Conrad’s Chance

I continue with Joseph Conrad, and having just finished his wonderful unappreciated The Rescue I jumped into Chance, Conrad’s last go-around with Charles Marlow as the narrator.

Marlow this time is on land—I mean to say that Marlow himself, as he participates in the tale, is soil-bound. Certainly the novel involves some aspects of the sea, but Chance is concerned with domestic life, with women and society. And Marlow—a man who hates walking anywhere but a ship deck—has much to say about early 20th Century womanhood.

There’s a fascinating Chapter 5 in part one where Marlow and a Mrs Fyne have a long conversation over tea about how women behave and what they ought to do with their lives. Marlow admits to us readers that he doesn’t know the first thing about women (we are meant to take this as exaggeration) but he does enjoy pestering Mrs Fyne a bit, as she is in a state—her brother has run off with a house-guest, a young woman named Flora.

Marlow isn’t rude to Mrs Fyne but he is in a playful mood, as Mrs Fyne is determined to talk her brother out of this union—if she can reach him. Marlow verbally pokes at Mrs Fyne’s reason and arguments, if only to get different reactions out of her. Marlow is keen to know a woman of Mrs Fyne’s stature—he is a fan and chess partner of Mr Fyne, and admits that the Fynes have a good and healthy marriage.

Marlow of course is without a wife or companion, making sly jabs at his own preferred state of isolation from the opposite sex. But to see femininity through his eyes is helpful in knowing not only Marlow but Mrs Fyne as well, for we all become better when prodded by the curious mad people we encounter in life.