In short, it is probably worse to be made to burn than to burn. So it happens to Kirylo Sidorovich Razumov, the tragic hero of Joseph Conrad’s political novel Under Western Eyes (1911), who would rather have gone in for rotting in peace and quiet, but whom circumstances seem to predestine for burning. Razumov, the illegitimate son of a Russian nobleman, uses the scarce means provided for him in order to study philosophy, hoping to qualify for an appointment as a civil servant in tsarist Russia, thereby attaining the ultimate position this autocratic system would hold in store for him. He is well under way making his mark as an excellent student, but one night, fate crushes all his careful plans in the person of Victor Haldin, a fellow student of his and, as it soon turns out, the man who assassinated a high tsarist functionary some hours ago. Haldin, under the notion of a certain trustworthiness inherent in Razumov, has sought refuge in his fellow-student’s apartment and asks him to help him flee from the country. Razumov, finding that Haldin’s accomplice to help him leave Russia, is a carter, now inert with drunkenness, decides to turn Haldin in to the authorities because he does not want to become further entangled with these revolutionaries. However, once his name becomes known to the authorities in connection with the revolution, he cannot go back into his old life. Instead, he is browbeaten into agreeing to be sent to Geneva in order to spy on the revolutionary exiles’ plans against tsarist Russia. There he very soon meets Victor Haldin’s mother and daughter, who have no idea that Razumov is anything but a true friend and a sharer of Haldin’s beliefs but the man who caused his execution. Under Western Eyes is the dark psychological tale of a young man who is neither void of egoism nor completely base and unfeeling. In fact, Conrad took great pains to retain a sense of moral ambiguity, avoiding taking sides for or against Razumov. We are able to share the young man’s sense of isolation due to his – as contemporaries would have it – ignoble origins, to understand his ambitions and his will to get on in life, and we may also understand his rejection of any form of partnership in Haldin’s political course, however justified it might be in itself. Nevertheless, although the novel certainly presents Haldin in rather positive a light – there is an abundance of religious allusions –, it still points out that the bomb thrown by Haldin also killed innocent bystanders. It is this sense of ambiguity that makes “Under Western Eyes” such an intense experience, because, like Razumov, we find ourselves groping for light and a way out of the dilemma caused by the young man’s act of betrayal. The tale is redolent of Dostoievsky’s greatest psychological novels, in theme, but also to a certain degree in style, for Conrad has none of his marvelous descriptions of nature here and instead concentrates on the characters’ inner lives. However, it also challenges one of Dostoievsky’s most dearly-held views, namely that Russia could be healed from her ailments by returning to her Russian values and discarding Western influences. Conrad makes it quite clear, and he seems to be right in this, as is shown by a look at present-day Russia and the continuance of disregarding human rights, that autocracy is something inveterately Russian and that it is only by taking example from the West and its political culture that Russia can overcome the curse of oppression and iniquity. Significantly, the narrator of the story, an English teacher, who spent his childhood in Russia, is regularly at a loss when it comes to understanding the thoughts and values of the Russian exiles in Geneva, and he points out that no one who has grown up in England can really measure the deforming effects of autocracy on the human mind and soul. Conrad not only criticizes the amount of ideological exorbitance on the part of the autocrats, who even need no ideology in order to support their claim to power, but rely on the normative force of the factual. The narrator’s major mock is one of the revolutionaries, a certain Peter Ivanovich, an enthusiastic utopian feminist, who nevertheless ruthlessly exploits the women around him in order to further his own interests, and who is a man whose self-righteousness definitely exceeds his intelligence. Summing up, I can highly recommend this novel as another instance of Joseph Conrad’s power as a political writer.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    From Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes: -- To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much more wonderful than a parrot. That's on the first page!  I knew at that moment that I had chosen the right book.  Also: -- In Russia, the land of spectral ideas and disembodied aspirations, many brave minds have turned away at last from the vain and endless conflict to the one great historical fact of the land.  They turne From Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes: -- To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much more wonderful than a parrot. That's on the first page!  I knew at that moment that I had chosen the right book.  Also: -- In Russia, the land of spectral ideas and disembodied aspirations, many brave minds have turned away at last from the vain and endless conflict to the one great historical fact of the land.  They turned to autocracy for the peace of their patriotic conscience as a weary unbeliever, touched by grace, turn to the faith of his fathers for the blessings of spiritual rest. and lastly: (this was written in 1910:) --... in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front.  A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first.  Afterwards, comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time.  Such are the chiefs and the leaders.  You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues.  The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement -- but it passes away from them.  They are not the leaders of a revolution.  They are its victims: the victims of disgust, of disenchantment -- often of remorse.  Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured -- that is the definition of revolutionary success. If you like these, you'll love this book. The first 50 pages are gripping, the middle sags a tiny bit, the end is great. Complex but worth the effort

  13. 4 out of 5

    J.

