Saturday, August 27, 2011

#28: The Duel, Joseph Conrad

The Duel
by Joseph Conrad
-born in Ukraine, 1852
-115 Pages
-more about Conrad (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born in Russian-controlled Ukraine to landless aristocrat Polish parents.
- His father, a translator of French literature, was convicted of revolutionary activities for Polish independence in 1861 and the family was exiled to Russia, where both parents soon died. Josef was raised by relatives.
- After a failed love affair in 1878, he suffered a gunshot wound to the chest...perhaps as a result of a duel or suicide attempt.
- After 2 decades of sailing the world, at age 36 Conrad retired, married, and began writing tales based on his life at sea.  He settled in London, as he had become a British citizen, officially changing his name to Joseph Conrad.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
This exciting, swashbuckling thriller, based on a true story, is unlike anything else in Joesph Conrad's oeuvre.

It tells the brilliantly ironic tale of two officers in Napoleon's Grand Army, the cool-headed Lieutenant D'Hubert, and aggressive young officer on the rise, and the hot-tempered Lieutenant Feraud, a fierce warrior also known far and wide as a brilliant duelist.  Both men, it turns out, have the perfect temperament for dueling, as the discover when, under a meaningless pretext, Feraud challenges D'Hubert.  They fight each other to a standoff...until the next time Feraud sees D'Hubert, and again throws down the gauntlet.  They will fight again, and again, across warzone after warzone, as Napoleon's army marches across the continent and back.

Both satiric and deeply sad, the masterful tale treats both the futility of war and the absurdity of false honor, war's necessary accessory.  This is its first-ever publication as a stand-alone volume.

My Impressions:
My third encounter, out of five, with an "urgent affair of honour" followed suit by being another brilliant story.  At once quick to read and epic in scope, this is a tale that should really have the option to experience the extended version.  I enjoyed the contrast offered by the difference in personality of the two officers; the character's personalities were shown so plainly in so few words.
"That's amusing," said the elderly surgeon.  Amusing was his favourite word; but the expression of his face when he pronounced it never corresponded.
The view on the war (and on the sense of honor that brought the duel about) seemed to hold a good balance between respect and humor.  Conrad's serious look at the ridiculous made it possible to relate various circumstances, and caused me to reflect on those accidental encounters that can change the flavor of life.  What do we allow more control in our lives than it deserves? Is our focus in the right place?
Now that his life was safe it had suddenly lost its special magnificence.
Sometimes contrast, looking at extremes, can help us see the obvious.  It puts everything into perspective somehow.  Conrad did an excellent job of holding these contrasting lifestyles in focus, allowing the reader the opportunity to get the most out of the story.

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