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'"Unfit for Action . . . Unable to Rest" : Goethe, Lermontov and Under Western Eyes

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  • Literature (General)
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


Goethe, Lermontov, and Under Wester Eyes �PAGE �2� Niland �PAGE �15� Niland “Unfit for Action . . . Unable to Rest”: Goethe, Lermontov, and Under Western Eyes Richard Niland University of Strathclyde I n 1913, referring to Goethe, Conrad stated that he had “never read a line of the Great Man” (CL5 174). Nevertheless, Under Western Eyes engages with Faust, especially in light of the strong presence of Goethe’s masterpiece in the nineteenth-century Russian literature that Conrad most directly evokes in Under Western Eyes. While some critics have drawn parallels between Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus (1947) and Under Western Eyes (Kaye) references to “Mephistophelian laughter” (60), “Mephistophelian eyebrows” (245), the Devil, and ghouls abound in the novel with sufficient frequency for our gaze to be directed more fruitfully back to earlier Faustian parallels. Indeed, the narrator makes the Faustian symbolism explicit in alluding to one of the central myths of post-mediæval European society: “To the morality of a Western reader an account of these meetings would wear perhaps the sinister character of old legendary tales where the Enemy of Mankind is represented holding subtly mendacious dialogues with some tempted soul” (304-05). Conrad’s initial engagement with Goethe can be traced to Lord Jim. Citing the novel’s references to Goethe’s play Torquato Tasso, Paul Kirschner observes that “the lines from Tasso suggest that Goethe was one of the great writers who helped to shape Conrad’s imagination,” arguing that Stein is “a figure cast in the Goethean mould” (1979: 79).� Essential to this connection is Stein’s philosophizing on the Faustian polarities of Jim’s character. For Jim, like Faust, in “his frenzied, crazed unrest,” “all the near and far that he desireth /Fails to subdue the tumult of his breast” (Goethe 1969: 33). Faust’s self-diagnosis offers an eloquent expression of the divided self that holds a singularly influential position in nineteen

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