    That propensity of lifting every problem from the plane of the understandable by means of some sort of mystic expression is very Russian. It almost seems that Conrad needs the fecundity of the South Seas, or of the African Interior, to counterbalance his methods, his approach. Here in the awfully civilized central European capitals we may find him unusually soap-operatic and slightly overdone. Or maybe it is so close to home for the writer, Polish and born in the Ukraine, that every last semi That propensity of lifting every problem from the plane of the understandable by means of some sort of mystic expression is very Russian. It almost seems that Conrad needs the fecundity of the South Seas, or of the African Interior, to counterbalance his methods, his approach. Here in the awfully civilized central European capitals we may find him unusually soap-operatic and slightly overdone. Or maybe it is so close to home for the writer, Polish and born in the Ukraine, that every last semi-loyalty must be analyzed and parsed into oblivion. It is fairly safe to say at this point that Conrad was looking to present his view of the opposite of pan-Russianism, whether red or white, or at least to point to the cracks in the foundation. In 1911 Russia and adjacent Europe were so wracked by revolutionary fervor and anarchist violence that the rather conservative author may have wanted to counter the onrush of history as he saw it. That the orphaned Conrad's father was a patriotic Pole who flaunted the authority of Russian hegemony, that it was an era when the world was on the brink, would both have been influential. There is so much here to have loved that it's hard to call it what it seems, though. The era; the scrubby, grandiose/atrocious views we get of the Russian capital of the Czars, contrasted with the sparkling miniature-utopia of Geneva, all tiny parks, promenades and arched bridges ... provide an atmosphere for a political spy tragedy that shouldn't have missed. It does miss, though, and there is some evidence that Conrad was looking to settle certain scores with his novel that set the whole project into the 'contrivance' category. But not right away. As often with Conrad, locale, character and exposition on-the-fly are frontloaded and forced into the narrative mix quite early in the story; much as a modern film will mesh those elements directly into the first few shots, rather than languish in establishing shots or chit-chat from minor characters to set the stage. We're in the midst of it, right away, rather than waiting for a staged introduction. And even the 'Narrator' here is something of a ploy, as he too will come to be a major player, very early in the second act. Speech has been given to us for the purpose of concealing our thoughts... My impression is that it is part of the plan that some details will get lost in the rush, perhaps just mislaid, and some uncertainties will continue further into the mix, as we reach the inner frames of the story. All the better to play when required, on inner storylines when and where the emphasis is needed, rather than as mere introduction. Often this works as a stunning reverberation in a Conrad novel, but sometimes not, as in Under Western Eyes. The risk is a bit like telling a restrained and methodical story of a woman eating an apple, and then reframing it by saying she is in the garden of eden, and named Eve. Even in ranting against the rebels, the author is bloodthirsty in his condemnation the empire. Even in looking to upset the mystic, pan-Slavic logic of revolution, Conrad wants to indict not the ideals but the weaknesses of the personality types to whom a broad revolution will appeal. And he has no shortage of strange characters to present. As usual with Conrad, we are immersed here within multiple frames of a narrative plan that rearranges, slightly, the stream of events we are to witness. Frames of various perspectives overlay the minimal action, while the emphasis is left to fall on the viewpoint, the spin, at any given point. Almost the entire novel is accomplished in terms of the "walk & talk", where much is described by characters exchanging their take on the proceedings, while walking through Geneva (much beloved of television copshow writers, who need these wordy strolls to further their under-budgeted plots). And here (as with Henry James, often enough) the broth is beautiful but the soup is overcooked. Having said that, there are interesting resonances at hand, in Conrad's tale of a self-doubting and panicky student fallen into the embrace of international intrigue. An excruciating sequence of agonized reversals draws our anti-hero along the path: miscalculation somehow leads to being spared by luck, which leads to overconfidence and self-regard that is not matched by character; horribly bad luck and self-loathing await, and the author is not kind to his central character. One of the scores Conrad wants to settle is surely with the ghost of Dostoevsky. Protagonist and unwilling co-collaborator Razumov is well beyond his depth by the first page of the book, and once led to the circle of spies in Geneva he becomes the plaything of the era's worst influences, the fool of history. The operatic character-types of the spies of Geneva are straight out of Maltese Falcon or, perhaps, Dante. Dark gargoyles look down over all of the proceedings, but even more diabolical ones lie in wait, behind the locked doors of the conspirators.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Xan Shadowflutter

    I'm of two minds of this book. I've read this is Conrad's response to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and perhaps in someway it is, but I think this is first and foremost about destiny and how forces beyond your control can converge to take control of your life. Someone commits a crime of great consequence and implicates you through association. You react. You understand the danger. You make decisions you feel forced to make yet still regret. Now the decisions you make have great consequence I'm of two minds of this book. I've read this is Conrad's response to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and perhaps in someway it is, but I think this is first and foremost about destiny and how forces beyond your control can converge to take control of your life. Someone commits a crime of great consequence and implicates you through association. You react. You understand the danger. You make decisions you feel forced to make yet still regret. Now the decisions you make have great consequence for yourself and others. You are becoming someone you don't want to be. Yet no matter what you do, no matter which way you squirm, you are implicated and therefore involved. Soon your entire life has changed, kidnapped by fate. Destiny plays with you as it will. The question is what can you do, if anything, to retake control of your life. That is what is good about this book. What is not good about this book is the narrator. He represents Europe, I'm quite sure, but the reason why is never explained. Nor do I understand what Conrad is saying about Europe, except possibly that it is old and musty. And the narrator's also unreliable, or at least he's trying his best to convince us he is. He tells us as much, anyway. So now we are seeing everything unfold through the eyes of a false witness. Or are we? Are we forced us to question everything? To what purpose is this done? And why does the narrator take up so much space? What's the deeper meaning I'm missing? If you figure it out, please let me know.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Very much in the style of Dostoevsky (not my favorite Russian author) but intriguing look at a young man caught between revolutionaries and self-interest. The double meanings of much of the text are marvelously done. This Conrad novel, from 1911, is quite different from his most famous "Heart of Darkness". Very much in the style of Dostoevsky (not my favorite Russian author) but intriguing look at a young man caught between revolutionaries and self-interest. The double meanings of much of the text are marvelously done. This Conrad novel, from 1911, is quite different from his most famous "Heart of Darkness".

