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Creator / Joseph Conrad

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Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

An ethnic Pole (see Poland), but born within the dominions of what was then Tsarist Russia (present-day Ukraine), Conrad lived an early life upset by considerable political turmoil. He eventually settled in England, finding work as a merchant sailor (and even becoming The Captain of his own ship) before turning to writing.

A polyglot who spoke Polish and French from childhood, Conrad eventually made the rare transition of writing solely in English, despite it being a "third language" at best. He became fluent only in his late teens or early twenties, 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 and Samuel Beckett.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 and beyond, 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, Thomas Pynchon, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, William S. Burroughs, and Cormac McCarthy.

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, numerous ships in Alien are named after elements of Conrad's book, including the Nostromo and its shuttle Narcissus, and later the Sulaco, after the town in Nostromo.

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

Novels by Joseph Conrad include:

  • Almayer’s Folly (1895)
  • An Outcast of the Islands (1896)
  • The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897)
  • Heart of Darkness (1899)
  • Lord Jim (1900)
  • The Inheritors (co-written with Ford Madox Ford) (1901)
  • Typhoon (1902)
  • The End of the Tether (1902)
  • Romance (co-written with Ford Madox Ford) (1903)
  • Nostromo (1904)
  • The Secret Agent (1907)
  • Under Western Eyes (1911)
  • Chance (1913)
  • Victory (1915)
  • The Shadow of Line (1917)
  • The Arrow of Gold (1919)
  • The Rescue (1920)
  • The Nature of a Crime (co-written with Ford Madox Ford) (1923)
  • The Rover (1923)
  • Suspense (1925; unfinished, published posthumously)

Stories include:

  • Youth” (1898)
  • “Gaspar Ruiz” (1906)

Short stories collection include:

  • Within the Tides (1915)

Other works by Joseph Conrad contain examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Axel Heyst and Lena in Victory, and Razumov in Under Western Eyes.
  • Author Avatar: Merchant sailor Marlow appears as a protagonist or as a narrator in many of his stories and novels, his experiences and attitudes closely resemble Conrad's own (most apparently in Youth).
  • Author Tract: Both Under Western Eyes and The Secret Agent were written to express Conrad's skepticism of and contempt towards radical revolutionary movements such as anarchism and communism.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Many of Conrad's protagonists either have a Dark Secret (e.g. Razumov in Under Western Eyes, Verloc in The Secret Agent, Willems in An Outcast of the Islands, the eponymous characters of Lord Jim and Nostromo) or are mistaken for shady characters with a dark past because of their strange personality traits (e.g. Heyst in Victory, Dr. Monygham in Nostromo).
  • Downer Ending: If you ever find a happy ending in a Conrad story, it’s like winning a lottery. Even when events turn in favor of the main characters, it's usually at the cost of the death or ruin of other characters, e.g. Wait's death in The Nigger of the Narcissus.
  • Evil Counterpart: Many of Conrad's protagonists are characters who engage in ethically questionable conduct while still retaining some moral compass. During the course of the story, these individuals eventually encounter their nihilistic and often outright criminal counterparts who reject morality altogether. Examples of this trope are renegade Kurtz vs. company man Marlow in Heart of Darkness, pirate Gentleman Brown to troubled would-be hero Jim in Lord Jim, and the bandit Mr. Jones to passive social outcast Axel Heyst in Victory, and many others.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The self-calling revolutionaries in Under Western Eyes are self-deluded, cynical and violent thugs no better than the order they hope to replace.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Many of his characters go nuts when they confront their illusions and failed hopes.
    • It happens to all the terrorists in The Secret Agent, as well as Razumov in Under Western Eyes.
    • In Nostromo, Decoud is driven to madness and suicide by being forced to spend a few days alone on an island with nothing but his self-doubt to keep him company.
    • Peter Willems comes close to doing the same after being intentionally marooned on an estuary island as punishment for his betrayal of Captain Lingard in An Outcast of the Islands.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: In many of Conrad's novels, the conflicts are either between two morally ambiguous parties where neither is sympathetic nor necessarily evil or villainous per se - just selfish people pursuing what they (often mistakenly) believe to be their rational self-interests. This is certainly the case in the conflict between Elmer Almayer and the native Malays in Almayer's Folly, as well as between Peter Willems and both Almayer and the natives in An Outcast of the Islands.
  • Hero of Another Story: The protagonists of Conrad's novels often appear as minor characters (or narrators) in his other works, e.g.
    • Elmer Almayer, the hapless protagonist of Almayer's Folly, is a secondary character in An Outcast of the Islands.
    • Marlow is both the narrator and participant in the events of Heart of Darkness, while in Lord Jim, Marlow tells the story of Jim based on what he gleaned from witnesses to the events and second-hand sources.
  • Honor Before Reason: 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: In Under Western Eyes, Razumov 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.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Averted. 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 terms as senseless and brutal. Nostromo expresses a similarly low opinion of populist liberation movements in developing countries.

Trivia tropes that apply to him: