Joseph Conrad, A Life In Prose

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Joseph Conrad, born Dec. 3 1857 Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, is an English novelist and short-story writer of Polish descent. His works are admired for the richness of his prose and the insightful depiction of human character in extraordinary situations. The basis of many of the characters, locations and events depicted in his novels stem from his own experience. Although most of his works are considered fiction, they have an underlying, autobiographical nature. This autobiographical nature of his work provides his characters, locations and events with a degree of accuracy that imparts additional reality to the stories. And with his masterful use of the English language, he is thus able to reflect his own life in the power of his prose.

Conrad is renowned for his powerful, and often romanticized depiction of a life at sea. It is a life with which he is very familiar. His life at sea began in 1875 firs as a passenger, then as an apprentice on a French merchant ship. A subsequent voyage as a steward on the Saint-Antoine to the West Indies, along the coast of Venezuela provided the setting for Nostromo (1904). The first mate aboard the Saint-Antoine, Dominic Cervoni, is the model for the hero of the novel.

1878 saw Conrad arrive in England for the first time, speaking only a few words in English. After passing examinations for second mate, he joined the Palestine on a voyage to Bangkok. Repairs caused by a storm and a collision with a boat in the North Sea interrupted the voyage. After these delays, the vessel attempted to reach its destination once more, making it as far as the coast of Indonesia before catching fire and sinking.

The events of this voyage are depicted in Youth (1898). Conrad changed the Palestine to Judea, but kept the original names of the captain and the first mate. The voyage took Conrad to the Far East for the first time. This setting provided him with material for later works, which in turn gave Conrad a reputation for portraying exotic places.

In 1884 Conrad sailed on the Narcissus from Bombay to Dunkirk. The voyage provided the material for The Nigger of Narcissus (1897). As mate on the Highland Forrest bound for the Far East again, Conrad's capitain was John McWhirr. Capitain McWhirr was later depicted as the central, heroic character of the same name in Typhoon (1901).

During the voyage on the Highland Forrest, Conrad was injured by a falling spar. This incident was later recalled in Lord Jim (1900). Following his recovery in Singapore, he signed on as first mate aboard the Vidar, a steam ship trading amongst the native settlements of Malaysia. The interior river journeys on the Vidar formed the basis of The End Of The Tether (1902). This setting was also used for his first novels; Almayer's Folly (1895), An Outcast Of The Islands (1896) and Lord Jim.

Conrad unexpectedly obtained his first command in 1888 of the baroque Otago, sailing from Bangkok to Port Adelaide, after the previous captain died at sea. The events surrounding his first command appointment and the subsequent voyage are closely recalled in The Shadow Line (1916) and Falk (1903).

Pursuing his fascination with the African Continent, Conrad signed on as second in command, then in command of the S.S. Roi de Belges, a steam boat on the Congo in 1890. The impressions of this and subsequent trips on the Congo form the basis of Heart Of Darkness (1902). This is one of Conrad's best known works owing to Francis Ford Coppola's Aplocaplypse Now, which closely follows the novel's original plot and characters, in a different time setting.

Conrad's career and life on the sea ended in 1894. He settled in the southeast corner of England and commenced his literary career. His works include:

Almayer's Folly (1895)
An Outcast Of The Island (1896)
The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897)
Tales Of Unrest (1898)
Lord Jim (1900)
Typhoon (1901)
Youth (1902)
Heart Of Darkness (1902)
The End Of The Tether (1902)
Nostromo (1904)
The Mirror Of The Sea (1906)
The Secret Agent (1907)
A Set Of Six (1908)
Under Western Eyes (1911)
Twix Land And Sea (1912)
Chance (1913)
Victory (1915)
Within The Tides (1915)
The Shadow Line (1917)
The Arrow Of Gold (1919)
The Rescue (1920)
The Rover (1923)
Tales Of Hearsay (1925)

Other novels were produced in collaboration with Ford Madox Ford.


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