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Under Western Eyes is a novel by Joseph Conrad published in 1911. The novel takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Geneva, Switzerland, and is viewed as Conrad's response to the themes explored in Crime and Punishment. Conrad was reputed to have detested Dostoevsky, which isn't at all nice and he shouldn't have let it be known if he did. But that is the first thing I ever read about the book, well besides the title and author name on the cover. I, of course, had to go find out why Conrad des Under Western Eyes is a novel by Joseph Conrad published in 1911. The novel takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Geneva, Switzerland, and is viewed as Conrad's response to the themes explored in Crime and Punishment. Conrad was reputed to have detested Dostoevsky, which isn't at all nice and he shouldn't have let it be known if he did. But that is the first thing I ever read about the book, well besides the title and author name on the cover. I, of course, had to go find out why Conrad despised Dostoevsky, who I would have thought, if I didn't know better, wrote Under Western Eyes. Here is what I found: I have an idea that his real hatred for Dostoievsky was due to an appreciation of his power. It is on record that he once told Galsworthy that Dostoievsky was "as deep as the sea", and for Conrad it was the depth of an evil influence. Dostoievsky represented to him the ultimate forces of confusion and insanity arrayed against all that he valued in civilization. He did not despise him as one despises a nonentity, he hated him as one might hate Lucifer and the forces of darkness. Richard Curle (whoever that is) Dostoevsky he resented and rejected, but sharing many of his concerns, found the Russian novelist sufficiently absorbing to engage him in an ideological and artistic polemic. Ralph E. Matlaw (another person I have no idea who he is) claims that "The patent similarity of two great novels, Crime and Punishment and Under Western Eyes, is unique in literature". Although this may be an exaggeration, what is certain is that there is no other Conrad text that invites to be read, at least in part, as a polemical response to the work of another writer. And the simple: Conrad despised Russian writers as a rule, due to his parents' deaths at the hands of the Russian authorities, making an exception only for Ivan Turgenev. It doesn't seem very nice to despise all Russian writers for something done to his parents, why do they get all the blame? Did he hate all Russian doctors too, or bakers, or, well, you know what I mean. I guess I'll give him a point for liking one guy anyway. Another thing I came across looking for the Conrad-Dostoevsky link, had nothing to do with Dostoevsky, but my favorite author was mentioned: Joseph Conrad hasn’t had it easy. Beloved by critics, read by millions of students, and lost in the middle. No other novelist has written so many recognized classics and still been so forgotten. Consider his offerings in my assembled version of the Western Canon. Conrad has six entries, one of which you’ve probably read, many of which you’ve heard of: Heart of Darkness Lord Jim Nostromo The Secret Agent Victory: An Island Tale Under Western Eyes The only novelist who easily exceeds Conrad in universally-acclaimed output is that leviathan Charles Dickens with 12. Otherwise, no other celebrated literary heroes, from Henry James to William Faulkner, can outmatch him. And then we have Vladimir Nabokov's opinion on both writers: Conrad, Joseph. A favorite between the ages of 8 and 14. Essentially a writer for very young people. Certainly inferior to Hemingway and Wells. Intolerable souvenir-shop style, romanticist clichés. Nothing I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, hopelessly juvenile. Romantic in the large sense. Slightly bogus. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Dislike him. A cheap sensationalist, clumsy and vulgar. A prophet, a claptrap journalist and a slapdash comedian. Some of his scenes are extraordinarily amusing. Nobody takes his reactionary journalism seriously "The Double". His best work, though an obvious and shameless imitation of Gogol's "Nose." "The Brothers Karamazov". Dislike it intensely. "Crime and Punishment". Dislike it intensely. Ghastly rigmarole. I wonder what the guy had to say about other authors, if he liked anyone but himself. Ok, on to the book. We begin with meeting the narrator, an English teacher of languages living in Geneva, he is going to be narrating the personal record of Kyrilo Sidorovitch Razumov. He spends a little bit of time in the beginning telling us it isn't his story, he has no high gifts of imagination, he is just telling us the story, that kind of thing. He begins by telling us that Razumov is a third year student in philosophy (which sounds awful) at St. Petersburg University. Razumov wants only to study, he plans to win the silver medal; "Razumov, going home, reflected that having repaired all the matters of the forthcoming examination, he could now devote his time to the subject of the prize essay. He hankered after the silver medal. The prize was offered by the Ministry of Education; the names of the competitors would be submitted to the Minister himself. The mere fact of trying would be considered meritorious in the higher quarters; and the possessor of the prize would have a claim to an administrative appointment of the better sort after he had taken his degree." The other students consider him an "altogether trustworthy man" who was liked for his "quiet readiness to oblige his comrades even at the cost of personal inconvenience. He is the son of no one. Perhaps, one person, perhaps another, but he considers himself all alone, the son of Russia. He receives a modest but sufficient allowance from an obscure attorney, attends the obligatory lectures regularly and is considered a promising student. Also, he is always accessible and has nothing secret in his life. That's Razumov, or it was until he came home one day and found Victor Haldin, another student, in his room. It seems that there has been an attempt on the life of the Minister of State, he is said to be invested with extraordinary powers. He is described as a; "fanatical, narrow-chested figure in gold-laced uniform, with a face of crumpled parchment, insipid, bespectacled eyes, and the cross of the Order of St. Procopius hung under the skinny throat." I'll have to go look up St. Procopius after this, I've never heard of him before. Anyway, Mr. Minister of State who's name I can't remember, is an awful man who serves the monarchy by "imprisoning, exiling, or sending to the gallows men and women, young and old, with an equable, unwearied industry." Not a nice man at all, and now this attempt on his life has been made, and not only that it has succeeded, and not only that, the person who succeeded was now sitting in the rooms of Razumov. Haldin jumps right in by telling Razumov that it was him who murdered the Minister that day. As for Razumov; "Razumov kept down a cry of dismay. The sentiment of his life being utterly ruined by this contact with such a crime expressed itself quaintly by a sort of half-derisive mental exclamation, "There goes my silver medal!" That's for sure. From this point on nothing good happens, not that I can think of anyway. People are either murdering each other, planning to murder each other, or just got murdered by one of the others. I felt long before this point that I had fallen into Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Nothing good ever happened in that book either. In fact, I can't think of a Russian book I've read that had any happy people in it. I should go back and re-read all my Russian authors carefully, looking for anyone who laughs, or even smiles. Smiles when they aren't about to kill someone else that is. But for now, Razumov goes out to find help in getting Haldin away, away from the scene of the crime, away from the city, and mostly away from his room. Remember, all he wants in life right now is a silver medal, but this is what he is thinking: "The police would very soon find out all about him. They would set about discovering a conspiracy. Everybody Haldin had ever known would be in the greatest danger. Unguarded expressions, little facts in themselves innocent would be counted for crimes......Razumov saw himself shut up in a fortress, worried, badgered, perhaps ill-used. He saw himself-at best-leading a miserable existence under police supervision...." So he goes forth to get help for Haldin. Haldin doesn't get help. The revolution goes on and on. People keep hating each other. Oh, and Razumov doesn't get a silver medal. No one does.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Cayley

