Creator / Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). An ethnic Pole (see Poland), but born within the dominions of what was then the Russian Empire (actually present-day Ukraine, but see also Russia) Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski lived an early life upset by considerable political turmoil. He eventually settled in England, finding work as a merchant sailor. He even became The Captain of his own ship. A polyglot, Conrad who spoke Polish and French from birth, eventually made the rare transition of writing solely in English, despite it being a "third language" at best. He became fluent only in his teenage years and for the rest of his life, he spoke English with a pronounced accent, anticipating the more radical transitions made by the likes of Vladimir Nabokov note .

Conrad's youth as a merchant sailor on French and British vessels, provides the background for most of his seafaring works. Most of his time at sea was working trade routes around Africa and India at the height of The British Empire, which informs most of his other works. In his lifetime, he was regarded as a great talent by the likes of Henry James, Rudyard Kipling and he later influenced artists like Graham Greene, T. S. Eliot, Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Several of his books have been adapted to films. Most notable examples are Sabotage (1936) by Alfred Hitchcock which adapts The Secret Agent note , Carol Reed's adaptation of An Outcast on the Islands and Richard Brooks' adaptation of Lord Jim. The most famous one of course is Apocalypse Now which adapts his 1899 novella Heart of Darkness through Setting Update from the Belgian Congo to the Vietnam War. Likewise, David Lean planned to adapt Nostromo for his last film but he died before production began. In addition, Ripley's ship in Alien is called "Nostromo" as a Shout-Out.

For reasons such as this, Conrad is perenially part of School Study Media as well as a popular author to this day.

His other works include:
  • Almayer's Folly
  • An Outcast of the Islands
  • Chance
  • "Gaspar Ruiz"
  • Lord Jim
  • Nostromo
  • Romance
  • The Arrow of Gold
  • "The Duel" (adapted into The Duellists)
  • The End of the Tether
  • The Inheritors
  • The Nigger Of The 'Narcissus'
  • "The Point Of Honor"
  • The Rescue
  • The Secret Agent
  • The Shadow Line
  • Typhoon
  • Under Western Eyes
  • Victory: An Island Tale
  • Within the Tides (short story collection)

His work provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Marlowe is a Type Three, Nostromo, Axel Heyst and Lena are Types I, Razumikhin is Type Three and Lord Jim is Type II.
  • Darkest Africa: Heart of Darkness codifies and partly names it. While it was seen then and now as an anti-colonialist book, author Chinua Achebe criticized Conrad for using Africa as a background to project the Villainous Breakdown of a European man while portraying Africans as a stereotypical "other".
  • Downer Ending: If you ever find a happy ending in a Conrad story, it's like winning a lottery. Indeed his novel titled Victory still ends with all the characters dead and the phrase invoked as an Esoteric Happy Ending.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Conrad was deeply pessimistic about revolutions. Most self-calling revolutionaries in his books are self-deluded, cynical and violent thugs no better than the order they hope to replace, this is especially the case in Under Western Eyes. Nostromo is probably the only novel that is sympathetic to the idea of the Revolution, in that it portrays the titular Working-Class Hero as someone who is eternally exploited by both sides with little to show for himself.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Many of his characters go nuts when they confront their illusions and failed hopes. It happens most famously to Kurtz and later to Martin Decoud in Nostromo and all the terrorists in The Secret Agent, as well as Razumov in Under Western Eyes.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Conrad was famous in his day, the late Victorian-early Edwardian period, for introducing modern elements like Anti-Hero, Villain Protagonist and a general cynicism about conventional morality.
  • Humans Are Flawed / Humans Are Bastards: There are very few purely good characters in Conrad's books. All of them are flawed, compromised and corrupt in some way.
  • Honor Before Reason: His novels often revolve around characters obsessed by personal notions of honour and guilt, which leads them compromise their reason and make them take reckless self-destructive choices:
    • In Lord Jim, Jim's guilt of cowardice in abandoning the Patna and its passengers to their doom and their miraculous survival leaves him, virutally the only sailor of the disgraced crew that abandoned ship to save their own lives rather than their passengers, with a lingering sense of guilt. Jim always wanted to be The Hero but when the moment arrived he failed and spends the rest of the book obsessed with reclaiming his honour, and ultimately dies, in a manner that leaves it ambiguous if Jim has reclaimed his honour or not.
    • Nostromo has Martin Decoud and the Capataz de Cargadores losing their minds over the failure of the mission to export the silver in the Cargo Lighter. Decoud commits suicide, and Nostromo out of guilt, spite and recklessness, starts hoarding a missing silver crate in a lighthouse, losing his mind over taking it and starting a life for himself or not. In the end he dies in an absurd fashion just when he's finally making his last move.
    • Victory has Axel Heyst and Alma/Lena, both of whom fall in love when Heyst rescues Lena from a crime gang who were planning to pimp her to a disgusting hotel owner. They end up holed in a nearly uninhabited island and start a relationship that is sweet but becomes complicated because Axel is not able to fully give himself away to her because of his father's upbringing and personal hangups, and Lena who knows nothing but giving herself up for men. In the end, Alma risks her life and dies, proving her love for Axel, who out of guilt commits suicide.
  • Love Martyr: The theme of Victory, is Alma/Lena wanting to prove her love for Axel Heyst by becoming this. Her "victory" lies in achieving this moments before she dies.
  • The Mole: Razumov in Under Western Eyes betrays terrorist Victor Haldin to the Tsarist police, who then send Razumov to infiltrate Haldin's friends in Geneva and uncover information about the armchair revolutionaries there. Razumov is conflicted about being a rat and finally reveals to the circle and Haldin's sister, who he fell in love with, that he is in fact a traitor. He then gets attacked by Necator, who, in a typically Conradian irony, turns out to be another mole himself for the Tsarist police. Indeed, the joke of the book, is that the traitor Razumov is paradoxically more honorable and conflicted than both the Empire and the Revolutionaries, neither of whom truly uphold their values.
  • Spy Fiction: The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes codify some of the tropes in modern spy stories and he indeed influenced the likes of Graham Greene.
  • Villain Protagonist: Adolf Verloc, the titular Secret Agent and terrorist.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Conrad's ultimate theme is taking characters past the Point of No Return, having them confront failure and defeat and learn who they truly are.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Subverted. Conrad was deeply unsympathetic to revolutionaries, he sees self-calling freedom fighters who use violence as thrill-seekers who use ideology to justify taking innocent lives. His novels The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes both depict terrorist attacks that condemn these actions in no uncertain times as senseless and brutal.