Heliena M. Krenn
European Legay, MIT Press Journals 1:3 (1996): 1071-1076.
    Traditionally Conrad's Chance (1913) has been interesting to critics as a dramatization of the act and the problems of creating fiction; critical discourse on Victory (1915) has centered on the protagonist Heyst. If attention has been paid to the women in these novels it was mostly for proving Conrad's misogyny. Research on the function of the hat symbol in Conrad's fiction has made me aware of the importance of this symbol in the two novels, for headwear symbolizes what goes on within the head.

    In Chance, The Shipping Master Powell holds a key position inasmuch as he is said to resemble the bust of Socrates wearing a high top hat. The Socratic method of questioning and then exposing the inadequacy of the answer is reflected in the inner dynamics of Chance: Marlow's telling of the story of Flora de Barral becomes a confrontation with questions about himself in relation to woman. Marlow's repeated admission of errors results in his questioning of man's position toward woman and brings about his final freedom from skepticism. His growing readiness to give up his unconcerned, irresponsible attitude and to get seriously involved in life goes hand in hand with an increasingly positive presentation of Flora.

    Victory presents a contest of minds and philosophies and different items of headwear serve as clues to the course the mental contest takes. Originally Mr. Jones, Ricardo, Heyst, and through him Lena, are featured in "cork helmets," which symbolically suggest power, martial prowess, and lofty thoughts. With the arrival of Mr. Jones in Samburan the picture changes. The woman hater is betrayed by Ricardo, and Heyst has to admit himself "disarmed" in every way. Now their headgear is referred to as "hats," and helmets are not mentioned again. Instead, a purple veil is to ensure Lena's safety in the night, but instead of covering herself with it, she holds it in her hands. Heyst's sensation that Lena is "veiled" to his comprehension points at the veil as symbolizing qualities in woman that evade man's comprehension. The purple color increases this symbolic effect, and holding it in her hands, Lena expresses the determination to rely on those qualities in dealing with Mr. Jones and Ricardo. Thus she brings about a confrontation of all male characters with the truths of their situation. Added to the veil symbol, Lena's names Alma and Magdalen further emphasize the representative nature of her role.

    Seen within the historical context of their creation, these novels echo contemporary issues and developments. Marlow's role in Chance illustrates how "women's liberation is really men's liberation." Victory leads the reader to see the consistency with which Mr. Jones is likened to Lucifer and that the author pays tribute to women by dealing out a miserable end to the woman hater. Both novels thus emphasize the importance of Conrad's seemingly weak or insignificant female characters as they serve in one way or another to make thruth assert itself.