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Words are the greatest foes of reality
on 22 May 2006
An English teacher (the 'Western Eyes') tries to find the truth behind the autobiography of a Russian agent, for 'words are the greatest foes of reality', and 'speech has been given for the purpose of concealing our thought.'
The Russian agent betrayed a friend-terrorist and meets afterwards his sister and mother. His friend combatted autocratic despotism, the destroyer of the spirit of progress and truth, of freedom, law and justice.
This novel is Conrad's version of Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment': 'A moral spectre is infinitely more effective than any visible apparition of death.'
Conrad was a visionary: 'A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow minded fanatics and tyrannical hypocrites. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane and devoted natures, the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement but it passes away from them.'
His picture of the world of revolutionary conspirators is excellent: double agents, opportunists, naive idealists, hypocrites, rogues, agitators, fanatics and cynics. 'It did not matter what it was, vanity, despair, love, hate, greed, intelligent pride, a stupid conceit, it was all one to him as long as the man could be made to serve.'
But this book has many flaws: melodramatic overreactions (attack on Ziemianitch, secret love of Razumov), high improbabilities (confession of Razumov, interventions of 'Western Eyes') or the ultimate verdict ('he was the victim of an outrage. He had confessed voluntarily.')
Joseph Conrad was an ambitious writer, but this book has not the same high standard as his masterpieces 'Heart of Darkness' and 'Lord Jim'.
A worth-while read.