Under Western Eyes (Annotated Edition)

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Contents

  1. Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
  2. Under Western Eyes Background
  3. Reader Interactions
  4. Under Western Eyes

Petersburg requires that he accept deferment of satisfaction, the feminized world of Geneva seems to promise immediate fulfillment of his dreams. The relevance of this rigorously maintained sexual distinction to the question of Razumov's moral development becomes clearer when related to the phenomenon of illusion in the novel.

The status of illusions differs according to their settings. Czarist Russia allows little room for them. Successful individuals in St. Petersburg are those who pursue moderate goals, which they achieve by making careful, self-interested calculations and by acting on the assumption that other members of their society will be similarly motivated by self-interest.

This disabused wisdom is represented by the various adult figures, especially Mikulin whose masterful manipulation of Razumov is one of the pivotal events of the novel. The only example of an illusion in this part of the novel is Victor Haldin's belief that Razumov shares his political ideals. Two facts about his misunderstanding of Razumov are worth noting. First, there is not the slightest doubt that Haldin is wrong; the reader is not allowed even a moment's hesitation on this point.

Second, his misplaced confidence is immediately punished, not only by his execution but also by his discovery of Razumov's treachery. Illusions enjoy a quite different status in Geneva, where we witness the unimpeded flO"Qrishing of both the emigres' dreams of a revolution and their belief in the revolutionary role of women. We see, however, an important difference between these beliefs and Victor Haldin's. First, we are not quite sure whether they should in fact be regarded as illusions: perhaps they should, rather, be respected as authentic visions of a possible and desirable future.

At the same time these revolutionary aspirations seem to be undermined by the questionable characters of their leading exponents, Peter Ivanovitch and Madame deS-. The belief in the positive outcome of revolution is further placed in doubt by the narrator's famous declaration to Natalia Haldin in which he argues that the best people are always the victims of revolutions, never their leaders. The conflicting attitudes towards the emigres' "illusions" which the novel supports leave us feeling uncertain of our final judgment, whereas we had experienced no such difficulty in judging Victor Haldin.

A second difference has to do with the fate of people who are misled by illusions. Victor Haldin is executed. In Geneva, however, the worst punishment inflicted upon the deluded is the narrator's irony or Razumov's sarcasm. The narrator's mocking attitude towards the revolutionaries is revealed at least as early as his description of Madame de S- passing along the street in a carriage.

He admits that, for some, the scene might be said to possess a "mystic significance," but he personally finds it "hardly decent" Similarly, his repeated, tongue-in-cheek references to Peter lvanovitch as the "great feminist," especially in the light of Peter's ignominious behavior towards Tekla, calls attention to the great disparity between the extraordinary esteem which Peter enjoys in emigre circles and the narrator's much more modest evaluation of his virtues.

Further, his reservations about the likely consequences of a revolution protect him from the romantic excesses of the revolutionaries, permitting him to see the Chateau Borel in an ironic light: "that home of necromancy and intrigue and feminist adoration" Likewise, Razumov's frequent, contemptuous references to the emigres emphasizes the enormous distance which separates him from them. He calls Peter Ivanovitch a "hairy and obscene beast" and Madame de S- "a crazy old harridan" He tells Peter that he does not intend to spend his time "in spiritual ecstasies or sublime mediations upon the gospel of feminism" As noted earlier, Sophia emphasizes the heroic quality of the confessions by reminding the narrator that they were uncoerced.

Several of the narrator's own observations, however, lead to a different conclusion. In particular, his frequent comments about the all too human need for a consoling vision of the world seem to have an obvious bearing on Razumov's situation.

Other Titles by Joseph Conrad

The narrator prefaces the story of Razumov by confiding to us his belief that "what all men are really after is some form or perhaps formula of peace" He applies this discovery to a specific case when he asks Natalia, "do you mean to invent some sort of pious fraud for your mother's sake? Later, he will ask Razumov to console Mrs.

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Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

Haldin by fabricating an heroic account of her son's exploits: "Perhaps something could be invented under your authority as a cure for a distracted and suffering soul filled with maternal affection" Finally, he recognizes that the keeping of a diary has, for Razumov, a consoling effect: "It calmed him-it reconciled him to his existence" The narrator's repeated references to the human longing for consolation intensifies the ambiguity surrounding the confessions.

Without the narrator, we would feel more justified in interpreting them as signs of a moral triumph.


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Compelling evidence for this view would be provided by Razumov's own declaration that he has been converted to the truth, implying that he has chosen to replace self- interested calculations with some impersonal criterion for determining his actions. The narrator does tell us, however, that he has discovered an unconscious, and surely self-interested motive which places the true value of even the most ostensibly heroic actions in doubt.

To the extent that this discovery is a valid one, and not merely an expression of the peculiarities of the narrator's temperament, it casts unanswerable suspicion on Razumov's motives. It leads us to wonder, for example, whether, at the time of the confessions, Razumov does not in fact project upon Natalia and the revolutionaries the qualities of fantasized parental figures. Natalia, whom Razumov describes as "truth itself" does seem to have become in his eyes the embodiment of an infant's fantasy of its mother, possessing extraordinary gifts and offering unproblematic satisfaction to its longing for peace.

Later, in the second confession, Rilzumov seems likewise to invest the male revolutionaries with an unwarranted moral authority and to invite them to assume a traditional paternal prerogative by inflicting physical punishment upon him. Between a Razumov who has achieved moral independence by confessing his betrayal of Victor Haldin and a Razumov who has regressed to an infantile state of peace by placing himself in the presence of surrogate parental figures, no unambiguous choice seems possible.

