Joseph Conrad


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Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Polish-born English author and master mariner wrote Heart of Darkness (1902);

“. . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone. . . .” (Part 1)

With haunting verse Conrad has crafted a chilling tale laden with lush imagery and symbolism describing the ambiguity between good and evil. “He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!”—(ibid) With characters as anti-hero he examines man’s moral complexities and capacity for corruption and evil, and the dark depths of the human psyche;

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath. (ibid, Part 3)

While it addresses the timeless struggle of man’s self-deception and inner conflicts, influenced by Conrad’s own sense of isolation from his past, the story of Marlow’s journey into the Congo also exposes the clashes, exploitation and barbarity between European and African societies during 19th Century colonial expansionism. Controversial in his time and even today, some of Conrad’s works including Heart of Darkness have inspired filmmakers and such authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gabriel García Márquez, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Heller, Albert Camus, and Virginia Woolf. He has also been grouped with other such esteemed authors as his friend Stephen Crane and Robert Louis Stevenson. As a young man Conrad, becoming disillusioned and having abandoned his native Poland after his parents sacrificed their lives in the fight for their country’s freedom, became a world traveller on the high seas. He gained by his own sweat and blood as a seaman the life experience and sensitivity for insight into the human condition needed to produce the dozens of famous short stories and novels he wrote, many that are still in print today.

Józef Teodor Conrad Korzeniowski was born on 3 December 1857 in the Russian occupied city of Berdyczów, Ukraine. He was the only child born to Evelina Bobrowska (1832–1865) and Apollo Korzeniowski, (1820–1869) patriot, writer, and translator of such authors’ works as Victor Hugo’s and William Shakespeare’s. Joseph would also read their works as well as those of Charles Dickens, among many others’. As members of the Polish noble gentry szlachta living in the Ukraine under Tsarist autocracy was a turbulent time politically and the Korzeniowski’s were under constant surveillance. In 1861 Joseph’s nationalist father, who was an outspoken supporter of the serfs and critic of Poland’s oppressors, was arrested along with his wife for being involved with the Polish National Committee’s anti-Russian activities. They and four-year old Joseph were exiled to the province of Vologda in Northern Russia. The living conditions and harsh climate took their toll on Joseph’s parents: they both contracted tuberculosis, Evelina dying of it in 1865, Apollo in 1869. He was celebrated at his death by the Poles in patriotic honour.

Shaken from their deaths and also suffering from various health problems that would plague him for the rest of his life, at the age of twelve Joseph became the ward of his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski (d.1894), a landowner who lived in Cracow, Poland. He would be a great support to Joseph morally and financially for many years to come.

He was then sixty-two years old and had been for a quarter of a century the wisest, the firmest, the most indulgent of guardians, extending over me a paternal care and affection, a moral support which I seemed to feel always near me in the most distant parts of the earth.” (A Personal Record, Ch. 2)

As well as speaking Polish, Joseph had been taught French by his governess Mlle. Durand and received some schooling from his father. Now his uncle hired a student from Cracow University to continue his education, tutoring him in Latin, Greek, geography, and mathematics although Joseph disliked the formality of lessons. He was by nature full of nervous energy and physically active. His frustrated tutor soon learned that from an early age he yearned to travel on the seas and go to the ‘dark continent’ of Africa. In 1874 with his uncle’s blessing and as a way of avoiding conscription by the Russians, Conrad travelled to the bustling port town of Marseilles in southern France. As an important hub of the French Merchant Marine, Conrad was soon able to find employment with several French vessels over the next four years. It was the beginning of his fifteen year career as seaman during which he would meet so many of the men who would figure largely in his works.

Life at sea was challenging but full of thrills and adventure and suited Conrad well who at times had a tempestuous personality. He visited many of the major ports of the world and worked on every kind of vessel possible including the ‘Sainte Antoine’, ‘Duke of Sutherland’ ‘Palestine’, ‘Otago’ and ‘Tremolino’. He was involved with gunrunning and smuggling for a time, and in the off hours incurred a number of gambling debts. When he could not repay them he attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He survived and his uncle paid off his debts but he lost his position with the French merchants so joined the English ship ‘Mavis’ in 1878. Two years later he passed his third mate’s exam and in 1886 earned his Master’s certificate in the British Merchant Service and became a British Citizen. It was at this time that he changed his name to Joseph Conrad. His next few years of service took him to various ports of call including the Malay Archipelago, the Gulf of Siam and the Belgian Congo. Under the employ of the Societe Anonyme pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo in 1890 Conrad at last plunged into the ‘dark continent’ and wrote his ‘Congo Diary’ that would later become The Heart of Darkness.

