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Joseph Conrad: A Life
by Zdzislaw Najder
Camden House, New Edition, April 2007


Joseph Conrad is not only one of the world's great writers of English – and world – literature, but was a writer who lived a particularly full and interesting life. For the biographer this is a double-edged sword, however: there are many periods for which documentation is uncommonly difficult. Zdzislaw Najder's meticulously documented biography first appeared in English in 1983, garnering high praise as the best, most complete biography of Conrad. Najder's command of English, French, Polish, and Russian allowed him access to a greater variety of sources than any other biographer, and his Polish background and his own experience as an exile have afforded him a unique affinity for Conrad and his milieu. All this has come into play once again in the present, extensively revised edition: much of its extensive new material was unearthed in newly-opened former east-bloc archives. There is new material on Conrad's father's genealogy and his role in Polish politics; Conrad's service in the French and British merchant marines; his early English reading and correspondence; his experiences in the Congo; the circumstances of writing his memoirs, and much more. In addition, several aspects of Conrad's life and works are more thoroughly analyzed: his problems with the English language; his borrowings from French writers; his attitude toward socialism, his reaction to the reception of his books.

When I reviewed the first English edition of this book in 1984, I called it "the richest and most persuasive portrait of Conrad we have had or will probably ever have." Happily, however, the author hasn't rested on his laurels. Once again, Professor Najder sets the very highest biographical standard. Everything that has come to light about Conrad during the past quarter-century is now seamlessly integrated into the revised text. Many facts are new, but Najder's perspective remains unchanged – because, quite simply, he got it exactly right the first time. – Frederick Crews

while [Najder’s] consummate grounding in the three cultures from which Conrad's work emerges enables him to provide background information crucial for a full understanding and appreciation of Conrad's writings. Moreover, Najder's systematic confrontation of documented reality with Conrad's mythologized versions of his own life not only gives us a clearer picture of the historical Conrad but throws valuable light on the structure of his mind and imagination. – Andrzej Busza, Associate Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia

The revisions to Zdzislaw Najder's Joseph Conrad further strengthen what was already the indispensable biography. They are extensive and substantial, incorporating not only Najder's own discoveries but those by such distinguished scholars as Andrew Busza, J. H. Stape, the late Sylvère Monod, and the late Hans van Marle. – Laurence Davies, University of Glasgow, General Editor of Conrad's Collected Letters

Zdzislaw Najder teaches English and American Literature and Culture at the European Academy , Cracow.

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