Joseph Conrad: Biographical Sketch & Major Works

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      His Life. Conrad, whose name was Jozef Teodor Konard Nalecz Koreniowski, was the son of an exiled Polish Patriot and was born at Berdiczew, in the Ukraine, where he spent the first thirteen years of his life. He was educated at Cracow, and was intended for the University; but, as he was determined to go to sea, he went to Marseilles in 1874 and there, he joined the French Mercantile Marine. Four years later, he landed at Lowestoft and joined the British merchant service. By 1885, he had his master mariner's certificate, and, before ill-health caused him to leave the sea in 1894, he had spent twenty years, cruising the world in sail and steamships, gaining experience which was to prove invaluable. The year after his retirement saw the publication of his first novel, Almayer's Folly (1895), and from that time, he lived in the South of England and devoted himself to his writing.

      His Novels. Conrad's first two works were based on his experiences of Malaya. Almayer's Folly and An Outcast of the Islands (1896), if not among his best, give a foretaste of his later work in their use of a vivid tropical background, and the insidious influence of the tropics. Then came one of his best novels, The Nigger of the "Narcissus" (1897), a moving story of life on board ship, remarkable for its powerful atmosphere, its sea description, and its character study-Donkin is one of the best of his many drawn villains. After the five stories collected as Tales of Unrest (1898), appeared Lord Jim: a Tale (1900), the greatest of his early works. It is one of the best of Conrad's studies of men whose strength fails them in a moment of crisis, and is, again, a story of the sea. In it, Conrad introduces, for the first time, his technique of oblique narrative, the story being told through the ironical Marlow, who reappears so frequently in later novels. Youth - A Narrative; and two other Stories (1902) and typhoon, and other Stories (1903) contain seven tales which include some of Conrad's most powerful work. "Heart of Darkness" in the former collection is remarkable for an overwhelming sense of evil and corruption and for its excellent tropical backgrounds; "The End of the Tether" in the same volume has very vivid descriptions of Far-Eastern seascapes. Typhoon is unsurpassed as a book about the sea, even by this supreme master of sea description. The stories in both collections were based on his own experiences. Nostromo - A Tale of the Seaboard (19040) shifts the scene to the coastline of Central America. Its story of revolution is grippingly told, and the book is full of vivid descriptions and has many well-drawn portraits. Some critics believe it to be his finest work, and certainly, nothing after Nostromo seems as good. The Mirror of the Sea-Memoirs and Impressions (1906) is a series of essays based on his experiences in the oceans of the world, and, as always in Conrad, it contains excellent pictures. It was followed by the popular detective story The Secret Agent - A Simple Tale (1907), which, though it contains one or two well-drawn figures and suggests quite powerfully the atmosphere of the Underworld, is not one of his best. The same may be said of the stories in A Set of Six (1908) and his tale of Russian revolutionaries, Under Western Eyes (1911), of which the best features are the character of Razumov and, as so often, the atmosphere, in the case of fear. Twixt Land and Sea-Tales (1912) contains three more stories, and then came Chance - A Tale in Two Parts (1914), Conrad's most ambitious venture in the oblique method of story-telling. Here, Marlow appears again as narrator, but the story is also told from several other points of view, and this technique, combined with an involved time sequence, makes the novel structurally one of his most confusing. After Victory - An Island Tale (1915) and a further collection of four short stories, Within the Tides - Tales (1915), which add little to his stature, Conrad wrote The Shadow Line - A Confession (1917), a short novel in which the suggestion of the supernatural is masterly. Of his other novels, The Rescue - A Romance of the Shallows (1920) is long drawn out, but has moments of high excitement, and is an excellent study of primitive men; The Arrow of Gold - A Story between Two Notes (1919) and The Rover (1923) are both set in a background of European history-not very successfully; while Suspense-A Napoleonic Novel (1925), also a historical novel, was unfinished at his death. Mention should also be made of the autobiographical, A Personal Record (1912) and Notes on Life and Letters (1921), important for Conrad's views on his own art, and of two novels, The inheritors - An Extravagant Story (1901) and Romance - A Novel (1903), in which he collaborated with Ford Maddox Hueffer (later Ford Maddox Ford). Posthumously collected were Tales of Hearsary (1925), four stories, and Last Essays (1926).

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