The harsh conditions of travelling to the Congo Free State and working on a paddle-steamer aggravated Conrad’s already at-times fragile health. He suffered gout and had periods of depression for many years. He returned to England weakened and suffering from fever and was hospitalised. While his sense of humour and irony was intact, the Congo had also caused a profound effect on his emotional health ….it was infinitely more likely that the sanest of my friends should nurse the germ of incipient madness than that I should turn into a writer of tales—(A Personal Record, Ch. 5) However, in a spare hour here and there Conrad had been working on Almayer’s Folly (1895).

And I, too, had a pen rolling about somewhere—the seldom-used, the reluctantly taken-up pen of a sailor ashore, the pen rugged with the dried ink of abandoned attempts, of answers delayed longer than decency permitted, of letters begun with infinite reluctance, and put off suddenly till next day—till next week, as like as not! (A Personal Record, Ch. 5)

Little did Conrad know he was on his way to becoming one of the greatest 20th Century novelists, known for his mastery of atmosphere and dramatic realism, at times compared to Rudyard Kipling. Having now retired from the sea he settled in Kent County, England. Almayer’s Folly (1895) was published to mixed reviews though mostly positive. In March of 1896 he married Jessie Emmeline George (1873-1936) with whom he would have two sons, Borys (b.1898) and John (b.1906). Now that Conrad was retired and earnestly writing, he had numerous works first serialised in such publications as Blackwood’s, Munsey’s and Harper’s. Other works published around this time include An Outcast of the Islands (1896), The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897), Tales of Unrest (1898), Lord Jim (1900), collaborations with Ford Madox Ford The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903), Youth (1902), The End of the Tether (1902), Typhoon (1903), Nostromo (1904), The Mirror of the Sea (1906, semi-autobiographical), The Secret Agent (1907), A Set of Six (1908), and Under Western Eyes (1911).

Although he was now receiving a pension Conrad suffered financial difficulties for a number of years; it was with the immediate commercial success of Chance (1914) that was a turning point for him. Now living at his home ‘Oswalds’ in Bishopsbourne, Canterbury, he also travelled extensively including a trip to the United States in 1923 to give a reading where he was fęted by the press and hoardes of admiring readers. In 1924 he was offered a Knighthood but politely declined. He had become friend to many public figures and fellow authors including John Galsworthy and H.G. Wells. While he maintained a busy schedule he also continued his prodigious output of writing until his death, further publications including; The Arrow of Gold (1914), Victory (1915), The Shadow-Line (1917) which evokes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, The Rescue (1920), and The Rover (1923).

On 3 August 1924 Joseph Conrad died at home of a heart attack. Although a sceptic much of his life he was given a Roman Catholic service at St. Thomas’s and now rests with his wife Jessie in the Westgate Court Avenue public cemetery in Canterbury, England. His name is carved into the massive rough-hewn grave stone as was given at his birth, Joseph Teodor Conrad Korzeniowski. The epitaph carved below, also the epigraph for The Rover is from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen and reads:

Sleep After Toyle, Port After Stormie Seas, Ease After Warre,
Death After Life Does Greatly Please

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Joseph Conrad

themes, symbols, atmosphere and other features

Hi, please, can anybody help me to analyze this text which comes from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I need to say what is the content, themes, symbols, atmosphere or other features prominent in this text: Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror--of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision--he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: `The horror! The horror!' My best answer is this: This part of the story seems to be quite dark and unhappy as the narrator (Marlow) says that he wishes to never see the person´s (Kurtz) features again. This may mean that it was horrible look. Also the expressions as "ruthless power and craven terror--of an intense and hopeless despair" give me an unpleasant feeling. Furthermore the last words "the horror" suggest terrible thoughts in th person mind, maybe of his memories. Al those words represent some kind of darkness. The amosphere is not a happy one. I think that Kurtz is in fever or so as it sounds that he doesn´t know about himself. The discription of his voice being no ore than a breath suggest that Kurtz is dying. The narrator seems that he is not a good friend of him as he is "not touched" This is very much about the content but what about the motifs and other featers? I really don´t know. Anybody can help? Many thanks!


themes, motifs, etc of this text from Heart of darkness

themes, motifs, etc of this text from Heart of darkness


Questions about Joseph Conrad

Hi;)... I'm a student and have to do a classwork tomorrow... i have 2 questions for you: 1. Conrad can be considerate a writer of: a-sea b-head c-universe d-science Choose one of these answers and motivate it 2. Conrad's works talk about: a-Fantastic themes b-Psychological themes c-Scientific themes d-Realistic themes Thanks for all the help that you will give to me...:thumbs_up:D


The Return

Has anyone here read Conrad's short story "The Return"? I found the moral conflict between husband and wife to be quite melodramatic in regards to today's novels...but that is what makes Conrad great, right? :) I also found the imagery in the beginning (the husband and the mirror images) to be remarkably good. I could see this in a movie format for sure. Anyway, I would love to get some feedback on other thoughts, questions, comments, etc.


Help w/ heart of darkness perspective!!! Asap

hey guys i need to start an essay on the subtopic of Marlow's perspective on the river. So far i have how his perspective changes from thinking it will be easy (like his aunt getting him the job) to how diffucult it is by getting sick and how he soon relizes that its not all that hw rho it would be after meeting and talking to kurtz . . . idkk if anyone else can help but i REALLY needa get it done any ideas are welcomed!


Chinua Achebe's criticism of Conrad's Heart of Darkness

I need som help with a Discussion question Here are some of the question we have to answer. Do you agree with Chinua Achebe's criticism of Corand's "Heart of Darkness" in "An Image of Africa"? Why or why not Should we hold Corad's novella responsible for its characterizations and perspectives toward Africa/Africans? Should we questio the status of the novella as canonical (classic) literature? I need so help putting some of this information into a essay form help please :(


No Triumph Over Death in Conrad

CONFESSION AND DEATH Donald Kuspit states that there is in many of the objects and figures of Modern art the expression of a death wish—all the stronger because of the loss of belief in immortality which is an expression of the life force. There is in Modern art, he goes on, a disintegrated, unstructured, disorganized, messy, almost chaotic look. There is a great effort to inhibit awareness of, to constrain, death in Modern art. Death usually comes in indirectly in the style of art; for to many artists death is unbearable, repressed, the concept of an afterlife a fantasy, an absurdity, a nothingness. They believe we are faced with annihilation, a merciless end-game, non-redemptiveness, no protective emotional security, imminent self-destruction, death’s haunting bluntness. And so, behind the often lively, vibrant and restless styles of Modern art there lurks a sense of emptiness, depression and a modern living death. Like the characters in Hemmingway or Conrad there is no triumph over death or life. There is wounding but no resolution. -Ron Price with thanks to Donald Kuspit, “The Only Immortal,” Signs of Psyche in Modern and Post-Modern Art, Cambridge UP, NY, 1993, pp.163-166. Traditional painting, sculpture and poetry were reinforced by a belief in immortality. And so is this poetry. I have replaced an old centre of faith with a new one. An ideal of transendence, of the sacred, of the numinous, of the idea that life is more than the sum of its material moments is behind all my poetry. Although I could go on writing poetry ad infinitum and although there is a surface appearance of fragmentation in the immense diversity of material I write about, and as readers will come across as they go from poem to poem, I feel a sense of wholeness, of completeness, of a fully realized mental construct in what I have created. I have a sense of the timeless, the true, the authentic lasting, enduring beyond the contingent and incompleteness of human life, a sense of a destination to be reached, a project which will be completed only with my own death or an incapacitating illness. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999. Death lurks here, too, in my work, but for different reasons, not the sense of incompleteness and dissatisaction, not wanting to return to my origins, not a part of its intense and pervasive presence in our world, not as part of a living death. But, rather, part of that touchstone, that measure: wish for death, if ye are men of truth.1 For I am scattered across two continents, in several hospitals where they electrified my brain, with little pretension to purity left, 1 Qur’an 2:94. Ron Price 2 December 1999


Is there a significance with the repetition of words?

Throughout the first part of Heart of Darkness I have noticed a great amount with the usage of repeating words. I can not figure out the signicance of this writing technique, and ask if anyone else has figured it out or has noticed it.:confused:


Heart of Darkness CdMHS

Hello everyone! I am inviting you to discuss at will the various elements you are encountering in the Heart of Darkness. This site has been set up for the senior class of Corona del Mar HS, but is open to anyone with ideas/questions to share with us! Welcome, and happy blogging!:p Just to get everyone started..: "The fascination of the abomination..." What does this mean to you?


what a problem !!!!!

hi every one :D I want to tell you my problem:bawling: I am a new student in college .... and I am studying English language I like to study it ...... but I have problems:bawling: I do not understand any thing in fiction !!!!! so , to understand it ........ my teacher says .... read some essays in the Internet and talk with groups and you will enjoy it:D so , I want you to help me and to talk with me about the stories read right now I want you to discuss with me ( The Tale ) by JOSEF KONRAD what is the main theme ??? what about the characters??? what you think about the commanding officer ? just talk to me:D I am waiting:)


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