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It is a tragic accident ... and it is indestructible! It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time, space, pain, death, corruption, despair, and all the illusions, - and nothing matters' (Letters, 1:425). This is an excessively dark view that suggests less possibility of transcendence than Conrad's major novels cumulatively imply. But private voicings in letters tend to be more susceptible to moods of the moment, or to the personality of the person one is writing to, than are the considered views intended for public consumption.

At no stage in his life at sea did Jim experience the sustaining bonds of fidelity among sailors that Conrad lauds elsewhere. During the trial he was subjected to society's 'rules of the game' (7:66), surrounded by 'the pale blotches of faces' in the gallery (8:80) who formed part of 'international opinion' (14:123), that 'public opinion' which we find the Assistant Commissioner in The Secret Agent regarding as a 'strange emotional phenomenon' with an 'irrational nature' that 'weighed upon his spirits' (5:116).

Conrad may sympathise with Razumov's desire '"to guide my conduct by reasonable convictions'" (1:3:113), but he plainly demonstrates that reason cannot master the complexities of a fundamentally non-rational world. "'The more intelligent one is,"' Razumov later concedes in Geneva, '"the less one suspects an absurdity"' (3:1:207). And Peter Ivanovitch, while a fugitive prisoner, was grateful to find that he had 'developed an unsuspected genius for the arts of a wild and hunted existence ... he was glad to discover that there was so much of a brute in him' (2:2:148).

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