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Title: Joseph Conrad - spory o biografię
Authors: Adamowicz-Pośpiech, Agnieszka
Keywords: Joseph Conrad; Biography; English literature
Issue Date: 2003
Publisher: Katowice : "Deni-Press"
Abstract: The dissertation discusses seminal events of Joseph Conrad’s life as well as their reflections in the critical work of the Conradian scholars. The analysis of various texts of Conrad’s biography spans the period of over a hundred years. The discrepancies between the presentations of similar episodes in different critical works ensued from various research methodologies applied in selected biographical studies and also the time perspective in which a given interpretation of the artist’s biography was composed. The six areas connected with the artist’s life on which the dissertation focuses are as follows: the figure of his father, Apollo Korzeniowski along with his legacy, the guardianship of his uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski, Conrad’s schooling, the Marseille period, the literary debut, and last but not least Conrad’s personality. I have chosen the above issues since they caused much critical uproar and the debates upon many of them have not been settled till the present time. First, the fatherly figure is centered on. Many Conradians believed that it is impossible to understand and interpret Conrad’s personality and his literary output without learning first about his father, Apollo Korzeniowski. The evaluation of Apollo’s influence on Conrad went to extremes. At one extreme there were those Conradian scholars who claimed that the father and his legacy were an onerous burden for Conrad. Such critics as Jean-Aubry, Jan Perlowski, Leo Gurko, Bernard Meyer and Frederik Karl pictured him as a fanatical patriot, impractical idealist, and a very strict and exacting father. After the death of his wife, he succumbed to morbid religiosity and became a recluse. At the other extreme there were those Conradians who reclaimed positive features for Apollo. These were mainly his friends (Stefan Buszczyński) as well as some Polish critics (Michał Rolle, Rafał Blüth, Zdzisław Najder and Roman Taborski). The differences of the portrayals stemmed from the limited scope of biographical sources that mostly British critics relayed on. Some of them based their research almost only on Tadeusz Bobrowski’s Memoirs and Conrad’s reminiscences. However, in course of time more and more data about Apollo Korzeniowski were taken into account (his letters to friends, his socio-political views and literary and translatorial output); thus more comprehensive and balanced portraits were produced by Zdzisław Najder, John Batchelor, Keith Carabine. Second, the persona of Conrad’s uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski is depicted. He was one of the most influential and authoritative people in the writer’s life (apart from his father). A highly controversial individual: portrayed by some relatives, historians and Conradians positively, by others — negatively. Each noteworthy biographer of Conrad devoted much attention to the description and analysis of his personality and character, beliefs and ideals. Those presentations varied, hence nowadays one faces a broad range of diverse assessments of the Bobrowski—Conrad relation. The aim of the chapter is twofold; firstly, to delineate how the evaluation of Bobrowski’s role in Conrad’s life changed from the partisan and hasty acclaim or downright condemnation to more balanced views considering both the advantageous and harmful aspects of the avuncular guidance. Secondly, to prove that the latest studies upgrading Bobrowski’s influence on his nephew seem to be, in my opinion, the least tendentious and biased, thus rendering the relationship most comprehensively. There was a group of critics (Jean-Aubry, Leo Gurko) and people who knew him in person (Jan Perłowski) who centred only on the positive features of Bobrowski, praising his practicality, financial prudence, wisdom and patience with his nephew. Another group of scholars (Jerry Allen, Bernard Meyer) accentuated chiefly the pejorative aspects of the guardian-ward relationship. They perceived the uncle as a reprimanding, strict, ultra-conservative old man, not showing enough understanding towards the young sailor. There was also one more circle of Conradians (Jocelyn Baines, Ian Watt, Frederick Karl, Zdzisław Najder) who produced less lop-sided portrait of Bobrowski. They stressed the uncle’s bias against the Korzeniowskis, his adverse political stance (he belonged to the conciliatory movement, whereas the Korzeniowskis supported the revolutionary tendencies) and at the same time those critics mentioned his legal erudition, responsibility and tolerance. The latest writings by Keith Carabine and Addison Brass try to rehabilitate Bobrowski as a loving and tolerant guardian and a w'ise and above all realistic politician. Third, the controversial issue of Conrad’s schooling in Poland is discussed. Why spill so much ink at settling the argument? Critics interpreting Conrad’s novels and stories tried to decipher the meanings of the allusions and symbols in his books. The knowledge of the artist’s education could come in handy in that process: Which schools did he attend? What type of syllabi did he follow? What kind of books from Polish and European literature formed his literary culture? Generally, two parties were established. One group of Conrad’s friends and Conradian scholars believed that he attended St. Anne’s high school (Jean- Aubry, Richard Curie, R. L. Mégroz, Gustav Morf, Frederick Karl, Andrzej Busza, Karol Kosek). The other claimed that it was St. Jacek’s (Zdzisław Najder, Jocelyn Baines, Martin Ray). The former based their argumentation on the writer’s recollections, the research of school protocols, as well as a comparative analysis of the school syllabi with the literary allusions that are interspersed throughout his works. The latter discarded the artist’s avowals as deliberately misleading and opted for St. Jacek’s. However they did not produce any conclusive evidence for their stance. The principle representative of that group, Z. Najder, ended up maintaining that Conrad did not attend to any of those schools, but had private tutorial. Fourth, the Marseille years are dwelt on. Three issues are scrutinised: Conrad’s alleged participation in contraband, his love affair with Dona Rita and crowning it all his duel. Those events are mirrored in such literary pieces as The Tremolino, The Arrow of Gold, Sisters which Conrad tagged as autobiographical. At the very beginning the writer’s biographers (and of course his relatives and friends) took his words at face value and believed that those narratives are true (Jean-Aubry, John Dozier Gordan, Douglas Hewitt, Jerry Allen). Yet, in course of time more and more critics (Jocelyn Baines, Bernard Meyer, Franciszek Ziejka, Hans van Marie) started to undermine Conrad’s assertions that “All the persons are authentic and the facts as stated.” The biographer who ultimately refutes all those relations labelling them as tall stories and legends is Zdzisław Najder. He consecutively lays bare Conrad’s allegedly truthful reminiscences recorded in his books. According to him Conrad neither took part in the arms smuggling for the pretender to the Spanish throne, Don Carlos nor had a romance with Dona Rita, the mistress of the would-to-be king, let alone fought a duel in defence of his and his lover’s honour. Those versions must be put aside as fictitious stories once and for all. Fifth chapter is devoted to Conrad’s debut as a man of letters. Was it ‘the serious thing’ (as the writer referred to the book in a letter to his publisher, J. B. Pinker, 19 I 1922) i.e. Almayer's Folly (and most of the general companions to English literature as well as cursory biographies reiterate) or was it the ‘extraneous phenomenon’ i. e. The Black Mate. It is still a moot point. Conrad officially claimed that Almayer's Folly was his first literary production for he wanted to shape and present his literary career as a gradual but successful rise to renown and acknowledgement in belles-letters. In this case the Conradian milieu split into three fractions. One group of scholars asserted that The Black Mate was written in 1886 for a competition’ organised by a magazine entitled “Tit-Bits” (Jean-Aubry, Lawrence Graver, Norman Sherry, Frederick Karl, Keith Carabine). Later the short story was redrafted and given to J.B. Pinker in January 1908. The most thorough comparative analysis of the two versions of the story along with the biographical background of the time of its composition was carried out by K. Carabine. Another group of Conradians was of the opinion that it in not worth debating which of the books marks the actual commencement of the artist’s literary career (Jocelyn Baines, Bernard Meyer). And what is more, B. Meyer, Conrad’s psychoanalytical biographer, emphasised that more important is how Conrad wanted to present himself in public than the real course of events. The third group denied the existence of any works written prior to Almayer's Folly. Z. Najder verified the manuscript of The Black Mate and not finding there any corrections concluded that this manuscript could not have been an earlier version of the same story. The conceptions of Conrad’s personality are examined in the last section of the dissertation. Critics viewed the writer’s character in three, often overlapping perspectives: the cultural, the psychological and the sociological. For Conrad’s family, some friends and the earliest biographers he was culturally the other, the stranger and was frequently labelled as mysterious, complicated, fascinating man from the East (Jean-Aubry, Richard Curie). Another group of scholars tried to interpret Conrad’s character using the methods of Z. Freud’s psychoanalysis (Bernard Meyer), C. G. Jung’s depth psychology (Gustav Morf) and E. Erikson’s psycho-biography (Frederick Karl). Some of the Conradians attempted to perceive Conrad in the sociological context of the Polish szlachta (Zdzisław Najder). The variety of portraits created resulted from the different perspectives taken by the scholars as well as from the range of sources used in the research: biographical documents, the quasi-autobiographical writings and/or fictional narratives.
ISBN: 83-907427-2-1
Appears in Collections:Książki/rozdziały (W.Hum.)

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