On this day in 1857, Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski–later known as Joseph Conrad–is born in Poland.
Conrad spent his early childhood in northern Russia, where his father, a Polish poet and patriot, had been exiled. His parents both died of tuberculosis when he was 12.
An uncle raised Joseph for the next five years. At age 17, Joseph set out for Marseilles, France, where he joined the merchant marine and sailed to the West Indies. Conrad’s many harrowing adventures at sea set the scene for much of his work.
In 1878, when Conrad was 21, he traveled to England as a deck hand on a British freighter. He learned English during six voyages on a small British trade boat and spent 16 years with the British merchant navy. He had numerous adventures around the world, became a British subject in 1886, and got his first command in 1888. The following year, he commanded a Congo River steamboat for four months, which set the stage for his well-known story Heart of Darkness (1902).
Conrad began writing in the late 1890s. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was published in 1895. The following year, he married an English girl and gave up the sea to write full time. His work evolved from hearty sea-adventure tales to sophisticated and pessimistic explorations of morals, personal choices, and character. His best-known works, including Lord Jim, Nostromo and The Secret Agent, were published between 1900 and 1911, and brought him financial security. He died in 1924.