For a man who sometimes liked to present himself as a simple mariner, Joseph Conrad had a remarkably subtle understanding of simplicity. At the same time, his vast experience and understanding of the world through his travels as a mariner helped him write on complex issues like nationhood, migration and identity – topics which today seem particularly relevant.
Joseph Conrad was convinced of Poland’s great contribution to Europe. In his writings, he would present his homeland as a place with a great history and tradition. For Conrad, Poland was the beacon of Europe and Europeaness – always eager to defend western civilisation.
One of the most acute of chroniclers and critics of 19th century European empires of the east was neither a historian nor a political scientist, but a Polish mariner who became a writer of fiction in a language not his own.
Earlier generations found it easier to appreciate Lord Jim as a tale of a flawed hero who ultimately finds moral redemption in a tragic and suicidal death. In contrast, latter-day critics tend to regard the novel not only as a complex masterpiece of high modernism but also as an ironic revelation of the human cost of white colonial sovereignty.
A conversation with Professor Zdzisław Najder, a historian of literature and expert on Joseph Conrad. Interviewer: Grzegorz Nurek
The section on Joseph Conrad is co-financed by the City of Kraków and the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.