Fearful that his silver will fall into the hands of invading revolutionaries, Gould entrusts Nostromo—a man of the people considered by all to be incorruptible—with the task of escaping with and hiding a boatload of ingots from the mine.
Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed. Set in the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, the novel reveals the effects of unbridled greed and imperialist interests on many different lives. Joseph Conrad was born in Berdichev, Ukraine, in After both of his parents died of tuberculosis, Conrad went to live with his uncle in Switzerland.
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Hardcover —. Add to Cart. Also in Modern Library Best Novels. Also by Joseph Conrad. Product Details. Inspired by Your Browsing History. It is impossible. We live, as we dream - alone. For Conrad, none of the big stories, from Christianity to communism to psychoanalysis he met a disciple of Freud's in and was extremely scornful of the books lent to him , provided adequate explanations of selfhood. He had seen the decline and fall of too many men who put their certitude in equality or justice or liberty tout court. His fundamental position is revealed in a letter to his friend, the socialist Robert Cunninghame Graham:.
Life knows us not and we do not know life - we don't even know our own thoughts. Half the words we use have no meaning whatever and of the other half each man understands each word after the fashion of his own folly and conceit.
Faith is a myth, and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of tomorrow. But behind the modernist sentiments and fabulous sentence-making, there is something else going on: an idea of moral and cultural dialectic, a sense of virtue as relative rather than fixed and static.
By its nature, such a conception of virtue is likely to appear in negative form.
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As Conrad put it in his essay "Books": "To be hopeful in an artistic sense it is not necessary to think that the world is good. It is enough to believe that there is no impossibility of it being made so. This shouldn't be taken as the defensive, hollowed-out position it appears to be. Positively, usefully, a sense of relativism-as-virtue was what Conrad was all about. It was what he valued. On the th anniversary of his birth and the centenary of the publication of The Secret Agent, such a value seems worth exploring again.
In a networked global culture, in which the differences between moral beliefs are constantly thrown into sharp relief, it seems more necessary than ever. Yet Conrad is not a popular writer these days. Partly this is exactly to do with the sceptical, unsentimental line he tends to take, but it is also a question of the density of his writing. Coming to him for the first time, many readers find him difficult. Sometimes it is said that this is because English was his second language actually it was his third - he learned and wrote French before he knew English, adopting Flaubert as one of his literary masters.
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Whatever the reason, "opaque" is a word often used to describe his style. Or an appropriately maritime metaphor is employed: "I couldn't make headway. Even supporters such as Leavis complained of language whose effect "is not to magnify but rather to muffle". The objection was best put by HG Wells: reviewing An Outcast of the Islands , he described Conrad's style as being "like river-mist; for a space things are seen clearly, and then comes a great grey bank of printed matter, page upon page, creeping round the reader, swallowing him up".
Seeing Conrad clearly can indeed be tricky.
But that is the point: his books are epistemological journeys, parables of knowing. He is a writer whom one has to get to know. The reader has to become familiar with a narrative manner, a tone, a way of proceeding. It helps to have a grasp of his biography, too, because his life story informs the slipperiness of subjectivity in his work. At a time when much of Poland was under Russian control, his father, Apollo Korzeniowski, was a Polish nationalist revolutionary with artistic sensibilities.
A poet and dramatist with a "terrible gift for irony", as Conrad put it, he translated Shakespeare and Dickens two authors who had a crucial influence on his son.
After six months' imprisonment in the Warsaw Citadel, the family was sent into exile in the Russian province of Vologda, a place Apollo described as "a huge quagmire" where the two most important aspects of society were "police and thieves". In , the family was allowed to move to Kiev, where Conrad's mother died. When Apollo himself fell ill, they were permitted to relocate to Galicia back in Poland, then to Cracow, where his father died in These events, together with an unsuccessful teenage love affair, led Conrad to make a decision that he would dramatise again and again in his fiction.
At the age of 17, in October , he left Poland, travelling by train to Marseille, making what he later described as a "standing jump out of his racial surroundings and association". This idea of the "jump" - the radical existentialist step - is central to Lord Jim and many of Conrad's other novels and short stories.
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In Lord Jim, the hero leaps from a ship full of Muslim pilgrims, which he believes to be sinking. The act dogs him for ever, but the question of whether he is a coward is not simply answered. It relates to the whole book and other books, too - the idealistic Coral Island-style yarns that made Jim take ship in the first place. Conrad's own step into another life was taken gingerly. For a month or so, he lived in a lodging house in the Old Port in Marseille, before boarding a three-masted wooden barque called the Mont-Blanc bound for Martinique and Haiti. He made the return trip, then joined the ship again, this time as a cabin boy.
Further travels followed as a steward on another ship, the Saint-Antoine, with a range of Caribbean ports on the itinerary.
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The episode is fictionalised in the late novel The Arrow of Gold , in which Dominique Cervoni appears, complete with a thick black moustache, under his own name. Cervoni was also the model for the eponymous protagonist of Nostromo , probably the most difficult to read of all Conrad's novels.
Cervoni figures in The Rover and Suspense published posthumously in , too. It is as if he is Conrad's idea of the perfect hero, always chancing his arm but never losing his self-possession.
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For all that, Dominique Cervoni didn't bring Conrad much luck in life. The gun-running ship was scuttled to avoid capture and Conrad ran into financial difficulties. In late February or early March , after a gambling jag in Monte Carlo, he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. He avoided serious injury and was rescued by his uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowksi, who settled his debts.
The story was hushed up and didn't emerge fully until the s. But the clues were always there in the fiction. The idea of suicide is important in the novels, several of which defend it as a legitimate act in the face of an absurd world. They do so rather in the terms of French existentialism - there are links between Conrad and Camus - as a form of conviction when all other forms seem worthless.
It was decided with Tadeusz that Conrad should sign up for the British merchant navy. Joining the Skimmer of the Sea at Lowestoft on July 11 , he began his career as a proper seaman, which would last until he signed off as second mate on the Adowa on January 17 , at the age of In between came many adventures, in ships sound and unsound, and destinations that included Australia, Thailand, India and Malaya, as well as, in , the gruelling journey up the Congo that gave rise to Heart of Darkness.
The trips abroad were interspersed with periods in London where Conrad, like Dickens a keen walker, absorbed the alienating, sinister cityscape - from the docks to the slums of Islington - that would provide the backdrop to The Secret Agent. His first shore-leave was spent in London, in digs in Finsbury Park, in He afterwards moved to Stoke Newington, then to Pimlico, where in he began his first novel, Almayer's Folly , a suspense-subverting critique of adventurism.
After its acceptance by the publisher Unwins, Conrad began to familiarise himself with literary London as well as the city's shadowlands of crime and poverty. He also got married, having proposed to Jessie George on the steps of the National Gallery.