«Sailing towards Poland» with Joseph Conrad

by Jean M. Szczypien (Author)
©2017 Monographs XXIV, 270 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 42


Joseph Conrad ingeniously buried images from Polish literature and culture into his works. Once recognized, these references alter the accepted meanings of the texts. In an interview that was published in Kuryer Polski (in the then Polish city of Ostrawa, now in the Czech Republic) on 26 August 1915, Conrad himself declared about the nineteenth-century Polish poets: “Krasiński, Mickiewicz and Słowacki. Their words are everything for me. I was raised and formed by them.” Yet, the Polish sources deeply rooted in Conrad’s works have been scantily acknowledged and hardly explored, although notable intertextual theorists have argued that the ultimate understanding of the text comes from the intertext(s).
The first part of this book analyzes Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, and four of his greatest works: Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. Unearthing the cache of Polish references in these works enhances our intellectual and aesthetic appreciation of Conrad as an artist par excellence. The signs recall literary and artistic works as well as aspects of social behavior, as Kristeva and Riffaterre explain. Bloom provides additional insight regarding the writer’s struggle to supersede his predecessors.
The second part of the book looks at two autobiographical works: A Personal Record and “A Familiar Preface.” With poetic eloquence, Conrad proclaims his victory over his tragic past in A Personal Record. A tone of gaiety rises stubbornly in the midst of complete awareness of sorrow. The tone of “A Familiar Preface” is also unmistakably triumphant. More than joyous, the merriment in these self-portraits celebrates many worldly achievements, but ultimately one great triumph. In his writings the English author has transcended bitter adversities by transfiguring dreadful facts into the perfection and permanence of art.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise for “Sailing towards Poland” with Joseph Conrad
  • This eBook can be Cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Polish Nuggets Buried in English Books
  • 1. Echoes from Konrad Wallenrod in Almayer’s Folly and A Personal Record
  • 2. Polish Butterflies in Lord Jim and Echoes from The Iliad
  • 3. Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
  • I. A Polish Beginning and Its French Connection
  • II. “Charley” Gould’s Moustachio: A Polish Twist
  • III. An Unrecognized Polish Nobleman in Nostromo
  • 4. The New Religion in Zygmunt Krasiński’s The Undivine Comedy and The Secret Agent
  • 5. The Memoirs of Tadeusz Bobrowski and A Personal Record
  • 6. Under Western Eyes
  • I. “A Raw Youth” Confesses to Tadeusz Bobrowski
  • II. Allusions from Juliusz Słowacki
  • From Kordian
  • From “Agamemnon’s Tomb”
  • Part II: Victory Declared over a Tragic Past
  • 7. A Personal Record
  • I. Composition and Publication
  • II. Design
  • 8. The Manuscript of “A Familiar Preface” An Encoded Proclamation of Triumph
  • Appendix: Kurtz’s Cathedral: An Image from The Undivine Comedy in Heart of Darkness
  • Works Cited
  • Permissions
  • Index



1.    Konrad Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) in 1883, in Marienbad. Photograph by Otto Bielefeldt. National Library, Warsaw, Poland.

2.    The Nałęcz coat of arms. Bartosz Paprocki, Herby rycerstwa polskiego (Coats of Arms of Polish Knights) (Cracow: Nakładem Wydawnictwa Biblioteki Polskiej, 1858), 208.

Chapter 1

3.    Verso of Chapter 3, page 4, of the manuscript of Almayer’s Folly. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

4.    Title page and Frontispiece to the first edition of Konrad Wallenrod (1828). Lithograph by Wincenty Smokowski. Adam Mickiewicz Museum, Warsaw, Poland.

5.    Adam Mickiewicz on Mount Judah (in the Crimea). Painting by Walenty Wańkowicz (1828). Adam Mickiewicz Museum, Warsaw, Poland.

6.    Banquet scene from Konrad Wallenrod. Drawing by the Polish artist Michał Elwiro Andriolli. National Ossoliński Institute, Wrocław, Poland. ← ix | x →

7.    Adam Mickiewicz. Etching by Maksimilian Fajans from a daguerreotype by Michał Szweycer, 1853. Adam Mickiewicz Museum, Warsaw, Poland.

8.    Verso of Chapter 5, page 25, of the manuscript of Almayer’s Folly. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

Chapter 2

9.    Allegorical Tree Illustrating the Annihilation of Poland after Being Divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria in Three Stages: 1772, 1793 and 1795. From Polen; zur Zeit der zwey letzten Theilungen dieses Reichs: historisch, statistisch und geographisch beschrieben (Poland at the Time of the Last Two Partitions of This Kingdom, Historically, Statistically and Geographically Described), (n.p., 1807). Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland.

