Under Western Eyes


Conrad's use of an unreliable narrator is particularly interesting. The "teacher of languages" claims to be translating Razumov's private journal as well as narrating what he himself has witnessed, but his account of his sources of information is unconvincing from the beginning. He tries to establish his reliability by saying that he lacks the imagination to have made the story up but immediately undercuts his claim to be telling a true story by asserting that words are the enemy of reality.

The device of the diary is reminiscent of the manuscript in James's The Turn of the Screw where the governess's story comes from a manuscript of obscure origin. As in James's story, there is no reason to think that Razumov's diary, if it ever existed, was an objective account or that its purported translator has presented it accurately. There is only an account by Conrad, an adopted Englishman who suffered under Russian tyranny, of an English language teacher's reaction to a story about Russian revolutionaries that the language teacher may or may not have, wholly or partly, made up, but Conrad certainly did so. That ambiguous narration, especially given the book's title, invites the reader to consider the novel as story about Russia and Russians but also about an Englishman's reaction to Russia and Russians.

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