Conrad, Joseph. (1857 - 1924).
L i f e
- a merchant seaman: travelled the Pacific, especially the East and West Indies > gained experience and material for his writing
- a naturalised British subject > a sense of betrayal, guilt, and dislocation
W o r k
- started learning English when 21 x but: became a master of English prose
- sea stories: the circumstances of life on shipboard or in remote settlements as a background for exploring moral ambiguities
- political fiction: the corrupting effects of European imperialism
The Nigger of the “Narcissus” (1897):
- a dying black seaman corrupts the morale of a ship’s crew by the mere fact of producing sympathy
- symbolically: the necessity and at the same time danger of human contact
Heart of Darkness (1899):
- inspired by his own experience in a steamboat going up the Congo River
- concern: colonialism as both brutal and brutalizing
Lord Jim (1900):
- a successful colonial agent earns himself the tile of Lord from his grateful subjects x but: his achievement is marred by the lasting memory of the corruption of his predecessor
- uses an intermediate narrator and a series of different points of view
- a political novel, considered his masterpiece
- set in an unstable South American republic with a tottering social order
- concern: the corrupting effects of politics on personal relationships
The Secret Agent (1906):
- a political novel, veers simultaneously toward farce and tragedy
- set in a murky, seedy, and untidy London
- an agent provocateur in the employ of a ‘foreign’ (but almost certainly Russian) embassy is required to blow up the Greenwich Meridian
Under Western Eyes (1911):
- concern: the dangerous instabilities of society under the Russian autocracy
- a Russian student and government spy gets involuntary involved with revolutionary violence and betrays a fellow-student to the Tsar’s police
- consequentially becomes a double exile in Switzerland, pretending to be a revolutionary among revolutionaries
- the narrator, an elderly English teacher of languages in Geneva, observes all with foreign ‘western’ eyes
The Secret Sharer (1912):
- set in the Gulf of Siam as felt by a young sea captain on his first command
- concern: the difficulty of true communion, communion as forced unexpectedly on us, and the recognition of our opposite as our true self
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
AuthorBorn Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland. (1857 - 1924). Joseph Conrad since accepting British citizenship (1886).
WorkNovelist. Author of Heart of Darkness (1899).
GenresNeo-Romanticism. Colonialism. Political novel. Sea-novel.
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"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea."
From Heart of Darkness (1899).