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(p. ).¹⁶ But, unlike Conrad, the narrator denies any deeper under-
standing that would suit him for his task:
Yet I confess that I have no comprehension of the Russian character. The
illogicality of their attitude, the arbitrariness of their conclusions, the frequency
of the exceptional, should present no di¬culty to a student of many grammars;
but there must be something else in the way, some special human trait “ one of
those subtle di¬erences that are beyond the ken of mere professors. (p. µ)

Despite his emphasis on the illogical, arbitrary, and exceptional nature
of Russian character, on the di¬erences that make Russians incompre-
hensible to Westerners, the English narrator nevertheless gives it his best
shot:
What must remain striking to a teacher of languages is the Russians™ extraordi-
nary love of words. They gather them up; they cherish them, but they don™t
hoard them in their breasts; on the contrary, they are always ready to pour
them out by the hour or by the night with an enthusiasm, a sweeping abun-
dance, with such an aptness of application sometimes that, as in the case of very
accomplished parrots, one can™t defend oneself from the suspicion that they
really understand what they say. There is a generosity in their ardour of speech
which removes it as far as possible from common loquacity; and it is ever too
disconnected to be classed as eloquence . . . But I must apologize for this
digression. (p. µ)
Expanding here on the grim reckoning of the novel™s second paragraph
“ ˜˜To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a
place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much
more wonderful than a parrot™™ (p. µµ) “ the narrator homes in on a
feature of Russianness that just might unlock the mystery of Russian
character. The key he o¬ers, the Russian ˜˜love of words,™™ locates
meaning just where he suggests that there is a radical absence of
signi¬cation. To compound the indeterminacy of this self-contradictory
de¬nition of the essence of Russianness, the narrator then apologizes for
his digression, indicating that his speculations are tangential to the real
story.
±·
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
The opening passage of the next section of Book I again foregrounds
the narrator™s sense of his own inadequacy at translating Russian experi-
ence: ˜˜On looking through the pages of Mr Razumov™s diary I own that
a ˜rush of thoughts™ is not an adequate image. The more adequate
description would be a tumult of thoughts “ the faithful re¬‚ection of the
state of his feelings™™ (pp. ·±“). The faithfulness in question here is not
Razumov™s divided loyalty, but the narrator™s representation of it. He
locates the problem of adequate description in the radically ˜˜di¬erent
conditions of Western thought™™:

It is unthinkable that any young Englishman should ¬nd himself in Razumov™s
situation. This being so it would be a vain enterprise to imagine what he would
think . . . He would not have an hereditary and personal knowledge of the
means by which a historical autocracy represses ideas, guards its power, and
defends its existence. (p. ·)

