Joseph Conrad was born on the 3rd of December in 1857 in Berdychiv, Ukraine. He was the only child of Apollo Korzeniowski, a translator and political activist, while his mother, Ewa Bobrowska. Due to his father’s political activism, the family had to move frequently. In 1861, the family faced a heavy blow on account of the tragedy when Apollo, his father, faced detention, and the family had to follow him to face political persecution. During these years, his mother’s health began to deteriorate, and she lost her life in 1865. All these incidents played a key role in shaping his innocent mind, which he later presented in his work.
After the demise of his mother, Joseph’s father tried to homeschool his son. In a personal record, he wrote that he first encountered the English language at the age of eight when his father translated some great works of Victor Hugo and Shakespeare for him. Under his father’s guidance, he studied the masterpieces of James Fennimore, Sir Walter Scott, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Charles Dickens. Unfortunately, his father also died in 1989 when he was just eleven, leaving him in the custody of his maternal uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski, a lawyer, who provided him comfort and love of home. He sent him to school to Karkow and Switzerland, but Conrad always desired to go to the sea. His uncle supported him and introduced him to one of the influential merchants of that time.
Before pursuing his career as a writer, he spent twenty years of his life in marine service and his voyages took him to the exotic and distant places such as Australia, Congo, Africa, England, India and Singapore. These experiences and interactions with multiple nationalities paved the way for most of his writings. He not only discussed his own experiences in his works but also reflect upon the behavioral traits of the people, their history, geographical specifics of their values and unique sets of their beliefs.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- In 1896, he married, Jessie Emmeline George, and the couple had two sons.
- His world-famous novel, Heart of Darkness, appeared as a film and as an opera in 2011.
- Most of his novels have been translated into many languages around the world.
- In 1878, he tried to kill himself with a gun but luckily survived.
- He died of a heart attack in 1924 and was buried at Canterbury, England.
Joseph Conrad successfully pursued two careers in his life. First, he chose marine service as a career and spent twenty years traveling to different places and continents. However, in the early 1980s, Joseph decided to document his traveling experiences in his work. Thus, he retired from the service and published his first work, Almayer’s Folly, in 1895. The heartwarming response of the audience gave him the confidence to go for more. Therefore, from 1896 to 1904, he wrote pieces about the places he visited with a core focus of humanity. His early writings include The Nigger of the “Narcissus”, An Outcast of the Islands, The Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. Later, in his novels, The Secret Agent, In Under Western Eyes and Nostromo, he reflected upon his political views. Besides novels, he also wrote shorter fiction and essays, some of which include “The Shadow Line”, “The Rover”, “The Return” and “The Shock of War.”
Joseph Conrad’s style was not inherently English. Instead, his exposure to the world, multi-linguistic capacity and coming to English in his late twenties mark the central point of his distinctive writing style. His narrative is full of indirect, winding, tautological, and ambiguous structures, which sometimes create trouble for the readers. The stuttering placement of adjectives and awkwardly positioned punctuation along with complex syntax reflect the mastery of his art. It is because of his shifting narrative style; he is recognized as a modern novelist among the accepted literary canons.
Moreover, his stylistic experimentations allowed him to re-evaluate the most recurrent thematic intrigue: morality. Early critics considered him a moral sage whose ideas reject the preaching of truths and noble sentiments. Rather, in his novels and other works, he has successfully questioned the accepted belief system along with a standard set of values. He pulls his readers to rethink their own knowledge and its limitations.
Some Important Works of Joseph Conrad
- Best Novels: He was an outstanding writer, some of his best novels include Heart of Darkness, An Outcast of the Islands, Almayer’s Folly, The Arrow of Gold, Chance, Victory and The Secret Agent.
- Other Works: Besides novels, he tried his hands on shorter fiction and essays. Some of them include “The Black Mate”, “The Idiot”, “Youth”, “A Smile of Fortune”, “The Shock of War” and “The First News.”
Joseph Conrad’s Impact on Future Literature
Joseph Conrad, with his unique experiences, mesmerized the generations and left a deep imprint on the world of letters. He won a wide readership for presenting the fragility of human nature in a time when other writers attempted to fictionalize the world. He had had a significant influence on other writers, including T.S Eliot, who praised his efforts to present new objects, new feelings, and new ideas. His commentary on a human belief system is relevant even to today’s world. He successfully documented his ideas about politics, humanity, and reality in his writings that even today writers try to imitate his unique style, considering him a beacon for writing prose.
- “I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others–what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.” (Heart of Darkness)
- “I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmostphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary.” (Heart of Darkness)
- “Let them think what they liked, but I didn’t mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank — but that’s not the same thing.” (The Secret Sharer and other stories)