Lord Jim was first published as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine between October 1899 and November 1900. The first edition of the complete book was published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1900. The story begins when the young British seaman Jim, one of the crew of the steamer Patna, abandons the ship while it’s in distress. The resulting censure prevents Jim from finding stable employment, until a captain named Marlow suggests he find his future in Patusan, a small village on a remote island in the South Seas. There he’s able to earn the respect of the islanders and is dubbed “Lord Jim.”
The abandoning of the Patna by its crew is said to have been based on the real-life abandoning of the S.S. Jeddah in 1880. Lord Jim explores issues of colonialism, dreams of heroism, guilt, failure, and redemption. The book is remarkable for its unusual nested narrative structure, in which Captain Marlow and a number of other characters provide multiple perspectives of the protagonist. The gradual build-up of their richly described viewpoints imparts glimpses of Jim’s inner life, yet ultimately leaves him unknowable.