Joseph Conrad was born Joseph Teodor Konrad Korzenioski in 1857 in Berdichev, Ukraine. He officially changed his name to Joseph Conrad in 1886, when he became a British citizen (Liukkonen). Although Conrad discouraged people from interpreting his literature through analysis his life, his life did shape his writing. Much of his anti-imperialistic views could have sprouted in childhood, when he was under the rule of Russians the Ukraine. His father Apollo Korzeniowski was arrested for suspicious involvement in revolutionary activities (online-literature). Apollo spent much time writing plays and social satires. Although his works were not well known, they gave Joseph an early appreciation for literature. Apollo died of tuberculosis in 1869; four years the same disease claimed his wife, Conrad’s mother. Joseph, only 11, was sent to live with his uncle in Switzerland (online-literature).
He went to school for a few years before convincing his uncle to let him go to sea in the mid 1870’s. In that decade he made three trips to the West Indies as an apprentice on a French merchant ship. He continued his career for 16 years on British ships, slowly rising in rank from common seaman to first mate. By 1886 Conrad held the command of his own ship, Otago. Heart of Darkness is based on his four month journey through the Congo in 1890 (Liukkonen). Years of work at sea gave him back problems from which he never recovered, and a unique, if ugly, view of the world. In an 1897 letter he explained his view: “What makes mankind tragic is not that they are victims of nature, it is that they are conscious of it. To be part of the animal kingdom under the conditions of this earth is very well – but as soon as you know of your slavery, the pain, the anger, the strife, the tragedy begins (Liukkonen).”
In 1894, at the age of 36, Conrad gave up the sea life to focus on writing. He had started to care more about writing five years earlier, and carried a journal on his journey into the Congo which served as inspiration for Heart of Darkness (classic notes). When his uncle died, he left Joseph with enough money to live comfortably while he got started in literature. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was published in 1895. Charlie Marlow, the protagonist in Heart of Darkness first appears in Lord Jim, as the narrator.
The novel is based loosely on the true story of a British steamship which, after springing a leak, was abandoned by her crew, leaving Muslim pilgrims aboard (Liukkonen). The protagonist, Jim, is one of the British officers who abandoned the ship. Conrad married an Englishwoman named Jessie George in 1896 and moved to Ashford, Kent, where he resided until he died of a heart attack in 1924.
He was an influential, yet humble English author. He declined honorary degrees from five universities, and shortly before his death he refused an offer of knighthood (Liukkonen) . Joseph Conrad’s works were published years after his death. In 1983 a collection of letters and a diary of his experience in the Congo was published in five volumes. Conrad’s influence is seen in an array of acclaimed literature, including the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and T.S. Eliot (online-literature).