Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad (3 December 1857 - 3 August 1924) was a Polish-born British novelist. Some of his works have been labelled romantic, although Conrad's romanticism is tempered with irony and a fine sense of man's capacity for self-deception. Many critics have placed him as a forerunner of modernism.


Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (help·info) (of the Nacz coat-of-arms) in Berdyczów (now Berdychiv, Ukraine) into a highly patriotic landowning Polish szlachta (noble) family.

Conrad's father, a writer (best known for patriotic tragedies) and translator from French and English, was arrested by the Russian authorities in Warsaw for his activities in support of the 1863 insurrection against Tsarist Russia, and was exiled to Siberia. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1865, as did his father four years later in Kraków, leaving Conrad orphaned at the age of eleven.

He was placed in the care of his maternal uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski, in Kraków -- a more cautious figure than either of his parents. Bobrowski nevertheless allowed Conrad to travel to Marseille and begin a career as a seaman at the age of 17, after the failure to secure Conrad Austro-Hungarian citizenship made him liable for 25-year conscription into the Russian army.

Conrad lived an adventurous life, becoming involved in gunrunning and political conspiracy, which he later fictionalized in his novel The Arrow of Gold, and allegedly had a disastrous love affair, putting him into a state of despair.

In 1878, after a failed suicide attempt, Conrad took service on his first British ship. He learned English before the age of 21, and in 1886 gained both his Master Mariner's certificate and British citizenship. He first arrived in England at the port of Lowestoft, Suffolk, and later lived in London and near Canterbury, Kent.

In 1894, aged 36, Conrad left the sea to become an author. His first novel, Almayer's Folly, set on the east coast of Borneo, was published in English in 1895.

At that time the lingua franca of educated Europeans was French, Conrad's second language, and it is remarkable that Conrad could write so fluently and effectively in his third language, English. This is the basis of what some linguists (e.g., T. Scovel, 1988) refer to as the "Joseph Conrad effect": while some language learners may easily be discernible from native speakers by their non-standard phonology, they may be regarded as native speakers in terms of their syntax, morphology and lexicon. In fact, some of Conrad's stylistic originality in English may be attributable to his command of other languages, which offered him a richer palette of idiom and image.

Many of Conrad's early novels are set aboard ships. His novel Nostromo is a panoramic study of revolution in South America, while The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes are among the first modern novels to treat the subjects of terrorism and espionage.

Conrad's literary work bridges the gap between the realist literary tradition of writers such as Charles Dickens and the emergent modernist schools of writing. Interestingly, he despised Dostoevsky (although Under Western Eyes arguably could not have been written without his influence) and Russian writers as a rule, due to his parents' deaths at the hands of the Russian authorities. Conrad made an exception only for Ivan Turgenev.

Conrad is now best known for the novella, Heart of Darkness, which has been seen as a scathing indictment of colonialism and which gazes unflinchingly into the depths of despair, human exploitation and suffering which he witnessed while in command of a Congo steamer; it also foreshadows Conrad's "golden period," which begins with Lord Jim (1900) and includes Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes.

Chance is considered Conrad's last important novel, after which the quality of his output declined. Paradoxically, Chance was also Conrad's first popular success.

In 1923 Conrad declined the offer of a British knighthood, on the grounds that he already possessed a (hereditary) Polish one.

Joseph Conrad died 3 August 1924, of a heart attack, and was interred at Canterbury Cemetery, Canterbury, England.


Conrad, an emotional man subject to fits of depression, self-doubt and pessimism, disciplined his romantic temperament with an unsparing moral judgment.

As an artist, he famously aspired, in his preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897), "by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel... before all, to make you see. That -- and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm -- all you demand -- and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask."

Writing in what to the visual arts was the age of Impressionism, Conrad showed himself in many of his works a prose poet of the highest order: thus, for instance, in the evocative Patna and courtroom scenes of Lord Jim; in the "melancholy-mad elephant" and gunboat scenes of Heart of Darkness; in the doubled protagonists of The Secret Sharer; and in the verbal and conceptual resonances of Nostromo and The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'.


Chinua Achebe has, now famously, argued that Conrad's language and imagery in Heart of Darkness is inescapably racist. {An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". In the lecture that formed the basis of the essay, Achebe branded Conrad "A bloody racist" and in the essay he emphasized the implicit and explicit statements of the inferiority of African people to the white explorers. In Heart of Darkness Conrad seems to equate ancient northern Europeans with modern Africans -- thereby suggesting that all humans must pass through a similar process of historical development. Counter-critics have pointed out that Achebe ignores the ironic tone of the work.

From a literary standpoint, Conrad associates 'the wild' with despair, death, savagery, and inhuman acts. Yet, in the novel the brutality is mainly effectuated by Europeans, and in his depiction of London and industrial man he paints a problematic and gloomy picture which offers little alternative. Conrad exhibits primarily a deep ambivalence towards colonial rule. His journal from his 1890 trip to Belgian Congo, which experience formed the basis for the novel, reflects a keen awareness of the frequently brutal treatment of Africans at the hands of white men. Moreover, in Heart of Darkness, 'savage' Africa is presented as often more attractive than, even superior to, modern European civilization (hence Marlow's dejection on returning to Europe). Conrad seems to imply that what Imperial Rome once did to northern Europe, imperial Europe was doing to the whole world; whether this was a good or a bad thing, remains ambiguous in Conrad's assessment of history.

