The Rescue (Conrad novel)

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The Rescue
First edition
Author Joseph Conrad
Publisher J. M. Dent
Publication date
Media type Print

The Rescue, A Romance of the Shallows (1920) is one of Joseph Conrad's works contained in The Lingard Trilogy, a group of novels based on Conrad's experience as mate on the steamer Vidar. Although it was the last of the three novels to be published, after Almayer's Folly (1895) and An Outcast of the Islands (1896), the events related in the novel precede those. The story follows Captain Tom Lingard, the recurring protagonist of The Lingard Trilogy, who was on his way to help a native friend regain his land when he falls in love with a married woman whose yacht he saves from foundering.

Literary & historical background[edit]


In the 1925 Gresham Publishing Company edition there is an Author's Note that was written in 1920, in which Conrad gives background as to the writing of The Rescue. After he began writing, he set the novel down in 1898 and picked it back up in 1918. Conrad emphasizes that he did not set the novel down in despair, but rather he had doubts as to how to handle the subject matter presented in The Rescue through his prose. When Conrad set this novel aside, it was to work on The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'. Once Conrad started working on other novels, he kept working from beginning to end on new stories, and kept setting The Rescue to the side, as the other novels were “on the tip of my pen” as Conrad wrote. The novels lent themselves to a type of urgency that The Rescue did not. Also in the Author's Note, Conrad says that he picked the novel back up out of pure sentiment.


The location of the Malay Archipelago

In the 1925 edition, Conrad emphasizes the historical background of the story by beginning with a brief history of the European presence in the East. “The shallow sea that foams and murmurs on the shores of the thousand islands, big and little, which make up the Malay Archipelago has been for centuries the scene of adventurous undertakings”. The natives of the Malay Archipelago have resisted colonial incursions by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English. The European “adventurers who began that struggle have left no descendants”.[1] These men were “obscure adventurers who had not his advantages of birth, position and intelligence”. Apart from serving as a disclaimer, the contrast allows Lingard to stand for the many rather than the exceptional. The narrator describes the Malay Archipelago in terms that appeal to traditional British values. Though defeated, the Malays have kept their “love of liberty”. They are forced to defend this value against European aggressors: “Their country of land and water—for the sea was as much their country as the earth of their islands—has fallen a prey to the Western race—the reward of superior strength if not of superior virtue”. Establishing the particular historical setting, the prologue also implies parallels to Europe. The remoteness of the Malay Archipelago allows Conrad to examine the dynamics of warfare without taking a position on European conflicts.

Plot summary[edit]

Much of the novel is a commentary on imperialism and gender roles, and is not plot driven. Most of the book takes place on Captain Tom Lingard’s brig, Lightning or on other boats at sea around Malaysia, near the Indian Ocean. At the beginning of the novel, Lingard and his crew are traveling to the Malay Archipelago to help a friend take back his land in a fight amongst two Malay tribes. While in the waters his crew hears a loud sound, then sees the water foaming. A few moments later they see a small boat, and then hear a man, Mr. Carter, call out to them and asks to be allowed on board Lingard's brig. Carter passes on a letter, which somewhat explains where a yacht is stranded and begs for assistance. Although Lingard is not heading that way, and he does not know the exact location of the yacht, he agrees to help, and the spend the next chapter looking for the stranded yacht. Once they find it, Lingard and his first mate, Shaw have a discussion, “'This is the entrance to the place where we are going,' he said. Shaw stared, round-eyed. 'I thought you came here on account of this here yacht,' he stammered, surprised. 'Ah. The yacht,' said Lingard, musingly, keeping his eyes on the break in the coast. 'The yacht—' He stamped his foot suddenly. 'I would give all I am worth and throw in a few days of life into the bargain if I could get her off and away before to-night'”. Here, readers are shown that Lingard was not completely honest with Carter, the yacht just happened to be in the same place that Lingard was already headed to and Lingard really had no intentions of finding the stranded yacht. Now, Lingard is at The Shore of Refuge, but has yet to go on to the yacht, although he can make out figures on the yacht, two men and a woman.

