Joseph Conrad: Your Experiences Similar?

15th December 2011, 17:22
Throwing out this thread to see if there are any Joseph Conrad (author of Lord Jim, Nostromo, Victory, The Shadow Line etc..) literary fans out there.

Do you think the descriptions of life at sea, particularly in the Far East trade, were accurate?

Can we learn anything from his observations and experiences?

I am obviously one who likes how he puts a phrase together.(Thumb)

I hope I am not alone!

15th December 2011, 17:32
I've read his books long ago; loved Twixt Land and Sea and The Nigger of Narcissus, found Nostromo and Victory tough going, and thought The Secret Agent silly - anyone who did not understand early that the child was to explode with the bomb have not read much cheap crime. (Jester)

15th December 2011, 19:55
I remember getting seasick reading "Typhoon" years ago. Fantastic descriptive writing.

John T

15th December 2011, 21:09
His "Reflections On the Loss of the Titanic" are worth rereading.

16th December 2011, 09:34
All the more impressive in that Conrad was not writing in his native language. A Polish Pilot tells me that the Polish translated versions do not come across as well as the original English ones.

16th December 2011, 10:34
His "Reflections On the Loss of the Titanic" are worth rereading.

Thanks. Interesting article, never before heard of it, and never before heard of the Douro.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
16th December 2011, 11:05
His "Reflections On the Loss of the Titanic" are worth rereading.

Thank you.

How little things have changed - except that we do now have passenger ships of 150,000 tons...

16th December 2011, 11:06
I did "Youth" and "Typhoon" at school and have re-read them recently. I began to wonder if it was this which decided me to go to sea.

Anyone with a Kindle they are available for download. Free I think.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
16th December 2011, 11:10
Going back to the original question I have spent much of my time in the Far East Trade, mostly ashore, and Conrad's descriptions have, when allowance is made for changes in technology and politics, a distinct ring of truth about them. People, British officers, shore officials and agents and surveyors, were and still are "like that" although there are now fewer of them.

I am a tremendous admirer of Conrad, but you have to read him quite slowly.

Nigel Wing
16th December 2011, 12:21
Having read, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Youth, The End of the Tether and Heart of Darkness, I then found a book by Gavin Young entitled, In Search of Conrad, this is well worth reading as it covers the areas of Conrad's works in the Far East, then and now.


16th December 2011, 16:44
Going back to the original question I have spent much of my time in the Far East Trade, mostly ashore, and Conrad's descriptions have, when allowance is made for changes in technology and politics, a distinct ring of truth about them. People, British officers, shore officials and agents and surveyors, were and still are "like that" although there are now fewer of them.

I am a tremendous admirer of Conrad, but you have to read him quite slowly.

I agree you have to read Conrad slowly. I prefer a brandy and a cigar and a comfy leather chair and just a few pages of Conrad at a time. No need to speed through to the end of the chapter. For me, it brings back all the sights and sounds of the Far East trips, the sunrises, the Pacific Ocan, the mangrove swamps, the bustle of primitive ports and the press of humanity. I could blather on but will save you all from that by stopping right here!

I found a copy of Lord Jim in my cabin on my first trip as a young Third Mate. Don't know who put it there. Someone left it on conspicuous display right next to my berth. I started reading it and pretty soon all Jim's adventures and mishaps were unfolding before me while I am practicing/learning my watch standing and navigational skills. It did make me very alert during those critical first few months of sailing on my license. I always wondered who left that book there. I never heard the name of the man I relieved on that trip. I caught the ship literally on a pier head jump and no reason or explanation was ever given for why the fellow left (or was asked to leave).

And I have been re-reading that book ever since. Still finding meaning in it.

17th December 2011, 06:38
Lord Jim was a good film, too. Conrad has been my favourite author since I was at school, when I and my classmates were enthused to savour his descriptive passages by our English Literature master. I agree with Stein about the daft Secret Agent, though. I read Typhoon as Tifone in Italian.

19th December 2011, 09:22
I reckon the finest books he wrote, they were all wonderful of course, but to me the best are "Mirror of the sea" which he talks about his own career as an officer and "The Shadow Line", based on his experience as Master of the Otago. I have re read these books many times over the years and they make me tingle with pride in the profession.

19th December 2011, 11:51
Fortunately 'Youth' and 'The End of the Tether' were amongst the set books for English Literature O Level in 1954. I was already determined to go to sea so Josef Conrad was a welcome relief from Will Shakespeare and Robbie Burns.

