Life and works:
He was born in Polish Ukraine, then under Russian control. His father joined the movement for Polish independence and was exiled to Northern Russia with his family. His parents soon died and he lived under the guardianship of an uncle. At 17 he went to Marseilles and boarded a French ship bound to South America.
At 21 he joined an English merchant navy he then served for about 20 years, rising from mariner to captain. He mostly sailed in Eastern waters. At 29 he obtain British citizenship. In 1890, when he was 33, he sailed up the Congo river, which would give him the inspiration to write Heart of Darkness. He started writing while he was sailing, and he chose to write in English. In 1894, when he was only 37 but had served for almost 20 years, he retired and devoted to writing, achieving remarkable success.
His most famous novels, besides Heart of Darkness, are:
Lord Jim, the story of a man who loses his honour because of a moment of cowardice and regains it only with a heroic death
The Secret Agent, the story of a second-rate spy who causes the death of his brother-in-law, convincing him to perform a terrorist attack and is then killed by his wife, out of revenge.
Main features of his work:
•The quest for the real nature of men: according to Conrad, men reveal their true nature only when faced by danger or unpredictable events; in that crucial moment, they turn out to be cowards or heroes. Men can understand themselves only when isolated from their usual society, so for example when on the sea or in faraway exotic places. In such places, the elements of nature evoke feelings and emotions from the subconscious, so they become symbolic. Common symbols in Conrad’s works are mist, clouds, shadow, opposed to light, which is symbolic of rational thought.
•The narrator is usually a first person narrator who is not the main character of the story, so that he presents it from his but also from other characters’ points of view.
•The main character often represents the “dark side” of the narrator himself, what he might become under certain circumstances, his double.
•Flashbacks and anticipations frequently occur (temporal shifts), so that the reader’s participation is called for in reconstructing the proper sequence of events. At the same time, temporal shifts tend to represent events not as they actually occurred, but as they turn up in the narrator’s mind when he retrospectively tells his story