The ˜˜hereditary and personal knowledge™™ necessary to imagine
Razumov™s situation recalls Conrad™s own ˜˜peculiar experience of race
and family™™ which he describes in the Author™s Note as having been
imposed upon him ˜˜historically and hereditarily™™ (pp. “µ°). While it
may be impossible for a Westerner to imagine an Eastern subjectivity
conditioned as it is by historical circumstance, this is precisely the task
that Conrad assigns his English narrator. The inevitability of failure and
the consequent sense of inadequacy built into the narrator™s situation
re¬‚ect Conrad™s experience as a Pole writing about Russia for an
English audience “ both Easterner and Westerner, both inside and
outside Russia as a Pole, both inside and outside the East as an expatri-
ate Pole writing and living in England.¹·
The narrative pattern of disclaiming comprehension of Russianness,
then o¬ering a ˜˜key-word™™ (p. ±°µ) to Russian character or naming the
˜˜psychological secret of the profound di¬erence of that people™™ (p. ±),
followed by an apology for the ˜˜digression,™™ recurs at the opening of
each of the three subsections of the Russian part of the novel (Book I), as
well as at the opening of the longer Geneva part (Book II) which
comprises the rest of the novel. I will not argue here about whether the
narrator™s proposed ˜˜key-word™™ “ ˜˜cynicism™™ (p. ±°µ) “ is the right key
word, or whether his account of the ˜˜secret™™ of Russian di¬erence “
˜˜they detest life, the irremediable life of the earth as it is, whereas we
westerners cherish it with perhaps an equal exaggeration of its sentimen-
tal value™™ (p. ±) “ is borne out by the story, although one could
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
conceivably test the narrator™s reliability in this way. Instead, I want to
emphasize the rhetorical e¬ect of the pattern itself. The disclaimers with
which he begins these early sections of the novel all take the form of
de¬ning the East as mysterious, de¬ning himself as unable to compre-
hend the mystery, and then plunging ahead to o¬er us a solution to the
mystery. With each repetition of the formula, the reader must choose
between the claim and the disclaimer. (This interpretive conundrum is
only slightly less insoluble than the one generated in James™s ˜˜The
Lesson of the Master,™™ where the two potential interpretations of the
lesson are fundamentally incompatible and yet mutually contingent.)
The narrator further destabilizes his meaning by following his o¬ers to
solve the mystery of Russianness with apologies for digressing. The
destabilization of signi¬cation in this case does not divide readers™
interpretations between a found and an un¬ndable solution, or between
the narrator™s genuine and performed naivete, but rather between the
¨´
essential story and what is supplementary to it.
While ostensibly rea¬rming the centrality of the story of Razumov
and Natalia™s ill-fated courtship and the primacy of Razumov™s original
manuscript, the narrator™s apologies inexorably redirect our attention to
his interventions in the novel™s love plotting and his translation of the
Russian manuscript into English. The digression-as-supplement is as
much a substitute or replacement for, as it is an addition to, Razumov™s
Russian document and love story. By drawing attention to the narrator
himself while ostensibly directing our attention away from him, the
paradoxically self-e¬acing assertions or self-asserting e¬acements of the
narrator “ his repetitions of ˜˜But I digress™™ “ thus make a latent
challenge for dominance beneath their manifest submissiveness. The
double edge of this rhetorical maneuvering is not simply the inevitable
double logic of writing itself. Rather, this doubling can be read into and
through the con¬‚icts that de¬ne this narrator™s subjectivity. These
con¬‚icts are found not simply in his position as a Western translator, but
also in his role as a bachelor who witnesses and relays this novel™s plots of
love and betrayal.

¤ µ¬ ¬ ©  ,      ©®§ ,  ® ¤     ©  §  ° ¬    © ® §
The rhetorical doubleness of the narration is perhaps most pronounced
in the bachelor™s representations of Natalia Haldin and his own feelings
for her. These representations resonate with his con¬‚icting desires,
particularly the con¬‚ict between his sexual desire for her and his desire
±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
to protect her and himself from such desire. The rhetorical maneuver-
ings by which the narrator negotiates “ both defends against and enacts
“ these con¬‚icts strikingly resemble those by which he negotiates the
problems of representing Russia. Just as he repeatedly gestures toward
the unknowability of the East, he also foregrounds the di¬culty of
knowing Natalia Haldin: ˜˜It may be that she thought I understood her
much better than I was able to do. The most precise of her sayings
seemed always to me to have enigmatical prolongations vanishing
somewhere beyond my reach™™ (p. ±µ). Though the narrator™s desire to
grasp Natalia may exceed his reach, he also feels a need to keep her at a
safe distance:

We became excellent friends in the course of our reading. It was very pleasant.
Without fear of provoking a smile, I shall confess that I became very much
attached to that young girl. At the end of four months I told her that now she
could very well go on reading English by herself. It was time for the teacher to
depart. (p. ±)

