<<

. 26
( 47 .)



>>

relations than either Peter Ivanovitch or the narrator care to admit.
Both versions of male feminism, moreover, fall short of envisioning
women as full agents and conscious subjects; the paternalistic model
denies women consciousness, whereas the opportunistic model grants
them only the agency necessary to serve its own ends.
Nevertheless, the novel does hold out some hope for the bachelor as
the representative of an alternative style of masculine identity, a style of
manhood that revises, even while it partakes of, traditional models of
masculine identity and gender relations. This argument di¬ers from
humanist readings that champion the narrator as the novel™s true male
feminist without recognizing the complicity of his ˜˜way of looking on™™
(p. ±µ·). Such readings overemphasize the potential, if not the longing,
for redemption that Conrad™s bleakly modernist ¬ction o¬ers, whether
that redemption is sought in the realm of global politics or domestic/
sexual politics.²⁹ By contrast, I argue that the narrator™s ˜˜way of looking
on™™ “ his spectatorship “ casts him as an masculine alternative even
while occasioning his complicity in the spectacle that he witnesses.
In a portion of the Author™s Note cited earlier in this chapter, Conrad
attributes the narrator™s usefulness to his performance as an ˜˜eyewit-
ness™™ and as a ˜˜sympathetic friend™™ (p. µ°). Reconciling these poten-
tially contradictory roles, Natalia locates the value of the narrator™s
friendship precisely in his spectatorial way of being: ˜˜There is a way of
looking on which is valuable. I have felt less lonely because of it. It is
di¬cult to explain™™ (p. ±µ·). The narrator™s ˜˜male gaze™™ is not necessar-
ily, or solely, objectifying, alienating, and disempowering to its female
object, since she herself experiences it as bene¬cent. Indeed, it may be
the disempowerment and marginality associated with his spectatorial
stance that make Natalia feel less lonely since that is her position too.
Natalia™s tribute thus mitigates the narrator™s frequent deprecations of
his spectatorship as ˜˜helpless™™ and ˜˜out of it.™™
Implicit in her tribute to his ˜˜way of looking™™ is the notion that
Natalia reciprocates this look, that his gaze allows or perhaps even
enables her to look back, if not directly at him, then at herself. Because
of the narrator™s desirous and/or identi¬catory gaze at Natalia, she is
able to see herself, to experience a comforting or consoling sense of
identi¬cation with and desire for herself. This circuit of identi¬cation
and desire “ she sees herself by seeing him seeing her “ is ¬nally not
self-alienating, or even ˜˜narcissistic™™ in any negative sense of that
term.³° Despite the fact that it is the self who is brought into focus by this
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
circuit of looks, it is necessarily her awareness of the other as other that
enables this self-relation. Natalia experiences not a simple or damaging
incorporation of the other, but a complex self-identi¬cation through
watching another identify with and desire her.
If his spectatorship is not omnipotent, then neither is it entirely
impotent. The exploitation and violence often associated with norma-
tive heterosexual gender relations and particularly with the perform-
ance of conventional masculinity in this novel are implicated in the
bachelor narrator™s ˜˜way of looking on.™™ This complicity of his gaze is
particularly visible in the framing of the novel™s climactic scene of love
and betrayal as a spectacular tableau, a set piece that combines aspects
of the painterly still life, the modelled statue, and the theatrical perform-
ance. The narrator is painfully aware of the super¬‚uousness of his
presence at this ¬nal, ˜˜dramatic™™ interview between Razumov and
Natalia, displaying his abjected sense of extraneousness as part of the
mise en scene:
`
And I observed them. There was nothing else to do. My existence seemed so
utterly forgotten by these two that I dared not now make a movement . . . It was
the second time that I saw them together, and I knew that next time they met I
would not be there, either remembered or forgotten. I would have virtually
ceased to exist for both these young people. (p. )
What he looks at is them looking at each other:
To me, the silent spectator, they looked like two people becoming conscious of
a spell which had been lying on them ever since they ¬rst set eyes on each other.
Had either of them cast a glance then in my direction, I would have opened the
door quietly and gone out. But neither did; and I remained, every fear of
indiscretion lost in the sense of enormous remoteness from their captivity
within the sombre horizon of Russian problems, the boundary of their eyes, of
their feelings “ the prison of their souls. (p. °)
The way that his fascinated gaze mirrors their mutually trans¬xing
gazes suggests the narrator™s identi¬cation with the ¬gures at whom he
looks. In his spectatorship he shares their experience of being visually
captivated. ˜˜Every fear of indiscretion lost™™ suggests that he too is
spell-bound, but it is his sense of ˜˜enormous remoteness from their
captivity™™ that produces this e¬ect, a phrase that emphasizes the dis-
tance of his experience from theirs, rather than its proximity. Thus the
passage highlights the spectatorly experience of exclusion, separation,
or withdrawal at the same time that it accents the potential for identi¬-
cation in spectatorship.
±±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
This scene of doubled visual captivation “ further multiplied by the
narrator™s written representation of the scene of spectacle “ distorts
space and perspective. His ˜˜remoteness™™ from the lives of the Russian
pair is ˜˜enormous,™™ but so, implicitly, is the ˜˜horizon™™ that nevertheless
holds them captive. If their Russianness is a space of captivity, then it is a
space too huge for Western comprehension. The perspectival distortion
produced by the simultaneous expansiveness and containment, the
boundlessness and boundedness of the ˜˜horizon of Russian problems,
the boundary of their eyes, of their feelings “ the prison of their souls,™™
e¬ectively locates the narrator at once inside and outside the space of
the spectacle. His doubling as a spell-bound spectator within the scene
thus makes him both object and subject of the multiple gazes that
constitute the scene, a proxy for the gazing lovers and a stand-in for the
gazing readers. This doubling epitomizes the multiplicity of specular
subject positions that the bachelor narrator of this novel assumes.

