The Shadow Line

The Sea as Mirror in The Shadow Line and Lord Jim

D'autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir de mon dsespoir

-C. Baudelaire

Those acquainted with the works of Joseph Conrad know well enough that the author had a grand affinity for the sea. Certainly, this should be expected from a man who had spent his formative years on various vessels, traversing the eastern waters in the capacity of mate and captain. During these years, Conrad formed a relationship with the sea, based on equal parts, fear, reverence, and love, which would transcend his writing and shape his characters.

Conrad, of course, learned much from the sea, and we, in turn, learn much about it from him. Based on the collective themes of his sea novels, it would seem that Conrad, were he to impart just one facet of his nautical knowledge on his reader, would want him to appreciate the long and sacrosanct tradition of command, to understand the cult of the seaman. In these works, Conrad paints a collective picture of the true seaman: stoic, strong, and equanimous in the face of peril. As Captain Giles of The Shadow-Line, an exemplar of the code, put it, "a man should stand up to his bad luck, to his mistakes, to his conscience, and all that sort of thing" (The Shadow-Line, 131). The true seaman, though, is also...

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