Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, in the Polish Ukraine.
When Conrad was quite young, his father was exiled to Siberia on suspicion of plotting against the Russian government. After the death of the boy’s mother, Conrad’s father sent him to his mother’s brother in Kraków to be educated, and Conrad never again saw his father. He traveled to Marseilles when he was seventeen and spent the next twenty years as a sailor. He signed on to an English ship in 1878, and eight years later he became a British subject. In his twenties, after joining the English fleet, Conrad anglicized his Slavic name and learned English. In 1889, he began his first novel, Almayer’s Folly, and began actively searching for a way to fulfill his boyhood dream of traveling to the Congo. He took command of a steamship in the Belgian Congo in 1890, and his experiences in the Congo came to provide the outline for his best-known novel, Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s time in Africa wreaked havoc on his health, however, and he returned to England to recover. He returned to sea twice before finishing Almayer’s Folly in 1894 and wrote several other books, including one about Marlow called Youth: A Narrative before beginning Heart of Darkness in 1898. Conrad was only moderately successful during his lifetime, although he moved in prominent literary circles and was friends with people like Henry James and Ford Madox Ford; with the latter he coauthored several works.
Conrad was writing at the very moment when the Victorian Age was disappearing and the modern era was emerging. Victorian moral codes still influenced the plots of novels, but such principles were no longer absolute. Novelists and poets were beginning to experiment with form. When Conrad died in 1924, the First World War had come and gone, and modernism dominated literature.