In a characteristi- cally ironic fashion, the narrator himself suggests that he is aware of the difficulty. When Sophia Antonovna asserts her belief in the heroism of Razumov's act he chooses to remain silent, while confiding his mental reservation to the reader: "Who would care to question the grounds of forgiveness or compassion" Even the most positive interpretation of Razumov's spiritual achievement must be balanced by the admission that an enormous and perhaps unacceptable price has been paid. Essentially, what is lost in this episode is that spirit of ironic detachment which has characterized the novel since the narrator's first, self-deprecating remarks.

The narrator seems to disappear from the scene in which Razumov is about to reveal his betrayal of Victor Haldin to Natalia. With an irony which escapes him, he tells us: "my existence seemed so utterly forgotten by these two that I dared not now make a movement. And I thought to myself that, of course, they had to come together, the sister and the friend of that dead man" The narrator is estranged from the scene both by Razumov and Natalia's indifference to him and by his own misjudgment of what is actually about to happen.

His disappearance from this climactic episode is completed later when he allows Razumov to speak in his own voice by quoting directly from his diary. The significance of the narrator's disappearance at this point will become clearer if we reflect that throughout Under Western Eyes relations between two persons, or two groups of people, are always mediated by a third person. The novel begins with the narrator serving as intermediary between ourselves and Razumov. Soon, this triangular structure acquires a sinister aspect when we discover that relations among Russian students are mediated by the representatives of a despotic regime.

Later, Razumov's relation to the emigres will be mediated by the reputation bestowed upon him by Victor Haldin; conversely, Razumov will send letters to the Russian authorities in which he reports on the emigres' activities.


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  • Significantly, then, the direct quotation from his diary is the one instance in the entire novel in which this pattern of mediation is disrupted. Razumov himself enters a purely subjective realm from which all forms of mediation have been excluded. The narrator's recogmtwn of the enormous distance between himself and the young couple, and his virtual disappearance from the text, is accompanied by the eclipse of the critical spirit which, in however diminished a form, he represents.

    In the absence of even his limited ability to distinguish appearance from reality, desire from fulfillment, we find it very difficult to judge the value of Razumov's actions. That attempted fidelity to objective reality, which has been the narrative's distinguishing feature, is brushed aside by Razumov's hysterical determination to believe that he finds himself in a world patterned on his fantasies.

    We know that his confession has fulfilled some deeply felt wish on his part but are left with the feeling that it is lacking in consequences having a broader, less self-interested validity.

    Joseph Conrad: Under Western Eyes

    Our doubts regarding Razumov's development could have been resolved by Sophia Antonovna who has seen him in Russia and who reports towards the end of the novel: '"Some of us always go to see him when passing through. He is intelligent. He has ideas. He talks well, too'" Unfortunately, we are not provided with any examples of these ideas, upon which to base our judgment.

    Furthermore, Sophia's own authority is undermined by her scarcely credible assertion, in the novel's closing words, that "Peter Ivanovitch is an inspired man" In the course of an earlier conversation with Razumov, Sophia had delivered herself of a vehement denunciation of irony: "Remember, Razumov, that women, children, and revolutionists hate irony, which is the negation of all saving instincts, of all faith, of all devotion, of all action" The arguments in these texts will be familiar to many feminist researchers, whether they are re-reading them or encountering them for the first time.

    Under Western Eyes Background

    Indeed, at times from the vantage point of the early 21st century, many of Mohanty's well digested and debated arguments now seem a little anachronistic. It seems valid, given the nature of this text, to outline Mohanty's contributions to this body of thought that are brought together in this volume. One of Mohanty's central endeavours has been to put issues of race and racism at the heart of feminist politics. Through detailed analyses of other people's work as well as her own, Mohanty clearly illuminates how race cannot simply be added onto gender as another cumulative dimension of oppression but that ideologies of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality themselves are racialized.

    Mohanty also made calls in the s for scholarship which is geographically and historically specific.

    Reader Interactions

    The most valuable kind of feminist research is that which avoids specious generalizations about "Third World Women" or "Women in Africa" and instead takes the lived experiences of specific women as a basis for understanding and theorizing. In this regard, labels and definitions must never be used unthinkingly because they have the power to produce constructions and understandings of gender and race as well as to reflect them.

    Another of Mohanty's prime aims has been to make explicit and effective the links between scholarship and activism. To do this, we need to acknowledge differences between women and avoid universalizing narratives while building coalitions and solidarities. Mohanty retains hope in the possibility of building feminist solidarities across national, racial, class, and sexual divides and suggests that a way forward here is to understand and theorize how the lives of both privileged and marginalized women are interconnected through global processes.

    Mohanty's work also demonstrates how and why the politics of location matter. Our personal backgrounds and experiences and the identities we adopt for ourselves or have projected onto us have political and theoretical implications with which we must engage. Throughout this text Mohanty reflexively explores her multiple identities, for example, as a member of the secular elite in India, a foreigner in Nigeria, and a woman of color in the U.

    This is in keeping with Mohanty's constant efforts to place experience at the heart of her work. While she is clearly a standpoint feminist who believes in the analytical value of historical materialism and rejects what she sees as the cultural relativism of postmodernist thought, Mohanty is theoretically promiscuous.

    She draws on Foucauldian perspectives when necessary and her critique of universalizing positions means that her ideas have had great appeal for postmodernist feminists. Synopsis About this title First published in , Under Western Eyes traces the experiences of Razumov, a young Russian student of philosophy who is uninvolved in politics or protest.

    Book Description : Set in the tumultuous world of Tsarist repression and revolutionary intrigue, Under Western Eyes is a meditation on conflicting loyalties, political ideologies and national identity.

    Under Western Eyes

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