    One of Conrad's masterpieces. First published in 1911, it was a major influence on spy fiction of the second half of the 20th century, including John Le Carré. Its main characters are involved to greater or lesser extent in Russian revolutionary politics of the later 19th century. Victor Haldin, having assassinated a Russian government minister, takes refuge in the rooms of a student, Razumov, whom he believes will be sympathetic and assist his escape. After agonising for a while,Razumov betrays One of Conrad's masterpieces. First published in 1911, it was a major influence on spy fiction of the second half of the 20th century, including John Le Carré. Its main characters are involved to greater or lesser extent in Russian revolutionary politics of the later 19th century. Victor Haldin, having assassinated a Russian government minister, takes refuge in the rooms of a student, Razumov, whom he believes will be sympathetic and assist his escape. After agonising for a while,Razumov betrays him, leading to his death, only to fall under suspicion himself. Razumov agrees to spy on revolutionaries plotting in exile in Geneva, where Haldin's sister and mother are living. Some of the revolutionaries are grotesque; most are cold-blooded in their willingness to pursue violence to achieve their goals; and they fear Razumov himself is tortured by guilt and by the double life he is leading, and is at times near total mental breakdown. In the end in an attempt at redemption he is driven to confess his role in Haldin's death, and retribution follows. Like several of Conrad's major works, the novel has a narrative frame: it is related by an elderly English language teacher living in Geneva who has had Haldin's sister as one of his pupils, and who himself appears in key points of the main story. The teacher has been given a detailed diary kept by Razumov, and this is the basis of most of the narrative and the portrayal of Razumov's inner thoughts. His perception of the events described emphasises the - to an Englishman - strangeness of the Russian revolutionary society and of Razumov's own psychology: hence the title of the novel, 'Under Western Eyes'. Conrad's fiction often focuses on encounters with what, from a conventional English viewpoint of the late 19th century and the early 1900s, is an exotic, sometimes savage world, and in this novel it is Russian culture and politics of the period that is the exotic. In the background, but not overly emphasised (this is a novel, not a political tract), is the theme of what means should be used to pursue greater freedom and justice in an autocratic country with extremes of power, wealth and poverty. This is the most Dostoyevskyan of Conrad's novels, especially in its portrayal of guilt-racked Razumov. There are also anticipations of the atmosphere of Kafka's novels, especially in the world of suspicious officialdom in which Razumov finds himself because of his involvement with Haldin. The betrayal of Haldin, and Razumov's attempt to redeem himself at the risk of death through his final confession, are treated in a manner which foreshadows the several-decades-later fiction of French existentialists.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    This is a great book about the Tsarist Police State which forced Conrad to leave the traditional Polish Territory of the Russian Empire in 1874. After the unsuccessful Decembrist Revolt in 1825 led by Russian officers who had participated in the campaigns against Napoleon, the Tsar decided to creative a massive secret police in order to infiltrate any group suspected of revolutionary activity. This force slowly developed an expertise in recruiting informants that continued to improve up until th This is a great book about the Tsarist Police State which forced Conrad to leave the traditional Polish Territory of the Russian Empire in 1874. After the unsuccessful Decembrist Revolt in 1825 led by Russian officers who had participated in the campaigns against Napoleon, the Tsar decided to creative a massive secret police in order to infiltrate any group suspected of revolutionary activity. This force slowly developed an expertise in recruiting informants that continued to improve up until the fall of the Tsarist regime. The communist Cheka picked up where the Tsar's police left off and its successor organizations are still refining their methods. Conrad's father was one of the catches of the Tsarist police who nabbed him in 1861 for his involvement in the January uprising of 1861. Conrad's father who was eventually released decided to send his son to live in the West when he was only 16 in the hope that he would live freely. Conrad spent his entire life convinced that the secret police could never be beaten. In 1911 he published Under Western Eyes to explain why. The Tsarist police and their communist successors were very careful about who they recruited. They wanted vulnerable people who could be controlled. After World War II, police forces in all the Slavic communist countries targeted heavy drinkers. When a person was caught operating a motor vehicle while drunk the police acquired a very forceful wedge. The individual either had to go to jail or turn informer. Razumov the protagonist of Under Western Eyes is the prime example of a vulnerable person open to recruiting. Razumov is not involved with any revolutionary groups but a casual acquaintance who is arrives on his door several hours after committing an assassination. Razumov lets him in without knowing what he has done and is instantly trapped. He has without realizing it agreed to harbour a political assassin and has no way to prove his innocence. He is an orphan and he has no protectors. Razumov is trapped. He agrees to work with the police and his tragic destiny grimly works itself out. Under Western Eyes is a superb novel about the workings of the Tsarist police state. As such it is of tremendous value to any student of Russian history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I'll start with 2 questions; Why, I wonder, isn't this novel better known or more widely acclaimed? It shows moments of insight into the beginnings of World War I as well as the nature and outcome of the 2nd, and successful, Russian revolution. All the more remarkable then, is that being published in 1911, it pre-dates both of those two momentous events. Secondly, how to write a review that shows the novels worth without giving it away so as to spoil it for others? Well, for starters if you like D I'll start with 2 questions; Why, I wonder, isn't this novel better known or more widely acclaimed? It shows moments of insight into the beginnings of World War I as well as the nature and outcome of the 2nd, and successful, Russian revolution. All the more remarkable then, is that being published in 1911, it pre-dates both of those two momentous events. Secondly, how to write a review that shows the novels worth without giving it away so as to spoil it for others? Well, for starters if you like Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, or already like Josef Conrad's other novels then there's a good chance that you are going to like this. Using the socio political climate of early C20th Russia as a background context obviously lends a flavour to this novel similar to some of those by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy; they are literary kin. This novel IS complex. In the first instance, precisely because of the differing expressions of it's characters; the central triad being the most humane and well created. They are bought into focus by the vaguely nightmarish or etiolated caricatures that surround them, both in Russia and in exile. These secondary characters reminded me quite strongly of those in G.K. Chesterton's spiritual conspiracy fantasy 'The Man Who was Thursday'. Secondly, whilst Mr. Conrad also conjures similar atmospheres to Dostoevski; inner mental tension, social squalor and a sense of human suffering and so forth, unlike Dostoevski, any questions that this poses are asked as an outsider looking in, namely 'The Westerner' grappling with the eastern European mindset, whilst simultaneously and more akin to Tolstoi or Dostoevski, (I'm thinking of 'Notes from Underground' or Levin in 'Anna Kerinina') there is also the 'Russian' outsider coming to terms with his own historical legacy. Any conclusions reached are therefore bound, to some degree, to be a little wide of the mark since all interpretations written within the text are by definition only incomplete (There is a kind of post modern inner dialogue throughout in which the narrator questions and discusses his own validity in such a role, and Razumov likewise doubts and questions pretty much everything). Nathalia Haldin is the one exception of the the central three, in that her estrangement from events is attributed to innocence, inexperience and purity; a kind of mythical Russian womanhood. Conrad's writing is at times a little cumbersome and verbose in comparison to the two great Russians. Lastly, the use of a non linear four part plot chronology adds to the aforementioned complexity by inviting or even purposefully allowing a certain interpretation before decisive and relevant information is made known. As to the cast, the story is framed by the narration of an Englishman, whom I believe voices the opinions of the author: A "teacher of languages"; the first of three main characters and the 'western eyes' under which the novel's story unfolds. " I cannot pretend to any understanding of these people and their baffling actions" he excuses himself early on, yet proceeds to provide his opinions of Russians and their culture throughout his telling of the story...citing cynicism as the moral/spiritual state that 'informs' The Russian, be he statesman, revolutionist, or prophet. The novel's second central figure, an anti hero, is Kyrilo Sidorovitch Razumov, a gifted student, an angst ridden, existential outsider in the spirit of Camus or Kafka. He is a strong and yet simultaneously fragile character, easily knocked out of equilibrium by social events and many of his interactions. He is tortured by his own thoughts and emotions as he finds himself unwillingly 'chosen', drawn into a conspiratorial revolutionary underground that accentuates his standing as 'an outsider' and yet also at times centre's itself around and confirms him. We are invited to see him as victim but of what?, himself?, his inner world?, Russian Society? His lack of love and family? His themes are loneliness, redemption, displacement, estrangement, angst, anger and the struggle to be genuine and free. If that all sounds a little post modern (1911 remember!) then check this! As the central young man of the novel, he is, at one point attributed the protest that he is 'not a young man in a novel'! Bravo Mr Conrad! The third central character is Nathalia Haldin,a young woman with 'the most trustful eyes in the world', a Russian in exile related to Razumov by circumstance and events, as what exactly? conspiracy? fate? Providence? The main plot revolves around this triad. These three are caught up in circumstances not entirely of their making, but to which they willing contribute. In the midst of this, whilst 'The Russian', his political ways and his history are examined (or rather defamed by Conrad) the themes of belonging, redemption, fate, conscience and 'the efficacy of remorse' are explored. I'l be thinking and ruminating on this novel for a while and I'll certainly mark it it as one to re read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paola

