Under Western Eyes
11 January 2018
Today we began our new book, Under Western Eyes, by Joseph Conrad. We spent time considering the background to the story, the pre Russian Revolution political movement, mainly called Nihilist, against the Tsar and the police and the bureaucracy, including the Department of Repression, that supported the autocracy.
Joseph Conrad is most interested in the mass of the people, at all levels of society, who took the system for granted and, as one of our members said, just got on with it.
We noted the curious fact that, although the book has never been out of print since 1911 it was never anything like a best seller except in the early 1920s. We assumed that the Russian Revolution of 1917 had caused the interest.
We also looked at two short documents, one based on Feminist Pedagogy about Practical Criticism and whether it spoils the enjoyment of a book, and the other about a new scholarly edition of Under Western Eyes.
The book concerns a political murder in St Petersburg and its ramifications; we read the opening section carefully. It is mainly about the English narrator, who has a western view of Russia, writing about a group of Russian exiles who live in Geneva. He is a teacher of languages who lives mainly by one to one teaching of English as a foreign language, especially to Russians as he happens to speak Russian fluently. He tells us that he is going to write about a man called Kirylo Sidorovitch Razumov. The story, he claims, is from a document he has obtained, written originally by Razumov. He goes on to say that Russians are illogical and arbitrary.
He gives us some background information about Razumov: he has no parents and seems to be supported by an allowance from somebody important; he is a third year student at the university and hopes to become a bureaucrat. He is friendly with many other students and ‘trusted with forbidden opinions’ in a country ‘where an opinion may be a legal crime’ and was looked upon as ‘an altogether trustworthy man’.