DARK AND HEARTLESS; Casement: Africa Changed His Views ; Conrad: Proud of Britain, He Was Hurt by Casement's Betrayal

Daily Mail (London), September 17, 2007 | Go to article overview

DARK AND HEARTLESS; Casement: Africa Changed His Views ; Conrad: Proud of Britain, He Was Hurt by Casement's Betrayal


Byline: RONAN O'REILLY

EVEN if it ended in bitter recriminations, it remains one of the mostintriguing alliances of modern times -andonethat remains almost unknown. One was a hugely iconic figure - albeit anunlikely and somewhat controversial one - in Ireland's battle for freedom. Theother became a novelist of massive repute who, although born elsewhere, pledgedhis troth to Britain with a fervent zeal. Before their differences emerged,however, they shared much in common - even if they were doomed to part ways inthe most dramatic of circumstances.

For, as a new biography relates, the relationship between 1916 hero RogerCasement and celebrated writer Joseph Conrad wasa close one - or it was initially, at least.

It all goes back to the turn of the 20th century when the two men firstencountered each other in Africa.

Casement was born in Sandy-cove, south Dublin, although - following the deathof both of his parents - he had moved to the North to live with extended familyby the time he entered his teens. He later became a British diplomat and wasnoted for his crusades against human rights abuses in Latin America and, morecrucially, the then Congo Free State.

It was the early 1900s when he delivered his damning report on the regime ofKing Leopold II of Belgium, who had taken over the Congo and its resources in1885.

Following the publicationof Casement's findings, there was an international outcry and - after anindependent commission of inquiry confirmed his allegations about Leopold'sexploitation of the state's resources - the Belgian parliament annexed theCongo from the monarch and took it over.

Before that happened, however, the Irishman - who went on to be executed forhis role in the Easter Rising - had been befriended by a man who was to emergeas one of the most legendary writers in literary history.

Conrad was born into a highly-patriotic Polish family but, after being left anorphan by age of 11, departed Krakow in his mid-teens to embark on a life atsea. After apparently getting involved in gunrunning, Conrad later made afailed suicide attempt before ending up in England at the age of 21, where hesoon became fluent in English.

He continued working as a seaman and, by 1889, he achieved a childhood ambitiontovisit Africa and eventually became captain of a steamboat in the Congo. Withinfive years, he had turned his back on a life on the waves to become an author.

Critics agree that it was his grim experiences there that led him to write hisclassic work Heart Of Darkness - which itself proved the inspiration for theclassic Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now decades later.

Eventually, of course, he became a darling of the literary classes afterproducing a string of works that included Lord Jim, Nostromo and The SecretAgent. He also became hugely devoted to his adopted homeland of England.

But it was during the period in the Congo that healso met Roger Casement for the first time.

ACCORDING TO the new book - The Several Lives Of Joseph Conrad, written by JohnStape - the writer first met Casement when they both helped to organise thebuildingofarailwaysystem in the Congo. …

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