Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was born in Berdichev, in the Ukraine, in a region that had once been a part of Poland but was then under Russian rule. His father Apollo Korzeniowski was an aristocrat without lands, a poet and translator of English and French literature. The family estates had been sequestrated in 1839 following an anti-Russian rebellion. As a boy the young Joseph read Polish and French versions of English novels with his father. When Apollo Korzeniowski became embroiled in political activities, he was sent to exile with his family to Volgoda, northern Russia, in 1861.
By 1869 Conrad's both parents had died of tuberculosis, and he was sent to Switzerland to his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski, who was to be a continuing influence on his life. Conrad attended schools in Kraków and persuaded his uncle to let him go to the sea. In the mid-1870s he joined the French merchant marine as an apprentice, and made three voyages to the West Indies between 1875 and 1878. During his youth Conrad also was involved in arms smuggling for the Carlist cause in Spain.
After being wounded in a duel or of a self-inflicted gunshot in the chest, Conrad continued his career at the seas for 16 years in the British merchant navy. This was a turning point in his life. Conrad rose through the ranks from common seaman to first mate, and by 1886 he obtained his master mariner's certificate, commanding his own ship, Otago. In the same year he was given British citizenship and he changed officially his name to Joseph Conrad.
In 1890 he sailed in Africa up the Congo River. The journey provided much material for his novel Heart of Darkness. However, the fabled East Indies particularly attracted Conrad and it became the setting of many of his stories. By 1894 Conrad's sea life was over. During the long journeys he had started to write and Conrad decided to devote himself entirely to literature. At the age of 36 Conrad settled down in England.
Although Conrad is known as a novelist, he tried his hand also as a playwright. His first one-act play was not success - the audience rejected it. But after finishing the text he learned the existence of the Censor of the Plays, which inspired his satirical essay about the obscure civil servant. Conrad was an Anglophile who regarded Britain as a land which respected individual liberties. As a writer he accepted the verdict of a free and independent public, but associated this official figure of censorship to the atmosphere of the Far East and the 'mustiness of the Middle Ages', which shouldn't be part of the twentieth-century England.
Jim (his surname is never disclosed), a young British seaman, becomes first mate on the Patna, a ship full of pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the hajj. When the ship starts rapidly taking on water and disaster seems imminent, Jim joins his captain and other crew members in abandoning the ship and its passengers. A few days later, they are picked up by a French ship. However, the Patna and its passengers are later also saved, and the reprehensible actions of the crew are exposed. The other participants evade the judicial court of inquiry, leaving Jim to face the court alone. The court strips him of his navigation command certificate for his dereliction of duty. Jim is angry with himself, both for his moment of weakness, and for missing an opportunity to be a ‘hero’.At the trial, he meets Charles Marlow, a sea captain, who in spite of his initial misgivings over what he sees as Jim’s moral unsoundness, comes to befriend him, for he is “one of us”. Marlow later finds Jim work as a ship chandler’s clerk. Jim tries to remain incognito, but whenever the opprobrium of the Patna incident catches up with him, he abandons his place and moves further east.Later, Marlow’s friend Stein suggests placing Jim as his factor in Patusan, a remote inland settlement with a mixed Malay and Bugis population, where Jim’s past can remain hidden. While living on the island he acquires the title ‘Tuan’ (‘Lord’). Here, Jim wins the respect of the people and becomes their leader by relieving them from the predations of the bandit Sherif Ali and protecting them from the corrupt local Malay chief, Rajah Tunku Allang. Jim wins the love of Jewel, a woman of mixed race, and is “satisfied... nearly”. The end comes a few years later, when the town is attacked by the marauder “Gentleman” Brown. Although Brown and his gang are driven off, Dain Waris, the son of the leader of the Bugis community, is slain. Jim returns to Doramin, the Bugis leader, and willingly takes a fatal bullet in the chest from him as retribution for the death of his son.