© ¬ ¤  °    ¬  ,   ¬ ¦  ©  ©  ,  ® ¤   
  ®¤  ¤  ¦   ¤µ  ™  ¤
Even those scenes and ¬gures that the narrator might prefer to relegate
to the sphere of the private are as much constituted by spectacular
display as explicitly public scenes and ¬gures. If the claim is made that
the private/public distinction itself is constituted by the notion of the
gaze, with the private imagined as an arena shielded from the gaze, an
arena into which the gaze cannot enter, spectacular displays are particu-
larly charged when they cross the imaginary lines demarcating the
public and the private spheres. These transgressions demonstrate the
actual nonseparation between these spheres. The boundary-crossing
trajectory of the narrator™s gaze also illuminates his voyeuristic habit of
mind, his tendency to make a spectacle of the private even as he avows
his horror at such an indiscretion.
The spectacle of the private is emphasized in the two episodes that
immediately precede the novel™s climax. When the narrator accom-
panies Natalia to Peter Ivanovitch™s hotel in search of Razumov, he is
privy to a tableau of revolutionary conspiracy, his ˜˜glance leaving them
[the gathered revolutionists] all motionless in their varied poses.™™ He
explains to readers that he later learned about their abortive plot from
newspaper articles: ˜˜And while my eyes scanned the imperfect dis-
closures (in which the world was not much interested) I thought that the
old, settled Europe had been given in my person attending that Russian
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
girl something like a glimpse behind the scenes™™ (p. °; emphasis mine).
When they arrive back at the Haldin apartment, the narrator gets a
second, di¬erent glimpse:
The thought that the real drama of autocracy is not played on the great stage of
politics came to me as, fated to be a spectator, I had this other glimpse behind the
scenes, something more profound than the words and gestures of the public play. I
had the certitude that this mother refused in her heart to give her son up after
all. It was more than Rachel™s inconsolable mourning, it was something deeper,
more inaccessible in its frightful tranquillity. Lost in the ill-de¬ned mass of the
high-backed chair, her white, inclined pro¬le suggested the contemplation of
something in her lap, as though a beloved head were resting there.
I had this glimpse behind the scenes, and then Miss Haldin, passing by the young
man, shut the door. (p. ±; emphasis mine)

The ¬gures in these tableaux vivants “ the revolutionists plotting in their
hotel room, the mother grieving in her armchair, the lovers locked in
each other™s gaze “ are not in a ˜˜public play™™ yet they are still perform-
ing, even ˜˜behind the scenes.™™ The realm of the private is the locus of
authenticity, but the real is still a ˜˜real drama,™™ and thus depends upon
the gaze of a spectator. In ˜˜play[ing] [the] part of helpless spectator,™™ in
his ˜˜character of a mute witness™™ (p. ±), the narrator participates in
the drama that plays out the private truth behind the public perform-
ance.³¹
The narrator™s setting of the climactic scene heightens our sense of the
private apartment as a realm of theatrical performance:
The ante-room had a row of books on the wall nearest to the outer door, while
against the wall opposite there stood a dark table and one chair. The paper,
bearing a very faint design, was all but white. The light of an electric bulb high
up under the ceiling searched that clear square box into its four bare corners,
crudely, without shadows “ a strange stage for an obscure drama. (pp. ±“±)

The narrator describes the room as if he were a playwright providing
directions for a play™s setting, then self-re¬‚exively comments on his
rhetorical mimicry. His behind-the-scenes glimpse of Mrs. Haldin in her
armchair also contributes to his construction of the scene as a kind of
stage set. Mrs. Haldin, while concealed from sight throughout the
climactic scene, is not sitting in the wings, o¬-stage. Rather, her place-
ment in the drawing-room, concealed behind the door to the ante-
room, corresponds to the use of ˜˜discovery™™ scenes in Elizabethan and
Restoration drama. The drop curtain at the back of the stage would be
lifted at the play™s climax, ˜˜discovering,™™ for example, a pair of illicit
±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
lovers in ¬‚agrante delicto or the supposedly dead heroine resurrected as a
living statue.³² The ˜˜discovery™™ is a spectacular scene-behind-the-scen-
es, hiding what is private but nevertheless destined for a spectacular
denouement that may bring either comic justice or romantic reunion.
´
The narrator leads Natalia into the hidden drawing-room just after
Razumov has confessed his betrayal to her in the anteroom. Again we
get a glimpse of the grieving mother at the far end of the room “ ˜˜the
pro¬le of Mrs. Haldin, her hands, her whole ¬gure had the stillness of a
sombre painting™™ (p. ) “ her ˜˜stillness™™ making her into a sort of
uncanny still life. A shift of perspective follows Razumov™s self-denunci-
ation, with the movement of the narrator and Natalia from the ante-
room to the drawing-room. The narrator now looks downstage from
within the ˜˜discovery™™ scene rather than looking upstage into this
hidden chamber:
After assisting Miss Haldin to the sofa, I turned round to go back and shut the
door. Framed in the opening, in the searching glare of the white ante-room, my
eyes fell on Razumov, still there, standing before the empty chair, as if rooted
for ever to the spot of his atrocious confession . . . I stared at the broad line of his
shoulders, his dark head, the amazing immobility of his limbs. (pp. “)

The behind-the-scenes scene has become the site of the spectator, a
place from which the narrator looks, rather than the ultimate sight, the
ultimate object of this spectator™s gaze. If the narrator shares the ˜˜im-
mobility™™ of the betrayer, he also shares the perspective of the
traumatized woman who gazes out from within the ˜˜discovery™™ of
betrayal. At this moment, ˜˜looking on™™ is hardly a position of power,
but rather one of helpless, incapacitated shock. The onlooker partici-
pates in this horrifying drama but is unable to interrupt it, unable to stop
the show or to walk out. It is a scene that conjures up horror movies or
nightmares “ appalling yet irresistible, at once paralyzing and trans¬x-
ing: ˜˜And I observed them. There was nothing else to do™™ (p. ).³³
This scene had begun with Natalia removing, then dropping, her veil.
After his devastating confession, Razumov takes Natalia™s veil and ¬‚ees,
an act that departs from the traditional curtain call but nevertheless
e¬ectively concludes his performance of the private scene:
At his feet the veil dropped by Miss Haldin looked intensely black in the white
crudity of the light. He was gazing at it spell-bound. Next moment, stooping
with an incredible, savage swiftness, he snatched it up and pressed it to his face
with both hands. Something, extreme astonishment perhaps, dimmed my eyes,
so that he seemed to vanish before he moved.
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
The slamming of the outer door restored my sight, and I went on contempla-
ting the empty chair in the empty ante-room. The meaning of what I had seen
reached my mind with a staggering shock. (p. )

