Conrad was a Polish-born British novelist. Some of his works have
been labeled 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.
was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdyczów
(Berdychiv), then Poland under Russian rule, now Ukraine. His
father, an aristocrat, writer, and translator, 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.
was placed in the care of his uncle, a more cautious figure than
either of his parents, who nevertheless allowed Conrad to travel
to Marseille and begin his career as a seaman at the age of 17.
Conrad lived an adventurous life, becoming involved in gunrunning
and political conspiracy, which he later fictionalized in his
novel The Arrow of Gold. In 1878, after a failed attempt at suicide,
Conrad took service on his first British ship. He learned English
before the age of 21, and gained both his Master Mariner's certificate
and British citizenship in 1886. He first arrived in England at
the port of Lowestoft, Suffolk, and lived later in London and
near Canterbury, Kent.
1894, at the age of 36, he left the sea to become an English author.
His first novel, Almayer's Folly, set on the east coast of Borneo,
was published in 1895. The lingua franca of educated Europeans
at that time was French, Conrad's second language, and it is remarkable
that Conrad could write so fluently and effectively in his third
language. Many of his early novels are set on board 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.
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, and
Russian writers as a rule, possibly due to his political inclinations,
making 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. Chinua Achebe, however,
has argued that Conrad's language and imagery is inescapably racist.
Some would claim that these can both be true.
1923 he was offered but declined a knighthood. Joseph Conrad died
of a heart attack, and was interred in Canterbury Cemetery, Canterbury,