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Joseph Conrad


Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December, 1857, in what is now Berdichev in Ukraine (about 10 miles SW of Kiev). His father, Apollo, belonged to a Polish radical group which sought not only Polish independence (it was divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia) but a sweeping away of the old feudal style of government. He was also a writer. In 1861 Apollo went to Warsaw to set up a revolutionary committee but was arrested and the family was exiled to Vologda in Russia. Conrad’s mother died of tuberculosis in 1865. After the exile, the family returned to Cracow but Apollo died of tuberculosis in 1869. Conrad then went to live with different guardians, ending up with his uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski. In 1874, he left Poland and went to Marseilles. He stayed in France nearly four years and it was here where he first learned sailing, making several voyages. He also ran up considerable debts, partially because of gambling. His money problems, coupled with illegal smuggling activities, probably connected with his support of the Carlists, led to a suicide attempt. His uncle came to Marseilles and paid off his debts. Conrad then signed on the Mavis, an English ship, going to Constantinople.

Conrad continued to sail for the next fifteen years or so, travelling all over the world. In 1886, he finally passed his master’s examination and also wrote the story The Black Mate for a competition in the magazine Tit-Bits. In 1887, he signed on to the ship Vidar whose voyages to the Far East would appear in several of his novels. On these voyages he met Olmeijer, who was to become the Almayer of Almayer’s Folly as well as others who were appear in his later novels. In 1889, he started work on Almayer’s Folly, while living in London. He then left for the Congo, which was used as a basis for his most famous work, Heart of Darkness. While there, he met Roger Casement, who would be later hanged by the English for running guns for the Irish independence movement. On returning from the Congo he was ill for a period and tried to find another sailing berth. He made the acquaintance of John Galsworthy. In 1894, he finished the first draft of Almayer’s Folly and also met Jessie George, who was to become his wife two years later (they were to have two sons). Almayer’s Folly was completed and published the following year. In the meantime he had started work on An Outcast of the Islands.

From this time on, Conrad would become a full-time writer, producing a succession of novels and short stories which would show a remarkable command of the English language, considering he had learned it as a foreigner and as an adult. Despite the fact that he is now hailed as one of the great writers, he struggled to make ends meet, having only limited critical and commercial success. He had contact with many of the great writers of the day, not only Galsworthy, but also Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, Edward Garnett, Arnold Bennett, Norman Douglas, Willa Cather and others. Conrad died in 1924.

Conrad will be most remembered for his sea stories. Most (though not all) of his stories had a sea setting. The character, Marlow, appears in many of his stories and acts as a kind of narrator. While much of the action pivots around Marlow, there is always the sense that the characters are struggling to find out who they are (a key theme, of course, of 20th century literature) and only find it as parts of the crew of a ship. Once away from that setting, they remain unsure and without a firm set of values. Conrad also addresses the theme of fear of the unknown – The horror! The horror, uttered by Kurtz at the end of Heart of Darkness and spoken by Marlon Brando in the modern film of that book, Apocalypse Now as well as the frequent storms are good examples. While Conrad’s writing may have seemed difficult to his contemporaries, they seem to us, despite their exotic settings, much more relevant.

Books about Joseph Conrad

(Note that there are numerous books about Conrad; this is a small selection)
Carl D. Bennett: Joseph Conrad
Jacques Berthoud: Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase
Borys Conrad: My Father Joseph Conrad
Jessie (Mrs. Joseph Conrad) Conrad: Conrad As I Knew Him
Ford Madox Ford: Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance
Leo Gurko: Joseph Conrad: Giant In Exile
G. Jean-Aubry: Joseph Conrad Life And Letters (the first biography)
Frederick Karl: Joseph Conrad (standard biography)
Jeffrey Meyers: Joseph Conrad. A Biography
Norman Sherry (ed.): Joseph Conrad. A Commemoration
J.H. Stape (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad
Cedric Watts: Joseph Conrad: A Literary Life

Other links

Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad Biography
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Biography of Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Joseph Conrad (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski)
The Joseph Conrad Society
The Joseph Conrad Society of America
His grave


1895 Almayer’s Folly
1896 An Outcast of the Islands
1897 The Nigger of the Narcissus (US: Children of the Sea)
1898 Tales of Unrest
1899 Heart of Darkness
1900 Lord Jim
1901 The Inheritors (with Ford Madox Hueffer [Ford])
1902 Youth
1902 Typhoon
1903 Romance (with Ford Madox Hueffer [Ford])
1904 Nostromo
1906 The Mirror of the Sea
1907 The Secret Agent
1908 A Set of Six
1908 A Personal Record
1908 The Point of Honour: a military tale
1911 Under Western Eyes
1912 Twixt Land and Sea
1913 Chance
1913 One Day More, a Play in One Act
1915 Victory
1915 Within the Tides
1917 The Shadow-Line
1918 The First News
1919 The Arrow of Gold
1919 Autocracy and War
1919 Guy de Maupassant
1919 Henry James: An Appreciation
1919 My return to Cracow
1919 The Polish Question: a Note on the Joint Protectorate of the Western Powers and Russia
1919 The Shock of War through Germany to Cracow
1920 The Rescue
1921 Notes on Life and Letters
1922 The Dover patrol. A Tribute
1922 John Galsworthy, An Appreciation
1923 The Rover
1924 Laughing Anne & One Day More (drama)
1924 The Nature of the Crime (with Ford Madox Hueffer [Ford])
1925 Suspense (incomplete)
1926 Last Essays
1928 The Sisters (incomplete)
1978 Congo diary and other uncollected pieces
(Note that there are numerous short story and other collections not mentioned here as well as various editions of his letters)