Titles by the Author
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), English novelist, was born Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, the son of Apollo...Korzeniowski and Ewelina (Bobrowski) Korzeniowski, near Kiev, in what was then Russian Poland. Probably no stranger lifestory exists than that of this man who, a native of an inland country, spent all his youth at sea, and who, utterly ignorant of English at twenty, became not only a great novelist in that tongue, but also a supreme English stylist. Yet, though he was a British subject from 1886, he spoke always with a marked accent, and from his carriage, his gestures, his blurred voice, even his gaze, there looked out a spirit inherently Slavic with a touch of the Oriental.
Conrad's father was a poet and a revolutionist...the mother too was an ardent patriot, and when her husband was arrested in 1861 as leader of a Polish revolutionary group, she followed him willingly into exile, with her small son, to Vologda, in northeast Russia. But the privations she met killed her in four years, and three years after her husband too was so broken in health that the Czarist government relented and allowed him to go back with his child to Cracow. There, after a year, he also died.
The boy, reared by his practical-minded uncle, grew up with a dual soul. He was a devout Roman Catholic, a small patriot who could read the forbidden Polish tongue before he was five, a lover of fairy tales who yet was haunted by "the awful sense of the inevitable" and who never really recovered from the shock of his father's death. On the other hand he was an avid devourer of adventure stories...a passionate lover of geography, who earned the derision of his playmates by pointing to the blank "unknown" space on a map of Africa and announcing, "When I grow up, I shall go there"...He read Dickens in translation, and England became to him the land of romance. At fifteen he was sent with a tutor to tour the continent, and he began a two-year struggle for permission to go to sea. Reluctantly, in 1873, he was allowed to ship on a French vessel from Marseilles. For four years he served in the French mercantile marine, at one time running contraband for Don Carlos.
Joseph Conrad (his name as a novelist which later he made legally his own) came very near to being a French instead of an English writer. All his life French, not English, was his instinctive secondary language. But the sight of an English ship in the harbor at Marseilles deflected his destiny. He went to Lowestoft, qualified as a seaman, learned English laboriously from a newspaper, and gradually worked upward until in 1880 he passed his examination as master. Until 1894 he served as first or second in command of merchant ships, mostly bound to and from the Orient. Until 1889 he had written nothing.
It was in that year that he began Almayer's Folly, his first novel. Always a painfully slow writer, the book was interrupted by voyages, by his African mishaps, by illness and convalescence. The great books of his first period - The Nigger of the Narcissus, Lord Jim, Youth, Nostromo - excited the disciminating few, but had small sales...
The one thing Conrad is not is a mere adventure story writer, a "sea story" creator like Cooper or Marryat. For the most part the ocean and the strange lands that border it are his milieu, but his novels are no more "sea stories" than Moby Dick is a sea story. There is indeed an affinity between Joseph Conrad the Pole and Herman Melville the American. Like Melville's, Conrad's novels are a long confession: they are egocentric, written around a protagonist who is not the nebulous "I" ostensibly telling the tale. Ruth M. Stauffer correctly called him a "romantic realist." -From Twentieth Century Authors, The H. W. Wilson Company