He ˜˜confesses™™ here his attachment to Natalia Haldin just as elsewhere
he ˜˜confess[es] that I have no comprehension of the Russian character™™
(p. µ). The rhetorical gesture of confessing invests the content of his
utterance with an illicit charge, particularly in the context of Razumov™s
dramatic confessions at the end of the novel. In claiming to be ˜˜without
fear of provoking a smile,™™ moreover, the narrator betrays his con-
sciousness of having sinned or committed a crime in the very process of
denying it. The suggestion that his confessed transgression would pro-
voke a (contemptuous? accepting? sympathetic?) smile diminishes his
o¬ense to the status of an embarrassing foible. Thus, the narrator™s
confession is at once self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, placing him
on the novel™s larger stage of emotional and political treason while
simultaneously disclosing the diminutive scale of his self-betrayal.
One facet of the narrator™s con¬‚ict comes clearer in another of his
unelicited ˜˜confessions™™:

Such thoughts as these seasoned my modest, lonely bachelor™s meal. If anybody
wishes to remark that this was a roundabout way of thinking of Natalia Haldin,
I can only retort that she was well worth some concern. She had all her life
before her. Let it be admitted, then, that I was thinking about Natalia Haldin™s
life in terms of her mother™s character, a manner of thinking about a girl
permissible for an old man, not too old yet to have become a stranger to pity.
(pp. °°“±)
±µ° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
Clearly, his defensiveness is meant to ward o¬, or at least to preempt,
charges that his thoughts and feelings are not socially ˜˜permissible for
an old man,™™ especially with respect to a woman young enough to be his
daughter. In defending himself against the imaginary charges of lecher-
ous and (metaphorical if not actual) incestuous desire, this ˜˜lonely
bachelor™™ thereby inculpates himself. Yet, his shamefaced confession of
a lack of proper manly self-restraint also stands as a boast about his
masculine virility: ˜˜She directed upon me her grey eyes shaded by black
eyelashes, and I became aware, notwithstanding my years, how attract-
ive physically her personality could be to a man capable of appreciating
in a woman something else than the mere grace of femininity™™ (pp. ±“
). His use of the phrase ˜˜notwithstanding my years™™ suggests the
impropriety of cross-generational sexual desire, although the remainder
of the sentence counters the disreputable implications with the repu-
table maturity and sophistication of ˜˜a man capable of appreciating in a
woman something else than the mere grace of femininity.™™
Similar rhetorical complexities inform a passage which echoes the
˜˜without fear of provoking a smile™™ formulation cited above:
I intended to leave [Razumov and Miss Haldin] to themselves, but Miss Haldin
touched me lightly on the forearm with a signi¬cant contact, conveying a
distinct wish. Let him smile who likes, but I was only too ready to stay near
Nathalie Haldin, and I am not ashamed to say that it was no smiling matter to
me. I stayed, not as a youth would have stayed, uplifted, as it were poised in the
air, but soberly, with my feet on the ground and my mind trying to penetrate
her intention. (p. ±)
By brazening out actual or imagined humiliating judgements on his
motivations and actions with respect to Miss Haldin, the bachelor
narrator displays conduct most becoming. While he initially intends to
cede the ¬eld to the young woman™s proper suitor, he is ˜˜only too ready
to stay near,™™ his readiness as well as his soberness and gravity ¬‚esh out
his self-portrait as a chivalrous champion, as a bachelor knight whose
chastity emblematizes his sel¬‚ess devotion. In distinguishing his conduct
from that of ˜˜a youth,™™ he denies that he is, or even wishes to be, a rival
suitor, painting himself as a mature defender rather than a youthful
aggressor. Yet his attempt to ˜˜penetrate her intention™™ hints at a protest
against a desexualized paternal or avuncular role that he elsewhere
accepts with greater resignation.
The doublings of the narration enable the bachelor narrator to play
both suitor and guardian to Natalia Haldin, two masculine subject
positions that are mutually exclusive in the world of this novel because
±µ±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
the suitor wants to initiate the female object of his desire into sexual
knowledge and the guardian wants to defend her against such initiation.
Divergence along these lines is not inevitable in marriage plotting per se,
but such a split is unavoidable because, in this novel, sexual knowledge
amounts to betrayal, an equation suggested by one of the narrator™s
duplicitously desirous descriptions of Natalia Haldin:

She had re¬‚ected already (in Russia the young begin to think early), but she had
never known deception as yet because obviously she had never yet fallen under
the sway of passion. She was “ to look at her was enough “ very capable of being
roused by an idea or simply by a person. At least, so I judged with I believe an
unbiased mind; for clearly my person could not be the person “ and as to my
ideas! . . . (p. ±)

The very claim to an ˜˜unbiased mind™™ reveals the subjective bias in this
representation and, with it, the narrator™s disavowed desire to be the one
to arouse Natalia. By transparently dismissing the fantasy of himself as a
plausible object of Natalia™s desire, the narrator rhetorically casts him-
self in the role of seductive deceiver. This rhetorical e¬ect hinges,
tellingly, upon the passage™s equation of passion and deception.
The linkage between deception and passion in Under Western Eyes
might better be said to end rather than to begin with the narrator™s
rhetorical doublings, since this connection is grounded in Razumov™s
story. Razumov literally lives a ˜˜double life™™ in his mutually exclusive
roles of revolutionary co-conspirator and government informer. The
rhetorical self-betrayals within the novel™s narration can be understood
as a translation, a repetition with a di¬erence, of the con¬‚icts that
animate the love story of the novel™s male protagonist. But even the
marriage plot at the heart of the novel must itself be understood as a
repetition and revision, a translation, of a prior plot of love and betrayal.
Razumov™s scheme to betray Natalia Haldin repeats his earlier betrayal
of her brother, Victor Haldin, who seeks help from Razumov after
confessing his own ˜˜original sin,™™ his involvement in a bloody bomb-
throwing attack on the government o¬cial, ˜˜de P-.™™ If the initial
Russian plot of assassination is initially homoeroticized by its confession
in a scene of bedroom intimacy between two men, then it is ultimately
heterosexualized by the Geneva plot.
Razumov reimagines his initial con¬‚ict between loyalty to and be-
trayal of another man through a plot of heterosexual union with, and
thus a plot against, that man™s sister. Thus, in his confession to Natalia,
he writes:
±µ Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
Victor Haldin had stolen the truth of my life from me, who had nothing else in
the world, and he boasted of living on through you on this earth where I had no
place to lay my head. She will marry some day, he had said “ and your eyes
were trustful. And do you know what I said to myself? I shall steal his sister™s
soul from her. (p. ±)
By ˜˜stealing his sister™s soul,™™ Razumov hopes to repossess what he feels
Haldin has stolen from him. At the same time, his union with Natalia
would enact the ˜˜incredible fellowship of souls™™ with Haldin that
Razumov fantasizes “ ˜˜a full confession in passionate words that would
stir the whole being of that man to its innermost depths; that would end
in embraces and tears™™ (p. ) “ but quickly repudiates.¹⁸ This fellowship
is threatening to Razumov because of both the potentially feminizing
e¬ects of male“male desire conceived as gender transitive, and the
potentially feminizing e¬ects of sentiment and a¬liation, anathema to a
style of masculinity imagined as anti-sentimental and autonomous.
Having Natalia would enable Razumov to unite with Haldin . . . but also
to dominate him; he would ˜˜have™™ him in two di¬erent ways at once.
Moreover, by having Natalia, Razumov would recreate the originary,
male“male double self that he feels he has lost at least as much through
his own self-alienating betrayal of Haldin as through Haldin™s alienating
confession to him.
The homosocial triangulation of masculine identity and desire in the
Razumov-Victor-Natalia plot can better be understood with reference
to the plotting of ˜˜The Secret Sharer,™™ which Conrad wrote in the midst
of composing Under Western Eyes. Conrad had ¬nished writing the
Russian section, and was struggling to ¬nish the second and longer

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