    For me this was a book of two halves - as much as I enjoyed the first two parts, I found myself plodding through the second two. Perhaps it is just that this novel has not aged well: the world is much closer, and the whole premise of western eyes contemplating the inscrutable Russian society applies surely much less, if at all, to the sensibility of any contemporary Western European. In addition, many of the sex stereotypes, though well meant, sound quite tired. The third part, in which Razumov For me this was a book of two halves - as much as I enjoyed the first two parts, I found myself plodding through the second two. Perhaps it is just that this novel has not aged well: the world is much closer, and the whole premise of western eyes contemplating the inscrutable Russian society applies surely much less, if at all, to the sensibility of any contemporary Western European. In addition, many of the sex stereotypes, though well meant, sound quite tired. The third part, in which Razumov is employed as double agent in Geneva and crumbles under the pressure of Miss Haldin's trustful eyes, was the less palatable, the characters too grotesque, the dialogues too disjointed to draw me into the novel. Razumov himself, however, is a great character, and Conrad's instrument to argue for the pros and mostly the cons of upheavals and revolutions, of the naivete of those who are its instruments and end up crushed by the unstoppable wave they've helped push forward. I wish Conrad had stopped at Razumov's exit followed by NN and his henchmen, leaving a doubt as to his end, too forced and symbolic for my taste. Overall, an interesting read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

