chapter  15
16 Pages

“A Matter of Tears”: Grieving in Under Western Eyes


Sounding much like Derrida, but in a letter rather than a post card, Joseph Conrad also imagines his writing as the work of mourning: “It is thus, with poignant grief in my heart, that I write novels to amuse the English!” (Letters 2: 55). In Under Western Eyes, the Russian characters imagine the English individual as “[c]ollected-cool as a cucumber” (UWE 21-22); and Conrad employs this perspective to chart the ebb and flow of ostensibly Russian, but in fact childhood, grief. Positioning the narrator as an English teacher, Conrad explores both the shedding and suppression of tears. The English teacher discovers that what democracies take for granted, namely “liberalism of outlook,” is certainly for autocratic Russia “a matter of tears” (UWE 318). In this novel, Conrad connects the grieving self with the childhood self and, as Keith Carabine shows, the link is personal: The author himself is “haunted” by “shadows,” and these “[s]hades” are of none other than Conrad’s own parents, lost when he was a child (Carabine, Life and Art 16). Moreover, Derrida’s work offers insight into Conrad’s complex study of grief, for the French philosopher also conjures the figures of specters and children as he mourns.