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Joseph Conrad: Chance

Our old friend, Marlow, is once again the narrator of this novel but he is not entirely the Marlow of old, e.g. in Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. In Chance, he seems to be less sympathetic, more rigid. Chance was Conrad’s first popular success but it was also a critical success. Arnold Bennett said that this is a discouraging book for a writer because he damn well knows he can’t write as well as this. The story concerns Flora de Barral who survives her childhood, the hatred of her governess and the neglect of her father, after the death of her mother. She becomes a companion to Mrs. Fyne after some difficulty with the son of another family and, after working elsewhere, marries and goes to sea with Captain Anthony, Mrs. Fyne’s brother. Conrad represents the sea voyage as a sort of Eden for Flora, away from the cares of the world. But the world comes back when her father, who has been in prison after a financial scandal, is released and now, under the name of Mr. Smith, comes to live with his daughter and son-in-law. The father is, however, jealous, endeavours to poison his son-in-law but, fortunately, he is seen and, on being discovered, drinks the poison himself, symbolically freeing Flora from the chains of her past.

According to Frederick Karl, this book is about salvation. Flora is saved by, first the Fynes and then Captain Anthony. She saves her father after his release from prison and then saves Captain Anthony when her father tries to poison him. Even the sea acts as a saviour when Flora is saved by going to sea. But ultimately this book is not one of Conrad’s best works. He takes far too long at the beginning of the work to introduce the characters and set the scene. Marlow waffles on in a tiresome manner, intrusive rather than sympathetic as he was in the earlier books. It is also one of the few books by Conrad to have a woman as a major character and women characters are clearly not Conrad’s forte.

Publishing history

First published in 1913 by Methuen