Under Western Eyes traces a sequence or error, guilt, and expiation. Its composition placed such demands upon Conrad that he suffered a serious breakdown upon its completion. It is by common critical consent one of his finest achievements. Bomb-throwing assassins, political repression and revolt, emigre revolutionaries infiltrated by a government spy: much of Under Western Eyes (1911) is more topical than we might wish. Set in tsarist Russia and in Geneva, its concern with perennial issues of human responsibility gives it a lasting moral force. The contradictory demands placed upon men and women by the social and political convulsions of the modern age have never been more revealingly depicted. Joseph Conrad personally felt no sympathy with either Russians or revolutionaries. None the less his portrayal of both in Under Western Eyes is dispassionate and disinterested. Through the Western eyes of his narrator we are given a sombre but not entirely pessimistic view of the human dilemmas which are born of oppression and violence.
About the Author
Joseph Conrad (originally Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski) was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. His parents, ardent Polish patriots, died when he was a child, following their exile for anti-Russian activities, and he came under the protection of his tradition-conscious uncle, Thaddeus Bobrowski, who watched over him for the next twenty-five years. In 1874 Bobrowski conceded to his nephew's passionate desire to go to sea, and Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice. In 1886 he obtained British nationality and his Master's certificate in the British Merchant Service. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he married Jessie George and eventually settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. He continued to write until his death in 1924. Today Conrad is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of fiction in Englishhis third language. He once described himself as being concerned 'with the ideal value of things, events and people'; in the Preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' he defined his task as 'by the power of the written word ... before all, to make you see'.