Before he ever left home, Joseph Conrad knew what powerful nations and material interests could do to weaker peoples. Born Jósef Teodor Konrad Nałęcz Korzeniowski, in Berdyczów in modern-day Ukraine in 1857, he belonged to a nation, Poland, which was no longer to be found on the map. His father Apollo, a writer and prominent Polish nationalist, was arrested and exiled with his family for anti-Russian conspiracy when his son was four years old. This was Conrad’s first lesson in the power of empires and the cost of idealism. Life was difficult and by the time he was 11, both his parents were dead. Conrad never forgave imperial Russia: “from the very inception of her being”, he was to write in 1905, “the brutal destruction of dignity, of truth, of rectitude, of all that is faithful in human nature has been made the imperative condition of her existence”. At age 17, the young Korzeniowski went to sea, serving first as an ordinary seaman and later as a ship’s officer, mostly in vessels of the British merchant marine. He learnt English in his twenties and developed an ambition to become a writer in this, his third language.
August 1, 2017 - Douglas Kerr