On the shore, readers are introduced to Hassim and Immada, two Wajo natives, who have been waiting for Lingard's arrrival. The text now reverts to the past, and readers are shown how Hassim and Lingard met: Hassim watched Lingard as he went on land to refill his water, when the Papuan (leader of the Malay tribe) threw a spear towards Lingard, to which Lingard's men retaliated, starting a fight between the natives and Lingard's men. Once the natives were dead, Lingard went back to his brig, and then later met with Hassim, the leader of the Waja traders. Hassim and two others came on board Lingard's brig. They talk, mostly about Lingard's home country, and before the Wajo leave, Hassim asks Lingard to visit him in his country. Next readers are shown Lingard's reflection of that story, showing the importance that Hassim has in Lingard's life. This is a transition back to the present, with Lingard traveling to visit the Wajo tribe. With another storm about break, Lingard stays on board his brig, but another man from the Wajo tribe, Jaffir, comes aboard his vessel to warn Lingard of the civil war that played out between the Malay tribes. The next chapter begins by framing the narrative as a history, “A traveller visiting Wajo to-day man, if he deserves the confidence of the common people, hear the traditional account of the last civil war, together with the legend of a chief and his sister...”. The remainder of the chapter is Lingard's account of that civil war. Readers are thrown back to Lingard being on the stranded yacht, where he meets Mrs. Travers, who will become his love interest, and the men Mr. Travers and Mr. D'Alcacer. Mr. Travers openly objects to Lingard being on the yacht. D'Alcacer and Mrs. Travers have taken a liking to him. Mr. Travers and Lingard argue. Lingard's Wago friends Hassim and Immada come on board the yacht and point out that Lingard left them waiting on the shore. Lingard recognizes Mrs. Travers as a woman during a discussion between the Wajo's and the other yacht members. Immada is scrutinized both because of her gender and race; Mrs. Travers sees her quite differently than British girls, even asking “How does she live?”. Lingard tells them that she is a Wajo princess.

D'Alcacer and Mr. Travers go on to the island. Those who remain on the yacht realize that the men have been gone a long time and are not coming back. They must go on to the island to save Mr. Travers and the others. Lingard speaks to Hassim and Immada who have been on the island. He tells Mrs. Travers that the men are alive and unharmed. Lingard is now conflicted, as is Mrs. Travers. They know they have a duty to save the men, but would rather continue to explore their relationship. Hassim recounts the tale of the men being taken by the Daman, the leader of the other Malay tribe, the Illanuns. Lingard repeats the story to Mrs. Travers, emphasizing that it is dangerous to get the men back because the Illanun fear Lingard while on board Lightning, but that he is much weaker without his ship. Because Lingard is an adventurer, he must go save them. There are many pages of deliberation between Lingard and Mrs. Travers on saving the men and the problems that both options present (namely honor versus romance). Mrs. Travers goes with Lingard, but dressed in Immada's clothing so she appears to be a Malay woman.

Lingard and Mrs. Travers go on shore, and meet with an Illanun leader, Belarab so that Lingard can negotiate the terms of the men's release. Readers are never told what those terms are. The men are brought to Lingard and Mrs. Travers by Illanun spearmen. Back on board, Mrs. Travers points out that everyone has been ignoring her since their return. This sparks a conversation about Mrs. Travers as a woman, and ultimately leads to Lingard and her discussing her relationship with her husband. While Lingard and Mrs. Travers are discussing their relationship and The Travers's relationship, readers are told that Mr. Travers is sick. Romance has to be put aside however, because Tengga, the ultimate leader of the Illanun's, did not appreciate Belarab letting the men go, so he took Hassim and Immada as hostages and locked them away with Belarab. Lingard now has to go negotiate with Tengga. Instead of listening to the negotiations, Lingard too is held captive. Mrs. Travers goes on shore to save him, she manages to get the stockade open and get Lingard out. Readers find out that Tengga just wanted to talk to Lingard.

“Thity-six hours later” Carter and Lingard are on their brig alone, reiterating the story of Lingard's discussion with Belarab and Tengga. There was no fight because one of the ships, Emma, burst in to flames a short distance away from shore. Belarab did not trust Lingard or any white man, as it seemed as if one of the crew set their own ship ablaze, so he ordered that all the white men be released. The story is then told from the point of view of Jaffir, where readers are shown that Jorgenson, a member of the crew, did indeed set the Emma on fire. Mr. and Mrs. Travers and Mr. D'Alcacer went back to their own yacht, while Lingard and Carter went back to the brig. Mr. Travers is sick in the cabin. Mrs. Travers receives a letter from Lingard, presumably asking her to meet him. She tells Mr. Travers that she is going to go. A brief argument ensues, in which readers are shown that Mrs. Travers has changed into a more outspoken woman. When the two meet, there is discussion of love and hate that ensues while the two are on the shore looking at the graves of the fallen Wajo, both Hassim and Immada were killed while being held captive by Tengga. As far as the romance goes, Lingard pushes Mrs. Travers away, distancing himself from her in order to continue his adventures. In the end, Lingard goes back to his brig and sets sail for the north while the yacht travels south.

