Conrad

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Joseph Conrad

Biography (1857-1924)

Joseph Conrad grew up in the Polish Ukraine, a large, fertile plain between Poland and Russia. It was a divided nation, with four languages, four religions, and a number of different social classes. A fraction of the Polish-speaking inhabitants, including Conrad's family, belonged to a hereditary class in the aristocracy on the social hierarchy. They had political power, despite their impoverished state. Instead of devoting himself to the management of his wife's agricultural estates, his father pursued literary and political activities, which brought in little money. He wrote a variety of plays and social satires. Although his works were little known, they would have tremendous influence on his son. Joseph was born in 1857. The Crimean War had just ended, and hopes were high for Polish independence. After his father was arrested on suspicion of involvement in revolutionary activities, the family was thrown into exile. His mother developed tuberculosis, and she gradually declined until she died in 1865. The seven-year-old Conrad, who witnessed her decline, was absolutely devastated. He also developed health problems, migraines and lung inflammation, which persisted throughout his life. His father too fell into decline, and he died of tuberculosis in 1869. At age eleven, Joseph became an orphan. The young boy became the ward of his uncle, who loved him dearly. Thus began Joseph's Krakow years, which ended when he left Poland as a teenager in 1874. This move was a complex decision, resulting from what he considered as the intolerably oppressive atmosphere of the Russian power. He spent the next few years in France, mastering another language and the fundamentals of seamanship. The author made acquaintances in many circles, and his "bohemian" friends were the ones who introduced him to drama, opera, and theatre. In the meantime, he was strengthening his maritime contacts, and he soon became a member of boat crews. The workers he met on the ship, together with all the experiences they recounted to him, laid the groundwork for many of the vivid details in his novels. By 1878, Joseph had made his way to England with the intention of becoming an officer on a British ship. He ended up spending twenty years at sea. When he was not at sea, writing letters or writing in journals, Joseph was exploring other means of making money. Unlike his father, who abhorred money, Conrad was obsessed by it; he was always looking for business opportunities. Once the author had worked his way up to shipmaster, he made a series of eastern voyages over three years. Conrad remained in the English port of Mauritius for two months, during which time he unsuccessfully courted two women. Frustrated, he left and journeyed to England. In England in the summer of 1889, Conrad began the crucial transition from sailor to writer by starting his first novel. Interestingly, he chose to write in English, his fourth language. A journey to the Congo in 1890 was Joseph's inspiration to write Heart of Darkness. His condemnation of colonialism is well documented in the journal he kept during his visit. He returned to England and soon faced the death of his beloved guardian and uncle. In the meantime, Conrad became closer to Marguerite, an older family friend who was his closest confidant. For six years he tried to establish intimacy with her, but he was eventually discouraged by the age difference and the disparity between their social positions. Then, 1894 was a landmark year for Conrad: his first novel was published; he met Edward Garnett, who would become a lifelong friend; and he met Jessie George, his future wife. The two-year courtship between the 37-year-old Conrad and the 21-year-old Jessie was somewhat discontinuous in that Conrad pursued other women during the first year of their relationship, but his attention became strongly focused on Jessie by the autumn of 1895. Garnett disapproved of the match, especially...
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