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Chance: A Tale in Two Parts [Dent's…

Chance: A Tale in Two Parts [Dent's Collected Edition] (original 1913; edition 1949)

by Joseph Conrad (Author)

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Chance(1914) was the first of Conrad's novels to bring him popular success and it holds a unique place among his works. It tells the story of Flora de Barral, a vulnerable and abandoned young girl who is "like a beggar, without a right to anything but compassion." After her bankrupt father isimprisoned, she learns the harsh fact that a woman in her position "has no resources but in herself." Her only means of action is to be what she is. Flora's long struggle to achieve some dignity and happiness makes her Conrad's most moving female character.Reflecting the contemporary interest in the New Woman and the Suffragette question, Chance also marks the final appearance of Marlow, Conrad's most effective and wise narrator. This revised edition uses the English first edition text and has a new chronology and bibliography.… (more)
Title:Chance: A Tale in Two Parts [Dent's Collected Edition]
Authors:Joseph Conrad (Author)
Info:J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. (1949)
Collections:Your library, Currently reading

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Chance: A Tale in Two Parts by Joseph Conrad (1913)


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review of
Joseph Conrad's Chance
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 7-8, 2019

For the complete review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1091215-conrad

Despite my knowing about Joseph Conrad for 40 or 50 yrs, despite my having seen at least 4 movies based on his stories, Lord Jim (1965), Apocalypse Now (1979) (based on Heart of Darkness), Heart of Darkness (1993), & The Secret Agent (1996); & despite my thinking of Conrad as a rugged individualist writer of note along w/ Jack London, I haven't read anything by him until now w/ Chance. What a weird place to start. This is the 9th of his novels & novellas, out of a total of 15 — w/ the last unfinished.

It was 1st serialized in 1912 & published as a bk in 1913. Not having read anything else by him it's a bit hard for me to place it. In other words, I don't know if he was trying to strike off in a more experimental style or what?! It seems that that might be the case. I'm often annoyed by stories in wch the main narrative is the recitation of a story found told in a ms, or something weird that's written off as a dream at the end. These devices seem to cheat the reader of total immersion in the fantasy w/o serving any purpose of awakening the reader to critical reading.

In this case, the main narrator, the 1st-person narrator, recounts what his friend tells him about what other people have told him, etc, etc. It's almost like in-depth gossip more than it is a narrative that one can suspend disbelief in. That made it particularly hard for me to enjoy it as a novel. Making matters even stranger is that the 2nd narrator, Marlow, the one who tells the bulk of his story by quoting others who quote others, frequently propounds a somewhat misogynistic philosophy wch the main 1st person narrator occasionally sees fit to scoff at.

Marlow & his 1st person friend, both sailors, are eating at a shoreside restaurant where they spot another man, Powell, who they recognize as a kindred spirit & strike up an acquaintance w/.

""If we at sea," he declared, "went about our work as people ashore high and low go about theirs we should never make a living. No one would employ us. And moreover no ship navigated and sailed in the happy-go-lucky manner people conduct ther business on shore would ever arrive into port."" - p 1

That cd be taken as an argument in favor of living on the land where there's less stress revolving around discipline for survival.

Powell recounts his 1st posting as a 2nd Mate on the ship that Roderick Anthony skippers. Anthony becomes a central character that the narrative dances around in an elliptical way. In the meantime, Powell risk falling prey to some denizens of the dockside.

"A dock policeman strode into the light on the other side of the gate, very broad-chested and stern.

""Hallo! What's up here?"

""He was really surprised, but after some palaver he let me in together with the two loafers carrying my luggage. He grumbled at them however and slammed the gate violently with a loud clang. I was startled to discover how many night prowlers had collected in the darkness of the street in such a short time and without my being aware of it. Directly they were through they came surging against the bars, silent, like a mob of ungly spectres. But suddenly, up the street somewhere, perhaps near that public-house, a row started as if Bedlam had broken loose: shouts, yells, an awful shrill shriek—and at that noise all these heads vanished from behind the bars.

""Look at this," marvelled the constable. "It's a wonder to me that they didn't make off with your things while you were waiting."

