The Shadow-Line: A Confession
The Shadow-Line: A Confession
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The masterpiece of Joseph Conrad's later years, the autobiographical short novel The Shadow-Line depicts a young man at a crossroads in his life, facing a desperate crisis that marks the "shadow-line" between youth and maturity.
This brief but intense story is a dramatically fictionalized account of Conrad's first command as a young sea captain trapped aboard a becalmed, fever-wracked, and seemingly haunted ship. With no wind in sight and his crew disabled by malaria, the narrator discovers that the medicine necessary to save the sick men is missing and its absence has been deliberately concealed. Meanwhile, his increasingly frightened first mate is convinced that the malignant ghost of the previous captain has cursed them. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and deceptively simple, Conrad's tale of the sea reflects the complex themes of his most famous novels, Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.
business in a way,” he concluded in a sort of unanswerable tone. “Don’t insist,” I said. “I know it only too well. I only wish you could impart to me some small portion of your experience before I go. As it can’t be done in ten minutes I had better not begin to ask you. There’s that harbour launch waiting for me too. But I won’t feel really at peace till I have that ship of mine out in the Indian Ocean.” He remarked casually that from Bangkok to the Indian Ocean was a pretty long step. And this
board in the middle of the night and took the ship out to sea with the first break of dawn. Daylight showed him looking wild and ill. The mere getting clear of the land took two days, and somehow or other they bumped slightly on a reef. However, no leak developed, and the captain, growling “no matter,” informed Mr. Burns that he had made up his mind to take the ship to HongKong and dry-dock her there. At this Mr. Burns was plunged into despair. For indeed, to beat up to Hong-Kong against a
trimmed the yards and put everything on her. I was not going to give up the attempt. IV WITH HER ANCHOR AT THE BOW and clothed in canvas to her very trucks, my command seemed to stand as motionless as a model ship set on the gleams and shadows of polished marble. It was impossible to distinguish land from water in the enigmatical tranquillity of the immense forces of the world. A sudden impatience possessed me. “Won’t she answer the helm at all?” I said irritably to the man whose
CLATTER of the scissors escaping from his hand, noted the perilous heave of his whole person over the edge of the bunk after them, and then, returning to my first purpose, pursued my course on to the deck. The sparkle of the sea filled my eyes. It was gorgeous and barren, monotonous and without hope under the empty curve of the sky. The sails hung motionless and slack, the very folds of their sagging surfaces moved no more than carved granite. The impetuosity of my advent made the man at the helm
the success of the trust reposed in me. And one cannot help remembering with pleasure the time when one’s best efforts were seconded by a run of luck. The words, “Worthy of my undying regard,” selected by me for the motto on the title page, are quoted from the text of the book itself; and, though one of my critics surmised that they applied to the ship, it is evident from the place where they stand that they refer to the men of that ship’s company: complete strangers to their new captain, and