Current Date: 5 December, 2020
The Return by Joseph Conrad

Book 4 d week : The Return

(review by Vinoo)
Author : Joseph Conrad
‘The Return’ is apparently Joseph Conrad’s tribute to Henry James, and his style of writing. It was made into a film ‘Gabrielle’. Conrad’s other works include ‘The Heart of Darkness’ (yet to read that one), ‘Sabotage’, (made into a movie by Hitchcock), ‘The Secret agent’ (also a movie) etc. Conrad famously said “Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests, notably, among others, on the idea of Fidelity.”
I haven’t read too many of Joseph Conrad. I liked this one and I would presume this one is different from the rest of his books. ‘The Return’ is a peep into the complexities and insecurities of human relationships. Half the book is about Alan Harvey revisiting his life and reasons why his wife left behind a letter the way she did and the rest is plain, lovely conversation and analysis of emotions triggered by an act, in this case a letter left behind by his wife.

Quoting from the book :
‘Thus Alan Harvey and his wife for five prosperous years lived by the side of one another. In time they came to know each other sufficiently well for all the practical purposes of such an existence, but they were no more capable of real intimacy than two animals feeding at the same manger, under the same roof, in a luxurious stable.’
‘He saw his wife’s handwriting and saw that the envelope was addressed to himself. He muttered, ‘How very odd,’ and felt annoyed. Apart from any odd action being essentially an indecent thing in itself, the fact that his wife indulging in it made it doubly offensive. That she should write to him at all, when she knew he would be home for dinner, was perfectly ridiculous; but that she should leave it like this – in evidence of chance discovery – struck him as so outrageous that, thinking of it, he experienced suddenly a staggering sense of insecurity, an absurd and bizarre flash of notion that the house had moved a little under his feet.’
‘And he thought of his wife in every relation except the only fundamental one. He thought of her as a well-bred girl, as a wife, as a cultured person, as the mistress of a house, as a lady; but he never for a moment thought of her simply as a woman.’
‘You are deceiving yourself. You never loved me. You wanted a wife – some woman – any woman that would think, speak, and behave in a certain way – in a way you approved. You love yourself.’
I wonder if he missed qualifying the ‘yourself’ there J.
‘It came to him in a flash. Morality is not a method of happiness.’
That his wife, for who he sacrificed his status, walked out on him for another man consumed him. His wife suddenly reappeared to give their marriage one last chance. They are forced to look deeper into their relationship and ask some basic questions before Alan Harvey finally walks out on his wife, never to return. Easily adaptable into a short play methinx.
I picked this one up at ‘Premier Book Shop’ on the last day of its existence, this February. Mr. Shanbhag would know exactly where to find a book in that mess, like it was his study table. Another fab bookstore, and a landmark, disappears from the Bangalore map. I skip that road now.
Useless trivia : Joseph Conrad was Polish by birth and had an adventurous life and dabbled in gunrunning and political conspiracy, which he later fictionalized in ‘The Arrow of gold’. Apparently he experienced a disastrous love affair that plunged him into despair. (Courtesy : Wikipedia). Where have I heard that? J.
In 1975 the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe (I loved ‘Things fall apart’), called Joseph Conrad a ‘thoroughgoing racist’. Achebe says that ‘The Heart of Darkness’ cannot be called a great work of literature because it celebrates dehumanization and notes that Conrad reduces and degrades Africans to “limbs,” “angles,” “glistening white eyeballs,” etc.
I love the cover design.

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