‘Heart of Darkness’ still beats on Joseph Conrad’s 162nd b-day

Despite the fact that he started learning the English language only at the age of 21, Józef Konrad Korzeniowski, better known globally as Joseph Conrad, was born 162 years ago to become one of the world’s most respected writers and a keen observer of the social changes brought about by colonialism and radical ideologies of the XX century.

Born in the town of Berdychiv, contemporary Ukraine, on December 3, 1857, Joseph Conrad was soon orphaned because his father and mother were arrested by the Russian tsarist law enforcement and exiled. Both of his parents were dead by the time he entered his teenage years.

Following his parents’ passing, Joseph Conrad moved to Lviv and then Kraków. Weary of his health, Conrad’s uncle sent him on a trip to France. That is where the Pole studied French literature classics while working as a sailor. At the age of 21, Joseph Conrad moved to England.

Joseph Conrad was born again as a man of three cultures when he stepped down on a pier in an English harbour town. Raised in Poland, with the flame of art rekindled by the French literature, writing in the English language, Conrad’s novels of people caught between dire straits of life came to be truly emblematic of his times when colonialism held sway over the world while the menace of totalitarian ideology slowly but surely grew larger.

As much as Joseph Conrad is known for picturing the struggle of man against hostile elements on high seas, the marine motives are a metaphor for ordeals faced by people and a pretext for exploring what stands behind the choices they make to extricate themselves from their plight.

Joseph Conrad should also be remembered as a keen observer of global social tendencies that go beyond the time constraints of his life – something that is best exemplified by Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” – an epic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s best-known short story “Heart of Darkness”.

Some of the other most influential and prophetic tales by Joseph Conrad are “Nostromo: A Tale of the Seabord” set in the South American fictional country of Costaguana riven by political instability, “The Secret Agent” that delves into the operations of a foreign spy in London and the sinister workings of terrorism, as well as “Lord Jim” whose main protagonist receives a public rebuke for his action and then attempts to come to terms with himself and his past.