Best 1911 Adventures (8)
November 27, 2016
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1911 adventure novels. Happy 105th anniversary!
Joseph Conrad’s political thriller Under Western Eyes.
John Le Carré meets Dostoyevsky (for better or worse); many readers consider this Conrad’s best work, though some find it slow going. In St. Petersburg, shortly after the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, Russian conspirators are plotting the downfall of the repressive Tsarist government; the Tsar’s secret agents, meanwhile, are attempting to infiltrate their ranks. Razumov, a philosophy student, whose willingness to listen to the conspirators may have given them the impression that he’s a fellow traveler, unwillingly gives shelter to another student… who has just killed the Russia’s brutal Minister of State (an incident inspired by real-life 1904 assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve.) Although he secretly arranges for the assassin to be captured, the revolutionists consider Razumov a heroic figure. The action shifts to Geneva, where Razumov is importuned by a fellow expat, a wealthy woman funding the revolutionists, to take a leadership role in the burgeoning movement; meanwhile, he falls in love with the beautiful, intelligent sister of the student who he betrayed. However, the police want Razumov — a deeply conflicted double agent — to spy on his comrades!
Fun fact: An influence on Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, and John le Carré. The titular “Western eyes” are those of the novel’s narrator, an English teacher of languages living in Geneva, who attempts to untangle the knotty complexities of Russian politics for the readers’ sake… but who further complicates matters by introducing his own biases.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1976 adventures that you particularly admire.