The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad
Only the young have such moments. I don't mean the very young. No. The very young have, properly speaking, no moments. It is the privilege of early youth to live in advance of its days in all the beautiful continuity of hope which knows no pauses and no introspection.
One closes behind one the little gate of mere boyishness--and enters an enchanted garden. Its very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the path has its seduction. And it isn't because it is an undiscovered country. One knows well enough that all mankind had streamed that way. It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation--a bit of one's own.
One goes on recognising the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together--the kicks and the halfpence, as the saying is--the picturesque common lot that holds so many possibilities for the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes. One goes on. And the time, too, goes on--till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind.
This is the period of life in which such moments of which I have spoken are likely to come. What moments? Why, the moments of boredom, of weariness, of dissatisfaction. Rash moments. I mean moments when the still young are inclined to commit rash actions, such as getting married suddenly or else throwing up a job for no reason.
This is not a marriage story. It wasn't so bad as that with me. My action, rash as it was, had more the character of divorce--almost of desertion. For no reason on which a sensible person could put a finger I threw up my job--chucked my berth--left the ship of which the worst that could be said was that she was a steamship and therefore, perhaps, not entitled to that blind loyalty which . . . However, it's no use trying to put a gloss on what even at the time I myself half suspected to be a caprice.
The masterpiece of Joseph Conrad’s later years, the autobiographical short novel The Shadow-Line depicts a young man at a crossroads in his life, facing a desperate crisis that marks the “shadow-line” between youth and maturity.
This brief but intense story is a dramatically fictionalized account of Conrad’s first command as a young sea captain trapped aboard a becalmed, fever-wracked, and seemingly haunted ship. With no wind in sight and his crew disabled by malaria, the narrator discovers that the medicine necessary to save the sick men is missing and its absence has been deliberately concealed. Meanwhile, his increasingly frightened first mate is convinced that the malignant ghost of the previous captain has cursed them. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and deceptively simple, Conrad’s tale of the sea reflects the complex themes of his most famous novels, Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.
Written in 1915, this novel is a subtle analysis of the nature of manhood, and its varieties of masculinity. A young sea captains first command brings with it a succession of crises: a crew that is laid low by fever, and a deranged first mate who is convinced the ship is haunted by the spirit of a previous captain.
Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in the Russian part of Poland in 1857. His parents were punished by the Russians for their Polish nationalist activities and both died while Conrad was still a child. In 1874 he left Poland for France and in 1878 he began a career with the British merchant navy. He spent nearly twenty years as a sailor before becoming a full-time novelist. He became a British citizen in 1886 and settled permanently
in England after his marriage in 1896.