""I would've taken good care of that," I said defiantly. But the constable wasn't impressed.

""Much you would have done. The bag going off round one dark corner; the chest round another. Would you have run two ways at once? And anyhow you'd have been tripped up and jumped upon before you had run three yards. I tell you you've had a most extraordinary chance that there wasn't one of them regular boys about to-night, in the High Street, to twig your loaded cab go by. Ted here is honest . . . You are the honest lay, Ted, ain't you?" " - p 14

The constable's observations seem wise & educational.

Narrator #1 comments that "Later on I asked Marlow why he wished to cultivate this chance acquaintance. He confessed apologetically that it was the commonest sort of curiosity. I flatter myself that I understand all sorts of curiosity. Curiosity about daily facts, about daily things, about daily men. It is the most respectable faculty of the human mind—in fact I cannot conceive the uses of an incurious mind. It would be like a chamber perpetually locked up." (p 22) Indeed. But I wonder how many incurious minds there are out there today in this age of readily available information — are people reacting by withdrawing into incuriosity?

Perhaps the central character of this story is Flora de Barral, a character rarely heard from 'directly' in this labyrinth of nested narratives. Flora has disappeared from the hospitality of the Fynes after having been recently witnessed to be on the brink of suicide by Marlow. Here's Marlow's 1st-person acct of how to begin searching for her:

"But I really wanted to help poor Fyne; and as I could see that, manlike, he suffered from the present inability to act, the passive waiting, I said: "Nothing of this can be done till to-morrow. But as you have given me an insight into the nature of your thoughts I can tell you what may be done at once. We may go and look at the bottom of the old quarry which is on the level of the road, about a mile from here."" - p 28

At this point, I wasn't really sure where this was all going: was the story about the experiences of the 1st narrator? of Marlow? of Powell? of the Fynes? of Flora de Barral? of all of them intertwined? It was somewhat difficult for me to pick thru these threads & to see a strong direction forming, all sorts of possibilities seemed inherent. Perhaps that was Conrad's intention, to have the tale form as the clues accumulated. That's not, of course, an unusual strategy in & of itself, but the way in wch casual encounters accumulated to form a drama was made unusual for me by the almost complete absence of an omniscient perspective. More confusingly, it began to appear to be some sort of male speculation on the nature of women. Marlow:

"I asked Mrs. Fyne if she did not think it was a sort of duty to show elementary consideration not only for the natural feelings but even for the prejudices of one's fellow-creatures.

"Her answer knocked me over.

""Not for a woman."

"Just like that. I confess that I went down flat. And while in that collapsed state I learned the true nature of Mrs. Fyne's feminist doctrine. It was not political, it was not social. It was a knock-me-down doctrine—a practical individualistic doctrine. You would not thank me for expounding it to you at large. Indeed I think she herself did not enlighten me fully. There must have been things not fit for a man to hear. But shortly, and as far as my bewilderment allowed me to grasp its naïve atrociousness, it was something like this: that no consideration, no delicacy, no tenderness, no scruples should stand in the way of a woman (who by the mere fact of her sex was the predestined victim of conditions created by man's selfish passions, their vices and their abominable tyranny) from taking the shortest cut towards securing for herself the easiest possible existence." - p 32

The irony of this being that she later falsely accuses Flora of doing just that — something Mrs. Fyne finds unacceptable b/c the man involved is her brother. It's this sort of thing that perhaps distinguishes Conrad's novel as a 'psychological' one, one in wch people play out their lives in a complex of conflicting emotions & philosophies that they're never completely aware of.

"But Mrs. Fyne's individualist woman-doctrine, naïvely unscrupulous, flitted through my mind. The salad of unprincipled notions she put into these girl-friends' heads! Good innocent creature, worthy wife, excellent mother (of the strict governess type), she was as guileless of consequences as any determinist philosopher ever was."


