“‘Oh, Freya is a sensible girl!’ he murmured absently, his mind’s eye obviously fixed on the authorities. No; Freya was no fool.”
This little-known novella from one of the masters of the form is so unusual for Joseph Conrad’s work in several respects, although not in its exotic maritime setting or its even more exotic prose—it is unusual in that it is one of his very few works to feature a woman as a leading character, and to take the form of a romance.
Still, it’s a Conradian romance: a sweeping saga set in the Indian Ocean basin, against a turbulent background of barely suppressed hostilities between Dutch and British merchant navies, told by one of Conrad’s classically detached narrators. In the end, the unique perspective of the sharply etched character of Freya is one of Conrad’s most piercing studies of how the lust for power can drive men to greatness—or its opposite.
JÓSEF TEODOR KONRAD KORZENIOWSKI was born in Russian-controlled Ukraine to landless aristocratic Polish parents in 1857. His father, a translator of French literature, was convicted of revolutionary activities for Polish independence in 1861 and the family was exiled to Russia, where both parents soon contracted Tuberculosis and died. Raised by relatives, Jósef joined the French Merchant Marines at age 16, and spent the next two decades sailing the world, including stints with the British Merchant marines and as a gun-runner for Carlist revolutionaries in Spain. He didn’t learn English until in his twenties, but at 36 he settled in London, married, and, changing his name to Joseph Conrad, commenced writing tales based on his life at sea, becoming famous for novels such as Lord Jim and Nostromo, and novellas such as Heart of Darkness andVictory. He died of a heart attack in England in 1924.