Joseph Conrad

From Wikiquote
Jump to: navigation, search
My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask. — The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897)

Joseph Conrad (3 December 18573 August 1924) was a Polish writer, working in England, regarded as one of the greatest novelists in the English language.

See also:
The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897)
Lord Jim (1900)
Heart of Darkness (1902)
Henry James — An Appreciation (1905)
Some Reminiscences (A Personal Record) (1912)

Quotes[edit]

It's only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose.
All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar and surprising, for the edification of mankind, pinned down by the conditions of its existence to the earnest consideration of the most insignificant tides of reality. — Henry James: An Appreciation (1905)
The sea never changes and its works, for all the talk of men, are wrapped in mystery.
Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love — and to put its trust in life!!
  • Egoism, which is the moving force of the world, and altruism, which is its morality, these two contradictory instincts, of which one is so plain and the other so mysterious, cannot serve us unless in the incomprehensible alliance of their irreconcilable antagonism.
    • in an August 1901 letter to the editor of The New York Times Saturday Book Review, quoted in Zdzisław Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Life, translated by Halina Najder, Rochester, New York, Camden House, 2007, ISBN 1-57113-347-X, p. 315.


  • Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow....
    In this world – as I have known it – we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt....
    There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that... is always but a vain and fleeting appearance....
    A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains – but a clod of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing.


  • Above all, we must forgive the unhappy souls who have elected to make the pilgrimage on foot, who skirt the shore and look uncomprehendingly upon the horror of the struggle, the joy of victory, the profound hopelessness of the vanquished.
    • letter written in March 1890, published in Frederick R Karl and Laurence Davies, eds., The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 1, p. 43. ISBN 0521242169


  • When he stepped off the straight and narrow path of his peculiar honesty, it was with an inward assertion of unflinching resolve to fall back again into the monotonous but safe stride of virtue as soon as his little excursion into the wayside quagmires had produced the desired effect.
  • It's only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose.
    • An Outcast of the Islands, 1896, pt. 3, chap. 2
    • possibly a translation of the Polish proverb, "Ten się nie myli, kto nic nie robi."


  • What makes mankind tragic is not that they are the victims of nature, it is that they are conscious of it.


  • The more I write the less substance do I see in my work, ... It is tolerably awful. And I face it, I face it but the fright is growing on me. My fortitude is shaken by the view of the monster. It does not move; its eyes are baleful; it is as still as death itself — and it will devour me. Its stare has eaten into my soul already deep, deep.
    • letter to Edward Garnett written in March 1899, published in Frederick R Karl and Laurence Davies, eds., The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 2, p. 177.


  • She strode like a grenadier, was strong and upright like an obelisk, had a beautiful face, a candid brow, pure eyes, and not a thought of her own in her head.


  • One must have lived on such diet to discover what ghastly trouble the necessity of swallowing one's food become.


  • Running all over the sea trying to get behind the weather.


  • The sea never changes and its works, for all the talk of men, are wrapped in mystery.
    • Typhoon, chap. 2


  • Facing it — always facing it — that's the way to get through.
    • Typhoon, chap. 5


  • The future is of our own making — and (for me) the most striking characteristic of the century is just that development, that maturing of our consciousness which should open our eyes to that truth.
    • letter to H. G. Wells written in February 1902, published in Frederick R Karl and Laurence Davies, eds., The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 2, p. 509


  • One wonders that there can be found a man courageous enough to occupy the post. It is a matter of meditation. Having given it a few minutes I come to the conclusion in the serenity of my heart and the peace of my conscience that he must be either an extreme megalomaniac or an utterly unconscious being.
    • "The Censor of Plays", 1907


  • As to honour — you know — it's a very fine mediaeval inheritance which women never got hold of. It wasn't theirs.
    • Chance, part I, chap. 2, 1913


  • It is to be remarked that a good many people are born curiously unfitted for the fate awaiting them on this earth.
    • Chance, part I, chap. 6


  • I can't tell if a straw ever saved a drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair pause. For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are not creatures of despair.
    • Chance, part I, chap. 6


  • Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men.
    • Chance, part II, chap. 5


  • The world of finance is a mysterious world in which, incredible as the fact may appear, evaporation precedes liquidation.


  • It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm mental fog.


  • Every age is fed on illusions, lest men should renounce life early and the human race come to an end.
    • Victory: An Island Tale, part II, chap. 3


  • The last thing a woman will consent to discover in a man whom she loves, or on whom she simply depends, is want of courage.
    • Victory: An Island Tale, part II, chap. 5


  • He remembered that she was pretty, and, more, that she had a special grace in the intimacy of life. She had the secret of individuality which excites — and escapes.
    • Victory: An Island Tale, part III, chap. 4


  • Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love — and to put its trust in life!!
    • Victory: An Island Tale, part IV, chap. 14


  • Reality, as usual, beats fiction out of sight.
    • Letter written in September 1915, published in Frederick R Karl and Laurence Davies (eds.) The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad Vol. 5, p. 509. ISBN 0521323894


  • In plucking the fruit of memory one runs the risk of spoiling its bloom.


