Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The novels of Joseph Conrad present the reader with plots full of action, mystery, political intrigue, and moving depictions of human nature. The emotional intensity of the novels' characters, and of the action unfolding around these characters, however, often leads critics of Conrad's novels to attack the works as being melodramatic. The present study explores the aspect of melodrama in Conrad on the hypothesis that such criticism of the works may actually stem from a misunderstanding of the images and themes Conrad attempts to convey. The discussion centres around the significance of Conrad's focus on characters and characterization. I hope to show how several of his most realistically constructed female characters actually diffuse the sense of melodrama in the novels.
I begin with a brief history outlining the development of melodrama in both nineteenth-century theatre and the Victorian novel in order to provide a framework for a discussion of the element of melodrama in Conrad. In the chapter that follows the introductory discussion, I begin to examine the aspect of characterization in the novels. The Secret Agent (1907) and Under Western Eyes (1911) are the works considered in this chapter. Much of the discussion centres around the actions of Winnie Verloc and Natalia Haldin as I consider how the similarities and differences in the portrayal of each character contribute to, or detract from, the sense of melodrama in each novel. In the final section of the thesis, I continue to examine the aspects of characterization and melodrama in Conrad's Victory, and through the character of Lena in particular. Her influence on the events in Victory is even greater than the influence that Winnie and Natalia have on the events in their stories. The strength and integrity that Conrad gives to Lena suggest that she is the portrait of the ultimate heroine, and the standard against which both Winnie and Natalia can be measured. The argument that Victory offers little more than a melodramatic plot, filled with exaggerated emotion and spectacle, is hard to accept after examining the realistic presence that Lena brings to the novel. Through a detailed study of all three characters, I hope to show that Conrad's novels may be considered melodramatic, but only when the element of characterization is not fully explored. The capacity for suffering and endurance that Conrad presents through his heroines creates a believable and moving account of human existence.
Morritt, Jennifer M., "Melodrama, Characterization, and Female Characters in Three Works by Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, and Victory" (1998). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7158.
McMaster University Library