Genre & style[edit]


The genre of The Rescue is adventure, specifically a sea story. From the beginning, readers are shown that the novel takes place at sea. There are many times when Lingard refers to himself as an adventurer or being on an adventure. Throughout the text, there are lengthy passages in which the plot comes to a halt while the stifling darkness is described. This helps create the atmosphere of an adventure novel as readers are held in suspense along with the characters. The British characters are constantly interacting with natives, a trope that is used in many adventure novels. Many adventure novels also have an exotic other, the role that the Malay tribes fill in The Rescue.


The Rescue is written as a narrative, with an omniscient narrator. The story is told through a sequence of events, usually in chronological order, although there are a few flashbacks. Readers are never shown what a character is thinking outside of the large amount of dialogue, but readers are given more knowledge of supporting characters through the omniscient narrator (as opposed to if the story had been told by Lingard's first person point of view).



Romance is one of the larger themes in the novel. After Lingard and Mrs. Travers first meet, D'Alcacer and Mrs. Travers speak about Lingard and love. D'Alcacer begins with “'I've a great liking for him.' 'Already!' breathed out Mrs. Travers, with a smile that touched her lips with its bright wing and was flown almost before it could be seen”. Mrs. Travers briefly shows interest, but tries to hide it early on. As the novel progresses, Lingard and Mrs. Travers have a flirtation going on, which causes both of them, but Mrs. Travers especially, to be conflicted about saving the men; it is clear that she does not love her husband as “she had to reflect upon the horrors of a cruel and obscure death before she could feel for them the pity they deserved”. Once they both realize that they want more than just flirtation, Lingard disassociates himself from Mrs. Travers so he can continue on his adventures. This leaves Mrs. Travers to mend a broken marriage.


Throughout the text race is brought up. When Lingard first hears of the stranded yacht, his response was, "I am a white man inside and out; I won't let inoffensive people—and a woman, too—come to harm if I can help it". Here, race was used to show that the white population was better than others because they would not allow harm to come to others if there was a way to prevent it.

A group from Monsopiad Cultural Village, a Malaysian tribe

There are many non-white characters depicted in the text, most of whom have contempt for the white men, even the one they serve, Lingard. The crew mates were discussing Lingard, and white men in general: “'True,' admitted the kassab. 'They are all the children of Satan but to some more favour is shown. To obey such men on the sea or in a fight is good. I saw him who is master here fight with wild men who eat their enemies—far away to the eastward—and I dealt blows by his side without fear; for the charms he, no doubt, possesses protect his servants also. I am a believer and the Stoned One can not touch my forehead. Yet the reward of victory comes from the accursed. For six years have I sailed with that white man; first as one who minds the rudder, for I am a man of the sea, born in a prau, and am skilled in such work. And now, because of my great knowledge of his desires, I have the care of all things in this ship.'”. There is a clear difference between the dark-skinned men of the brig and the native men that they encounter with Lingard.

In regards to Hassim and Immada, “They were brother and sister, and though very much alike, the family resemblance was lost in the more general traits common to the whole race. They were natives of Wajo and it is a common saying amongst the Malay race that to be a successful traveller and trader a man must have some Wajo blood in his veins. And with those people trading, which means also travelling afar, is a romantic and an honourable occupation. The trader must possess an adventurous spirit and a keen understanding; he should have the fearlessness of youth and the sagacity of age; he should be diplomatic and courageous, so as to secure the favour of the great and inspire fear in evil-doers”. Here, readers are given a generalization of darker-skinned people, that they all look alike and thus you cannot pick out who is related to whom. Also, it can be inferred that because of their race/heritage they are good adventurers, but that is all the tribe members will amount to.

The other Malay tribe, the Illanun, are seen as more fierce than the Wajo. They captured both whites and other natives, but only killed the Wajo - the white men were spared. This is a common occurrence in adventure novels in regard to native tribes; they often fight amongst each other, but spare the white characters.


