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The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad by John…
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The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad (2007)

by John Stape

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I picked this up because Stape intentionally wrote a short biography, rather than one of those 900 pages behemoths that are becoming popular; because he's the man when it comes to Conrad scholarship; and because it looked like it wouldn't be too psychologistic. Unfortunately, I have now learned that biographies are long and psychologistic for a reason: because otherwise they're just a listing of facts and factoids. Stape probably wasn't helped by Conrad's life, which sounds exciting - exiled from Poland! sails the world! tragic illness! - but turns out to be immensely dull: Conrad tries to write. He leaves the house, gets gout. His wife is ill. He has no money. These problems are solved. Next chapter, Conrad tries to write, gets gout, ill wife, no money... Which would all be much less absurd if Stape had done a little less work; but thanks to this book I know now that Conrad was at one point in his life spending - not just making, but spending - over a million dollars per year, adjusted for inflation, price of living, pound dollar conversion etc... Imagine the trained carpenter next door complaining about money while also *never getting a job,* and refusing to do any exercise ever at all, and you'll get a flavour of the immense 'tragedy' of Conrad's life. He comes off like Joyce, except that Joyce sees to have lived more or less in genteel poverty, not as a grand country gent.

But you can't lay the dullness of the biography at Conrad's life's door. Stape has to take some blame: why not talk, at least a little, about Conrad's thoughts and books? If nothing else, this book proves that those thoughts and books are what is valuable about the man's life. But they're barely mentioned, except as meal-tickets. This is all very strange, since Stape knows the books and thoughts better than almost anyone. Too bad this book wasn't twice as long and psychologistic. Wouldn't have taken me as long to read as this did. Quite a drag. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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It is when we try to grapple with another man's intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun. It is as if loneliness were a hard and absolute condition of existence; the envelope of flesh and blood on which our eyes are fixed melts before the outstretched hand and there remains only the capricious, unconsolable, and elusive spirit that no eye can follow, no hand can grasp.

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For Raymond, in memory
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A biography by necessity includes elements of fiction.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385661681, Hardcover)

Published to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad is a brilliant and highly readable biography of a literary figure of world-wide reputation.

Conrad’s impact has been so profound and far-reaching that, eighty years after his death, he remains an essential cultural reference point. Such phrases as “heart of darkness” and “The horror! The horror!” have entered the language, often cited without an awareness of their original contexts. His popular legacy extends to Latin American fiction, to the spy novel, to the terrorist and anarchist character, and to film. The writers he has influenced range from T. S. Eliot to William Faulkner to V. S. Naipaul and John Le Carré. For a writer of “difficult” fiction he has enjoyed a remarkably wide impact, yet as Marlow proclaims in Lord Jim of the figure whose story he tells,“he was one of us,” and so Conrad remains in fascinating ways.

Stape’s biography – an intimate portrait, including previously unpublished photographs – offers a Conrad for our times, a man with a deep sense of otherness, of multiple cultural identities and, writing in his third language, a working writer, whose novels and stories are a cornerstone of literary modernism and, indeed, of modernity itself.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:10 -0400)

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BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Conrad's impact has been so profound and far-reaching that, eighty years after his death, he remains an essential cultural reference point. His popular legacy extends to Latin American fiction, to the spy novel, to the terrorist and anarchist character, and to film. The writers he has influenced range from T. S. Eliot to William Faulkner to V. S. Naipaul and John Le Carre.For a writer of 'difficult' fiction, he has enjoyed a remarkably wide impact, yet as Marlow proclaims in Lord Jim of the figure whose story he tells, 'he was one of us,' and so Conrad remains in fascinating ways. Stape's biography - an intimate portrait, including previously unpublished photographs - offers a Conrad for our times, a man with a deep sense of otherness, of multiple cultural identities and, writing in his third language, a working writer, always worried about his royalties, whose novels and stories are a cornerstone of literary Modernism and, indeed, of modernity itself.… (more)

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