Synopses & Reviews
Hailed as one of Joseph Conrad's finest literary achievements, this is the story of a young man unwittingly caught in the political turmoil of pre-Revolutionary czarist Russia.
A gripping novel that ultimately questions our capacity for moral strength and the depths of human integrity. This new edition includes commentary and a reading group guide.
Conrad deftly depicts the political turmoil in Russia in 1911 and its psychological repercussions in this novel about a student unwittingly caught in revolutionary intrigue. Attending St. Petersburg University, and preparing himself for a career in the czarist bureaucracy, Razumov suddenly finds himself enmeshed in a secret plot that will ultimately test his moral strength and the depth of his integrity.
About the Author
Jeffrey Meyers, a distinguished biographer, is the author of Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Reading Group Guide
1. In 1903 Conrad referred to himself as a "homo duplex," or "double man." The image of the doppelg?nger appears frequently in his work. How does the idea of a "double" apply to this text? Does Razumov ever encounter his own "double"? If so, what purpose does it serve?
2. Consider the role of the professor of languages. What do you think Conrad's intention was in giving the narrator this profession? What is the professor's function in the novel? Is the fact that he is an Englishman significant? If so, what perspective does this provide?
3. Examine the role of women in the text. How have Tekla, Mrs. Haldin, Nathalie, and Sophia affected Razumov? How are their roles similar? Different? In addition, examine the conversations between Razumov and Sophia. What is Conrad saying about the nature of women as compared to the nature of the revolutionary? Is it convincing?
4. Consider Razumov's reaction to the mention of women in his first encounter with the professor of languages. Why do you think he reacts in such an antagonistic manner? What does this reveal about Razumov?
5. Consider the title. How does Conrad use sight and seeing as motifs throughout the novel?
6. Some critics regard the scene where Razumov leaves Councillor Mikulin to be the dramatic climax of the novel. Examine the last lines of their conversation. What is the implication of Mikulin's softly spoken question "Where to?" How does this question set the theme for the rest of the novel? What does it imply?
7. In his Author's Note of 1920, Conrad reflects, "These people are unable to see that all they can effect is merely a change of names. The oppressors and the oppressed are all Russians together." With this in mind, compare Conrad's representation of the revolutionaries as opposed to the czarists. Does he favor one over the other? What is Conrad saying about an individual's free will as opposed to the demands of the state? Can this dichotomy be reconciled? If so, how?
8. Examine Razumov's decision to give up Haldin. How does he come to this decision? How does he justify and personalize this decision? Is he acting for his own safety or for the good of the czarist state? Does one take precedence over the other?
9. Finally, examine Razumov's own decision to confess. What is the catalyst for his decision? Is there more than one? Is this a confrontation with his own morality?