""Do you expect me to agree to all this?" I interrupted." - p 34

"Like her husband she too had published a little book. Much later on I came upon it. It had nothing to do with pedestrianism. It was a sort of hand-book for women with grievances (and all women had them), a sort of compendious theory and practice of feminine free morality. It made you laugh at its transparent simplicity." - p 36

One of the things that interests me about this is the use of the word "feminism" in 1912. When I think of feminism I tend to think of a movement starting around 1970. I tend to think of early 20th century feminists as sufragettes. Instead, I'm surprised to learn that the term is credited w/ having originated w/ 'my old friend' Charles Fourier. I have a Fourier archibras tattooed on my lower back.

"The term “feminism” originated from the French word “feminisme,” coined by the utopian socialist Charles Fourier, and was first used in English in the 1890s, in association with the movement for equal political and legal rights for women." - http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Feminism

The narrative's meandering takes us to a new phase, the collapse of the financial empire of Flora's father, something that considerably predates the time at wch the reader meets Flora "Smith" by way of Marlow by way of Narrator 1.

"Its consort The Sceptre collapsed within a week. I won't say in American parlance that suddenly the bottom fell out of the whole de Barral concerns. There never had been any bottom to it. It was like the cask of Danaides into which the public had been pleased to pour its deposits. That they were gone was clear; and the bankruptcy proceedings which followed were like a sinister farce, bursts of laughter in a setting of mute anguish—that of the depositors; hundreds of thousands of them. The laughter was irresistible; the accompaniment of the bankrupt's public examination." - p 44

""I call a woman sincere," Marlow began again after giving me a cigar and lighting one himself, "I call a woman sincere when she volunteers a statement resembling remotely in form what she really would like to say, what she really thinks ought to be said if it were not for the necessity to spare the stupid sensitiveness of men. The women's rougher, simpler, more upright judgment, embraces the whole truth, which their tact, their mistrust of maculine idealism, ever prevents them from speaking in its entirety. And their tact is unerring. We could not stand women speaking the truth. We could not bear it. It would cause infinite misery and bring about most awful disturbances in this rather mediocre, but still idealistic fool's paradise in which most of us lives his own little life—the unit in the great sum of existence. And they know it. They are merciful." - p 78

I don't perceive Marlow as speaking as an avatar for the writer. The 1st narrator seems to be more that & he says very little about himself. The character of Marlow seems to be being used as an affable but highly opinionated observer. How many people, men or women, wd agree w/ his descriptions above? It almost stands on its head sterotypes about the sexes: men are presented as "sensitive", people to keep the truth from, & women are presented as rough. I think most people, men & women, don't often speak everything that's on their mind in order to avoid conflict w/ others. Not many men, e.g., wd openly speak about a 'good rack' when around women as easily as they wd around other men. "The women's rougher, simpler, more upright judgment, embraces the whole truth, which their tact, their mistrust of maculine idealism, ever prevents them from speaking in its entirety. And their tact is unerring." Their tact? I've certainly had plenty of women say ridiculously hateful things to me that were tactless. I don't think anyone "embraces the whole truth" — how can we? We're not omniscient beings for one thing. For another, people construct their personal world views according to personal needs. Marlow continues about women. Perhaps as a sailor he's spent too little time around them to have a well-rounded perspective.

"["]For myself, it's towards women that I feel vindictive mostly, in my small way. I admit that it is small. But then the occasions in themselves are not great. Mainly I resent that pretense of winding us round their dear little fingers, as of right. Not that the result ever amounts to much generally. There are so few momentous opportunities. It is the assumption that each of us is a combination of a kid and an imbecile which I find provoking—in a small way; in a very small way. You needn't stare as though I were breathing fire and smoke out of my nostrils. I am not a woman-devouring monster. I am not even what is technically called "a brute."["]" - p 82

Then again, his resentment of "that pretense of winding us round their dear little fingers" seems fair enuf to me. I've always maintained that the physically weaker creature will develop means of pscyhological manipulation. Marlow's slightly misogynistic positioning is found to be at odds w/ Mrs. Fyne's ostensibly feminist one not b/c he's attacking women & she's defending them but b/c she's attacking a specific woman in a way that Marlow finds indefensible. Hence, the complexity of the novel.

