The treatment of religion and the use of religious language in the writings of Joseph Conrad (1982)
AuthorsLester, John Stuartshow all
Conrad's use of religious terminology has attracted mainly archetypal criticism to date, and the validity of this approach is tested in chapter one. An assessment of Conrad's beliefs begins with a study of the Polish and personal religious influences of his childhood and continues in chapter four by showing how, under the tuition of his guardian's letters, he developed a kind of work ethic, to which he brought the religious intensity of his father; initially towards his life at sea, later towards his vocation as a writer. Literature, in fact, is shown to be the crucial background, not only to his attacks on Christianity but also to the pessimism shown in his letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham in the late 1890s. The following chapters study literal religious references in Conrad's writings. Chapter five investigates the sources of Conrad' s knowledge of Islam and shows how his fictional Muslims expose the shortcomings of their European counterparts. Critical views of his use of Eastern religions (particularly Buddhism) are analysed in chapter six and the usage itself scrutinised, whilst chapter seven is concerned with Conrad's treatment of Christianity and its failings. In the final chapters, the figurative religious language is studied. The terms "devil" and "soul" are given secular interpretations, such as "excessive egoism" (devil) and man’s "will" or "power of choice" (soul). Generally, the figurative religious language (including numerous biblical allusions) shows the results of the inadequacies of literal religion in the modern world by indicating man's obsessions for less spiritual occupations such as his passions, his own ego, his personal illusions, his vocation, his self conception or the material and political pursuits of society. Examples are drawn from the whole canon and usually show such conduct to lead to disaster. In this spiritual crisis, hope lies in such simple ideas as fidelity, faith and love but these notions are seldom attained.