    Written in the years between the failed revolution of 1905 and the collapse of tsarism in 1917, "Under Western Eyes" is one of the finest political novels of the 20th-century. A meditation on the costs and uses of terror and on the nature of repression, and a novel that bears re-reading all through the new century. Written in the years between the failed revolution of 1905 and the collapse of tsarism in 1917, "Under Western Eyes" is one of the finest political novels of the 20th-century. A meditation on the costs and uses of terror and on the nature of repression, and a novel that bears re-reading all through the new century.

  22. 5 out of 5

    soleil

    I loved the tension in this!!! The story follows Russian university student Razumov after he gets approached by a classmate who just assassinated a minister in the government. The narrator is an old Englishman living in Geneva who seems to be just a lowly language teacher. He tracks Razumov's movements and has translated Raz's diary for the reader, which makes up the book. Due to this, the reader is left constantly wondering who to trust, why we are getting some information and not other, and I loved the tension in this!!! The story follows Russian university student Razumov after he gets approached by a classmate who just assassinated a minister in the government. The narrator is an old Englishman living in Geneva who seems to be just a lowly language teacher. He tracks Razumov's movements and has translated Raz's diary for the reader, which makes up the book. Due to this, the reader is left constantly wondering who to trust, why we are getting some information and not other, and how much we can believe. It is a really riveting ride! I felt very connected to Razumov's character, his solitary temperament, and love of writing. Other memorable characters appear, such as Sophia Antonova, Natalia, Madcap Kostia, and--of course-- the infamous Haldin. I would recommend this book highly to anyone interested in Russian history, government intrigues, and novels which explore questions of morality and justice. ((also, I just picked up a book on Homosexuality in the Life and Work of Joseph Conrad , and I kind of get a hint of that here?? Will definitely be reading that soon!))

  23. 5 out of 5

    Felice Picano

    The title refers to the setting/milieu for 4/5 of this great, all but unknown today, Joseph Conrad novel: i.e. Geneva, Switzerland, in 1907. There, Russian conspirators and Russian secret agents are all gathered to either infiltrate and bring down the repressive Tsarist government or infiltrate and bring to grief the conspirators movement. It's one of the ongoing great stupidities of how literature is taught in American universities that people will graduate with honors having read two of Conrad The title refers to the setting/milieu for 4/5 of this great, all but unknown today, Joseph Conrad novel: i.e. Geneva, Switzerland, in 1907. There, Russian conspirators and Russian secret agents are all gathered to either infiltrate and bring down the repressive Tsarist government or infiltrate and bring to grief the conspirators movement. It's one of the ongoing great stupidities of how literature is taught in American universities that people will graduate with honors having read two of Conrad's dopiest and least characteristic stories: Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer, thereby missing most of his great writing, i.e the novels Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Victory, and especially Under Western Eyes. But no one since Conrad has done this subject or kind of story better--John LeCarre coming closest. A young Russian student in Moscow has his flat invaded by another student who has just assassinated the head of the secret police with a bomb and is hiding out. Drawn into the ridiculous situation, the student balks at the role he is being forced to play. He goes to his unacknowledged nobleman father and they meet with a dignitary who arranges for the killer to be captured while attempting to escape. Even though the government knows our student was on its side, still he is put under enough surveillance that his prospects for a career are ruined. We meet him six months later in Geneva among the Russian emigre community. The student is now deemed a Hero of the Revolution, despite his true role. He meets with a rich woman funding the revolt and her protege, who wishes to become what Lenin will eventually be. Also various hangers on, including a slob of an assassin who our hero figures out is a double agent. And the betrayed student's beautiful, intelligent sister and grieving mother. All try to draw the student into their plots and the sister into her life, forever. Their machinations and ideas and ideals are wonderfully done, and each character is gorgeously laid out and developed. I'm only amazed this story hasn't been turned into a play or film, as the inner and outer drama is intense and real. Some critic called this the greatest Russian novel written by someone not Russian and I would agree. It's a masterpiece. Read it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anja