10.    Papkin played by Roman Polański reading his will to Klara. From Andrzej Wajda’s film Zemsta (Revenge) (2002). Artur Mrozowski and Piotr Bujnowicz, MGE, Inc.

11.    Manuscript page from Lord Jim, 417. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

12.    Poster announcing the 14 November 1871 performance of Aleksander Fredro’s Zemsta (Revenge) in Cracow when Conrad was living there. Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland.

13.    Klara played by Agata Buzek making her demands to Papkin. From Andrzej Wajda’s film Zemsta (Revenge) (2002). Artur Mrozowski and Piotr Bujnowicz, MGE, Inc.

14.    The Cupbearer played by Janusz Gajos announcing his “perfect revenge.” From Andrzej Wajda’s film Zemsta (Revenge) (2002). Artur Mrozowski and Piotr Bujnowicz, MGE, Inc.

Chapter 3 ← x | xi →

15.    Jan Matejko, The Liberation of Vienna by King Jan Sobieski III (1683), 1883. Painting, detail. Vatican Museum and Library, Vatican City, Italy.

16.    Unknown artist, Łukasz Opaliński, c. 1640. Painting, detail. National Museum, Czartoryski Collections, Cracow, Poland.

17.    Jan Matejko, Rejtan at the Warsaw Senate Hall (1773), 1886. Painting, detail. The Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland.

18.    Artur Grottger, “A Peasant and Noblemen,” 1861. Drawing III from the collection Warsaw I. National Ossoliński Institute, Wrocław, Poland.

19.    Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, Autograph Manuscript Signed, 1903, page 175. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

20.    Étienne-Maurice Falconet, Equestrian Monument of Peter the Great, 1776–1782. Bronze, over life size. St. Petersburg, Russia.

21.    Unknown artist, Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, c. 161–181 AD Gilt bronze, 13' 11" high. Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome, Italy.

22.    “Dzików” Manuscript of Pan Tadeusz (Call Number 6932), page 24. National Ossoliński Institute, Wrocław, Poland.

23.    Poster announcing the 27 November 1869 performance of Juliusz Słowacki’s Lilla Weneda in Cracow, when Conrad was living there. Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland. ← xi | xii →

Chapter 4

24.    The Cracow production of The Undivine Comedy, Part III (1965). The Gallows Scene. Photograph by Wojciech Plewiński.

Chapter 5

25.    Ewelina Bobrowska Korzeniowska. Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland.

26.    Tadeusz Bobrowski as a young man. Photograph by A. Schubert. Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland.

27.    Tadeusz Bobrowski in later life (c. 1890). Jagiellonian University Library, Cracow, Poland.

Chapter 6

28.    Manuscript page from Under Western Eyes, page 1151. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

29.    Jacek Malczewski (1854–1929), Wigilia na Syberii (The Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner in Siberia) (1892). National Museum, Cracow, Poland.

30.    From Erwin Axer’s production of Kordian in Warsaw in 1956. Act 2, where Count Kordian meets with the Pope, who rejects his gift, and the parrot repeatedly screeches. Photograph by Edward Hartwig and Franciszek Myszkowski from the archives of Teatr in Warsaw, Poland. Reprinted with the kind permission of Wojciech Majcherek, editor. ← xii | xiii →

31.    From Erwin Axer’s production of Kordian in Warsaw in 1956. The Preparation, the opening scene of Kordian set on 31 December 1799, where the devils are creating leaders for the new century. Photograph by Edward Hartwig and Franciszek Myszkowski from the archives of Teatr in Warsaw, Poland. Reprinted with the kind permission of Wojciech Majcherek, editor.

32.    Joseph Conrad, manuscript page 1194 of Under Western Eyes. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

33.    Jacek Malczewski (1854–1929), Niedziela w kopalni (Sunday in the Mine) (1882). National Museum, Warsaw, Poland.

34.    From Erwin Axer’s production of Kordian in Warsaw in 1956. Act 3, scene 5, where the Phantom, a manifestation of Kordian’s dread, crouches under the crown from which blood drips. Kordian, Fear and Imagination are in the background. Photograph by Edward Hartwig and Franciszek Myszkowski from the archives of Teatr, Warsaw, Poland. Reprinted with the kind permission of Wojciech Majcherek, editor.