Novels and novellas
  • 1895 Almayer's Folly
  • 1896 An Outcast of the Islands
  • 1897 The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'
  • 1899 Heart of Darkness
  • 1900 Lord Jim
  • 1901 The Inheritors (with Ford Madox Ford)
  • 1902 Typhoon (begun 1899)
  • 1903 Romance (with Ford Madox Ford)
  • 1904 Nostromo
  • 1907 The Secret Agent
  • 1911 Under Western Eyes
  • 1913 Chance
  • 1915 Victory
  • 1917 The Shadow Line
  • 1919 The Arrow of Gold
  • 1920 The Rescue
  • 1923 The Nature of a Crime (with Ford Madox Ford)
  • The Rover
  • 1925 Suspense (unfinished, published posthumously)
Short stories
  • "The Idiots" (Conrad's first short story; written during his honeymoon, published in Savo 1896 and collected in Tales of Unrest, 1898).
  • "The Black Mate" (written, according to Conrad, in 1886; published 1908; posthumously collected in Tales of Hearsay, 1925).
  • "The Lagoon" (composed 1896; published in Cornhill Magazine 1897; collected in Tales of Unrest, 1898).
  • "An Outpost of Progress" (written 1896 and named in 1906 by Conrad himself, long after the publication of Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, as his 'best story'; published in Cosmopolis 1897 and collected in Tales of Unrest 1898; often compared to Heart of Darkness, with which it has numerous thematic affinities).
  • "The Return" (written circa early 1897; never published in magazine form; collected in Tales of Unrest, 1898; Conrad, presaging the sentiments of most readers, once remarked, "I hate it").
  • "Karain: A Memory" (written FebruaryApril 1897; published Nov. 1897 in Blackwood's and collected in Tales of Unrest, 1898).
  • " Youth" (written in 1898; collected in Youth, a Narrative and Two Other Stories, 1902)
  • "Falk" (novella/story, written in early 1901; collected only in Typhoon and Other Stories, 1903).
  • "Amy Foster" (composed in 1901; published the Illustrated London News, Dec. 1901 and collected in Typhoon and Other Stories, 1903).
  • "To-morrow" (written early 1902; serialized in Pall Mall Magazine, 1902 and collected in Typhoon and Other Stories, 1903).
  • "The End of the Tether" (written in 1902; collected in Youth, a Narrative and Two Other Stories, 1902)
  • "Gaspar Ruiz" (written after "Nostromo" in 1904/05; published in Strand Magazine in 1906 and collected in A Set of Six, 1908 UK/1915 US. This story was the only piece of Conrad's fiction ever adapted by the author for cinema, as Gaspar the Strong Man, 1920).
  • "An Anarchist" (written in late 1905; serialized in Harper's in 1906; collected in A Set of Six, 1908 UK/1915 US.)
  • "The Informer" (written before January 1906; published in December 1906 in Harper's and collected in A Set of Six, 1908 UK/1915 US.)
  • "The Brute" (written in early 1906; published in The Daily Chronicle in December 1906; collected in A Set of Six, 1908 UK/1915 US.)
  • "The Duel" (aka "The Point of Honor": serialized in the UK in Pall Mall Magazine in early 1908 and in the US periodical Forum later that year; collected in A Set of Six in 1908 and published by Garden City Publishing in 1924. Joseph Fouché makes a cameo appearance)
  • "Il Conde" (i.e., 'Conte' [count]: appeared in Cassell's [UK] 1908 and Hampton's [US] in 1909; collected in A Set of Six, 1908 UK/1915 US.)
  • "The Secret Sharer" (written December 1909; published in Harper's and collected in Twixt Land and Sea 1912)
  • "Prince Roman" (written 1910, published in 1911 in the Oxford and Cambridge Review; based upon the story of Prince Roman Sanguszko of Poland 1800/1881)
  • "A Smile of Fortune" (a long story, almost a novella, written in mid-1910; published in London Magazine in Feb. 1911; collected in Twixt Land and Sea 1912)
  • "Freya of the Seven Isles" (another near-novella, written late 1910/early 1911; published in Metropolitan Magazine and London Magazine in early 1912 and July 1912, respectively; collected in Twixt Land and Sea 1912)
  • "The Partner" (written in 1911; published in Within the Tides, 1915)
  • "The Inn of the Two Witches" (written in 1913; published in Within the Tides, 1915)
  • "Because of the Dollars" (written in 1914; published in Within the Tides, 1915)
  • "The Planter of Malata" (written in 1914; published in Within the Tides, 1915)
  • "The Warrior's Soul" (written late 1915/early 1916; published in Land and Water, in March 1917; collected in Tales of Hearsay, 1925)
  • "The Tale" (Conrad's only story about WWI; written 1916 and first published 1917 in Strand Magazine)
Memoirs and Essays
  • The Mirror of the Sea (collection of autobiographical essays first published in various magazines 1904-6), 1906
  • A Personal Record (also published as Some Reminiscences), 1912
  • Notes on Life and Letters, 1921
  • Last Essays, 1926

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