Conrad’s oft-quoted description of himself as ‘homo duplex’ is still appropriate in 2007, the 150th anniversary of his birth. It is a reminder of the psychological and artistic complexity of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers and encapsulates the antinomies that, as many critics have noted, shaped Conrad’s life: the exiled Pole and the naturalized British subject; the master mariner and the Modernist writer; the intellectual sceptic who affirmed the primacy of feeling; the public teller of tales and the intensely private and reserved individual. This sense of a life all contraries, and the perpetual quest to integrate the multiple facets of his being, is articulated throughout Conrad’s works and in his correspondence. As early as 1897, at the start of his writing career, he noted:
Well, You know, my life is all stories now, something preoccupied and shadowy and I think even more illusive than other existences. And so it goes on, from story to story, from fiction to fiction, in an increasing endeavour to express something of the essence of life.
Conrad’s perception of his identity and of a life ‘all stories’ offers a clue to the relationship between the life and the art of this enigmatic figure. For while it is true that the factual details of any life will reveal something about an author, yet ‘the essence’ of that life is contained in the works. The task of the biographer, no less than the creative writer, must be to find a meaningful pattern which will transmute facts into significance and offer an interpretation of events that illuminates what in his autobiography Conrad called ‘the traced way of an inexplicable impulse.’ A biographer will also be aware of the dangers of hindsight and of imposing a simplistic retrospective significance on events, which may falsify the richness and spontaneity of life as it is experienced ‘in the middest’. At the same time the mass of data available must be carefully sifted, selected and interpreted to render it meaningful. What gives a biography conviction is the reader’s sense that the choice of facts and their interpretation do justice to the whole man and to the fluid, manifold, ever-evolving life and art. No less than the creative artist, the biographer must create ‘a form of imagined life clearer than reality’, as Conrad stated in A Personal Record.
|Ausgabe / Jahr:||2 / 2008|
Seiten 453 - 455
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