A Year: Day to Day Men: 3rd of December

The Dark Blue Suit

December 3, 1857 was the birthdate of Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad.

Joseph Conrad, born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzenlowski,  was a member of the second generation of the intelligentsia, a social class that was at that time starting to play an important role in Central and Easter Europe. He had absorbed enough of the history, culture and literature of his native Poland to develop a distinctive world view and make unique contributions to his adoptive country of Britain. it was the tensions that originated in his childhood in Poland and grew in his adulthood abroad that gave rise to Conrad’s literary achievements.

Joseph Conrad started a merchant-marine career in 1874, serving for four years on French ships before joining the British merchant-marines. He spent a total of nineteen years working in ships, including long periods in ports, for over ten years and just over eight years at sea. Most of Conrad’s stories and novels. as well as his characters, were drawn from his seafaring career.

In 1894, aged 36, Joseph Conrad reluctantly gave up the sea, partly because of poor health, partly due to unavailability of ships, and partly because he had become so fascinated with writing that he had decided on a literary career. His first novel “Almayer’s Folly”, set on the east coast of Borneo, was published in 1895, marking the first use of his pen name “Joseph Conrad”. While Conrad had only limited personal acquaintance with the inhabitants of Maritime Southeast Asia, the area figures prominently in his early works. he was intrigued by the struggles of its people aimed at preserving their national independence.

The literary critic Edward Garnett urged Conrad to begin a second novel, and so “Almayer’s Folly” was followed in 1896 by “An Outcast of the Islands”, which repeats the theme of a foolish and blindly superficial character meeting the tragic consequences of his own failings in a tropical region far from the company of his fellow Europeans. Conrad was interested in writing about the feelings of mankind: its feelings of guilt, responsibility, and insecurity.

It was this purpose, rather than a taste for the outlandish or exotic locations, that distinguishes Conrad’s work from that of many novelists of the 19th and early 20th century. Conrad’s work was aimed at the isolation and concentration of tragedy. Conrad’s view of life is indeed deeply pessimistic. In every idealism are the seeds of corruption, and the most honorable men find their unquestioned standards totally inadequate to defend themselves against the assaults of evil. This despairing vision gains much of its force from the feeling that Conrad accepted it reluctantly, rather than with morbid enjoyment.

Joseph Conrad’s life as an author was plagued with poor health developed from his travels abroad, near poverty, and difficulties of temperament. It was not until 1910, after he had written what are now considered his finest novels that his financial situation became relatively secure. These novels were: “Lord Jim” published in 1900; “Nostromo” published in 1904; the 1907 “Secret agent”; and “Under Western Eyes” published in 1911; the last three were novels of political intrigue and romance.

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