In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Joseph Conrad

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Correspondence
  • Reception
  • Scholarly Journals
  • Early Criticism
  • Short Fiction
  • Language
  • Narratology
  • Gender
  • Postcolonialism and Empire
  • Art and Popular Culture
  • Film and Theater

Victorian Literature Joseph Conrad
J.H. Stape
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0019


Joseph Conrad was the pen name of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (b. 1857–d. 1924), coat of arms Nałęcz, born to Polish gentry parents in Berdyczów, Ukraine (near Kiev), then part of the vast Russian Empire. He is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential English novelists of high modernism. Having arrived in England to serve in the merchant service, he settled permanently in the country and became a British subject, writing in his third language (French being his second). Abandoning a twenty-year career at sea to write full-time, he was acclaimed from the outset of his career as a writer of note, his style, vision, and “exotic” subject matter drawing abundant and often informed critical attention. His major phase extends from about 1897 to 1911 (from The Nigger of the Narcissus to Under Western Eyes); his late work, from 1919 until his death (The Arrow of Gold to Suspense), represents a considerable decline in quality. His output includes several volumes of short fiction and nonfiction (including memoirs) as well as a volume of plays. “Heart of Darkness” (1898), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1908), widely considered to be his most innovative works, are key works of literary modernism.

General Overviews

The sheer size of Conrad’s output, the complexity of his vision and narrative procedures, and the plethora of criticism on his work have evoked general studies offering an orientation to the writer and guides to further reading about it. A veritable boom in general introductions for the beginning student occurred in 2006, with no less than three guides—Middleton 2006, Peters 2006, and Simmons 2006— traversing much the same territory and targeting much the same audience. The more advanced student is served by Berthoud 1978, Simmons 2009, and Stape 1996, while Simmons 2009 straddles the divide and can be read with profit by both the beginner and scholar. Watts 1993 remains a good general introduction to Conradian thought.

  • Berthoud, Jacques. Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

    Despite its date, a still useful introduction to the core canon, with insights nimbly articulated and arguments impressively made. Arguably the best and most sophisticated of introductions to the writer’s achievement.

  • Middleton, Tim. Joseph Conrad. Routledge Guide to Literature. London: Routledge, 2006.

    An up-to-date guide to trends in contemporary criticism, with a strong agenda of revaluation. Especially useful as a summary to critical work in the wake of the collapse of New Criticism and in the new heyday of theory and the various fields opened up by it.

  • Peters, John G. The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Solidly aimed at the student who wishes general guidance to the major points of interest in the author’s canon. Responsive to new trends in criticism, including postcolonialism and popular culture.

  • Simmons, Allan H. Joseph Conrad: Critical Issues. Critical Issues Series. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    A critically sophisticated and highly readable general introduction to the major works, including discussions of the short fiction and later novels. Accompanied by a bibliography of the canon and by a judicious selected bibliography of essential criticism.

  • Simmons, Allan H., ed. Conrad in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    An up-to-date and well-edited overview comprising thirty-two chapters by a host of scholars, ranging from introductory discussions that summarize the life and works and critical responses from the viewpoint of the early 21st century to specialized brief discussions of, for instance, language, empire, religion, popular culture, science, and technology.

  • Stape, J. H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    Following the format of this highly successful series, an informative and tightly edited collection of twelve essays by major scholars on key works or phases of Conrad’s writing career, including the discussion of, among other topics, the life, the short fiction, politics, narrative, and Conrad’s influence on other writers.

  • Watts, Cedric. Preface to Conrad. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1993.

    A short but highly stimulating introduction to certain key ideas, with a more extended discussion of Nostromo in particular.

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