British novelist, born in Ukraine of Polish parents. His greatest works include the novels Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911), also the short novels Heart of Darkness (1902) and The Shadow Line (1917). These combine a vivid and sensuous evocation of various lands and seas with a rigorous, humane scrutiny of moral dilemmas, pitfalls, and desperation.
Conrad was brought up in Russia and Poland. He went to sea at the age of 17, and in 1878 landed in England at Lowestoft, Suffolk, with no knowledge of English. In 1886 he gained his master mariner's certificate and became a naturalized British subject. He retired from the sea in 1894 to write, living in Kent from 1896. Although his prose is often mannered and difficult, his use of English is equally often arresting and immediate, and his interest in the limits of humanity and his concentration on subjective consciousness in his narratives are strikingly modern. His critical reputation and influence have grown steadily since his death.
He was encouraged in his work by critics and by a growing circle of literary friends, including the English writers John Galsworthy, H G Wells, Arnold Bennett, Ford Madox Ford, and the US writer Henry James, though for some years this esteem was not translated into sales.
Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness both place men in extreme situations far from their European homes. For Conrad exotic locations became metaphors for the hidden and often savagely barbaric parts of human inner nature. In his sea stories, such as Youth (1902) and Typhoon (1903), human waywardness and weakness are set against the contrasting virtues of fidelity and courage, which permit people to stand against nature and fate. Although Conrad is often thought of as a novelist of the sea and distant places, The Secret Agent is set in London and Under Western Eyes in Geneva. Both are about revolutionary intrigues. Nostromo, on a similar subject, remains one of the most evocative accounts of South American politics. His prose style, varying from eloquently sensuous to bare and astringent, keeps the reader in constant touch with a mature, truth-seeking, creative mind.
The novel Chance (1912) was Conrad's first triumphant success. Thereafter he was regarded as one of the greatest modern authors, although his subsequent output was small. His last works were The Rescue (1920), The Rover (1922), and Suspense (published posthumously in 1925).
Conrad, Joseph: On Stephen Crane
Secret Agent, The
Secret Sharer, The
Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness
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