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marred the generously con¬ding harmony of her features. (pp. “)

It may seem odd that this scene of confession is punctuated by Natalia™s
unveiling since it is Razumov who discloses his true identity as betrayer
behind his mask of loyal friend. Yet it is easy “ perhaps too easy “ to
account for the signi¬cance of Natalia™s unveiling. She, like Razumov,
undergoes a major change in this climactic scene of denouement: her
´
experience can be compared to the passage from the naivete of girlhood
¨´
to the sexualized knowledge of womanhood. The veil and its lifting
mark a threshold or limen, her initiation into a new phase of life; in a
related idiom, her veil would be a symbolic hymen penetrated by
Razumov™s disclosure, and discarded because of her new, more com-
plete knowledge. Thus Razumov™s grand ¬nale “ in which he gazes
˜˜spell-bound™™ at the veil, kisses it, then ˜˜steals™™ it--consummates the
conventional plot of seduction in which the seducer steals the heroine™s
virtue “ represented by the hymen/veil “ and abandons her to her fate.
Here, the twist on the seduction plot is that the seducer attempts to save,
rather than to ruin, the heroine by abandoning her; he runs o¬ with her
veil instead of with her. In this consummation, the veil is as much a
replacement for as it is a representation of Natalia herself. The veil, we
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
might say, serves as Natalia™s ˜˜body double,™™ protecting her from
dangerous stunts and possibly also from indecent exposure.
While the interchangeability of Natalia and the veil can be justi¬ed in
the logic of Razumov™s attempt to revise the seduction plot, this very
justi¬cation obscures what nevertheless remains troubling about the
unveiling of the heroine: the self-disclosure of the hero coincides with an
exposure of the heroine. This double exposure is compulsory because
Razumov™s last-minute revision of his plot fails. His attempt to substitute
the veil for Natalia herself, and to run o¬ with it rather than her, is
doomed because he has already stolen her innocence, initiated her into
a knowledge that is concomitant with betrayal. A related explanation
can be found in the narrator™s ˜˜way of looking on.™™ Although at the
climax of the scene he looks out from within the Haldin women™s private
chamber upon Razumov in the anteroom, for the most part the nar-
rator shares Razumov™s perspective, turning his gaze upon Natalia and
the spectacle of her disabusement. In other words, the narrator™s de-
scription of Natalia removing her veil is typical of his attention to her. In
his description of her, she is fragmented, catalogued into a collection of
attributes: her ¬gure, her eyes, her voice. His awareness of ˜˜the gener-
ously con¬ding harmony of her features,™™ and even the dis¬guring
˜˜spasm of pain™™ that ˜˜marred™™ this harmony suggests his aestheticizing
appraisal of the total e¬ect, as well as his fetishizing attention to her
parts. The narrator™s attention to Natalia™s ˜˜parts™™ transforms the
removal of her veil into a virtual striptease, an archetypal dance of the
seven veils. The ˜˜transparent shadow™™ cast by her yet unremoved hat
gives her eyes their ˜˜enticing lustre™™; the gesture of unveiling displays
the ˜˜seductive grace™™ of her ¬gure. His characterization of her voice in
the passage as ˜˜unfeminine, yet exquisite™™ “ like his emphasis elsewhere
on the ˜˜exquisite virility™™ (p. ±µ) of her grip “ also contributes to his
fetishization of her.
