Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Conrad, Geopolitcs, and "The Future of Constantinople"

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Conrad, Geopolitcs, and "The Future of Constantinople"

Article excerpt

"Is it really possible that I should have lived long enough to see the end of the Eastern Question which has dogged my footsteps I may say from my very craddle [sic]?"

Conrad to Austin Harrison, early November 1912

THE YOUNG JÓZEF KORZENIOWSKI knew geopolitics. Born into the cauldron of Central and Eastern European politics in 1857, the Polish subject of Russian geopolitics went into exile 300 miles north-east of Moscow with his parents at the age of four because of his father's political activities. He witnessed the death of his parents because of impaired health exacerbated by political exile and observed as his father's funeral in Cracow turned into a demonstration of Polish patriotism, and waited as his uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski failed to acquire Austro-Hungarian nationality for him, attempting to avoid subjecting him to the uncertainties of Russian authority (Najder, ed., 1983: 134; Knowles and Moore 2000: xxii). He acquiesced as his uncle postponed his departure for the sea by arranging for the sixteen-year-old to live with Antoni Syroczynski, who ran a boarding-house in Lemberg for children orphaned by the 1863 Insurrection; went to sea at least in part because, as the son of a Polish revolutionary, he could have been conscripted into and subjected to the harsh discipline of the Russian army. He joined the British Merchant Marine when he was denied advancement in the French Merchant Marine in part because French authorities refused to allow one subject to Russian military conscription permanent employment in French shipping.1 And he journeyed to Lowestoft and later to London in 1878 after transferring to the British Merchant Marine following a gunshot wound, which he suggested in The Arrow of Gold came in the aftermath of an episode of Carlist gun-running, but which Bobrowski attributed to other causes (see Najder, ed., 1983: 51-53). In post-deconstructive idiom, when it came to geopolitics, by the time Korzeniowski arrived in London at the age of twenty, he had "been there, and done that."

Conrad's interest in politics was acute and his comments pointed, as one of his earliest extant letters in English, written on 13 October 1885 to Jósef Spiridion,2 suggests. Incorporating an Arnoldian sense of Europe as a late-Victorian "darkling plain," Conrad nevertheless found England a "free and hospitable land" where "even the most persecuted of our race can find relative peace and a certain amount of happiness," adding that he believed that only by England forming an alliance with Germany among the European powers would it be possible to form an "Anti-Russian Alliance" (CL1 12). Concern about limiting Russian hegemony was significant in Conrad's political thinking, given his childhood experience with Russian political forces. His discussions with Bobrowski about Panslavism - Russia's goal of uniting all Slavs under her control and leading to political hegemony over Eastern Europe - is most notable in Bobrowski's famous letter to his nephew (Najder, ed., 1964: 79-80), which reminded Conrad of Russian hegemonic designs.3 And he was familiar with the perennial instability of Eastern Europe geopolitics, especially on the Balkan Peninsula.

Conrad's interest was evident long after he took up British nationality, a concern confirmed by a letter to Austin Harrison of November 1912, quoted in this essay's epigraph, when he was writing "The Future of Constantinople" as the First Balkan War was drawing to a close. That brief essay, published as a letter to the editor in the London Times on 7 November 1912, proposes a solution for the fate of the city of Constantinople and with it control of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles; discusses briefly the contexts in which the Balkan powers notably, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece - should exercise hegemony in the European portion of the failing Ottoman Empire; and by implication explores a potential resolution of the "Eastern Question": What should happen to the eastern European countries subject to the rule of the Ottoman Empire should the Empire fall? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.