While the veil may contribute to the ˜˜staging™™ of the climax, its meaning
is more complex, even though the narrator™s spoken response to the
˜˜meaning of what I had seen™™ belies such complexity: ˜˜˜That miserable
wretch has carried o¬ your veil!™ I cried, in the scared deadened voice of
an awful discovery. ˜He . . .™™™ (p. ). This ejaculation is ludicrously
insu¬cient to the paralyzing scene that has just taken place before his
eyes. The narrator functions here as a Chorus ¬gure, as a representative
of the audience who stands on stage and reacts expressively and instruc-
tively to the tragedy he has witnessed, but his response reveals his
unsuitability for the part. Of course, his inarticulate, o¬-target reaction
to the crisis of this tragedy may indicate his identi¬cation with the
heroine™s horror and shock rather than simply demonstrating his ob-
tuseness.³⁴ But his exclamation has a metaphorical signi¬cation that
resonates with meaning, even if it does not fully redeem the narrator™s
acuteness of insight or his facility with language. Quite transparently,
Natalia™s purloined veil is a symbol, an explicit symbol of symbolic
¬guration, a signi¬er of artistic or linguistic signi¬cation.
The status of the veil as a signi¬er of signi¬cation is suggested when
Razumov wraps Natalia™s veil around his completed manuscript, the
manuscript that forms the basis of the narrative, after the language
teacher receives it from Natalia, its original recipient. This textual relay
literalizes the notion of a chain or play of signi¬cation characterizing
textual transmission. Implicit in Razumov™s ˜˜veiling™™ of his manuscript
is also the notion of language, or narrative, as a veil that simultaneously
conceals and reveals the truth or the true story, the ˜˜word that could
stand at the back of all the words covering the pages™™ (p. ±°µ). Language
or narrative as a veil is further suggested by the narrator™s description of
the dropped veil as ˜˜intensely black in the white crudity of the light™™
(p. ), like black print on a white page. The veil wrapping Razumov™s
manuscript metonymically suggests that the narrator serves as a kind of
veil for Razumov, as a ¬lter or lens that transmits, however dimly, this
Eastern drama to Western eyes.
The rhetorical doublings of the narration described in the previous
section of the chapter suggest the uncanniness of the narration-as-veil,
an uncanniness that Marjorie Garber seems to be describing in her
account of the ˜˜permeable boundary™™ of the veil as ˜˜a borderline
±µ
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
between denial or repression on the one hand and sexual fantasy on the
other, projecting both desire and its interdiction in the same ¬gure.™™³µ
As this description of the antithetical or paradoxical signi¬cations of
narration-as-veil suggests, this ¬gure of ¬guration, this Ur-symbol can-
not be fully separated from its gendered and sexual meanings. As
Garber emphasizes in her Vested Interests, ˜˜the veil as a sign of the female
or the feminine has a long history in Western culture, whether its
context is religious chastity (the nun, the bride, the orthodox Muslim
woman) or erotic play (the Dance of the Seven Veils).™™ Garber™s caveat
about the dangers of reductive presuppositions about the gendered
functions of the veil “ ˜˜that it is worn to mystify, to tantalize, to sacralize,
to protect, or put out of bounds™™³⁶ “ is well worth keeping in mind when
we consider that, in Under Western Eyes, the unveiling of the truth of
Razumov™s betrayal coincides with the literal unveiling of the heroine:

While speaking she raised her hands above her head to untie her veil, and that
movement displayed for an instant the seductive grace of her youthful ¬gure,
clad in the simplest of mourning. In the transparent shadow the hat rim threw
on her face her grey eyes had an enticing lustre. Her voice, with its unfeminine
yet exquisite timbre, was steady, and she spoke quickly, frank, unembarrassed.
As she justi¬ed her action by the mental state of her mother, a spasm of pain

<<

. 26
( 47 .)



>>