Narrative Identities: Self-Construction in Joseph Conrad’s Marlow Fictions

Balazs Csizmadia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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While a lot of previous work has focused on the Marlovian quartet, on questions of narrative method and of identity in Conrad, there has been no full-length study of the close connection between narration and identity in his fiction. The thesis is informed by Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical concept of narrative identity, which is usefully summed up in his observation that subjects recognize themselves in the stories they tell about themselves. Taking this concept as a starting point, I also rely on more recent discussions of narrative identity and different narratological models. Although Conrad’s fiction betrays an ongoing concern with the way in which personal as well as collective identities are constructed through storytelling, the Marlovian narratives offer a particularly fruitful ground for an examination. I argue that Marlow as personified narrator not only allows Conrad to dramatize these issues in the fiction; it is also partly through Marlow that Conrad creates his own literary identity. After a brief chapter on some general features of Conradian narrative, I go on to explore Marlow’s double function, with each subsequent chapter providing a close reading of one of the Marlovian narratives. As we move from “Youth” (Chapter 2) to “Heart of Darkness” (Chapter 3), Conrad’s focus shifts from adjusting his literary identity to the demands of publication in Blackwood’s Magazine to a dramatization within the text of how the problems of narration and identity are related. Lord Jim (Chapter 4) is Conrad’s fullest exploration of the compulsion to tell and the desire to have our self-narratives verified by others. Chance (Chapter 5) develops the previous novel’s insights into the part played by the imagination in self-construction. The thesis concludes by suggesting certain parallels between Conrad’s understanding of narrative identity in the Marlow fictions and in some of his non-fiction.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
  • Gibson, Andrew, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jan 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • narrative identity
  • Joseph Conrad
  • self-construction
  • Marlow
  • Marlovian narratives
  • narrative theory
  • narratology
  • Narrative Analysis
  • narrative
  • narratives
  • Paul Ricoeur
  • Gérard Genette
  • James Phelan
  • literary identity
  • Blackwood’s Magazine

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