Nostromo: The Lighthouse – And Final Thoughts

Cape Romain 1827 Lighthouse


The situation has reached a boiling point: General Montero’s rebel forces have dismantled the government and are sweeping over Costaguana, while the traitor Sotillo, invading Sulaco by steamship, comes to establish a reign of terror.  The citizens flee to the countryside, seeking protection by the once-feared bandit Hernandez.  Everyone believes Nostromo and Martin to be dead, and Dr Monygham fears for the safety of Emilia Gould, who, half-abandoned by her workaholic husband, still remains in the town.  He realizes he must take action to save her, while the rebels and the elusive silver begin to take a corrupting hold over everybody else.

There is much, much more that happens in this third part, but I can’t give it away.  It’s as well Part III takes up nearly half of the book, because the initially slow plot here picks up with gusto, taking all the world-building from the first two parts and launching an all-out political/Western drama on a grand scale.  I was so invested in the story, it gave me an awful nightmare (yes, it was the torture scene), which I don’t think has ever happened to me before.  It’s moving, haunting, depressing, and, above all, thought provoking.

Conrad has a great deal to say about imperialism and the double-edged sword that was the British-American investment in South America.  We see Charles Gould as a Gaskellian John Thornton, bringing stable jobs and industrialism to an unstable region, but we also see him as a conqueror and self-centered tycoon, sacrificing his own wife’s happiness for his ambitions.  Conrad’s dual perspective is also directed to President Ribiera and General Montero, neither side effective in governing the country and both entities too strongly influenced by foreign powers, in spite of the ideals of the one and the brute force of the other.  Nostromo, as human as any of them, represents the common man, only one who is half-heartedly a key player in major historical events.  He has his own vices and virtues which are not immune to the proximity of immense fortune.  Conrad leaves no one without a weakness, whether they are white or Latino, rich or poor.

The female characters are well portrayed and surprisingly modern in some ways.  Emilia Gould, though a devoted wife, is well aware of her husband’s flaws and exerts her own charisma and character to help others.  Antonia, the liberated belle of Sulaco, takes after her father Don Jose in her desire to see a better government for the nation.  Linda starts out the daughter of an innkeeper and ends up running the lighthouse on her own.  There are others, and they all stand on their own feet (except perhaps the tragic Giselle, who, in spite of her shallowness, still got my sympathy).

For a more detailed character analysis, definitely check out Brian’s review on Babbling Books.  He describes the core personalities and tensions really well.

I also want to mention two literary devices Conrad uses.  One is a long letter written by Martin to his sister, which goes over some of the main events of the conflict.  The second is a flashback told in the form of a guided tour by Captain Mitchell, as he recalls past events to a visitor to Sulaco.  Both of these devices slow the book down, but on the plus side, I thought they were creative.  Again, patience does pay off, just be prepared!

In all, I feel The Lighthouse made up for the tortoise pace of the first two parts, and I give the book an overall 4 stars.  It is not Conrad’s best writing, and I probably would not have ploughed through it if I weren’t a Conrad fan.  On the other hand, I don’t know of any other English language novel of the 19th century that covers this history (albeit in a fictional setting), and the plot and characters are so strong, I am very glad I stuck with it.  It is just like revisiting my Latin American history college course, except in novel form – so many tragic iterations of military coups, bloodshed, uprisings, and misdeeds or abuse by colonial powers.  This book, for the most part, has aged well, because its moral is still relevant, and unfortunately history has repeated itself in other places and with other people to this day.

Nostromo: The Isabels

Iris Diensthuber [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Part II of Nostromo introduces a new set of characters: Antonia, the “liberated” yet refined daughter of the statesman Don Jose; Martin Decoud, a young journalist head-over-heels in love with Antonia; Hirsch the German trader; and even the title character himself, so notably absent from Part I, plays a major role in The Isabels.

Things have been heating up politically in Costaguana.  The frail presidency of Ribiera, ally of the mine owner Charles Gould, is threatened by the rebel Monterists, who are trying to take over the country and stage a military coup.  Gould can think of only his silver mine and his workers, putting his own and his wife’s safety at risk as he prepares to defend it.  Decoud, finding Antonia hard to win, decides to take up the political torch dropped by her aging father. Decoud’s determination, however, is to make their province independent, rather than trying to restore the entirety of the country – he trusts the power of the mine to preserve their economic autonomy.  As for Nostromo, he finds himself in a dangerous position when he is tasked with the mission of transporting the mined silver to a hiding spot in the Isabel islands.

Even though the plot picked up a bit, I found Part II continually difficult to follow and stylistically slow.  Conrad strives to set the stage with the romance between Antonia and Martin, but the chemistry just isn’t there, so the young lover’s desperation seems a bit silly rather than inspiring.  Nostromo is given a (rather questionable) backstory, but other than that, he’s a somewhat one-dimensional anti-hero, with no apparent aims in life than to win glory and stay out of debt.  Gould remains the most interesting character and the driver behind the plot, so it was a bit disappointing he barely made an appearance.

I still think the concept of the novel is excellent; the execution is just a bit weak at this point. I am hoping my patience will pay off in Part III!