Joseph Conrad

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

I’m taking a break from the weekly book write-up to formally announce my intention to join the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012. I never joined book challenges before, but after reviewing my 2012 reading plan, I think I wouldn’t be making huge adjustments.

Wait, I have a 2012 reading plan? Yes, but let’s not talk about that now. And going back to the challenge, why not?

Anyway, the challenge has nine categories. Here are they along with the books that I picked.

Any 19th Century Classic – The Red Badge Of Courage by Stephen Crane

There are a lot of 19th century novels out there, so the choice for this category is the easiest.

Any 20th Century Classic – Ulysses by James Joyce

I’m both excited and terrified to read this. Excited because this book is Modern Library’s Number 1 book, and terrified because reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was a bad experience. There might be an encore, but I hope not. I might be reading this with a fellow blogger if she’s still up to it. And oh, she’s the one who made me join this challenge. Not by coercion, but by posting a similar post a few weeks back. She blogs at The Misanthropologist.

Reread a classic of your choice – Hunger by Knut Hamsun

I cannot really promise to reread, but if there is anything that I’d like to reread, it would be this. But speaking of rereading, aren’t we losing time since there are a lot of good books to read? But yes, this is a challenge, so I have to do it.

A Classic Play – Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett

This is supposed to be his masterpiece. Not those three novels, something about Molloy, Malone, and the Unnamable. I’m not too sure. And this is also a part of a lifelong challenge that I will undertake next year. More details about that in a few more days.

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I had a little problem with this because I am not a fan of this genre. Then I remember I have a copy of Dracula. No, that would not do. It is a huge read. Then I saw a copy of Frankenstein at one of the Book Sale branches here. This counts as a horror fiction, right?

Classic Romance – The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

I found this also tough because I am not a fan of strictly romantic novels. This category almost made me not join the challenge because I couldn’t find a romantic classic in my reading plan. And by some sort of accident, I found out that this novel will make the reader fall in love. That is according to a book that lists books according to moods.

Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language – The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

This is problematic because my first language is Filipino, and Filipinos are not huge fans of translating books, so I guess a book translated into English counts. And that makes sense because I speak and write in English better. Yes, it’s a shame, but I can’t help it. I studied in a school where kids are penalized for speaking in the local language.

Classic Award Winner – The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

This is an early winner of the Pulitzer Prize. I think it’s the third book to win it since the body started awarding novels.

Read a Classic set in a country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime – Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

I first picked a German-set novel, but what the hey. What if I win the lottery one day? It would be nice to go backpacking around Europe, right? So I changed my book for this. I picked this work from Conrad because it is set in a fictitious South American country. So there, realistically speaking, I will never, ever be able to visit it.

Now, here’s an interesting question: what constitutes a classic? If you ask me, a classic novel is one that has a theme that will endure regardless of the generation that reads it. That’s why there are books called contemporary classics because despite their recent publication, their themes seem to outlive us. And I think they are labeled as contemporary classics because of the strong notion that classics are only published at least a century ago, which should not be the case. That is because time, the supreme judge of classics, can tell us if this book is a real classic or not. Hence, the confusion.

For more information regarding this challenge, visit Sarah Reads Too Much.

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

Who bought it: Me.

What is it: It is about a group of terrorists who are given the task of bombing an institution. I used to think that The Secret Agent and The Secret Sharer are just the same. Of course they are not. They have different titles, and the former is a novel while the latter is a short story.

When: August 29, 2011

Where: Book Sale – SM Clark

Why: I was actually reluctant to buy this one, but since it’s one of the books that I am collecting and since I want to buy books on special days like the date I bought this one, I went ahead.

How much: Php 70.00

2 star - it was ok

The Secret Sharer – Joseph Conrad

The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad

The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad


I have a little problem about this. How do you classify this? Is this a short story or a novella? And how does one decide whether one is a short story or a novella? Is there a maximum word count? What elements should be present or absent?

And I also have another problem. I don’t think there are novellas. One can only either be a short story or a novel. And if you really think about it, the length depends on who is reading. Factors like reading speed, interest level, and other subjective matters play a part in this classification. If you ask me, I think Tropic of Cancer is just as long as War and Peace.

So I will lay it all down with this: The Secret Sharer is a short story. I read this right after Heart of Darkness. It’s a back to back edition. Maybe the publishers aren’t too sure either on what to do with this but needed to have it published because of its substance. And yes, I know I talked too much already without much relevance to the work. So here goes anything.

The Rhapsody

The reason I talked a bit about the short story, the novel, and the border between the two is because I don’t have a lot to say about this work. So yes, this is about a ship captain who saves a crew member from another ship who killed someone on the previous ship he was on so the ship captain took him in without the crew’s knowing and even lead his ship to a dangerous part of the sea to let the this crew member swim safely to shore.

