Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Chapter 4
Heyst continues his conversation with Lena in the forest glade. He remarks on her serious air and her deep gloom. On her part, she dares not to look at him for fear of betraying herself. She feels an overwhelming desire to give herself to him more completely "by some act of absolute sacrifice."
Heyst appears to have no comprehension of her thoughts. He explains how he kept on with Morrison although he didn't really want to. He couldn't bear to hurt Morrison's feelings. His speech is full of suggestive remarks showing that he regrets his experience with Morrison.
At last he mentions Morrison by name and is astonished to see the shocking effect on Lena. Now she reveals the malicious gossip she heard in Schomberg's hotel about a man named Morrison and his partner who ruined and murdered him. She realizes only this moment that the partner is Heyst. Lena suffers, can hardly breathe. She senses for the first time how dependent she is on Heyst: ". . . because until then, she had never felt herself swinging between the abysses of earth and heaven in the hollow of his arm. What if he should grow weary of that burden?"
Heyst declares that he has never "killed a man or loved a woman," not even in his thoughts, not even in dreams. He is profoundly disturbed and rages against Schomberg's calumny and against the girl's attitude, which he cannot understand. For a moment, he detests her. Then his fury falls away leaving only empty desolation and regret. He sees how life has tricked him into "the plot of plots." He tries to take Lena in his arms, but she repulses him.
Conrad brings to this important chapter all his skill in subtle portrayal of character. Heyst's anger at the news of Schomberg's gossip reveals his own guilt complex. Heyst knows that he did not kill Morrison, yet he knows that on the contrary he did not love Morrison — not even as a friend. His is a negative guilt — the guilt of not having loved. Thus Conrad bares the kernel of his plot and theme. This novel, Victory, is a story about the guilt complex, the most cruel and painful of all guilt complexes — guilt of failure to love.
In an instinctive way, Lena realizes the significance of Heyst's unaccustomed rage and applies what she understands to her own situation. Heyst, at this moment, is incapable of love. It is Heyst's conversation on this walk that convinces Lena. She must do something to win from him that true love she must have to live. Thus Conrad fixes the cause for Lena's final sacrifice in Heyst's cultivated mistrust of life — his long habit of detached contempt.
This day is the last time of peace the pair are to know. The small boat Heyst has seen from the look-out point is bringing the solution to all their problems.