Joseph Conrad is regarded as one of England’s great novelists. However, while he wrote in English, became a British national, and even took an Anglicized pen name, Joseph Conrad was always a Pole at heart.
Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdyczew, Poland, on December 3rd, 1857. He was the son of Appollonius Korzeniowski and Ewa Korzeniowski, a Roman Catholic couple who were part of the szlachta, the land-owning gentry-nobility.
It’s quite likely that Joseph learned his love of literature from his father, who was a writer and translator of the works of William Shakespeare. Appollonius was also heavily involved in underground resistance to the Russian authorities. Under the guise of starting a cultural periodical, Appollonius moved his family to Warsaw where he formed the clandestine “Committee of the Movement”. He was imprisoned just days later.
The little family was exiled to Vologda in Northern Russia, and placed under strict police supervision. When both Ewa and Appollonius fell gravely ill, they were allowed to move to the Ukraine. There, Ewa succumbed to tuberculosis. Appollonius and young Joseph were allowed to return to Poland; however, Appollonius soon passed away as well, leaving Joseph with his uncle.
Like his parents, Joseph was often sickly, and he rarely attended public schools. His father had educated him well, however, and upon his return to Poland, Joseph was tutored at home until he passed his formal exams.
In hopes of improving his health, Joseph was sent to Southern France in 1874. Here he began a maritime career with the French merchant fleet. He had always dreamed of going to sea, and for the next twenty years, he devoted his life to a career as a ship officer’s.
In 1878, he visited England for the first time. He spent some time working on various English ships before officially beginning his career as an officer in the British merchant marines. His voyages took him around the world, not only allowing him to rise rapidly through the ranks from third mate to master, but also providing him with the background for many of the books he would soon write.
While it wasn’t his original intention to remain in England, Joseph chose to become a British citizen in 1886. He soon received command of his first ship, which took him to many ports in Africa and the East.
As he entered the 1890s, Joseph began to consider writing novels based on his experiences abroad. He began work on his novel Almayer’s Folly, and by 1894, Joseph fully retired from the merchant marines, intent on finishing the book.
Almayer’s Folly was published in 1895, and received such favorable reviews that Joseph decided to begin a new career as a writer. He met Jessie George, an Englishwoman, and they were married in 1896. They settled in Kent and had two sons.
Joseph Conrad soon became a prominent name in the world of literature, and he was befriended by a crowd of English and American writers. John Galsworthy was the first, and a significant influence on Almayer’s Folly. Conrad went on to befriend such literary greats as Henry James, Rudyard Kipling and Stephen Crane.
Before his death on August 3rd, 1924, Joseph Conrad would write a full 20 novels along with dozens of short stories and a number of essays. A large number of his works have since been adapted for film and opera. He was buried at Canterbury, England.