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The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad [Kindle Edition]

John Stape
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.95
Kindle Price: $12.24
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

* Please note: The eBook version of this title is slightly different from the paperback version. While the textual content remains the same, the illustrations/photographs were removed from the eBook version because of permissions issues.

The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad
is the first new biography in more than a decade of one of modern literature’s most important writers--whose work remains widely read and acutely relevant eighty years after his death. In this authoritative, insightful book, we see Joseph Conrad as a man who consistently reinvented himself. Born in 1857 in Berdichev, Ukraine, he left home early and worked as a sailor out of Marseilles; traveled to the Far East and Africa with the British merchant navy; and, finally, in 1891, settled in England, beginning a precarious existence as an novelist and family man. Here is a Conrad for our moment: a man with a deep sense of otherness; a writer with multiple cultural identities who wrote in his third language and whose fiction became the cornerstone of literary Modernism.

With his exceptional knowledge and understanding of Conrad, and drawing on unpublished letters and documents, John Stape succeeds in casting an illuminating new light on the life of a willfully enigmatic man who remains one of the greatest writers of his, and our, time.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Joseph Conrad's lasting reputation has been built on his acclaimed books, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and The Secret Agent, but Stape, drawing on an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, shows how Conrad's life can be sharply divided into three parts: his youth, dominated by the concerns of disenfranchised Polish relatives; his travels as a working seaman; and finally, his long career as a writer and family man. And while Stape, editor of The Oxford Companion to Joseph Conrad, admits to the difficulty of painting a portrait of a man who was inclined to bend the truth about his own life, he has done an exacting job tracking down the people and places Conrad encountered in his life. Unfortunately, this biography values detail over insight. We read about lunches with people who will never reappear in Conrad's life, but are left wanting over questions of literary import. For example, Conrad began writing about unhappy romantic affiliations long before he embarked on his uneventful if not impassioned marriage to Jessie George, but Stape barely touches upon previous romantic involvements that may have influenced Conrad's thinking. Readers are left with a great deal about Conrad's life, but little insight into how it shaped his work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* One of the world’s most captivating writers, Conrad led a demanding life long obscured by myth. Conrad expert Stape seeks to nail down the facts in a strict accounting of the wrenching ups and downs of Conrad’s struggle to survive and get words on the page. Writing with an eye to irony and paradox and evincing a love of description—qualities prominent in Conrad’s work––Stape lays the foundation with a sensitive rendering of Conrad’s traumatic childhood as the only child of exiled Polish dissidents. A sickly boy versed in the art of displacement, he was orphaned at 11, went to sea at 16, and was marked by all that he witnessed in far-flung places, from the Caribbean to Bangkok, Borneo, and the Congo. As Stape vividly portrays this seen-it-all “ardent Francophile” and feckless charmer resistant to authority, Stape admits that Conrad’s metamorphosis into a writer “remains an intractable mystery.” He then keeps diligent track of Conrad’s punishing cycles of creativity and despair within a marriage further burdened by financial worries and relentless bouts of ill health. Stape’s painstaking portrait clarifies many aspects of Conrad’s life, and reveals just how grueling it was for him to create his glorious and harrowing fiction. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 2551 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 25, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004QZ9VG4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #905,745 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid biography, but not wholly satisfactory December 17, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As might be expected from a distinguished Conrad scholar -- among other things, author John Stape is co-editor of Conrad's published letters -- THE SEVERAL LIVES OF JOSEPH CONRAD is a sober, responsible biography of one of the great novelists of the 20th Century. But it is not wholly satisfactory. It certainly is not the definitive or the ideal biography of Conrad.

Noting that "biographies of late have tended to bloat" (how true!), Stape states in his Preface that his objective is "brevity." In a sense, he succeeds: THE SEVERAL LIVES OF JOSEPH CONRAD comes in at 272 pages of text. (Additional pages contain photos, maps, family trees, biographical profiles of people of note who interacted with Conrad, and extensive footnotes and bibliography -- all of which are welcome.) But the last two-thirds of the book, dealing with Conrad's career as a writer, bogs down in the details of a seemingly endless cycle of gout and depression, financial irresponsibility followed by scuffling and cadging for funds, visits with assorted literary and cultural figures, and Conrad's continuous bemoaning of the toil of the writing life. All in all, as relatively short as it is, the book is too much biographical fact and too little biographical essence.

Stape, in his Preface, also disavows any effort to pursue "literary criticism," and indeed THE SEVERAL LIVES OF JOSEPH CONRAD contains only the barest and briefest discussion of the literary aspects of Conrad's works. That is unfortunate because what little Stape does offer in the way of literary analysis is worthwhile.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homo multiplex January 6, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is definitively not the definitive Conrad biography.
For one, Stape explicitely focuses on the life, or 'several lives', and nearly ignores the work, usually just mentioning titles and extremely briefly what they were about and how they fared in the market place.
Second, there are still so many gaps in the life story. That seems to be largely due to the fact that the man moved about a lot and much documentation got lost. This problem gets more and more difficult to solve with time.

Which 'several lives' are we looking at?
The Catholic- Polish 'gentleman' (not quite aristocrat), who never lived in Poland (because that country was not a political entity at his time; rather, born in the Ukraine in the Russian empire, then moved to the Polish part of the Austrian/Hungarian empire); not a good Catholic either, Conrad never was a religious man, God bless him.

Then seaman in France and England, travelling the world, but not quite making a success out of his chosen career.
Then, out of nowhere, he becomes a writer in his third language, quits the sea, becomes a family man and a literary professional with literary friends. Conrad produces a string of masterpieces, but never has enough money and never seems to be able to handle money well when he has some.
Then a good English patriot with proper anti-Russian, anti-German, and also anti-American sentiments. Not anti-French, that he couldn't do.
In his last years financial sanity, but dwindling artistic power, and terrible health trouble, as well as great sorrows with a failing son.

Many of his books were praised by the critics, but ignored by the public. In his own words:his books dropped into the past like stones in water.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The many lives of the same fascinating man March 12, 2008
When you hear Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, or The Secret Agent, does "Joseph Conrad" come to mind? Reading about Conrad's jinxed life turned those books more intimate and all the more tragic.

John Stape opens his Conrad biography with notes and appendices as you into Conrad's life. Without these pieces, any Conrad non-professional would most likely be lost, as Conrad's world was so vastly different from anything imaginable.

Born to Polish parents, he was exiled to northern Russia before he could read. His father, a Polish Revolutionary, was forced to flee after defying the Tzar. His mother had died in Siberia when he was 7; then at 11 he became an official orphan. At 16 he moved to France and then moved onto England, where he became a sailor with the Merchant Marines. This job fuelled his writing power, though he led such a brilliant life in solitude.

Conrad quickly married working-class, Jessie. As with the sailing voyages, his fragile marriage also gave birth to plots and the passion put into his earlier short stories. Fears that his wife may leave him should he become delusional was one main plot, and in another a wife killed her husband due to his sexual advances-which he wrote on his honeymoon.

Conrad who seemed to attract bad luck. As he was finishing a lengthy novel, a tipped oil lamp destroyed the manuscript, as another was being shipped on the Titanic. Enough said. Misfortune and scarring events gave him material to write fictional portrayals of his own experiences. On a voyage through the Belgian Congo, he produced Heart of Darkness, even though his health and morale were shattered by the experience.

Stape writes an eloquent portrait of Conrad's life.
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