3 August 1924, the Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad died aged 66 in Bishopsbourne, England.
“Efficiency of a practically flawless kind may be reached naturally in the struggle for bread. But there is something beyond — a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill; almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish which is almost art — which is art.“ (Joseph Conrad)
|Sir William Rothenstein (1872 - 1945) "Portrait of Joseph Conrad" (1903)|
Few, if any of Poland’s poets and authors, revered at home, are known beyond their motherland’s borders. Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz, of “Quo Vadis” fame, was an exception, at least for a while, making Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, Joseph Conrad, the best known of all of them in the whole wide world. And he famously wrote in English, ranking tops among the English-speaking novelists and not only of his day and age. A phenomenon, since he learned the language not before his early twenties when he decided to join the British Merchant Navy. However, many of his tales might look like tarry, rough handed sailors at first acquaintance, but they soon take on the guise of Marlow, Conrad’s alter-ego and oftimes narrator, sitting on deck of the Nellie riding at anchor in Gravesend, spinning his yarn, with “sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards,” resembling “a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower“ or comforting aspects beyond the “bond of the sea” and British civilisation. Not of the “White Man’s Burden” type of Kipling, whom Conrad despised, but of common decency, discipline and the quiet but infrangible endurance that once was associated with the Empire. At least sometimes. And from far away. Consequently, Conrad seldom deals with the British from close up at home, only with their seafaring minority, and at heart, his motifs are deeply Polish, of peoples and individuals in their struggle for freedom and finding or preserving their identity. Even his nom de plume resounds with Adam Mickiewicz’ epic poem “Konrad Wallenrod”, a highly influential, inspiring and patriotic piece in the days when Poland had all but disappeared from the maps.
|The barque "Otago", Captain Joseph Conrad's command in 1888/89 and the cover image of Conrad's "Mirror of the Sea" (1906)|
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