Conrad's impressionism : the treatment of space and atmosphere in selected works

De Lange, Adriaan Michiel (1993) Conrad's impressionism : the treatment of space and atmosphere in selected works. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

This thesis focuses on Conrad's representation of space and atmosphere in the "impressionistic" works published between 1897 and 1904, notably The Nigger of the "Narcissus" (1897), "Heart of Darkness" (1899), Lord Jim (1900), and Nostromo (1904). The many conflicting statements regarding the nature of Conrad's impressionism lead one to ask two fundamental questions: What constitutes this strange and elusive phenomenon, and how does it bear upon interpretation? This thesis works towards defining the elusive quality of Conrad's writing by investigating and assessing the contribution of impressionist techniques in the creation of a pervasive space and atmosphere; secondly, it considers how the various constituent elements interact with, and complement one another to form a dominant mode of fictional space in each work; and, thirdly, it indicates the possible impact that these particular Conradian configurations of space and atmosphere might have upon the interpretation of his impressionist works. The thesis argues that the existential condition of isolatio~experienced by Conrad's heroes and narrators is a consequence of epistemological frustration and fragmentation, which, in turn, is a function of impressionist ontology. There is a definite and complementary relationship between each of these notions in Conrad's fiction. The mysterious atmosphere in his works results from the interplay between various configurations of theme, narration and description, and these novelistic elements correspond roughly with the notions of existential isolation (the dominant theme), epistemology (narrating, telling and (re)telling as a method of knowing and understanding the space in which the characters find themselves) and, lastly, the ontological dimensions of the various modes of fictional space (as realized in description). The evocation and invocation of cosmic space in The Nigger of the "Narcissus," the mapping of a dorriinant symbolic space in "Heart of Darkness," the (re)constructions of Jim's psychological space in Lord Jim, and, finally, the "transcription" and "inscription" of a mythical space in Nostromo, indicate a definite development from epistemological to ontological issues. Phrased in more theoretical terms, this development is a movement from asking predominantly epistemological questions like "How can I interpret this world of which I am a part?" "What is there to be known?" "Who knows it ... and with what degree of certainty?", to asking predominantly ontological questions, such as "Which world is this?" "What kinds of worlds are there ... and how are they constituted?". Such questions, categorized by McHale as the dominant characteristics of Modernist and Postmodernist fiction respectively, are already present in Conrad's texts, thus undermining any clear-cut division between these broad categories. Indeed, this thesis suggests that these categories are at best tenuous, and that they should perhaps be used heuristically, rather than definitively

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Joseph Conrad, Criticism
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
Supervisors:Wright, Laurence
ID Code:3324
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:06 Sep 2012 14:23
Last Modified:06 Sep 2012 14:23
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