Conrad was born in the Ukraine on December 3, 1857 when Ukraine was still under Russian rule. His parents were members of the Polish high class, and Conrad grew up surrounded by Polish literature and politics, which his parents strongly participated in. When Conrad was eight, his mother died of tuberculosis and three years later, his father passed away from the same disease, leaving Conrad an orphan. He went to live in Poland with his uncle who tried his best to raise and educate him. He received private tutoring and attended a private school but Conrad showed no affinity for school except reading and geography, so his uncle decided that he needed to learn a trade to survive. At thirteen, Conrad expressed his desire to become a sailor after reading books about seafaring men in books as a young child. When he was sixteen, he went to Marseilles, France to begin his career as a sailor.
Throughout his time at sea, he sailed on French commercial ships to South America, Africa, India, and China. In 1874 he joined the British merchant marines, and for fifteen years following, he worked in a variety of different crew positions. Most of Conrad’s fiction are placed in maritime settings and are based on his experiences at sea. Many times, he would use the names of his crew-members aboard the ship as characters in his books. In 1878, during a time he was in port for several years, Conrad became indebted and attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. This attempt failed and he resumed his career, finishing out his service to the British merchant marines. In 1886, he became a British citizen.
In our collection we have a signed limited edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad. This twenty-two volume set includes Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, and many others.
This first edition copy above of Joseph Conrad’s novel, Typhoon follows the life and emotional journey of a sea captain and his crew as they navigate through this storm. These events were captured by Conrad’s imagination as he lived and worked on ships throughout his life.
Below, this other tale of the sea, The Rescue, was written in 1920 and explores the life of a ship captain who falls in love with a married woman. This book is a part of the Lingard Trilogy.
In 1894, at the age of 36, Conrad retired from the sea to pursue writing full time. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, a story set in the Borneo Jungle, was publish a year later. The following year, he married Jessie Emmaline George, a working-class girl sixteen years his junior. Together they had two sons and enjoyed a stable marriage. Before the turn of the century, Conrad published three more works: The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897), based on a ship he had sailed, Heart of Darkness (1899), which explores the life of natives in the Congo and is one of Conrad’s most famous works, and Lord Jim (1900), about an outcast sailor.
Conrad’s writing style is very distinct and character driven. In the preface to Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, he writes that his aim in fiction is, “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel… before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand – and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”
The Shadow-Line: A Confession and The Arrow of Gold: A Story Between Two Notes were both published within two years of each other in 1917 and 1919 respectively. The Shadow-Line explores topics of wisdom and experience from the point of view of a young protagonist and Conrad uses a dual narrative structure to tell this unique tale. The Arrow of Gold explores human vulnerability via an eccentric cast of characters. This is a lesser known work but is still considered one of Conrad’s greats from the later half of his career.
The works of Joseph Conrad are primarily inspired by real people, true events, and personal experiences. He incorporates characters that struggle against their own nature and forces outside of themselves. Themes of individualism, violence, imperialism, racism, and the human condition are explored in his works.