About the Author

Portrait of Joseph Conrad

Polish-born English novelist and short-story writer. In his famous preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897) Conrad crystallized his often quoted goal as a writer:"My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel - it is, above all, to make you see. That - and no more, and it is everything." Among Conrad's most popular works are Lord Jim (1900) and Heart of Darkness (1902). Conrad discouraged interpretation of his sea novels through evidence from his life, but several of his novels drew the material, events, and personalities from his own experiences in different parts of the world. While making his first voyages to the West Indies, Conrad met the Corsican Dominic Cervoni, who was later model for central figures of romantic daring in his fiction. Conrad often fictionalized the historical moments of liberation of the oppressed, but he focused on the colonists, especially those not already committed to liberation.

Conrad was born in Berdichev, in the Ukraine, in a region that had once been a part of Poland but was then under Russian rule. His father Apollo Korzeniowski was a poet and translator of English and French literature. As a boy the young Joseph read Polish and French versions of English novels with his father. When Apollo Korzeniowski became embroiled in political activities, he was sent to exile with his family to Volgoda, northern Russia, in 1861.

By 1869 Conrad's both parents had died of tuberculosis, and he was sent to Switzerland to his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski, who was to be a continuing influence on his life. Conrad attended schools in Kraków and persuaded his uncle to let him go to the sea. In the mid-1870s he joined the French merchant marine as an apprentice, and made three voyages to the West Indies between 1875 and 1878. During his youth Conrad also was involved in arms smuggling for the Carlist cause in Spain.

After being wounded in a duel or of a self-inflicted gunshot in the chest, Conrad continued his career at the seas for 16 years in the British merchant navy. He rose through the ranks from common seaman to first mate, and by 1886 he obtained his master mariner's certicicate, commandig his own ship, Otago. In the same year he was given British citizenship and he changed officially his name to Joseph Conrad.

In the following years Conrad sailed to many parts of the world, including Australia, various ports of the Indian Ocean, Borneo, the Malay states, South America, and the South Pasific Island. In 1890 he sailed in Africa up the Congo River. The journey provided much material for his novel Heart of Darkness (1902). However, the fabled East Indies particularly attracted Conrad and it became the setting of many of his stories. By 1894 Conrad's sea life was over. During the long journeys he had started to write and Conrad decided to devote himself entirely to literature. At the age of 36 Contad settled down in England.

Although Conrad is known as a novelist, he tried his hand also as a playwright. His first one-act play was not success - the audience rejected it. But after finishing the text he learned the existence of the Censor of the Plays, which inspired his satirical essay about the obscure civil servant. Conrad was an anglophile who regarded Britain as a land which respected individual liberties. As a writer he accepts the verdict of a free and independent public, and associates this official figure of censorship to the atmosphere of the Far East and the 'mustiness of the Middle Ages', but it shouldn't be part of the twentieth-century England.

Conrad married in 1896 Jessie George, an Englishwoman, by whom he had two sons. He moved to Ashford, Kent and exept trips to France, Italy, Poland, and to the United States in 1923, Conrad lived in his new home country. His first novel, Almayer's Folly, appeared in 1895. The story depicted a derelict Dutchman, who traided on the jungle rivers of Borneo. It was followed by An Outcast of the Islands (1896), less assured in its use of English. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' was a complex story of a storm off the Cape of Good Hope and of an enigmatic black sailor. Lord Jim, the first of his books narrated by Marlow, reflected the ideal of an English gentleman and a sailor Conrad wanted to be. In Youth (1902) the title story recorded his experiences on the sailing-ship Palestine. Nostromo (1904) was an imaginative novel which again explored man's vulnerability and corruptibility. It includes one of Conrad'smost suggestive symbols, the silver mine. In the story the Italian Nostromo ('our man') is destroyed for his appetite for adventure and glory but with his death the secret of the silver is lost forever.

The period between The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' and Under Western Eyes (1911), a suprisingly Dostoevsky-like novel, is considered artistically Conrad's most productive. These years brough him recognition from such writers as John Galsworthy and Ford Madox Ford, with whom he wrote three works - The Inheritors (1901), Romance (1903), and The Nature of Crime (1924). Although Conrad was prolific, his financial situation wasn't secure until 1913 with the publication of Change.

The last years of his life were shadowed by rheumatism. He refused an offer of knighthood in 1924 as he had earlier declined honorary degrees from five universities. Conrad died on August 3, 1924, of a heart attack and was buried in Canterbury. Conrad's influence upon 20th-century literature was wide. F. Scott Fitzgerald too his cue for his Nick-Carraway-Jay Gatsby formula from the Marlow-Kurtz relationship, Ernest Hemingway expressed special admiration for the author, and his impact is seen in among others in the work of Arthur Koestler, T.S. Eliot, Marcel Proust, André Malraux, Louis-Ferdiand Céline, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Graham Greene.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.