Written by Marc Foucher


Biography of Joseph Conrad (December 3, 1857August 3, 1924)                           

Joseph Conrad, formerly known as Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born on December 3, 1857 to Apollo Korzeniowski and Ewa Bobrowska in Berdyczow, located in a Ukrainian province of Poland. He was born Polish but he would become famous for his novels and short stories in English. His father, Apollo Korzeniowski, worked as a translator of English and French literature, so Joseph was exposed to literature early in his life.

 As a boy, he was confronted with harsh living conditions. When he was three, his father was arrested and imprisoned in Warsaw for his supposed political activities, and was exiled to Siberia in 1961. At the age of eight, Conrad lost his mother to tuberculosis. His father passed away four years later, when Conrad was only twelve, also a victim of his mother’s illness. We can see the link between Conrad’s childhood as an orphan and his works, when he describes life as being a solitary ordeal and compares it to a nightmare (Knowles 6).

Having no more family to take care of him, he was placed in his maternal uncle’s custody. Tadeusz Bobrowski took him in and gave him the opportunity to go to school in Cracow and Switzerland. He attended school for six years but what he really wanted to do was to go to the sea. At the age of seventeen he left Poland for Marseille where he started his career as a seaman. He joined the French merchant marine as an apprentice in the mid-1870s. As the years floated by Joseph began to gamble and got involved in arms smuggling for the Carlist cause in Spain. In 1878, after being wounded in a fight or of an attempted suicide he joined the British merchant navy, and quickly made his way up the ladder. By 1886 he was given British citizenship, had earned his Master Mariner's certificate and was commander of his own ship, the Otago. It was at this time that he officially changed his name to Joseph Conrad.

The next part of Conrad’s life was spent sailing all over the world. He visited Australia, various islands in the Indian Ocean, Borneo, the Malay states, South America, and the South Pacific Island. These experiences gave him a lot of material for his future novels. However, he had always wanted to go to Africa. In 1889, he traveled to the Congo and became a captain of a Congo River steamboat.  Later that year he sailed up the Congo River, where he got the inspiration for his novel “Heart of Darkness”.

In 1894, at the age of 36, he stopped riding boats, and started writing books. He first arrived in England at the port of Lowestoft, Suffolk, and lived later in London and near Canterbury, Kent.   Most of his time was spent writing and he rarely left his new home. Conrad got married in 1895 to Jessie George and had two sons with her. He lived in poor conditions, his health was not good and his temperament often got him in trouble. Finally, in 1910 he started to get recognized for his work and his finances improved. In April 1924 he refused an offer of knighthood from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Joseph Conrad died at the age of 67 on August 3rd, 1924, of a heart attack.



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