  • A man is a worker. If he is not that he is nothing.
    • Notes on Life and Letters, 1921, part II, "Well Done"


  • For the great mass of mankind the only saving grace that is needed is steady fidelity to what is nearest to hand and heart in the short moment of each human effort.
    • Notes on Life and Letters, part II, "Tradition"


Youth, A Narrative, 1902[edit]

  • This could have occurred nowhere but in England, where men and sea interpenetrate, so to speak.
  • I had been six years at sea, but had only seen Melbourne and Sydney, very good places, charming places in their way — but Bankok!
  • His name was Jermyn, and he dodged all day long about the galley drying his handkerchief before the stove. Apparently he never slept. He was a dismal man, with a perpetual tear sparkling at the end of his nose, who either had been in trouble, or was in trouble, or expected to be in trouble — couldn't be happy unless something went wrong. He mistrusted my youth, my common-sense, and my seamanship, and made a point of showing it in a hundred little ways. I dare say he was right. It seems to me I knew very little then, and I know not much more now; but I cherish a hate for that Jermyn to this day.
  • I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more — the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort — to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires — and expires, too soon — too soon before life itself.
  • Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour — of youth!... A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and — goodbye! — Night — Goodbye!

Nostromo (1904)[edit]

  • "God for men — religions for women," he muttered sometimes.
    • Part First: The Silver of the Mine, Ch. 4
  • Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.
    • Part First: The Silver of the Mine, Ch. 6
  • The air of the New World seems favorable to the art of declamation.
    • Part First: The Silver of the Mine, Ch. 6
  • A nickname may be the best record of a success. That's what I call putting the face of a joke upon the body of a truth.
    • Part Third: The Lighthouse, Ch. 1
    • Often misquoted as "A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth."
  • Having had to encounter single-handed during his period of eclipse many physical dangers, he was well aware of the most dangerous element common to them all: of the crushing, paralyzing sense of human littleness, which is what really defeats a man struggling with natural forces, alone, far from the eyes of his fellows.
    • Part Third: The Lighthouse, Ch. 8
  • There is no credulity so eager and blind as the credulity of covetousness, which, in its universal extent, measures the moral misery and the intellectual destitution of mankind.
    • Part Third: The Lighthouse, chap. 9
  • The truth was that he died from solitude, the enemy known but to few on this Earth, and whom only the simplest of us are fit to withstand. The brilliant Costaguanaro of the boulevards had died from solitude and want of faith in himself and others.
    • Part Third: The Lighthouse, Ch. 10

The Mirror of the Sea (1906)[edit]

  • Efficiency of a practically flawless kind may be reached naturally in the struggle for bread. But there is something beyond — a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill; almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish which is almost art — which is art.
    • chap. 7
  • History repeats itself, but the special call of an art which has passed away is never reproduced. It is as utterly gone out of the world as the song of a destroyed wild bird.
    • chap. 8
  • An artist is a man of action, whether he creates a personality, invents an expedient, or finds the issue of a complicated situation.
    • Ch. 9
  • I call to mind a winter landscape in Amsterdam — a flat foreground of waste land, with here and there stacks of timber, like the huts of a camp of some very miserable tribe; the long stretch of the Handelskade; cold, stone-faced quays, with the snow-sprinkled ground and the hard, frozen water of the canal, in which were set ships one behind another with their frosty mooring-ropes hanging slack and their decks idle and deserted, because... their cargoes were frozen-in up-country on barges and schuyts. In the distance, beyond the waste ground, and running parallel with the line of ships, a line of brown, warm-toned houses seemed bowed under snow-laden roofs. From afar at the end of Tsar Peter Straat, issued in the frosty air the tinkle of bells of the horse tramcars, appearing and disappearing in the opening between the buildings, like little toy carriages harnessed with toy horses and played with by people that appeared no bigger than children.
    • On Amsterdam, Ch. 14
  • Nobody ever comes back from a "missing" ship to tell how hard was the death of the craft, and how sudden and overwhelming the last anguish of her men. Nobody can say with what thoughts, with what regrets, with what words on their lips they died. But there is something fine in the sudden passing away of these hearts from the extremity of struggle and stress and tremendous uproar—from the vast, unrestful rage of the surface to the profound peace of the depths, sleeping untroubled since the beginning of ages.
    • Ch. 17
  • The Westerly Wind asserting his sway from the south-west quarter is often like a monarch gone mad, driving forth with wild imprecations the most faithful of his courtiers to shipwreck, disaster, and death.
    • Ch. 26
  • To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.
    • Ch. 27
  • The East Wind, an interloper in the dominions of Westerly weather, is an impassive-faced tyrant with a sharp poniard held behind his back for a treacherous stab.
    • Ch. 28
  • For all that has been said of the love that certain natures (on shore) have professed to feel for it, for all the celebrations it had been the object of in prose and song, the sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
    • Ch. 35
  • The sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.
    • Ch. 36

