Joseph Conrad

Place of BirthBerdichev
Polish Ukraine

1895Almayer's Folly
1897An Outcast of the Islands
1900The Nigger of the "Narcissus"
1900Lord Jim
1901The Inheritors
1907The Secret Agent
1911Under Western Eyes
1917The Shadow-Line: A Confession
1919The Arrow of Gold
1920The Rescue
1923The Rover
1924The Nature of a Crime
Short Stories
1898Youth: A Narrative
1902Heart of Darkness
1902The End of the Tether
1903Typhoon and Other Stories
1908A Set of Six
1912Twixt Land and Sea
1915Within the Tides
1902Tales of Hearsay
Other Works
1912A Personal Record
1921Notes on My Books
1926Last Essays
1926Collected Letters

"To him the meaining of an episode was not inside like a kernel but ouside, eveloping
the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness
of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible
by the spectral illumination of moonshine"

Joseph Conrad is still regarded as a towering figure in the world of English literature. For the Imperial historian, his use of exotic corners of the empire and his characterisations of late victorian men and women are what make him a valuable source of information. What makes his achievements all the more remarkable is that English was only his third tongue and one which he did not learn until he was a young man.

He was born as Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski in Berdichev in what was then the Polish Ukraine. His father was well endowed in the talents of literature having translated some of Victor Hugo's and Shakespeare's work. Unfortunately, the father was also branded as a revolutionary and was exiled to Vologda in 1862.

Joseph went to school in Cracow and Switzerland but what he really wanted to do was to go to sea. In 1874 he travelled to Marseille to get a job on a ship. The following years he spent sailing around the world. He first worked on a Belgian ship and travelled to the West Indies. His life became quite interested as his ship was involved in gun running. He also developed a taste for gambling with which he built up huge debts. Becoming desperate, he even attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

In 1878 he joined an English merchant ship and spent all but two of the next 16 years in the British mercant navy becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1884. Most of his sailings took place between Singapore and Borneo where he achieved his certificate as a master. The two year break was spent as a river boat captain in the Belgian Congo. The combination of these experiences provided Conrad with plenty of suitable experiences, characters and backdrops for his literary career.

His first book Almayer's Folly was published in 1895. The following year he married Jessie George and settled down in Ashford, Kent to embark on his writing career in earnest. Despite the birth of two sons, his early years were not successful for him. He was frequently depressed and and had few financial resources. It was only in 1914, with the publication of Chance that his fortunes improved. The quality of this work prompted the public to examine his earlier publications. And works such as Lord Jim, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent were rightly proclaimed to be master pieces of English literature.

His later years were much more easier for Joseph and he had a number of novels and short stories published to public acclaim. In 1924, he was even offered a knighthood. He refused this honour and died that same year.

Frequently dark and depressing, his stories revolve around tales of honour and betrayal, of crews in crisis, or of recognisable Europeans in unrecognisable and exotic backgrounds. His characters display flaws and weaknesses that often take them to the limits of reasonable behaviour. His books show the darker and more foreboding aspects of European, and by default British, morality at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.


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by Stephen Luscombe