I enjoyed End of the Tether so much that I later bought a copy and have re-read it several times. Having passed through the Malacca Straits in the 50's & 60's, calling at ports on both sides with P&O cargo ships (even with Caltex we used to load crude oil at Sungei Pakning in Sumatra) and his descriptions stir the memory these days. Obviously the Dutch administrators were long gone as were British District Officers but the sea, the land and the jungle were unchanged.

Interesting that as an English schoolboy I could understand and enjoy Conrad's writing in his second or third language rather better than Robbie's "Many a mickle maks a muckle" in Tam 'O Shanter. Mind you I enjoy a glass of single malt on the Scottish gentleman's birthday in January each year.


21st December 2011, 19:47
I read Joseph Conrad's stories when I was a kid, and I see no reason to doubt that he knew what he was talking about. I posted a few photos on this site of pilgrim ships, which I photographed at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that looked as though they came straight out of "Lord Jim"! Look for them in the "Need a ship identified" section.

21st December 2011, 22:35
Prior to my seagoing career I spent time working on a forestry project in Tanzania, just the other side of Lake Tanganyika from the Congo, and certainly Heart of Darkness captures the claustrophobia of the jungle supremely well! And I totally agree about taking your time reading it. Very heavy language but it paints such a vivid picture. Must read some of his seagoing stuff...

16th May 2013, 06:03
I had already read Heart of Darkness before going out to Nigeria to be the supervisor of an oil flow station deep in the bush at the edge of the Osse River.
I was the only white man for miles, left on my own to run the job with a local crew. The similarities were very real I paddled in dug out canoes, played the drums in the ju-ju band and fended off attacks by politically motivated villagers.
Was once attacked by a ju-ju man weilding a curved kudu horn sword. "Mistah kurtz, he dead". Too many stories to tell, but had a laugh with the local guys nearly every day.

ray morgan
16th May 2013, 18:21
I remember reading a book on Joseph Conrads life,were he said,"A Seamans home is his Ship and his Nation is the Sea".I presume he was talking about Sailing Ships.

ray morgan
16th May 2013, 18:32
I remember reading about Joseph Conrad's life story,in it he say's,"A Seamans Home is his Ship and his Nation is the Sea".I suppose that was true of a lot of old salt's in the Sailing Ship day's.

16th May 2013, 20:23
Read with enthusiasm many books of Conrad and saw the movie "Lord Jim" when I was at the navigation school but I am still baffled with the meaning of the end of "Heart of Darkness" when Marlow met Kurtz's wife: {'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his very last words. . . .' I stopped in a fright. 'Repeat them,' she said in a heart-broken tone. 'I want—I want—something—something—to—to live with.' I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you hear them?' The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The horror! The horror!' "'His last word—to live with,' she murmured. 'Don't you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!'" "I pulled myself together and spoke slowly. 'The last word he pronounced was—your name.'"} Earlier in the book Marlow said that he hated lies, then can we assume that Conrad wanted us to understand that Marlow was telling the truth to the woman who represented the best in the Western civilisation of his days? After all, Kurtz left her to immerse himself in the Heart of Darkness.

16th May 2013, 20:42
I suppose that, despite there being death in a lie, as they discussed at the beginning of the book, the truth would have been too painful for her, so Marlow took on the evil of the lie himself, to save her anguish, or because he couldn't himself bear the guilt of telling her the truth?
I loved the early part where the Thames estuary in Roman times is likened to the Congo, and the part where he describes the French cruiser, shelling a continent.
" Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen."

It's such wonderful writing.

17th May 2013, 20:37
The perception of 'Scelerat' reflects most probably what was really in the mind of Conrad when he wrote these lines about the last words of Kurtz. Mine was certainly influenced by my own experience of sailing to Congo/Zare and on ships from that country. There I discovered that deep inside the obvious chaos of everything linked to shipping, there was often a fundamental urge to built up a strong human relation before implementing our western social conventions.
I found one of my favourite quote in his book "An outpost of progress": " Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings."

20th May 2013, 16:49
Read and studied The Rover by Joseph Conrad for English Lit O level. Perhaps this assisted in my decision to go to Nautical College and a (first) career at sea. Great author that certainly knew his subject

23rd May 2013, 08:16
I loved all of his books & the movie Lord Jim with Peter O' Toole was to me just wonderful. We do not seem to see it on the old classic movie channels, I wonder why.
Am just reading Jack London's 'Tales of the South Seas' his writing is superb. The story of the hurricane hitting the island is as if you are there experiencing it so descriptive. Might add we have on the island of Palau where the hotel asked for all the guests next of kin names & addresses, not too subtle. Must say it was an experience though.