On the River Thames, Ch. 16[edit]

  • Coming in from the eastward, the bright colouring of the [Nore] lightship marking the part of the river committed to the charge of an Admiral (the Commander-in-Chief at the Nore) accentuates the dreariness and the great breadth of the Thames Estuary. But soon the course of the ship opens the entrance of the Medway, with its men-of-war moored in line, and the long wooden jetty of Port Victoria, with its few low buildings like the beginning of a hasty settlement upon a wild and unexplored shore. The famous Thames barges sit in brown clusters upon the water with an effect of birds floating upon a pond... [The inward-bound ships] all converge upon the Nore, the warm speck of red upon the tones of drab and gray, with the distant shores running together towards the west, low and flat, like the sides of an enormous canal. The sea-reach of the Thames is straight, and, once Sheerness is left behind, its banks seem very uninhabited, except for the cluster of houses which is Southend, or here and there a lonely wooden jetty where petroleum ships discharge their dangerous cargoes, and the oil-storage tanks, low and round with slightly-domed roofs, peep over the edge of the fore-shore, as it were a village of Central African huts imitated in iron. Bordered by the black and shining mud-flats, the level marsh extends for miles. Away in the far background the land rises, closing the view with a continuous wooded slope, forming in the distance an interminable rampart overgrown with bushes.
    • The Nore to Hope Point
  • Then, on the slight turn of the Lower Hope Reach, clusters of factory chimneys come distinctly into view, tall and slender above the squat ranges of cement works in Grays and Greenhithe. Smoking quietly at the top against the great blaze of a magnificent sunset, they give an industrial character to the scene, speak of work, manufactures, and trade, as palm-groves on the coral strands of distant islands speak of the luxuriant grace, beauty and vigour of tropical nature. The houses of Gravesend crowd upon the shore with an effect of confusion as if they had tumbled down haphazard from the top of the hill at the back. The flatness of the Kentish shore ends there. A fleet of steam-tugs lies at anchor in front of the various piers. A conspicuous church spire, the first seen distinctly coming from the sea, has a thoughtful grace, the serenity of a fine form above the chaotic disorder of men’s houses. But on the other side, on the flat Essex side, a shapeless and desolate red edifice, a vast pile of bricks with many windows and a slate roof more inaccessible than an Alpine slope, towers over the bend in monstrous ugliness, the tallest, heaviest building for miles around, a thing like an hotel, like a mansion of flats (all to let), exiled into these fields out of a street in West Kensington. Just round the corner, as it were, on a pier defined with stone blocks and wooden piles, a white mast, slender like a stalk of straw and crossed by a yard like a knitting-needle, flying the signals of flag and balloon, watches over a set of heavy dock-gates. Mast-heads and funnel-tops of ships peep above the ranges of corrugated iron roofs. This is the entrance to Tilbury Dock, the most recent of all London docks, the nearest to the sea.
    • Hope Point to Tilbury / Gravesend
  • Between the crowded houses of Gravesend and the monstrous red-brick pile on the Essex shore the ship is surrendered fairly to the grasp of the river. That hint of loneliness, that soul of the sea which had accompanied her as far as the Lower Hope Reach, abandons her at the turn of the first bend above. The salt, acrid flavour is gone out of the air, together with a sense of unlimited space opening free beyond the threshold of sandbanks below the Nore. The waters of the sea rush on past Gravesend, tumbling the big mooring buoys laid along the face of the town; but the sea-freedom stops short there, surrendering the salt tide to the needs, the artifices, the contrivances of toiling men. Wharves, landing-places, dock-gates, waterside stairs, follow each other continuously right up to London Bridge, and the hum of men’s work fills the river with a menacing, muttering note as of a breathless, ever-driving gale. The water-way, so fair above and wide below, flows oppressed by bricks and mortar and stone, by blackened timber and grimed glass and rusty iron, covered with black barges, whipped up by paddles and screws, overburdened with craft, overhung with chains, overshadowed by walls making a steep gorge for its bed, filled with a haze of smoke and dust.
    • Tilbury / Gravesend to London Bridge
  • This stretch of the Thames from London Bridge to the Albert Docks is to other watersides of river ports what a virgin forest would be to a garden. It is a thing grown up, not made. It recalls a jungle by the confused, varied, and impenetrable aspect of the buildings that line the shore, not according to a planned purpose, but as if sprung up by accident from scattered seeds. Like the matted growth of bushes and creepers veiling the silent depths of an unexplored wilderness, they hide the depths of London’s infinitely varied, vigorous, seething life. In other river ports it is not so. They lie open to their stream, with quays like broad clearings, with streets like avenues cut through thick timber for the convenience of trade... But London, the oldest and greatest of river ports, does not possess as much as a hundred yards of open quays upon its river front. Dark and impenetrable at night, like the face of a forest, is the London waterside. It is the waterside of watersides, where only one aspect of the world’s life can be seen, and only one kind of men toils on the edge of the stream. The lightless walls seem to spring from the very mud upon which the stranded barges lie; and the narrow lanes coming down to the foreshore resemble the paths of smashed bushes and crumbled earth where big game comes to drink on the banks of tropical streams.

