Joseph Conrad

On this date in 1857, author Joseph Conrad, né Teodor Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski, was born in Russian-occupied Poland. His father, a writer and poet, was exiled with his family to Russia for working for Polish independence. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1865, and his father of the same disease in 1869. The teenager went to live with his uncle until signing up as a seaman in the French merchant navy at age 17.

His many adventures included gun-running. He eventually spent 16 years in the British merchant navy and saw Australia, Malaysia, South America, the Congo and the South Pacific. His eastern travels later became favorite settings for his novels. Conrad became a naturalized British citizen in 1884 and settled down at age 36 to write. Although English was his third language, he wrote in that tongue to great acclaim. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, set in Malaysia, came out in 1895, followed by Lord Jim (1900), the novella Heart of Darkness (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907) and many other books.

In her review of Jeffrey Meyers’ biography of Conrad, Joyce Carol Oates wrote, “Though he was born Roman Catholic, Conrad acknowledged no religion and wrote of the supernatural only as superstition. … His masters were Flaubert, Turgenev and Henry James.” (“The Man Who Detested the Sea,” New York Times, April 14, 1991.) Conrad himself wrote, in a Dec. 22, 1902, letter to Edward Garnett, “I always, from the age of fourteen, disliked the Christian religion, its doctrines, ceremonies and festivals.” (The Conradian, the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society, 2005)

Conrad at age 39 in 1896 married Jessie George, a working-class Englishwoman 16 years his junior. They had two sons, Borys and John. Conrad died at home in 1924 of an apparent heart attack. Jessie, who had grown to be morbidly obese during their marriage, died 12 years later and was interred with him. (D. 1924)

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