Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad


The popular yet complex work of Joseph Conrad has attracted much critical attention over the years, from the perspectives of postcolonial, modernist, cultural and gender studies. This guide to his compelling work presents:

an accessible introduction to the contexts and many interpretations of Conrad’s texts, from publication to the present

an introduction to key critical texts and perspectives on Conrad’s life and work, situated in a broader critical history

cross-references between sections of the guide, in order to suggest links between texts, contexts and criticism

suggestions for further reading.


Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born on 3 December 1857 into a family of Polish landowners in a part of the Polish Ukraine that had been annexed by Russia since 1793: known as Joseph Conrad he would die on 3 August 1924 at the age of sixty-six in an English village just outside Canterbury in Kent, having become one of the most celebrated novelists of his age. In between these dates Conrad famously lived ‘three lives’ – as the son of Polish revolutionaries, as a British merchant seaman, and as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. Referring to his dual Polish and English allegiances he once described himself as ‘homo-duplex’ (CL3: 89) – the double man. In what follows I will introduce some of the key contexts in relation to which the interpenetration of these varied lives continue to be studied.

Part 1, ‘Life and Contexts’, provides readers with an overview of his Polish childhood and discusses his sea career in terms of its impact on his fiction, and the coverage here is supplemented by a detailed biographical chronology which outlines key aspects of his pre-writing life (see Chronology, pp. 168–81). This section also offers a selective account of his writing life which concentrates upon his stylistic and thematic debts to French and Russian authors and his literary friendships in terms of their influence on his approach to his craft. Part 2, ‘Works’, provides a detailed account of all of Conrad’s completed novels and short stories. Drawing extensively on his revealing letters, this section records his creative struggles when composing his fiction and assesses the development of his work from the early Malay novels of the 1890s through the great works of his middle period to conclude with an account of the often maligned late fiction of the 1920s. In recent years some of the most innovative and insightful work in Conrad studies has been devoted to his late fiction and short stories – see, for example, Hampson’s work on the late fiction in Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity (1992) or Vulcan’s The Strange Short Fiction of Joseph Conrad (1999) – and this volume reflects this shift in critical attention by devoting equal space to canonical works and overlooked collections. Thus the present volume does not scruple in giving equal coverage to flawed but fascinating lesser known collections like A Set of Six (1908) or the convoluted history of the writing of The Rescue (1920) – a work whose composition can tell readers a great deal about Conrad’s shifts in technique and artistic ambition from the 1890s to the 1920s – whilst devoting attention to the established classics of his canon such as Lord Jim or Nostromo. In an . . .

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