Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski better known as Joseph Conrad was born in Berdichev (Imperial Russia), 3 December 1857 until 3 August 1924, Bishopsbourne, Kent (England). He was a Polish author who wrote in English after settling in England. He was granted British nationality in 1886, but always considered himself a Pole. Conrad is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in English, though he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties. He wrote stories and novels, often with a nautical setting, that depict trials of the human spirit in the midst of an indifferent universe. He was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature.
While some of his works have a strain of romanticism, his works are viewed as modernist literature. His narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many authors, including D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Gabriel García Márquez, etc.
Writing in the heyday of the British Empire, Conrad drew on his native Poland’s national experiences and on his personal experiences in the French and British merchant navies, to create short stories and novels that reflect aspects of a European-dominated world, while plumbing the depths of the human soul. Appreciated early on by literary cognoscenti, his fiction and nonfiction have gained an almost prophetic cachet in the light of subsequent national and international disasters of the 20th and 21st centuries.
In March 1878, at the end of his Marseilles period, 20-year-old Conrad attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. According to his uncle, who was summoned by a friend of Conrad’s, Conrad had gotten himself badly into debt.
In 1874 Conrad left Poland to start a merchant-marine career. In 1894, aged 36, Conrad reluctantly gave up the sea, partly because of poor health and partly because he had become so fascinated with writing that he had decided on a literary career. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, set on the east coast of Borneo, was published in 1895. Its appearance marked his first use of the pen name “Joseph Conrad”; “Konrad” was, of course, the third of his Polish given names, but he used it in the anglicised version, “Conrad”.
In the first and longest, from the 1890s to World War I, Conrad writes most of his great novels, including The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897), Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim(1900), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907) and Under Western Eyes (1911). The second phase, spanning the war and following the popular success of Chance (1913), is marked by the advent of Conrad’s public persona as “great writer”. In the third and final phase, from the end of World War I to Conrad’s death (1924), he at last finds an uneasy peace.
On 3 August 1924 Conrad died at his house, Oswalds, in Bishopsbourne, Kent, England, probably of a heart attack. He was interred at Canterbury Cemetery, Canterbury, under a misspelled version of his original Polish name, as “Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski”. Inscribed on his gravestone are the lines from Edmund Spenser‘s The Faerie Queene which he had chosen as the epigraph to his last complete novel, The Rover:
Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Academic year 2013/2014
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