    Finally... I got through by sheer force of will.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Hodge

    Re-Read: I re-read this as a sort of atmospheric background reading for the novel section I was writing at the time, and enjoyed it as much as the first time. ----------------- I hadn't realized, until a friend recommended this book, that Conrad had written any books that weren't set "in the colonies". Come that that, I hadn't realized that he was Polish, which, given that Poland had been divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary meant that he grew up under Russian rule. (His father was an agita Re-Read: I re-read this as a sort of atmospheric background reading for the novel section I was writing at the time, and enjoyed it as much as the first time. ----------------- I hadn't realized, until a friend recommended this book, that Conrad had written any books that weren't set "in the colonies". Come that that, I hadn't realized that he was Polish, which, given that Poland had been divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary meant that he grew up under Russian rule. (His father was an agitator for Polish independence and so part of Conrad's youth was spent in Tsarist political prisons.) Under Western Eyes deals with a Russian student, Razumov, who finds himself suddenly plunged into moral and ideological dilemmas when another student he barely knows appears in his rooms and announces that he has just assassinated a government official and is relying on Razumov to hide him and help him escape. The novel plays out at two levels: At the political level it deals with the corrosive effects both of tyranny and of revolution. At the personal, with conflicting desires and loyalties. The story is narrated by an Englishman, a second-hand witness to events, and it is through his Western eyes (from which the title derives) that we hear about events. This helps a great deal as a device since part of what Conrad is trying to do is convey how different Russian problems are from the problems which his English speaking readers are used to -- that Russian authority is not like other authority and that Russian revolution is not like other revolution.

  26. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    Under Western Eyes deals with the Russian psyche, is critical of both autocracy and revolution, and gives a psychological portrait of paranoia, suspicion, guilt and despair. The protagonist Razumov is very complex and Conrad forces readers to come to their own conclusions about his character and actions, as well as the reliability of the narrative. While the oft-compared Crime and Punishment’s central conceit is an action the protagonist takes, this novel’s is an action taken upon the protagonis Under Western Eyes deals with the Russian psyche, is critical of both autocracy and revolution, and gives a psychological portrait of paranoia, suspicion, guilt and despair. The protagonist Razumov is very complex and Conrad forces readers to come to their own conclusions about his character and actions, as well as the reliability of the narrative. While the oft-compared Crime and Punishment’s central conceit is an action the protagonist takes, this novel’s is an action taken upon the protagonist. What really struck me about this novel is Conrad’s prescient disdain for the results of true revolution, as he wrote this years before the successful Russian revolution: “…in a real revolution—not a simple dynastic change or a mere reform of institutions—in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement—but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, of disenchantment—often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured—that is the definition of revolutionary success. There have been in every revolution hearts broken by such successes…”

  27. 5 out of 5

    Libyrinths

    Writing before the Russian revolution, Conrad tries to elucidate Russia for the western reader. As such, you get some revolutionaries and bureaucrats, and a protagonist caught in between. The strength of the book is what Conrad's strength often is, his ability to see into the hearts and minds of characters. In this case he is aiming to see into the psychology of Russia as a country, and hits a few bull's eyes. I think the characters suffer a bit from it, but in some ways it makes his points more Writing before the Russian revolution, Conrad tries to elucidate Russia for the western reader. As such, you get some revolutionaries and bureaucrats, and a protagonist caught in between. The strength of the book is what Conrad's strength often is, his ability to see into the hearts and minds of characters. In this case he is aiming to see into the psychology of Russia as a country, and hits a few bull's eyes. I think the characters suffer a bit from it, but in some ways it makes his points more clear. While I had passing reminders of Dostoevsky, Conrad doesn't write with the intensity of Dostoevsky, and he's far easier to read. The characters themselves almost feel western compared to those in Dostoevsky. Yet, Conrad gets some points across. Such as the mindset of people in a country who have never known anything but autocracy and a corrupt bureaucracy. The inevitability, in a sense, of what happens to the main character. I found the ending somewhat unrealistic, but again, Conrad isn't Dostoevsky, and had a different purpose in writing. Conrad is one of my favorite writers, so I enjoyed the book. I wouldn't consider it at the top of my list of his books, but it is by no means at the bottom either. Some say it's his masterpiece, but I disagree with them on that. Still, it's quite good and an interesting read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    A re-read and still as engrossing as it was the first time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marian Allen

