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In Youth: A Narrative, Joseph Conrad writes:

“We had fair breezes, smooth water right into the tropics, and the old Judea lumbered along in the sunshine. When she went eight knots everything cracked aloft, and we tied our caps to our heads; but mostly she strolled on at the rate of three miles an hour. What could you expect? She was tired—that old ship. Her youth was where mine is—where yours is— you fellows who listen to this yarn; and what friend would throw your years and your weariness in your face? We didn’t grumble at her. To us aft, at least, it seemed as though we had been born in her, reared in her, had lived in her for ages, had never known any other ship. I would just as soon have abused the old village church at home for not being a cathedral.

I don't exactly understand the last sentence, but my intuitions are that the sentiment of the last sentence contradicts that of the former sentences. It seems to me, that initially Marlow expresses a sentimentality for the ship, and possibly a veneration for its endurance as it becomes increasingly dilapidated, and requiring of repairs during its journey to Java head, whereas the last sentence conveys the sentiment that he would rather chastise a similar old object (a church) for not having the efficacy that an, assumedly, well-furnished and maintained cathedral would, without consideration of its past service. Is this sarcasm?

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The narrator first says "We didn't grumble at her", and then says "I would just as soon have..." This is saying that he wouldn't grumble at the old church, and he doesn't grumble at the ship.

In both cases, he's saying that he's satisfied with what he's got. No matter how much grumble, your old local church isn't going to turn into a grand cathedral. It's pointless.
In the same vein, it's also pointless to grumble at the ship. It's an old ship, and it's been through a lot. It'll go at the speed that it goes and that's that. It'll do as much good to complain about the old church not being a grand cathedral as it'll do to complain about the ship being old and not the fastest - i.e., none. It's pointless.

The phrase "I would just as soon" means "I am equally likely to do X as to do Y". In this case, X is "berate the church" and Y is "berate the ship". He is equally likely to berate the church as he is to berate the ship. Since he has already stated that the likelihood of him berating the ship is none, we can conclude that the likelihood of him berating the church is equal to that - also none.

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  • I stlil don't understand how "I would just as.. " means that he wouldn't grumble at the church as the definition of "I would just as" from Macmillan dictionary is: "used for saying what you would prefer to do" macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/… How does it mean the opposite in this circumstance? – TomDot Com Jul 14 at 7:10
  • @TomDotCom - it means "I am equally likely to do X as to do Y". In this case, X is "berate the church" and Y is "berate the ship". He is equally likely to berate the church as he is to berate the ship. Since he has already stated that the likelihood of him berating the ship is none, we can conclude that the likelihood of him berating the ship is equal to that - also none. – Mithical Jul 14 at 7:21
  • @ Mithical Using your definitions of X and Y, Marlow initially states, he would not Y. He then states that he would have preferred to X, for being [something], than Y. So then the probability of Y does not matter, as he states that he would rather X than Y, essentially. Of course he doesn't say [than Y] in the last sentence, but because he's using "I would just as" I inferred he would be relating to Y. – TomDot Com Jul 14 at 7:42
  • @TomDotCom This answer is right, but it's a bit of a tricky use of language. Remember the implicit second "as": the full sentence would be "I would just as soon [berate the church] as [berate the ship]". When you see the phrase "as [...] as", it normally denotes equality between two things - they are as big as each other, as fast as each other, as soon as each other - not putting one of them above the other. – Rand al'Thor Jul 14 at 8:06
  • @ Rand al'Thor So how is it known that it would be an implicit "as" rather than an implicit "than". Because from the definition of "I would just as" from Cambridge dictionary dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/would-just-as-soon lists an example that includes "than" explicitly("I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies."). Is it the case that when not stated, that it is assumed to be an impliict "as"? Sorry this is probably now a question for English SE. – TomDot Com Jul 14 at 8:13

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