The treatment of Mrs. Travers is representative of womanhood in 19th century Great Britain. She is discussed as a silly woman and many times when she is portrayed, the focus is on what she is wearing or her mannerisms. Later in the story she was breaking away from what was considered to be in good taste for women (an example of the New Woman) as she did not follow her husband’s orders, or even treat him as a husband; many times she told Lingard not to speak of her husband as such, but rather call him Mr. Travers.

Lingard recognizes Mrs. Travers as a specific type of woman, “he became convinced that of all the women he knew, she alone seemed to be made for action. Every one of her movements had firmness, ease, the meaning of a vital fact, the moral beauty of a fearless expression”. She was breaking away from more traditional womanly values, which Lingard found attractive.

There are times when Mrs. Travers is dependent on her husband even though she has her own ideas, “She had the faculty of being able to think on her own thoughts – and the courage. She could take no action of any kind till her husband's return”. Which reiterates the fact that although she was intelligent, she was still a woman, and thus had to confer with her husband. It is not until the later chapters that she breaks away from the standard ideas of what it means to be a woman, but once the romance between Lingard and Mrs. Travers is over, she presumably goes back to her husband.


Throughout the text it is clear that Lingard is British. There are times when references to conflicts are present, such as the Anglo-Dutch Wars and Asian tribes seeing the British as coming in to conquer them. Some of the Malay do not trust white men, because the Dutch treat the native tribes poorly. This is also an example of the Anglo-Dutch wars that have occurred for hundreds of years. These wars were over who controlled the seas and trade routes.

Critical reception[edit]

Very shortly after publication in 1920, a book review came out in "The Sewanee Review" in which G.H.C. said that The Rescue is "deeply and sincerely imaginative", and "is Conrad at his best" [2]

Also in 1920, The New York Times published an article on The Rescue, in which the 20-year delay from beginning to end of the novel is discussed.[3] Lousie Maunsell Field writes that there is a noticeable change in writing style, but it comes at a point where the narrative demands expediency. There is "an increased depth of understanding, an increased subtlety of characterization, of thought, of style". Field also says, "the book is absorbingly interesting: dramatic, subtle, fascinating with allurement".

Heliena Krenn says “It was the Malay Archipelago with its truths about human life dimmed by the mists of its jungles and waterways that started Conrad on his career as a novelist”. She is arguing that without the Lingard Trilogy, Conrad's other works would on colonialism and imperialism would not have been as powerful. She also argues that to completely understand other works such as Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim, readers must look closely at the Lingard Trilogy. Krenn also points out that the three books must be read as one unit, that actions portrayed in one affect the other two.[4] Looking specifically at The Rescue, Krenn points out that the novel had many omissions in its final publication.According to Krenn, those omissions show Lingard's adventure as an "intended subversion of the interests of European colonial authorities and his motivation as rooted in ambitions for power, the emphasis and attention of the narrative shift to Lingard's conflict of divided loyalties".

According to David Thorburn, Conrad intended for The Rescue to be a boys book, similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's works.[5] Thorburn quotes Garnett's Letters from Conrad, “I want to make it a kind of glorified book for boys – you know. No analysis. No damned mouthing. Pictures – pictures – pictures. That's what I want to do”. Thorburn does not think highly of The Rescue or of Conrad's “grandiose subtitles”; when comparing The Rescue to other works he briefly mentions it as one of the “disappointing novels” and claims that the excess titling was an expression of weakness.

Thorburn also argues that the character of Tom Lingard is a failure and unconvincing because “the mythic or archetypal collapses back into stereotype when it is too much insisted upon”. Thorburn says that Lingard is “intended to hint at epic qualities. But such qualities do not bear too much repeating, and they are reiterated beyond tolerable limits”.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Conrad, Joseph. The Rescue: A Romance of the Shallows. London: Gresham, 1925. Print.
  2. ^ G.H.C. "The Rescue by Joseph Conrad." Rev. of The Rescue by Joseph Conrad. Sewanee Review 4 Oct. 1920: 597-99. Jstor. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
  3. ^ Field, Louise Maunsell. "CONRAD'S ART SPANS TWO DECADES: Unique Task Accomplished in "The Rescue"" Rev. of The Rescue by Joseph Conrad. New York Times 23 May 1920: BR1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
  4. ^ Krenn, Heliéna. Conrad's Lingard Trilogy: Empire, Race, and Women in the Malay Novels. New York: Garland Pub., 1990. Print.
  5. ^ Thorburn, David. Conrad's Romanticism. New Haven: Yale UP, 1974. Print.

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