midnightfaerie's Reviews > Personal Record

Personal Record by Joseph Conrad
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Feb 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: classics

A Personal Record by Joseph Conrad gave great insight into the man who wrote the classic "Heart of Darkness". I must say, if one plans on reading this, they must get the copy that has "A Familiar Preface" by Conrad, who spends some time justifying some of his decisions in how he wrote the book to the critics. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the book and found myself agreeing with him on many points. It seems there are two main points that most of the critics focused on, the first being that he didn't write in his native language, polish. I won't give it away, but his eloquence in stating so matter of factly his reasons was impressive and it made me admire the man even more. The second criticism that he speaks to is that his father was depicted as a "Revolutionary". Conrad was born in what used to a part of Poland that is now Russia and speaks of his father as a patriot more than a revolutionist and cites the differences in text. Those that have reviewed his book say that much of the book centers around these two themes, his choice to write in English instead of Polish and his "sad" Polish youth. Conrad doesn't necessarily agree. I have to say, I really enjoyed "A Familiar Preface". I think he speaks to many of his critics about many different criticisms, not just the two stated earlier. It's almost sad that he feels that he has to justify himself, but really, don't we all when it comes to artistic expression?

There are two points to these other criticisms that he makes that I find enthralling. The first deals with the fact that his "autobiography" is not in chronological order. It's more a series of essays of various occasions in his life that has influenced him. Who's to say that an autobiography has to be in chronological order? His response to this is (And I find this brilliant) is "Could I begin with the sacramental words, 'I was born on such a date in such a place?' The remoteness of the locality would have robbed the statement of all interest." The wording is just beautiful. I mean who writes/thinks like that? Apparently Conrad does, which is why we love him.

The second point is when he speaks of one of his critics saying that all he writes should have an element of "heroic truth". So there may be some embellishments, or as he says, "impressions" of events that are not all exact fact. His response, again is brilliant. And here I must quote,
"My answer is that if it be true that every novel contains an element of autobiography - and this can hardly be denied, since the creator can only express himself in his creation - then there are some of us to whom an open display of sentiment is repugnant."

He then goes on later to say, "No artist can be reproached for shrinking from a risk which only fools run to meet and only genius dare confront with impunity."

At first I thought, no, this isn't true. But then after contemplation, realized he was right! It was only my defensiveness as an artist that wills the idea of everyone being able to express anything they want and how they want without incrimination. But really, all we have to do is think of even one book that we disliked to know that we condemn so easily, and because of it, how can we call another artist a coward from shrinking from that risk? Talk about enlightenment. In any case, the more I read Conrad the more I want to bow down to this man. Too bad he's dead.

As for the book...Conrad talks of his life, the influence of his uncle, growing up in Russian Poland, and his sailing and the writing of Almayer's Folly. While I find his influences and experiences interesting, it was nowhere near as interesting as "A Familiar Preface" which is in the beginning of the book. After finishing the book and going back to do some Googling on it, I found that this was the case with most people who have read it. The preface was also the part of the book most quoted from, which is completely understandable. The only thing that stands out to me in the book is his weird fascination with the story of his uncle eating the dog when he was starving and in the military. He finds it so fascinating, he uses it in analogies and themes throughout the book, bringing it up over and over again. No, I agree with the critics on how Conrad is all over the place in this piece and seems to jump from topic to topic. It gave a little insight into the man but not anywhere near as good as Heart of Darkness.

I would like to note that although he speaks of Almayer's Folly quite a bit, and I still wish I had read it first, I don't think it is imperative that you read it first. Mostly because in all his talking about it, I don't think it was so much about the story of the book than the fact it was the first thing he wrote. He uses it to discuss becoming a writer and how he came to write. I also find it interesting that he says he never thought to be a writer, almost like it hadn't occurred to him, even though, to the reader, it was quite evident he was meant to. At first I was like, really? But then started to think about my life of writing and realized it was the same for me. It never occurred to me even though I had notebook after notebook filled with writing as a child, even though I was constantly making up stories in my head, and even won contests. Now, thirty years later, I finally realize I'm allowed to dive into a passion that probably won't make me any money and am continually surprised I hadn't done it before. In any case, this is a good addition to some of Conrad's smaller works if you're looking for more information on the author. I look forward to reading many more of Conrad's works.

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