The Art of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Symposium

By R. W. Stallman | Go to book overview
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the lives of his characteristic heroes. "All a man can betray is his conscience," his Razumov says in Under Western Eyes. The measure of Conrad's character and his artistry may be taken from the fact that neither his sense of honor nor his sense of realism permitted him to betray the conscience which it took him half his life to discover in himself, and the other half to test and dramatize in his books. ( 1945, 1957)

On Conrad's Polish inheritance and early life see also Milosz essay, "Joseph Conrad in Polish Eyes," see below. [Editor's note]
On "Heart of Darkness" as a Virgilian descent into Hell see Lillian Feder essay, "Marlow's Descent into Hell," pp. 162-170. [Editor's note]
Cf. Richard Curle "Conrad's Diary," in dLast Essays ( 1926), reprinted from Yale Review, XV ( 1926), pp. 254-266. See also Life and Letters of Joseph Conrad, edited by G. Jean-Aubry Vol. I ( 1927). [Editor's note]


Joseph Conrad in Polish Eyes


THE WORK OF A WRITER may be said to resemble an iceberg. That part of it which is visible tempts us to explore the larger portion which remains obscure and hidden beneath the surface of the written word. For the literary historian this temptation is an obligation, for he must search for those events and complications in the personal life of an author that influenced his sensibility and determined his choice of aims in life. Such a search is not easy when a writer comes from a country the knowledge of which is only vague or incomplete. This is the case with Joseph Conrad, who was born in the Polish Ukraine one hundred years ago. Elements in his personality that may appear exotic or mysterious to an Anglo-Saxon reader look rather different when viewed by a compatriot, more familiar with the history of his youthful years, before he exchanged the life of his landlocked country for life on the open sea.

Conrad's biographies usually begin by asserting that he came from a noble family. This conjures up the vision of a country mansion, of horses, dogs, and a certain aristocratic style. The reality was different, even though his grandfather, an officer in Napoleon's army and an old-fashioned patriarch, did fit into the traditional pattern of the nobility. What is more pertinent, however, to Conrad's personal history is the fact that his father, Apollo Korzeniowski, was an impoverished poet. He has a place in Polish

From Atlantic Monthly, CC, 5 (Anniversary Issue, 1957), pp. 29-220, 222, 224, 226, 228.


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