Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Conrad was born in 1857 in a small city in Poland. His parents were fervid Polish nationalists, and this forced them to exile in Russia. After their death, Conrad moved to Marseille where he started working as a mariner on French merchant ships. This job made him meet many people with different backgrounds, which will influence his works. In 1890 he then left for Africa, in an expedition that he describes in the Congo’s Diaries. After the death of his uncle, he decides to quit his career as a seaman, and dedicate himself to writing. He died in 1924.
The writer’s task
Conrad’s vision of the writer’s task was simply to record the real human condition and life as he saw it.
Conrad often writes about solitary men, whose moral beliefs are confronted by a sense of evil, mostly when he’s isolated and away from “civilisation”. This crisis is described also by the author’s way of writing, a fluid form that perfectly represents the complex nature of man’s consciousness.
The Shadow Line (1917)
This book is about a young sailor, who accepts the command of a ship. In the crew of the ship is Burns, who assisted the former captain in his last moments. The protagonist then finds out that the captain left this world hating it cursing the crew and the ship. For this reason, the whole crew, starting from Burns, gets sick; and unfortunately, they run out of medicine. Burns gets well, but even after his delirium, keeps saying that they’re all fighting against an evil spirit. In the end, they arrive in a Malaysian port where the doctor cures the whole crew.
The title represents the situation in which the protagonist finds himself. He lies between youth and maturity, both spiritual and professional; in an existential crisis that every man has to face to become mature. This quest reflects also the theme of the double, which is also present in the relationship between the protagonist and Ransome, and the former captain with Burns. Another theme is the one of isolation vs the collective, which is also present in Heart of Darkness, the hero of the story is a solitary figure, by nature and by position. The story has a circular pattern; it begins in a port near Singapore and finishes in the same place.