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The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad Paperback – March 10, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Jozef was born in 1857 to an ethnic Polish Roman Catholic family and spent his early years in the Russian Ukraine. His father Apollo wrote journalistic poetry with political overtones about the Ukrainian peasantry, later translating some works of Shakespeare, Dickens and most of Victor Hugo's plays, exposing Josef to both cultures at an early age.
In 1861 to escape Russian authorities for his political writings, Apollo moved his family to Warsaw but was still imprisoned in the Warsaw Citadel, an immense Tsarist dungeon where Polish patriotism was cruelly punished. Josef's earliest memories are of visiting his father there. Moved around by the Russians and in ill health, Conrad's mother was allowed to go to a family estate to recover, but she died a year later of tuberculosis leaving six-year-old Josef motherless. During this time Jozef learned to speak and write French. Conrad's father, also tubercular, tutored his son in the classics the best he could until he died in 1869 with his son at his bedside.
Conrad's grandmother already in her early 60's, sent him to a boarding school where he ignored his lessons to read about Arctic exploration and the mapping of Africa. By the age of 15, after traveling around Europe with his tutor, Josef had developed a desire to see the world and figured the best way for him to do that was to go to sea.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Disappointing. The title suggested the reader would glimpse Conrad's complex character, motives and thematic inspiration. Read morePublished 23 months ago by LVT06
This book by Dr. John Stape is a bravura performance by one of the world's foremost Conrad authorities. Read morePublished on July 29, 2009 by Frank
One of the best bios on this exceptional writer and very complex man. Stape opens the life of Conrad to those who may not know much about him, but love his immortal stories. Read morePublished on July 22, 2008 by Aimee Kinz
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... Read morePublished on March 12, 2008 by Armchair Interviews