Secret Sharer: Biography: Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdichev, Ukraine, which was at that time a province of Poland, in 1857. As a youngster Conrad, who was destined to become one of the great authors of English literature, learned languages and literature from his father Apollo Korzeniowski, a translator of English and French literature. His father was also an activist whose politics resulted in the family’s 1861 exile to Russia. Conrad’s mother, Ewa Bobrowska Korzeniowski, died from tuberculosis when he was eight. His father died from the same disease when Conrad was twelve, at which time the youngster left Northern Russia to join his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski in Switzerland.
From his early youth Conrad dreamed of going to sea, and in 1878 he joined the French merchant marines and set out on a life of adventure, going first to the West Indies. He even spent time smuggling arms. In time, he joined the British merchant navy and became aware of the strict class divisions that are apparent in “The Secret Sharer,” which takes as its protagonist a gentleman captain at odds with his lower-class crew. Here, Conrad quickly moved up through the ranks until he came to command his own ship. In 1886 he became a British citizen and officially changed his name to Joseph Conrad.
Conrad spent his next years sailing all over the world to exotic locations including Australia, South America, the South Pacific, Africa and the Indian Ocean. The colorful people he met and his many varied experiences were to provide interesting and exciting fodder for his novels. Conrad retired from the sea in 1894 when he was 36 years old and settled in England with his wife Jessie George who was to become the mother of his two sons.
Although Conrad continued to travel on occasion, he devoted the rest of his life to writing. His popular 1985 Almayer's Folly became his first novel. This was followed by his most famous work,The Heart of Darkness, a deeply symbolic tale of rampant corruption, which was taken from his own experience in the Belgian Congo between 1890 and 1894. For “The Secret Sharer,” Conrad revisited his time as captain of the Otago during a voyage in the Gulf of Siam, the setting of the story, when he had as first mate a particularly troublesome individual who became badly scared when Captain Conrad took the ship close to the rocks. Conrad first wrote “The Secret Sharer” in 1909. It originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine under the title “The Secret-Sharer,” a title which could be interpreted as someone to share a secret with. However, the hyphen was later dropped and the title became “The Secret Sharer,” which could have a number of interpretations, including someone to share the Captain’s stateroom, or someone to share the Captain’s thoughts.
In time, Joseph Conrad became one of the most highly regarded novelists in the English language and continued writing until his death of a heart attack in 1924, the same year he published his final novel, The Nature of Crime.