by Gavin Griffiths
Joseph Conrad was born in 1857 to Polish parents exiled in the Ukraine. After finishing school, he became a sailor, an experience that he would later draw upon in novels such as Heart of Darkness. Conrad retired from the navy as soon as he had written his first book – written in English, his third language – and settled in England. But despite being a prolific writer, he struggled financially for many years, and it was only towards the end of his life that he achieved popular success. In 1941 he was effectively received into the canon of English literature when F.R. Leavis placed him ‘among the very greatest novelists in the language'.
Gavin Griffiths traces the history of this intriguing man from his early childhood in Poland, through his exotic, arduous years in the navy, to the final genteel respectability of his marriage and life in England. This deft and assured biography explores Conrad's extraordinary linguistic facility, distinct literary style and uncompromising attitude to European imperialism. It presents a compelling portrait of a writer whose cultural relevance, almost a century after his death, is undiminished.