Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Strangely Hopeless

[Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett]

5th Dec., 1897.

My Dear Garnett,

. . .I had Crane* here last Sunday. We talked and smoked half the night. He is strangely hopeless about himself. I like him. The two stories are excellent. Of course, "A Man and Some Others" is the best of the two but the boat** thing interested me more. His eye is very individual and his expression satisfies me artistically. He certainly is the impressionist and his temperament is curiously unique. His thought is concise, connected, never very deep--yet often startling. He is the only impressionist and only an impressionist. Why is he not immensely popular? With his strength, with his rapidity of action, with that amazing faculty of vision--why is he not? He has outline, he has colour, he has movement, with that he ought to go very far. But--will he? I sometimes think he won't. It is not an opinion--it is a feeling. I could not explain why he disappoints me--why my enthusiasm withers as soon as I close the book. While one reads, of course he is not to be questioned. He is the master of his reader to the very last line--then--apparently for no reason at all--he seems to let go his hold. It is as if he had gripped you with greased fingers. His grip is strong but while you feel the pressure on your flesh you slip out from his hand--much to your own surprise. This is my stupid impression and I give it to you in confidence. It just occurs to me that it is perhaps my own self that is slippery. I don't know. You would know. No matter.

My soul is like a stone within me. I am going through the awful experience of losing a friend. Hope*** comes every evening to console me but he has a hopeless task. Death is nothing--and I am used to its rapacity. But when life robs one of a man to whom one has pinned one's faith for twenty years the wrong seems too monstrous to be lived down. Yet it must. And I don't know why, how, wherefore. Besides there are circumstances which make the event a manifold torment. Some day I will tell you the tale. I can't write it now. But there is a psychological point in it. However this also does not matter.

* Joseph Conrad and Stephen Crane met, in London, for the first time, two months before.
** "The Open Boat."
*** His friend G. F. W. Hope.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Page, 1927) p. 211.

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