Never out of print since its publication in 1900, Lord Jim in some sense requires little introduction. It is one of the high points in the development of the English novel, marking the transition from the Victorian novel of social concern to Modernist experiments with form that culminated in the writings of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Lord Jim confirmed Conrad's authorial genius and ushered in his greatest creative phase. The novels that followed included the great trio of political novels: Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907)
and Under Western Eyes (1911).
Published at the height of Empire, when the British Merchant Service dominated the world's shipping-trade, Lord Jim is a very British novel. It tells the story of a young English officer in the Merchant Service who disgraces himself before becoming the benevolent â€˜virtual rulerâ€™ of a remote Malay state. The English narrator, Marlow, is one of Conrad's most celebrated and enduring creations. To Virginia Woolf, â€˜Conrad was compound of two men; together with the sea captain dwelt that subtle, refined, and fastidious analyst whom he called Marlow.â€™1 Through Marlow, Conrad brings an English perspective to bear upon social codes of comportment and inclusion, together with the public and private responsibilities these entail. Coming after â€˜Youthâ€™ (1898) and Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim completes a trilogy of Marlow narratives.
The novel is shaped by its concern with the life-giving properties of danger, the dark voids that gape under the most polished of surfaces and the problem, once these have been perceived, of going on living. In his â€˜Author's Noteâ€™, Conrad identified his subject as â€˜the acute consciousness of lost honourâ€™. Marlow views it as one of â€˜those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should beâ€™ (VII). Published in the same year as Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, the novel shares Freud's concern with identity, questioning whether the self is ultimately public or private property.