Joseph Conrad's life is marked by the kind of outsize exploits that would be subject to skepticism were they claimed by anyone other than Joseph Conrad; so, too, does it only seem an ability unique to Conrad that the outré travails... [more]
Joseph Conrad's life is marked by the kind of outsize exploits that would be subject to skepticism were they claimed by anyone other than Joseph Conrad; so, too, does it only seem an ability unique to Conrad that the outré travails of his world's pedestrianly extravagant inhabitants appear not as the self-consciously overwrought work of an eager tragedian but rather as the singularly insightful accounts of a writer of unearthly stature and lifestyle.
Conrad did not consider writing to be his chief endeavor until he reached his mid-thirties; first he had to survive a botched suicide attempt, participate in illegal arms trading, endure the fallout of a desperate love affair, and, most famously, serve with the French merchant service and the British merchant navy. It was while working on British ships that Conrad began his peculiar mastery of the English language, one that, through his literary efforts, would define much innovative English literary syntaxes and styles over the coming century.
All of these experiences furnished him with the material stuff of his novels: little in the particulars of Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, The Secret Agent, The Arrow of Gold, and Almayer's Folly, among others, do not trace to some part of his life; much of it is practical – details of gunrunning and life on the ocean –, much of it is ugly and unseemly – personal considerations of psychological inherencies and race – and much of it is thinly veiled biographical notation. But the psychological and philosophical thrust of his work is not predicated upon the facts of his grand adventures; certainly they nurtured his sensibilities, but the consistent themes of his work – egotism, notions of good and evil, Manichaean struggle, loneliness and isolation – derive from some deeper, ineffable place in his psyche, one which – through his various explorations of, as he believed it to be, the nature of mankind – may now be most famous psyche in literary history.