That’s it. I summarized the plot in 59 words, 57 if we take off the beginning phrase that I am guilty of using to resume something that I digressed from. So yes, I used it again. What else do I have to say?

Let’s ask these questions: Why did the ship captain take him in? Why did he have to hide him? Why did he keep him a secret? Why didn’t he throw him off the ship upon knowing of his dark deeds? Why did he protect him?

The captain must have took in the man out of impulse. Deeper than that, it must have been compassion all along. If one were to be in a similar situation, finding a naked man struggling to survive, wouldn’t one be called for helping? I think man is inclined to help if he finds another man in a very distressing, life and death situation, as long as one’s life is not immediately compromised after the act of helping. I stress this one because it would be totally different if one was trying to save someone who is being held hostage with a gun in front of his head.

But things change upon the captain’s knowing of the man’s murdering of another man. He even denied of knowing him when that man’s crew came over them. I think they did come over. Either way, it questions human nature and the mysterious inner workings of ourselves. Our acts do not merely lie on whims or superficial factors. They are fastened deeply to our moral foundations and the truths that we believe in.

I mentioned compassion a couple of paragraphs back. I think compassion means “with pain”. So the captain must have shared that man’s pain, if pain comes along with the guilty knowledge of having taken away someone else’s life or any dark deed for this matter. It is not a mere condoning of evil. It’s something more than that. As they say in relationships, it’s complicated.

2 star - it was okFinal Notes

The author writes strong stuff despite the short length of his works, at least the works that I was able to read. I have yet to read two more of his works, works which are significantly longer than this and Heart of Darkness.

But I do not have the energy to read them yet, not mentioning time as always. His works leave me empty. It’s like man is hopeless. Man will continue to do things that are against those of what we know as good. It’s in his nature. He will always clash with himself.

Really, I do not know what the theme of this work is. I can barely recall it. I find short reads hard to remember, and I have read this years ago. But this is what I am reminded of with this. The darkness of the human soul is a secret that we should keep yet fail to do so.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad


There are some books that I enjoyed reading but for the heart of me could not really remember. I would claim to have read them but only the vaguest things about them run through me. Coincidentally, some of these books are from the same writer. More so, these books are short works that are either long short stories or short novels. And they say that brevity is a virtue.

I am not questioning Joseph Conrad. He is worthy of being called one of the greatest writers of his time. Although he didn’t have a chance to win the Nobel for not being able to fit in the vision of the institution, he still has something important to say.

So what was it that he was trying to say in one of his works?

The Rhapsody

I admit, I am quite reluctant to write something about this work. But since I have to follow the schedule, I will try my best to whack my brains out and figure things out.

I must be aging fast. My memory is waning. Really, this is an exception. Anyway, here are some of the things that I remember. There were white guys who came to Africa and introduced civilization to them. They made the Africans work. I don’t know what for. In one word: colonialism.

But surely, it isn’t only colonialism that the author wrote about. I don’t feel strongly for that subject, and I remember having strong feelings for it while reading the work. I may not remember character names, but I remember my eyes racing through the narrative.

Okay, I will use my powers of assumptions now. The book explores how dark the human soul can go. Not everything is as it seems. Beneath the surface, there is always something lurking there, something mean, something dangerous. Something that would explode at the slightest provocation.

What is the universe made of aside from sets of opposites? Light and darkness, fire and ice, good and bad, et al. Surely, the universe is governed with this law of universal balance. It is irrefutable because the absence of one of opposite is unimaginable. It would destabilize the order of things as we know it.

Like the universe, we have also have these sets of opposites. There is always something beneath us. That’s duality for you. I will stop now lest Conrad rises from wherever his grave is and bites my head off.

3 star - liked itFinal Notes

Good or evil, good or evil. I think people are born inherently good, but for some reason, we are tainted with this thing called original sin. I don’t want to go further than that because I don’t know my biblical passages, and since that is the case, which I strongly assume it to be, people are born inherently both good and bad. That’s the law of universal balance for you.

That does not mean though that we can either choose to be exclusively good or bad. For some reason, we always strive for the good path. It occurs naturally. We repress the bad. I think we have a natural cunning to discern what is good and bad, just like we know that killing others is not a very good thing to do. And since I stand to believe that we are both good and bad, we cannot take the bad stuff out of our system. The bad will always resurface every now and then. It is up to us to ward it off.

And our natural knowledge of good and bad, however expansive it may be, gets challenged a lot of times. The bad path is easier, so we give up on being good. Now that I think of it, the novel plays around it: struggling with good and bad, and more often than not, allowing the latter to trounce the former.

This is exactly the vision of the writer why he was not considered for the Nobel. There is always hope. The vision that the good will always win at the end is the quintessential hope that we should possess. Without it, what is there to live for?

Considering all these ranting and haywire thoughts, I now remember how depressing the book was. I remember reading it with a heavily pounding heart. I like it anyway. It reminds me of the ultimate virtue that we must all possess.