    I need another shelf called, "I'm still thinking about it." It struck me as, "What if Dostoevsky and Henry James got married and had a baby and named it CRIME AND PUNISHMENT UNDER WESTERN EYES?" I'm still uncertain whether this book is an exploration of individual characters; an allegory of "oppressive autocracy", "indifferent democracy", and "fanatical revolutionism"; a paean to the power of Woman, or what. Maybe all of the above. Worth reading? Yes. I'm glad I did. I might even reread it some d I need another shelf called, "I'm still thinking about it." It struck me as, "What if Dostoevsky and Henry James got married and had a baby and named it CRIME AND PUNISHMENT UNDER WESTERN EYES?" I'm still uncertain whether this book is an exploration of individual characters; an allegory of "oppressive autocracy", "indifferent democracy", and "fanatical revolutionism"; a paean to the power of Woman, or what. Maybe all of the above. Worth reading? Yes. I'm glad I did. I might even reread it some day; I have a feeling a later rereading will be rewarding. Why did I only give it two stars, if it impressed me so with thought? Because I didn't like it much. I'd rather read Dostoevsky and James.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Peter Ellwood

    I was disappointed. I don’t see this as one of Conrad’s best works. One has to add immediately that it’s still better than most contemporary novels; but it crunched and groaned a little along the way, in my book. One thing I’ve always marvelled at in Conrad is his sinewy, perfect, use of English. As a student of languages I’ve admired his total mastery of one of the world’s more difficult languages (at least, in terms of using it perfectly). But not in Under Western Eyes. For me, it’s frequently I was disappointed. I don’t see this as one of Conrad’s best works. One has to add immediately that it’s still better than most contemporary novels; but it crunched and groaned a little along the way, in my book. One thing I’ve always marvelled at in Conrad is his sinewy, perfect, use of English. As a student of languages I’ve admired his total mastery of one of the world’s more difficult languages (at least, in terms of using it perfectly). But not in Under Western Eyes. For me, it’s frequently quite obvious that the writer is a non English-speaker. A brilliant one, for sure. But not the real deal either way. A random example, chosen literally by opening the book anywhere: “I saw then the shadow of autocracy lying upon Russian lives in their submission or their revolt.” Again: “He accepted that feeling with a purposeful sternness, and tried to pass on. It was only her outstretched hand which brought about the recognition.” Not bad, it has to be said, but it reads a bit like the translation of a work from another language, done very competently by a translator. Competently, but without fire or inspiration somehow. Another stylistic point that irritated me was the use of adverbs and adjectives. A near contemporary of Conrad once wrote, of the process of editing one’s drafts’ “murder your darlings”. Well, Conrad didn’t murder his enough. The overuse of descriptors gets in the way sometimes, you feel he’s trying too hard to be convincing and write purple prose. An example: “This unexpected, somewhat insolent sort of apology had the merit of being perfectly true” Again: “She found herself in a wide, lofty and absolutely empty hall, with a good many doors”. That’s not the prose of a master of literature, in my book. The four parts of the novel didn’t quite hang together either. It’s a common enough problem in a plot that isn’t unfolded in straight time sequence; but it was slightly magnified here by shifting the narrative viewpoint simultaneously. One minute it’s the first person “I” of the English teacher, the next we’ve changed the point in time and jumped to a more “objective” third person narrative simultaneously. Inevitably, Conrad carries it off pretty well – he is a titan of his trade after all! But the joins still show – and for titans, I’m not sure they should. More profoundly, I’m not entirely sure what the book is about. I don’t mean that in the sense of the content of the plot, which is clear enough. But what, exactly, was he using the plot as a vehicle for? I’ve read – convincingly – that he wanted to make UWE and his analysis of Razumov his ‘answer’ to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. That theme develops well in the first of the book’s four parts; but it fades away a little in the final three. The title encourages the reader (eventually) to look for a sort of ‘compare and contrast’ analysis of the cultural viewpoint of westerners, as against mother Russia. This theme barely figures in the first three parts, though the fact of using the English teacher as the introducer/narrator from the start may indicate that Conrad had it in mind from the beginning. But the fact that this theme is invisible for the first few hundred pages makes me think that, possibly, Conrad dreamed it up towards the end and inserted the teacher as narrator as an afterthought, in nineteenth century framework novel style. Finally: either way, as it happens, the comparisons of “Europe” and “Russia” are a bit lame. It’s too easy for a writer to say “and then the dark sorrows of Russia engulfed his/her soul” or “his western eyes could barely grasp the depth of Russian suffering in hers” (my words by the way, not Conrad’s). But that’s just sloganeering. The novel seeks to be a realistic one, and its title leads us to think that its heart and soul is an exploration of the distance between the Russian soul and the European one (to the extent that Russia can claim not to be Europe: that’s partly the point). With that in mind I don’t think it’s quite enough to pop in the odd slogan in that way, the plot and the dialogue needs to embody this distance a little more: and they don’t. They barely get much further than the English teacher muttering "I don't understand these guys" at various points. In summary, it’s inevitably got many of the hallmarks of Joseph Conrad, one of the truly great novelists of the last century. But it isn’t Heart of Darkness, or even the Secret Agent, that’s for sure.

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