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.... [continues]
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