Conrad's major novels- Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, and Under Western Eyes-tell of illusions and betrayals, dreams and lies. Ambiguity, contradiction, and irony so dominate the narratives that the more closely one reads, the more difficult it becomes to know what is real or what is true. While Conrad's impressionism teaches one to see, his irony casts doubt on the meaning of what one has seen. Facts have little value, yet beliefs are futile or hollow because they ignore facts. Irony turns every certainty into uncertainty. Even the cultural values upon which the irony seems to rest are often mocked. This perplexity, which is the binding force of Conrad's art, is thoroughly examined in Culture and Irony.

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