"I interrupted Mrs. Fyne here. I had heard. Fyne was not very communicative in general, but he was proud of his father-in-law—"Carleon Anthony, the poet, you know." Proud of his celebrity without approving of his character. It was on that account, I strongly suspect, that he seized with avidity upon the theory of poetical genius being allied to madness, which he got hold of in some idiotic book everybody was reading a few years ago." - p 100

This recurring satirical trope of "Carleon Anthony, the poet, you know." seems so pointed that I have to wonder whether Conrad was basing it on an actual public figure.

What do YOU think of the idea of "genius being allied to madness"? I don't think that all 'madness' is anything remotely close to what I, personally, might consider to be 'genius'. On the other hand I think that there have been & are now plenty of people that I might consider to be geniuses who the general public wd've relegated to being 'mad' simply b/c they were too stupid to understand the person.

Marlow eventually concludes that Mrs. Fyne's hostility to Flora was simply a cunning act.

"And musing thus on the general inclination of our instincts toward injustice I met unexpectedly, at the turn of the road, as it were, a shape of duplicity. It might have been unconscious on Mrs. Fyne's part, but her leading idea appeared to me to be not to keep, not to preserve her brother, but to get rid of him definitely. She did not hope to stop anything. She had too much sense for that. Almost anyone out of an idiot asylum would have had enough sense for that. She wanted the protest to be made, emphatically, with Fyne's fullest concurrence in order to make all intercourse for the future impossible. Such an action would estrange the pair forever from the Fynes. She understood her brother and the girl too. Happy together, they would never forgive that outspoken hostility—and should the marriage turn out badly . . . Well, it would be just the same. Neither of them would be likely to bring their troubles to such a good prophet of evil." - p 105

Of course, Marlow's reading of the situation isn't necessarily correct. Conrad shows us his biases. What if Mrs. Fyne simply cdn't stand it when people did things w/o her matriarchical pre-approval?

The father de Barral has been in prison for banking malfeasance. His release from prison marks even more malignance into Flora's life than she's already had to suffer thru. Marlow muses further on prisons.

"Prisons are wonderful contrivances. Shut—open. Very neat. Shut—open. And out comes some sort of corpse, to wander awfully in a world in which it has no possible connections and carrying with it the appalling tainted atmosphere of its silent abode. Marvellous arrangement. It works automatically, and when you look at it, the perfection makes you sick; which for a mere mechanism is no mean triumph. Sick and scared." - p 135

The end of Part I of this puzzling collection of accumulated fragments of nested narratives ends along these lines: "We also looked at each other, he rather angrily, I fancy, and I with wonder. I may also mention that it was for the last time. From that day I never set eyes on the Fynes. As usual the unexpected happened to me. It had nothing to do woth Flora de Barral. The fact is that I went away." - p 139

Part II is a recontruction of the events surrounding Flora & her new husband Captain Anthony, the brother of Mrs. Fyne, on board the captain's ship. Unfortunately, they're joined by Flora's father, fresh out of prison & hell-bent on poisoning the marriage of his daughter. Powell is the main teller here, as filtered thru Marlow.

""Mr. Franklin," said the captain, "we have been more than six years together, it is true, but I didn't know you for a reader of faces. You are not a correct reader though. It's very far from being wrong. You understand? As far from being wrong as it can very well be. It ought to teach you not to make rash surmises. You should leave that to the shore people. They are great hands at spying out something that's wrong. I dare say they know what they have made of the world. A dam' poor job of it and that's plain. It's a confoundedly ugly place, Mr. Franklin. You don't know anything of it? Well—no, we sailors don't. Only now and then one of us runs against something cruel or underhand, enough to make your hair stand on end. And when you do see a piece of their wickedness you find that to set it right is not as easy as it looks . . . Oh! I called you back to tell you that there will be a whole lot of workmen, joiners and all that sent down on board first thing tomorrow morning to start making alterations in the cabin. You will see to it that they don't loaf. There isn't much time.""

"Franklin was impressed by this unexpected lecture upon the wickedness of the solid world surrounded by the salt, uncorruptible waters on which he and his captain had dwelt all their lives in happy innocence." - p 148

Powell recounts how Franklin, the mate, laments Captain Anthony's changed personality now that his new wife & her father are aboard.

