Places: Lord Jim

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1900

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedVeranda

Veranda. Lord JimPorch with comfortable chairs and side tables located somewhere in the East–apparently in one of Great Britain’s colonial territories–where men gather into the tropical evening for long conversations. Throughout the night they listen as Marlowe, the narrator of the novel, recounts the story of a man named Jim. In the darkness, Marlowe’s words alone must carry the narrative.


Patna. Old steamer on which Jim serves as chief mate during an ill-fated voyage. A rusty, ill-tended vessel, the Patna sails from an unnamed port–most likely on the west coast of India–carrying Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. During the transit described in the novel, some eight hundred pilgrims are aboard the dangerously overcrowded ship; many sleep on deck and in the holds below.

Little more than a derelict, the Patna has rusty bulkheads and antiquated engines. The only place of comfort is its bridge, which catches some breezes as the ship steams through the night. Jim is on duty on the bridge when the ship collides with some unknown object in the water. Because the ship appears on the verge of sinking. the captain and his European crew–including Jim–abandon both it and their passengers. However, despite the damage it sustains, the Patna does not sink and is later taken under tow by a French vessel. The resulting inquiry and Jim’s search for redemption for his own cowardice provide the mainspring for what follows in the novel.


Courtroom. Colonial administrative building, probably in India, where a panel investigates the Patna incident. There Jim is the only member of the ship’s crew to testify and accept responsibility for deserting the ship’s passengers. For no particular reason, Marlowe attends this hearing and it is there that he first comes to know Jim. Afterward, he and Jim encounter one another in the street and strike up a friendship. Stripped of his certification as a chief mate, Jim afterward moves about in the Orient, seeking redemption for his act of cowardice.


Patusan. Remote district of a native-ruled state in the Malay archipelago. About forty miles inland from the sea, it is located on a river between two prominent hills with a deep fissure between them–a geographical fact that may be interpreted as a symbolic reference to Jim’s own divided nature. Patusan is nominally ruled by a corrupt rajah who allows his subjects to be robbed and extorted by a series of local strongmen. This situation is possible because Patusan is dominated by an old European fort whose rusty cannon can easily overwhelm the local residents. Sent to Patusan as a trading agent by Marlowe, Jim restores order to the community, whose people gratefully dub him “Tuan (Lord) Jim.” Jim thereby achieves some peace of mind but when his well-intentioned actions in a later crisis cost the lives of villagers, he willingly allows himself to be shot as an act of penance.

Malabar House

Malabar House. Social club at an unspecific location that is frequented by English and other Europeans doing business in the East. There, amid wicker chairs, potted plants, and little octagonal tables with candles shielded in glass globes, Jim first tells Marlowe his story in a long and sometimes excited oral narrative. The gulf between Jim’s experience on the rusty steamer Patna and the background and expectations of the European settlers and merchants is highlighted by the setting, which attempts to re-create, as much as possible, the atmosphere of a conventional English club.

*Asian port cities

*Asian port cities. After losing his certification as a ship’s mate, Jim moves about among such cities as Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon, Penang, and Batavia, working as a water-clerk. As a water-clerk, he acts as advance salesperson for ships’ chandlers that sell nautical goods and supplies. It is his job to solicit business from ships newly arrived in port and steer their captains to do business with his employers. Although he is an outstanding water-clerk he continues to move eastward, leaving each job as word of his connection with the Patna affair reaches the port. Marlowe sometimes encounters Jim in these ports, while at other times he hears of the man’s restless journey ever eastward.

BibliographyCox, C. B. Joseph Conrad: The Modern Imagination. London: J. M. Dent, 1974. Maintains that the novel reveals the meaninglessness of the modern age. Marlow and Jim cannot find the language to reveal the truth of Jim’s actions. No words can be found; meaning can only be apprehended through glimpses and hints.Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Includes two extended chapters on Lord Jim, the first of which explores the work as impressionistic rather than realistic, which requires the reader to reflect morally and emotionally on the central character. The second examines Marlow’s role and character as narrator.Karl, Frederick R. A Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969. An excellent beginner’s source on Conrad’s works. Provides analyses of major works, characters, and themes. Especially helpful is the explanation of Conrad’s time shifts and use of the Marlow narrator figure in Lord Jim.Kuehn, Robert E., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Lord Jim”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Fourteen essays covering the novel’s composition and its themes and symbolism. Chapters discuss guilt and redemption, the loss of innocence, and Marlow’s judgment of Jim. Helpful chronology and selected bibliography.Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Provides a history of the book’s composition and includes sources for the plot and main character. Covers such topics as the development and method of the narrative, Marlow’s use of symbols, Conrad’s structure of time, Jim’s sojourn in Patusan as romantic escapism, the relationship between Jim and Marlow, and the significance of the ending.
Categories: Places