The fact that Conrad was born in Poland, with the full name of named Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski makes his reputation as one of the English language’s finest writers all the more remarkable. He did not even speak it fluently until early adulthood, nor did he have a conventional writer’s career (if there is such a thing). He served in the French and then British merchant navies, eventually working his way up the ranks to ship’s captain in 1888.
Originally intending to return to his homeland, he gradually despaired of hope for Poland because of its geographical predicament of lying prey to the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and nascent German empires. He eventually settled on England as his refuge becoming a British citizen in 1886 (but not released from his Russian until 1889), and after his first novel, Almayer’s Folly (1889), he focused on writing for the rest of his life.
His extraordinary background and experience of the worst elements of European imperialism around the world gave him unique insight and perspectives. They made his fiction compelling and innovative, despite its often gruesome subjects: e.g. The Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907).