"["]he thought I would suit him very well—we two, and thirty-one days out at sea, and it's no good! It's like talking to a man standing on shore. I can't get him back. I can't get at him. I feel sometimes as if I must shake him by the arm: "Wake up! You are wanted, sir . . . !"

"Young Powell recognized the expression of a true sentiment, a thing so rare in this world where there are so many mutes and so many excellent reasons even at sea for an articulate man not to give himself away, that he felt something like respect for this outburst." - p 164

For the complete review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1091215-conrad ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
This novel, more than any other work of Conrad I've read, advances the author's exploration of literary modernism to his limits. Its elliptical storyline, with multiple narrators, glides through time and sublunary (one of Conrad's favorite and recurring words) space. Doing so, it becomes perhaps his most ambitious work in exploring the form of the novel. Otherwise, it's a strange work in many ways. It carries a lighthearted and even humorous feel through many parts. In contemporary terms, it might even be said to be snarky on occasion. Yet by novel's end, that mood has dissipated thoroughly. A looming tragedy works its way into the narrative and the final feeling is one familiar to readers of Conrad, melancholy. Conrad is the master of that feeling. Here, it centers on the life not only of a young woman and her husband but, indirectly, on the young man who comes to observe her relationship with her husband. Too, there is Marlow, the often present narrator in many of Conrad's works. And it is the conversation between Marlow and the young man, Powell, that powers the story: a clash between the pensive observer of worldly events and human interactions and the role of the young activist who revels in the momentary and the encounter with luck or accident in life's journey. The role, that is, of chance in fashioning human destiny. ( )
1 vote PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Not my favorite Conrad novel. I've read Lord Jim, the Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness. There is a not quite humorous enough pedantry in Marlow--the story's narrator. I didn't quite know when I was supposed to laugh. That said, there were many profound observations about life and chance in the book. ( )
  rsairs | Mar 20, 2019 |
Chance is not considered to be one of Conrad's great works, a judgement with which I concur, although somewhat ironically the book provided Conrad's first major commercial success. I have, and have read, a collection of Conrad's letters to Edward Garnett. Garnett was one of Conrad's first champions within the publishing world, Conrad's editor early in his career, and good friend through his life. I thumbed through the brief biographical sketch Garnett offers at the beginning of the volume. Garnett comments that he believed that the commercial success and public renown that finally came Conrad's way with Chance, despite the generally positive critical reaction to his earlier (and better) works, may have had as much to do with the fact that there was a woman's portrait on the cover as anything else.

Personally, I cannot stress enough that if anyone is looking to explore Conrad's fiction for the first time, this book is most emphatically not the place to start. Please.

All that said, Chance is still Conrad, even if it's not Conrad in top form. For a Conrad lover like me, happy to dig into one of the author's few novels that I hadn't read yet, this still meant a mostly happy reading experience. The story is a romance at its heart, but to say much more than that would already present a plot spoiler. The best part of the book is its first half, in which the background of the story's female protagonist is described by our old pal, Marlow. The conflict of the second half revolves around a plot twist, the kind of misunderstanding perpetuated only by the sort of reticence between two people that one rarely finds outside of fiction, that made me impatient for quite for about 50 or 60 pages. But, the whole time, I did want to know how the whole thing was going to be developed and what would happen to the characters, and that, in addition to my loyalty to Conrad, kept me going.

And, especially in the book's first half, we are treated to many a wonderful Conrad-esque observation and/or description, and to Conrad's often puckish humor, especially where the relations between men and women are concerned. To wit:

" . . . I could not tell what sort of sustenance she would look for from my sagacity. And as to taking stock of the wares of my mind, no one, I imagine, is anxious to do that sort of thing if it can be avoided. A vaguely grandiose state of mental self-confidence is much too agreeable to be disturbed recklessly by such a delicate investigation. Perhaps if I had had a helpful woman at my elbow, a dear, flattering, acute devoted woman . . . There are in life moments in life when one positively regrets not being married."