The narrator™s eroticized ¬xation on Natalia™s body parts and his
conception of her as ˜˜unfeminine™™ or ˜˜masculine™™ signal her status as a
fetish. There is a connection, moreover, between his fetishization of her
and the rhetorical ˜˜doubling™™ characteristic of his narration: his way of
simultaneously knowing and not-knowing the object of his desire, his
way of avowing and disavowing his very desire. The narrator™s portrayal
of Natalia as a ˜˜phallic woman,™™ his representation of her as having
phallic qualities or even as being herself a phallus, can be understood
both as a performance of self-reassurance and as a display of anxiety, a
simultaneous denial and con¬rmation of the inevitability of loss.³· For
±·
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
Freud, of course, the fetish is an anxiety-reducing representation of the
maternal phallus, although even for Freud castration was not the only
loss warded o¬ by the fetish. Hal Foster reminds us that ˜˜many losses or
separations (from the womb, the breast, the feces . . .) precede the
hypothetical sighting of castration “ even if they are understood as such
only retrospectively through this optic.™™³⁸ Even when this sighting of
castration is ˜˜hypothetical,™™ imaginary, or merely metaphorical, the
visual or spectacular has a privileged, if ambivalent, status in Freudian
and Freudian-in¬‚uenced accounts of fetishism. Most prominent among
these is Lacan™s reading of the gaze and his theory that ˜˜[the phallus]
can play its role only when veiled.™™³⁹ This emphasis on occluded
specularity provides a framework for understanding the narrator™s mo-
mentary blindness when Razumov steals Natalia™s veil: ˜˜Something,
extreme astonishment perhaps, dimmed my eyes, so that he seemed to
vanish before he moved. The slamming of the outer door restored my
sight™™ (p. ). If Natalia is imagined by the narrator as a kind of Salome
¬gure, a phallic woman or even a boy in woman™s clothing performing
an erotic striptease, then the removal of her last veil must remain
undescribed, undescribable.⁴°
The fetishistic demand for perfection in the object of the gaze, a
demand that compels the fetishist both to look and also to avert his eyes,
provides us with a window onto the narrator™s aestheticizing ˜˜way of
looking™™ and also onto Razumov™s way of looking.⁴¹ Although Razumov
is described as ˜˜looking down™™ during this scene of unveiling, he
nevertheless listens to Natalia™s voice with the ˜˜air of a man who is
listening to a strain of music rather than to articulated speech™™ (p. ),
an aesthetic appreciation similar to the narrator™s aestheticizing visual
delectation of the ˜˜harmony™™ of her features. Razumov™s fetishistic
appreciation of Natalia as an art object is further delineated in the
˜˜translated™™ fragment of his written confession which is imbedded in the
narrative:

You were defenceless “ and soon, very soon, you would be alone . . . I thought of
you. Defenceless. For days you have talked with me “ opening your heart. I
remembered the shadow of your eyelashes over your grey trustful eyes. And
your pure forehead! It is low like the forehead of statues “ calm, unstained. It
was as if your pure brow bore a light which fell on me, searched my heart and
saved me from ignominy, from ultimate undoing. And it saved you too. (p. )

Razumov™s attention to the ˜˜shadow of your eyelashes over your grey
trustful eyes™™ recalls the narrator™s own ¬xation on the veiling e¬ect on
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
Natalia™s eyes produced by ˜˜the transparent shadow the hat rim threw
on her face.™™ Razumov™s simile, moreover, unveils Natalia as a kind of
statue, ¬guratively putting her up on a pedestal as a monument of truth,
goodness, inspiration. He envisions her ˜˜light™™ as having an instructive
character-building in¬‚uence, presumably like the in¬‚uence of classical
statuary on its viewers. Her radiant energy powers his conversion
narrative; Razumov exposes himself to art “ the highest art that is no art
but sheer artlessness, sheer truth “ and its in¬‚uence compels him to
expose the truth about himself. In this sequence, the hero™s self-exposure
does not cause the exposure of the heroine, but vice versa: with her
˜˜pure brow™™ shining out in the darkness like a searchlight or a light-
house, the heroine must be seen in order that the hero can be inspired to
save himself by confessing the truth.
In his written confession, Razumov envisions Natalia as a statue; his
spoken confession which immediately precedes the placement in the
text of the ˜˜translated™™ fragment of his manuscript also metamorphoses
her, ¬rst into stone and then into ice. In the early part of the confession
scene, it is Razumov who ˜˜look[s] as if his heart were lying as heavy as a
stone in that unwarmed breast of which he spoke™™ (p. °), and who
speaks with ˜˜strangely lifeless™™ (p. ) and ˜˜colourless lips™™ (p. ·). Yet
as Natalia gradually becomes aware that something is gravely wrong
with the scene that Razumov is making, ˜˜she seemed turned into stone™™
(p. ·) and in the ¬nal words of the scene she reports that she ˜˜feel[s]
my heart becoming like ice™™ (p. ). The petrifying e¬ect of his confes-
sion to her, a confession spurred by his aestheticizing view of her, is
apparent in this narrative sequence.
Razumov™s petri¬cation of Natalia has more than a little in common
with the narrator™s way of looking at her. Indeed, the freezing-over of the
heroine before Razumov™s eyes recalls an earlier episode in which the
narrator rhetorically indicts himself for a ˜˜crime™™ of disclosure, thereby
aligning himself with Razumov and his crime. Having discovered the
arrest of Victor Haldin in an English newspaper, the narrator feels torn
between concealing and revealing the bad news, between the moral and
emotional rami¬cations that either action must have:
It was quite enough to give me a sleepless night. I perceived that it would have
been a sort of treason to let Miss Haldin come without preparation upon the
journalistic discovery which would infallibly be reproduced on the morrow by
French and Swiss newspapers. I had a very bad time of it till the morning,
wakeful with nervous worry and nightmarish with the feeling of being mixed up
with something theatrical and morbidly a¬ected. The incongruity of such a
±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
complication in those two women™s lives was sensible to me all night in the form
of absolute anguish. It seemed due to their re¬ned simplicity that it should
remain concealed from them for ever. Arriving at an unconscionably early
hour at the door of their apartment, I felt as if I were about to commit an act of
vandalism . . . (p. ±)
Breaking the bad news to the Haldin women, however gently, feels like
˜˜vandalism,™™ but forestalling their discovery of it inde¬nitely would be
˜˜treason.™™ As Razumov does later on, the narrator tries to spare Natalia
by disclosing the truth before she discovers it under more traumatic
circumstances, but he also wants to be the one to penetrate her veil of
ignorance. The narrator™s chivalrously protective strategy, like
Razumov™s attempt to save Natalia from himself, inevitably contributes
to the plot that transforms the heroine into stone: ˜˜I pulled the paper out
of my pocket. I did not imagine that a number of the Standard could have
the e¬ect of Medusa™s head. Her face went stony “ her eyes “ her limbs.
The most terrible thing was that being stony she remained alive. One
was conscious of her palpitating heart™™ (p. ±°). Like Razumov™s silent
pressing of his ˜˜denunciatory ¬nger to his breast™™ (p. ), the narrator™s
gesture with the newspaper signi¬es the true story to Natalia without
words. When no news is good news, the mere sight of the newspaper is
enough to produce horror in the viewer. Here the newspaper, like
Natalia™s veil, is a symbol not only of truth, but also a symbol that stands
for representation itself, the very mediation or dissemination of ˜˜the
news.™™
But why is the Medusa™s head the ˜˜Standard™™ that this narrator
bares/bears? The Medusa™s head, like the newspaper in this passage, is a
complex symbol associated with artistic representation and with spec-
tacular visual representation in particular. For example, the winged
horse, Pegasus, is said to have sprung from the Medusa™s severed neck
and with his hoof to have opened the Pierian Spring, the haunt of the
muses; the shield of Perseus, as discussed further below, is considered a
prototype of image-making, the mirror of art which allows one to look
on the terrible through a displaced image, or re¬‚ection, and live.⁴² And
like the symbol of the veil discussed earlier, the Medusa™s head is also a
symbol that resonates with multiple, heterogenous, and self-contradic-
tory gendered and sexual connotations: the phallic, snaky locks on the
female, severed head both con¬rm and deny the threat of castration.
