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It is a small but important feature of Conrad's work that "sternness" as a character trait is almost never used to build the atmosphere that its defi nition of strictness and severity suggests. Instead, acting sternly tends to undercut the authority and sense of personal awareness of characters who attempt it, often contributing to moments of levity or outright comic relief. Conrad was not alone in this use of sternness but, like his contemporary Barrie, he absorbed it from Victorian writers,doi:10.4467/20843941yc.17.013.8670 fatcat:4hyniqch7bfddjbrbeqhnlo6sm