    Behind the growth of the London waterside the docks of London spread out unsuspected, smooth, and placid, lost amongst the buildings like dark lagoons hidden in a thick forest. They lie concealed in the intricate growth of houses with a few stalks of mastheads here and there overtopping the roof of some four-story warehouse.

    • London Bridge to the Royal Albert Dock

The Secret Agent (1907)[edit]

Online text
  • Protection is the first necessity of opulence and luxury.
    • Ch. 2
  • All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity — it is to destroy it. Leave that to the moralists, my boy. History is made by men, but they do not make it in their heads. The ideas that are born in their consciousness play an insignificant part in the march of events. History is dominated and determined by the tool and the production — by the force of economic conditions. Capitalism has made socialism, and the laws made by the capitalist for the protection of property are responsible for anarchism. No one can tell what form the social organisation may take in the future. Then why indulge in prophetic phantasies? At best they can only interpret the mind of the prophet, and can have no objective value. Leave that pastime to the moralists, my boy.
    • Ch. 3
  • To the destruction of what is.
    • Toast by the Professor, Ch. 13
  • All passion is lost now. The world is mediocre, limp, without force. And madness and despair are a force. And force is a crime in the eyes of the fools, the weak and the silly who rule the roost. You are mediocre. Verloc, whose affair the police has managed to smother so nicely, was mediocre. And the police murdered him. He was mediocre. Everybody is mediocre. Madness and despair! Give me that for a lever, and I'll move the world. Ossipon, you have my cordial scorn. You are incapable of conceiving even what the fat-fed citizen would call a crime. You have no force.
    • Ch. 13

Under Western Eyes (1911)[edit]

  • Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality. I have been for many years a teacher of languages. It is an occupation which at length becomes fatal to whatever share of imagination, observation, and insight an ordinary person may be heir to. To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much more wonderful than a parrot.
    • Pt. I
  • I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace.
    • Pt. I
  • A man's real life is that accorded to him in the thoughts of other men by reason of respect or natural love.
    • Pt. I
  • Nations it may be have fashioned their Governments, but the Governments have paid them back in the same coin.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2
  • They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2
  • Who knows what true loneliness is — not the conventional word, but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2
  • A man's most open actions have a secret side to them.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2
  • Let a fool be made serviceable according to his folly.
    • Pt. I, ch. 3
  • The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement — but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims.
    • Pt. II, ch. 3
  • The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
    • Pt. II, ch. 4
  • Perhaps life is just that... a dream and a fear.
    • Pt. IV, ch. 2

The Shadow Line (1915)[edit]

  • He feared neither God, nor devil, nor man, nor wind, nor sea, nor his own conscience. And I believe he hated everybody and everything. But I think he was afraid to die. I believe I am the only man who ever stood up to him.
    • Referring to Mr. Burns. Compare to Heart of Darkness'' manager: "He was becoming confidential now, but I fancy my unresponsive attitude must have exasperated him at last, for he judged it necessary to inform me he feared neither God nor devil, let alone any mere man. I said I could see that very well..."

Quotes about Joseph Conrad[edit]

  • It is fashionable among my friends to disparage [Conrad]. It is even necessary. Living in a world of literary politics where one wrong opinion often proves fatal, one writes carefully.... It is agreed by most of the people I know that Conrad is a bad writer, just as it is agreed that T. S. Eliot is a good writer. And now he is dead and I wish to God they would have taken some great, acknowledged technician of a literary figure and left him to write his bad stories.
    • Ernest Hemingway, "Conrad, Optimist and Moralist," Transatlantic Review (October 1924)
  • Melville doesn't sentimentalize the ocean and the sea's unfortunates. Snivel in a wet hanky like Lord Jim.
  • D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)


Misattributed[edit]

  • I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had ever been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.
    • Though sometimes attributed to Conrad it is a misquotation from Captain James Cook's journals (1774-01-30): "I whose ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go, was not sorry at meeting with this interruption."

External links[edit]

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Commons
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: