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The Life of Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad was born Teodor Jozef Konrad Korseniowski on November 21, 1857, but he spent much of his childhood in Russia. He was the only child of a partiotic Polish couple living in southern Polish Ukraine. Conrad's father had been arrested for his partiotic activities in behalf of Polish independence by the Russian police. In the summer of 1862, when Joseph was only four, he accompanied his parents into exile in northern Russia. In April, 1865, his mother died there of consumption when Joseph was only seven. His father was an esteemed translator of Shakespeare, as well as a poet and man of leters in Poland, and Joseph's exposure to his father's talents provided a rich literary background at an early age. However, the connection between father and son was soon cut short when Joseph was sent away to live with his maternal uncle, Thaddeus Bobrowski, for education. Jospeh was well eaducated in Cracow, Poland. When Joseph was just 11 years old, his father died (March, 1869). The emotional bond between Joseph and his father was quite stong, and after the death, a deep melancholy settled within the boy. Much of his writing as an adult is marked by a melancholy undercurrent.

Following Joseph's father's death, Conrad remained in Poland, moving from one school to another. At the age of fifteen, Conrad declared his ambition to go to sea. Joseph wanted badly to leave the oppressive atmosphere of Poland, a country that was ruled by the harsh Russian authorities, and a place that reminded him of his dead parents. Conrad reached Marseilles in October of 1874, when he was seventeen, and for the next twenty years he sailed almost continuously. The experience provided allowed him insight into the main subjects of his novels: the East, the sea, and colonialism. The sea is often a background for the action as a symbolic parallel for the heroes' inner turbulence. Conrad left Marseilles in April, 1878, when he was twent-one, and it was then that he was first introduced to England. He didn't know English, but he signed on an English ship making voyages between Lowestoft and Newcastle. It was on that ship that he began to learn English.

Joseph continued his life of adventure until 1894. His health broken by his time in the Congo, Conrad settled in England to make his living as a writer. He married Jessie George, a woman 17 years younger than he was. Conrad continued to write with intense dedication. Heart of Darkness was first serialized in Blackwood's Magazine, and appeared soon afterward as a single volume. He produced many other popular and widely acclaimed works of fiction during this time, including Lord Jim, Nostromo, Typhoon, The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, Victory, and Chance. At this point, Conrad achieved quite a bit of success, and was no longer poor. The writer was loudly denounced as a desrter of him homeland Poland; Poles abroad (in England) should still serve the cause of Polish nationalism, it was claimed. However, Conrad's great work was done. He was no longer superlatively productive. From 1911 to his death, he never wrote anything that equaled his early works.

Personally, Conrad's life was full. He was recognized widely, and lived the life of an aristocrat. When World War I broke out, Conrad spent more time in Poland with his wife and sons, and barely escaped imprisonment. Back in England, Conrad began assembling his entire body of work, which appeared in 1920, and immediately afterward, he was offered a knighthood bt the British governement. He declined, and lived with literary honor, as opposed to national honor. In August, 1924, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and was buried at Canterbury.