9th August 2013, 16:44
Just re read Lord Jim it is still a great book though deeper than I recalled it from a much younger age.

9th August 2013, 19:13
Joseph Conrad wrote that he would never have written as he did if he had not written in English. In "A Personal Record" he records that as a guest aboard a Marseille pilot cutter he was addressed for the first time in English "look out there" as a line was thrown down from the British ship "James Westoll". As she entered harbour limits she hoisted her ensign, he later wrote
"The Red Ensign the symbolic, protecting, warm bit of bunting flung wide upon the seas, and destined for so many years to be the only roof over my head."

Chapter 7

Robert Bush
10th August 2013, 23:18
One of my delights in reading Conrad was the knowledge that he was a real seaman. He was a Master at character and scene descriptions,yet he was writing in a language that was not his own.

11th August 2013, 05:16
Just finished "The Nigger and the Narcissus, Typhoon and The Shadow Line". Forgotten how, after first reading Conrad many years ago, how descriptive the stories were.

11th August 2013, 07:52
Norm post 17, like your story of Nigeria I met whilst in Papua New Guinea on a couple of mining projects some truly fascinating old timers who were patrol officers in their day. Their stories over a cold one were beyond anything I have heard anywhere. One I recall was of a local who tampered with another tribes girl, he was hunted down & attacked by that tribe near his village however got to the patrol officers house where it was decided they had to get him out to save his life. The patrol officer got his 4X4 utility to the front of the house & got him into it with the patrol officers dog guarding him. The PO jumped in the front to drive off but the mob attacked the ute as he did so then there was apparently a huge scream then all the tribesmen feel back in silence. Somehow one had been able to get the fellow with his large cane style knife or panga across the head which opened it right like a coconut & the dog was licking or eating it, the internals of his skull! Of course he died. They told stories very similar to Conrad's of the dark continent & parts of Asia. I was told Errol Flyn just after WW2 was a PO, he sailed there I knew from Aus?

11th August 2013, 11:05
Richard, I have a friend here in Brisbane who was a Patrol Officer in PNG. Old codger now, but no doubt a GTX High Performer in his day. At age 21 he was controlling an area of hundreds of square miles.

The PNG Patrol Officers have just had their services recognised with the award of a long overdue medal ... for what that's worth.

John T

11th August 2013, 11:25
JohnT, you know I/we met some very, very interesting old timers in PNG & Solomon's as well as China & Laos. Those PO's along with Dr's were very mentally strong as well as interesting guys, yes in some ways odd loners I guess? A couple had wives who were equally as interesting just like the plantation owners who had stayed on after independence in PNG. In Rabaul we knew two who were just so interesting & Madang a couple of guys who were truly eccentric they came to Sydney the first time since the late 50's, we were horrified & must say we a little embarrassed at the mode of dress whist there, how silly was that? They owned a plantation about 20 clicks outside Madang & an old run down motel where they drank from noon on....Both dead now I suggest. One guy we knew in Solomon's gave up his Aus citizenship to stay became & Solomon Islander. When the troubles, real ones started we helped him get back into Aus, it was a extremely difficult project but we got there with some great help from a couple of political parties who pulled strings. He came back with nothing to show for his life, the whole lot gone a tragedy. Like so many I just wish their stories were recorded. I used to say that in HK where there are truly so many really unusual people with amazing lives to have written down. How-why they got there, what they did why they stayed on some in really poor state money wise now others wealthy beyond all bounds but you would never know.
Ah life's rich tapestry JohnT.

11th August 2013, 11:42
Yes, Richard, interesting people with great tales to tell, probably lost in a mire of political correctness nowadays.

John T

23rd August 2013, 15:19
Yes, Richard, interesting people with great tales to tell, probably lost in a mire of political correctness nowadays.

John T

What? What has PC got to do with it? That tired concept gets trotted out so often that it's lost it's meaning......

24th August 2013, 11:06
Dear oh dear JT, why does one always cop this sort of comment? As I read your comment it is only an observation & yep the world is full of it now days, PC I mean. Some of it amusing others just stupid but then-that-those-it-each can be interpreted by all in their own way. One of the beauties of life the differing of opinions.