Also of interest, to me at least, were some of the comments Conrad makes in his Author's Note, written in 1920, seven years after Chance's original publication:

"A critic had remarked that if I had selected another method of composition and taken a little more trouble the tale could have been told in about two hundred pages {or about 170 pages shorter, in other words - rjk}. I confess I do not perceive exactly the bearings of such criticism or even the use of such a remark. No doubt that by selecting a certain method and taking great pains, the whole story might have been written out on a cigarette paper. For that matter, the whole history of mankind could be written thus if only approached with sufficient detachment. The history of men on this earth since the beginning of time may be resumed in one phrase of infinite poignancy: They were born, they suffered, they died . . . Yet it is a great tale! But in the infinitely minute stories about men and women it is my lot on earth to narrate I am not capable of such detachment."

In speaking of the book's successful reception, Conrad remarks:

"It {the art of writing fiction} is indeed too arduous in the sense that the effort must be invariably so much greater than the possible achievement. In that sort of foredoomed task which is in its nature very lonely also, sympathy is is a precious thing. It can make the most severe criticism welcome. To be told that better things have been expected of one may be soothing in view of how much better things one had expected from oneself . . ." ( )
1 vote rocketjk | Jan 21, 2016 |
Although in many ways this is a complex narrative, the story in essence is quite straight forward. I will give this in outline without giving too much away.

Flora de Barral is the only child of a rising star in the world of London finance, the founder of a new investment bank that soon crashes after as string of bad investments, taking the savings of the great and the good along with it. The great de Barral is subsequently arrested, tried and locked up in prison. Flora, whose Mother is deceased, is left effectively orphaned by this catastrophe and left at the mercy of an unforgiving world.

Enter the Fynes who are neighbours of Flora and witness her practically instantaneous ruin. One minute she is the heiress of an apparent vast fortune, the next completely pauperized. Ultimately Flora is taken under Mrs. Fynes wing, who is apparently sympathetic to her plight but in whom she also finds in her, and other lost young female souls, a useful sponge to expound her early feminist thought. It is while Flora is staying with the Fynes in the countryside that she is introduced to Mrs. Fynes emotionally repressed brother Anthony, a lonely thirty-something Captain in the merchant marine. Through Flora Anthony's repressed sexual and emotional fervour find full force, however the motives behind Flora's acceptance and marriage to Anthony are from the first questioned.

Whilst the basic plot is simple, the novel's complexity arises from Conrad's exploration of the psychological motives behind the actions of the various characters. The story also provides a vehicle for Conrad, through his narrator Marlow, to muse on various philosophical points concerning human nature and the motives of men. The prose style is rich, complex and subtle; it is a book that most readers will need to read with great care (as I did) as it is quite easy to get lost in the complexity of the narrative. It is however worth the effort as Conrad slowly draws you into this strange intrigue and also transports the reader into the lonely scenes of Conrad's late Victorian/ Edwardian England; the bleak Thames estuary, lonely dockyards, grey East End Street's and its underclass in the shadows.

The climax of the plot (which I won't divulge for obvious reasons) was no doubt a concession to commerciality and sits a little strangely with the rest of the books tone. However the book is hugely rewarding and won't disappoint fans of Conrad. ( )
  LeRigby | Oct 20, 2013 |
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Gorey, EdwardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Those that hold that all things are governed by Fortune had not erred, had they not persisted there.
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I believe he had seen us out of the window coming off to dine in the dinghy of a fourteen-ton yawl belonging to Marlow, my host and skipper.
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Chance(1914) was the first of Conrad's novels to bring him popular success and it holds a unique place among his works. It tells the story of Flora de Barral, a vulnerable and abandoned young girl who is "like a beggar, without a right to anything but compassion." After her bankrupt father isimprisoned, she learns the harsh fact that a woman in her position "has no resources but in herself." Her only means of action is to be what she is. Flora's long struggle to achieve some dignity and happiness makes her Conrad's most moving female character.Reflecting the contemporary interest in the New Woman and the Suffragette question, Chance also marks the final appearance of Marlow, Conrad's most effective and wise narrator. This revised edition uses the English first edition text and has a new chronology and bibliography.

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