Donatello vividly renders this ambiguity or doubleness by giving his
Perseus and his Medusa™s head the same face, as does Caravaggio who
makes his Medusa a young boy.⁴³
±·° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
Freud™s ± interpretation of the Medusa™s head also elucidates the
uncanny elements of the myth and their signi¬cance for gender identity
and sexuality.⁴⁴ For Freud, the snakes signify both penises and the pubic
hair surrounding the vagina, both male and female genitalia. For Freud
and for his hypothetical little boy, female genitalia are tellingly imagin-
able only as an absence or a lack, as the castrated and castrating sex of
the mother. These snakes, he posits, are horrifying because they suggest
castration, but they also mitigate the horror of castration because they
replace the penis. Similarly, the sti¬ness produced in the observer of the
Medusa™s head reveals to Freud the viewer™s horror of castration, but
also stands as a reassurance of potency and thus uncastratedness.⁴µ For
Freud, the viewer™s transformation into stone paradoxically con¬rms
both his castration/lack/deadness and his potency/non-lack/aliveness,
an uncanny death-in-life or life-in-death that meshes compellingly with
Conrad™s narrator™s horri¬ed response to Natalia™s horror: ˜˜The most
terrible thing was that being stony she remained alive.™™
This uncanny death-in-life aligns Natalia herself with Medusa. In
some versions of the myth, it is the Medusa™s return of the spectator™s
gaze, not just the mere sight of her, that is the source of horror. This
version, remythologized by Helene Cixous in her well-known ˜˜The
´`
Laugh of the Medusa,™™ suggests that it is female subjectivity and female
desire that paralyze the male spectator who expects, or demands, only
female ˜˜objectivity.™™⁴⁶ But the scenario speci¬cally evoked by the pas-
sage in Under Western Eyes, the image of the narrator pulling the news-
paper out of his pocket like Perseus pulling Medusa™s head out of his
wallet, aligns Natalia primarily with the petri¬ed male opponents whom
Perseus conquers by brandishing his secret weapon, the head of
Medusa. The narrator may wish to envision Natalia as Andromeda, the
maiden in chains whom Perseus valiantly rescues and later marries, but
here he portrays her as an adversary, even a rival, one whose enforced
spectatorship is her doom. Like Perseus, the narrator plays the part of a
spectator too, but a spectator who safely witnesses someone else witnessing
a horrifying spectacle, a spectator who, in fact, sets up the scene and
then looks on at its deadly e¬ects.⁴· His spectatorship does not rule out
the possibility of identi¬cation “ without his shield, he too would be
petri¬ed “ but his spectatorship nonetheless makes him into a ¬gure of
violent aggression. His aggression is concomitant with his chivalrous
protectiveness, even though it also con¬‚icts with it.
The narrator™s unveiling of the Medusa™s head to Natalia and his
unveiling of Natalia thus occur simultaneously; simultaneously, he
±·±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
makes her an abjected spectator and a fetishized spectacle. The ¬gure of
the Medusa™s head in Under Western Eyes thus encapsulates the disavowed
similarities between competing versions of male feminism as much as it
recapitulates the avowed play of di¬erences between male and female.
The narrator™s ˜˜way of looking on™™ simultaneously enables him and us
to see and not to see, to be horri¬ed and to be reassured, to come
thrillingly close but also to keep a safe distance. His gaze transforms
Natalia into stone, petri¬es her, fetishizes her even while it also provides
the occasion for identifying with her. But the woman with whom he can
identify is only or almost only imaginable for him as a castrated man,
hence his sympathetic, even hysterical, blindness when Razumov steals
Natalia™s veil.⁴⁸ The alternatives of protective paternalism and exploitive
voyeurism thus leave a space, but a very small one, for a third mode, a
masculinity that can truly imagine, that can at once identify with and
desire, a feminine subjectivity.
The notion of the Medusa™s head as a ¬gure that denotes visual
spectacle or even representation per se can also be brought to bear on the
complex of con¬‚icts that Conrad experienced as a Pole attempting to
prove himself as an English author by writing about Russia, and as a
male author known for his all-male ship-board stories attempting to
write a popular novel centering on a heterosexual romance for an
audience of female readers, all the while craving recognition as a
high-cultural male artist among other male artists. The con¬‚icts within
and among sexual and national politics and aesthetics come together in
the uncanny ¬gure of the Medusa™s head, a ¬gure whose long-standing
associations with artistic representation, with unruly women, and with
revolution, were not lost on Conrad. Just as Natalia herself, more than
Peter Ivanovitch or even Razumov, may be considered the bachelor
narrator™s truly uncanny double, so can we see the bachelor narrator as
Conrad™s own uncanny double, at once similar to and di¬erent from
him in his expatriate, national, marital and gender identities: at once
heimlich and unheimlich. Not only does the bachelor narrator represent the
author™s eyes and voice, but he also functions as the author™s translucent
veil and his polished shield. The bachelor narrator of Under Western Eyes
represents Conrad™s anxiety that something would be lost in translation.
° µ

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