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234 REVIEW ARTICLE A WINDOW ON JOSEPH CONRAD'S POLISH SOUL By Edmund A. Bojarski CONRAD'S POLISH BACKGROUND: LETTERS TO AND FROM POLISH FRIENDS. Trans by Halina Carroll and ed with an intro by Zdzis+aw Najder. London: Oxford U P 45/-; New York: Oxford U P, 1964. $7.20. "Polish Joe" Korzeniowski, as he was called by his first English shipmates was a hard man to understand. After thirty-five years in England (twenty of them as a productive if not popular novelist on the brink of literary fame and fortune with the publication of his first popular success, VICTORY), Conrad was able to say in 1914 that the English critics always found in his work "something incomprehensible, unfathomable, impalpable." That something, he told his first Polish press interviewer, was his "Polishness," which he brought to his fiction "through Mickiewicz and S+owacki," Poland's most influential Romantic poets. Fifty years, three hundred blood-sweat-and-tear stained graduate theses, and thirty-three hundred critical studies later that enigmatic something is still very much in evidence in Conrad's work. The non-Slavic oriented critics are still gnawing away at that "impalpable" element which "only you," the Polish audience Conrad was addressing through his interviewer, "can grasp." Although this book contains only an estimated twenty-five percent of all Conrad's Polish letters, the rest having been lost or destroyed in one or the other of the world wars, those which remain represent a solid contribution toward an understanding of the Polish facet of Conrad's life, mind and work. There are seventy-eight communications from Conrad's uncle and guardian, Tadeusz Bobrowski, a Polish country squire living in the Polish-Ukrainian border steppes. Bobrowski played the same type of Maecenean supporting role in Conrad's life as the painter's brother Theo enacted in the life of Vincent Van Gogh. His letters direct a beam of bright light on the darkest period of Conrad's life, the years between his departure from Poland in I874 and the publication of his first novel in 1895. It is, in fact, Bobrowski who gives us most of our knowledge of the first thirty years of Joseph Conrad's life. Bobrowski's two long letters to his closest friend (and biographer of Conrad's father), Stefan Buszczynski, relate Conrad's adventures in France, including the suicide attempt by Conrad in I878. The chest wound inflicted on himself has been until recently passed off as the result of a duel believed to have been fought over the prototype of Rita de Lastaola of THE ARROW OF GOLD. Many years later Conrad told Aniela Zagorska, who was to become his most prolific translator into Polish, that there had actually been a duel in which he was shot in the chest but in return had badly shattered his adversary's hand. What the relationship, if any, between the two wounds was would be difficult to say. The two Bobrowski letters to Buszczynski also describe Conrad's stay in Australia, and the Bobrowski section of the book is completed by his "document" spelling out the details of Conrad's family and finances. Another bonus offered the reader is a "Political Memorandum" drafted by Conrad in 1914 expressing his ideas on the future of Europe, which should prove a veritable bonanza for the student of the novelist's political views. 235 This long series of epistles, and they are precisely that for they are didactic as well as chatty, from Bobrowski stretches from September, 1869 when Conrad was an orphan of eleven to July, 1893 when he was a British sea captain of thirty-five and writing his first novel, ALMAYER'S FOLLY. Uncle Tadeusz died in February, I894, having seen his nephew only three times in the last twenty years. During his uncle's lifetime, Conrad's first book was five years in the writing, but the last chapters, usually the most difficult and particularly so in a first novel, were finished in record time after the death of Bobrowski. It has been said that Conrad did not really feel free to become a writer until after his uncle's death because Conrad's father...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 234-238
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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