Victory Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1915

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: The East Indies

Characters DiscussedBaron Axel Heyst

Baron VictoryAxel Heyst, a man who has deliberately attempted to stand aloof from life, an effort that has made him a pathetic man if not a tragic one. He is innately and fastidiously virtuous, but by detaching himself from the entanglements and consequences of experience he has made himself incapable of coping with evil. Consequently, when he is forced to defend Lena, the only person he has ever dared or tried to love, he fails miserably and destroys himself. He is characterized aptly by epithets: His apparent willingness to drift forever within a “magic circle” in the East Indies earns him the name “Enchanted Heyst”; his naïve optimism, the “Utopist”; his attempt to establish organized trade in the islands, “the Enemy”; his isolated retirement on Samburan, “the Hermit”; and his alleged exploitation of Morrison, his former partner, “the Spider.” After Lena dies as the result of a wound inflicted by Mr. Jones, Heyst sets fire to his bungalow and burns himself and her body.

Lena

Lena, the new name Heyst gives to Alma, a young entertainer in Zangiacomo’s orchestra, after he meets her while she is performing at Wilhelm Schomberg’s hotel in Sourabaya. He quixotically thinks that the new name symbolizes her break with her sordid past. It is to Lena that the “victory” of the title applies. Realizing that Heyst is completely incapable of meeting evil with action, she resolves, out of love and gratitude, to save him, if necessary by committing murder. She is a foil to Heyst in that she has been forced since childhood to confront and resist the evil in life, and she is prepared, instinctively, to challenge and defeat it. Mr. Jones shoots Lena when he finds her and Martin Ricardo together in Heyst’s bungalow.

Mr. Jones

Mr. Jones, “a gentleman at large” who embodies the evil intelligence and calculating wickedness that threaten and finally destroy Heyst. Outlawed by his perversity from the genteel society of which he was once a member, Jones travels with two companions among the outpost islands and obtains his living through gambling, theft, and murder. After shooting Lena and Martin Ricardo, Jones falls from a wharf and drowns.

Martin Ricardo

Martin Ricardo, Mr. Jones’s henchman. Although he is dedicated to performing dirty work for Jones, whom he considers a gentleman, he does not conform to his leader’s misogynist principles. Characterized as a cat, he symbolizes instinctive savagery. Believing that Ricardo has betrayed him by concealing the fact of Lena’s presence in Heyst’s bungalow, Jones shoots him after fatally wounding Lena.

Pedro

Pedro, the third of the evil trio threatening the lives of Heyst and Lena on Samburan. Symbolizing brute force, this apelike creature, formerly an alligator hunter in Colombia, has attached himself to Jones out of gratitude for having spared his wretched life. Wang shoots him with a pistol stolen from Heyst.

Wilhelm Schomberg

Wilhelm Schomberg, the brutal owner of a hotel in Sourabaya. His obsessive hatred for Heyst increases after Heyst carries off Lena, whom Schomberg had desired for himself. To get rid of Jones and Ricardo, who have been operating a gambling den in his hotel, Schomberg sends them to Samburan in search of a treasure Heyst is supposed to keep hidden on the island. His hope is that Jones and his followers will kill the man he hates.

Mrs. Schomberg

Mrs. Schomberg, who is still in love with her brutish husband, even though he has reduced her to a condition of domestic servitude and spiritual degradation. To keep him for herself, she helps Lena escape with Heyst.

Wang

Wang, the inscrutable Chinese houseboy who deserts Heyst after seeing Ricardo’s attempt to attack Lena. Before his flight to a native village on the other side of the island, Wang takes Heyst’s gun; thus, Heyst and Lena are left defenseless, at the mercy of Mr. Jones and his henchmen.

Morrison

Morrison, Heyst’s former business partner in maintaining a coaling station on Samburan. After Morrison died in England, Schomberg circulated reports that Heyst had cheated his partner. Except for Lena, Morrison was the only person with whom Heyst had ever become involved. In return for a loan at a time of need, he had secured Heyst’s appointment as a manager of the Tropical Belt Coal Company, now liquidated.

Captain Davidson

Captain Davidson, the skipper of a trading vessel. He is in the habit of sailing his schooner close to Samburan so that Heyst will not be completely isolated. He appears shortly after Mr. Jones has shot Lena. Later, he explains to the authorities the violent affair that for Lena and Heyst ended in a spiritual victory snatched from circumstances of physical defeat and death.

Zangiacomo

Zangiacomo, the leader of the ladies’ orchestra in which Lena performs. His wife arouses Heyst’s sympathy for Lena by pinching her.

Julius Tesman

Julius Tesman, a partner of Tesman Brothers. He backs Heyst in the coal company venture.

BibliographyGillon, Adam. The Eternal Solitary: A Study of Joseph Conrad. New York: Bookman Associates, 1960. Explores the key role that isolation played in Conrad’s life and work. Presents Victory as a melodrama that effectively discusses, in symbolic terms, the nature of solitude and its consequences.Johnson, Bruce. Conrad’s Models of Mind. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. Explores Conrad’s continual readjustment of his fictions to fit changing philosophical models of human behavior and motivation. Discusses the way Victory reassesses the individual’s need for human solidarity and community.Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991. A highly readable critical biography. Discusses Victory as Conrad’s most misunderstood, underrated, and controversial novel, its theme being the failure of love in an idyllic setting.Moser, Thomas. “Conrad’s ‘Later Affirmation.’” In Conrad: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Marvin Mudrick. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Explores the role chance plays in later novels, particularly Victory, and how it makes the novels’ apparent affirmations more evasive.Sherry, Norman, ed. Conrad: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. An impressive collection of the responses of the time to Conrad’s work, the section devoted to Victory gives insight into Conrad’s critical reputation and the novel’s reception in the midst of World War I.
Categories: Characters