You're undoubtedly an inspiration to every would-be writer here who struggles with eccentricities of English grammar and vocabulary. You didn't even begin to learn the language until you were in your twenties ... and yet became one of the greatest writers of the C20th, critically praised for your style and precision.
I had to read Heart of Darkness as a set text three decades ago, but this story of a journey up the Congo and into the nature of evil affects me profoundly even now. But I never did think that Francis Ford Coppola's film, Apocalypse Now, which was based on it (albeit with a setting shifted to Vietnam) even remotely matched up.
Of course, in this part of the world we have particular reasons for celebrating your birthday: a large proportion of your work was set in:
... the Eastern Seas from which I have carried away into my writing life the greatest number of suggestions.This excellent New Straits Times article about your connection with the region points out that:
Although Conrad only spent about eight of his 20 years of sailing in the “Malay World", his experiences inspired him to start writing and formed the setting for novels such as Lord Jim, Victory and The Shadow-Line.The article also suggests that your work helped to sow the seeds of independence in this part of the world, by being critical of colonialism in your work. (It's a point of view, by the way that Ng Tze Shiung on the NST letter page objects to a few days later ... )
The people he met can be seen in his work. For example, the real-life Captain William Lingard in Sarawak was the model for Captain Tom Lingard, the central character in a trilogy — Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue. Conrad also referred to “an English Rajah” in Kuching, Sir James Brooke, in Almayer’s Folly.
The novelist was aware that the Malays — whether of Bugis, Sulu or Javanese origin — were all “Mohammedans” (the term used for Muslims at that time), says Dr Agnes Yeow, head of the Department of English at Universiti Malaya.
She points out that his tales are “punctuated with hajis, pilgrims both returned and en route, invocations to Allah, as well as references to pilgrimage, the Holy Shrine and the Quran".
The Chinese are also found in most of his tales from this region, ranging from waiters, cooks, tellers, labourers, rickshaw-pullers and boatmen at one end of the spectrum, to a small group of Chinese who made their fortunes and became upwardly mobile, notes the academic whose PhD thesis was Envisioning the Malay World: A Study of Conrad’s Eastern Tales.
And Conrad also includes the Straits Chinese whose ancestors had settled in the Malay World for more than a century. They were Chinese by descent, had intermarried and interacted with the Malays, and were politically allied to the British.
What's the truth? I think that we should reread your work and decide for ourselves!
So, a very happy birthday. And thanks.
*I am very sad that I missed the travelling exhibition Joseph Conrad: Twixt Land and Sea held in November at Times bookstore at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Bukit Bintang. I just didn't know about it! (Times - why don't you have a mailing list, and why don't you slip the word out to bloggers????)