Chapter 7

35.    Manuscript page of Some Reminiscences. Joseph Conrad Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries.

Chapter 8

36.    From page 157 of the manuscript of Lord Jim. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia. ← xiii | xiv →

37.    Representative Ks from the manuscript of Under Western Eyes. LEFT, manuscript page 1104; right, manuscript page 1116. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

38.    Representative Ks from the manuscript of “A Familiar Preface.” LEFT, manuscript page 12; right, manuscript page 15. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

39.    The “R” dovetailed with the “K” from manuscript page 22 of “A Familiar Preface.” Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

40.    Marginalia from manuscript page 14 of “A Familiar Preface.” Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ← xiv | xv →


This book was enhanced by the two-and-a-half years that I spent at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, as a postdoctoral independent scholar studying Polish literature and culture. The suasion of Albert Juszczak, President of the Kościuszko Foundation from 1979 to 1986, and a generous grant from the Foundation prompted me to go to the Jagiellonian University in June 1987 to read the Polish Romantic literature that Conrad knew so well well and that he incorporated into his work with such majestic ingenuity. Two additional grants from the Department of Higher Education in Warsaw and an extended sabbatical from SUNY/FIT, as well as an understanding dean, Gladys Marcus, enabled me to continue my studies in Cracow until January 1990. Władysław Miodunka, then Director of the Polish Institute in Cracow, who became First Vice President of the University (a Pro Rector) and is now Director of the Polish Language Center for foreigners in Cracow, arranged tutorials for me with Wojciech Ligęza, deeply versed in Polish literature, with whom I read many of the works discussed in these pages. Adam Walaszek and Marek Wojcikiewicz also contributed to my understanding of Polish literature and culture, as did many others. Jan Pierożynski, Andrzej Obrebski, Władysław Berbelicki, Anna Grzęda and Sebastian Grudzień of the Jagiellonian University Library provided assistance as did Jerzy Reichan of the Polish Dialect Division of the Polish Language Institute in Cracow and Dobrosława Platt of the Ossoliński National Library in Wrocław and many others. I am especially indebted to Barbara Bułat of the Jagiellonian University Library, who continued to assist me generously and graciously long after I left Cracow. Marcus Wheeler of the University of Belfast provided insightful commentary. I also thank Laurence Davies, co-editor of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad and now affiliated with the University of Glasgow, for replying to inquiries about Conrad promptly and amiably.

On this side of the Atlantic, I thank Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz of the now unfortunately nonexistent Slavonic and Baltic Division of the New York Public ← xv | xvi → Library, for answering numerous questions about matters Polish courteously and knowledgeably, as did Alex Alexander, for many years chairperson of the Russian and Slavic Studies Department at Hunter College. Harold Segel of Columbia University imparted astute observations. Elizabeth Kieszczyńska, who was a librarian at the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in New York (and is now owner of her own bookstore), and Krystyna Olszer of Hunter College shared their enthusiasm for the Polish Romantic poets. I am also indebted to G. W. Stephen Brodsky of the Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, Canada for a careful and instructive reading of an early version of the manuscript. I further thank Helen O’Hara Connell, Ramona Manke Davis, Matt Sliwowski, Scott Stoddart, Ernest W. Sullivan II and Lesya Yurchyshyn for their insights. Neil Mann provided keen copy-editing.

Thomas Mann of the Library of Congress directed me to many resource materials; librarians in the Main Reading Room and in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the Houghton Library at Harvard University were also helpful. Barbara Brigida Krupa and Paul H. Thomas of the Stanford University Libraries provided valuable information. Frederick R. Karl of New York University made many of Conrad’s then unpublished letters available to me, while encouraging my study of Conrad’s Polish background. Andrzej Józef Dąbrowski made incisive observations. John Nelson, Robert Keefe, and David Porter of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and John Cameron of Amherst College also provided direction. Peter Brooks and Alton Brown of the Computer Center at SUNY/FIT furnished assistance with technical matters.

Long before any of the books on intertextuality were published, the seeds for intertextual study were sown at that extraordinary place the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. In a Spenser and Milton class, Angus Fletcher argued that Milton’s poetry would not be as we know it if Spenser had not preceded him. Milton absorbed Spenser and responded to him. Evelyn Hinz, editor of Mosaic from 1979 to 1999, promoted my study of intertextuality. Michael Riffaterre’s lively classes and genial discussions at Columbia University enhanced that study.

I especially wish to thank John Hicks of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who convinced me to pursue study of Conrad’s Polish past, Julian Maślanka of the Department of Polish at the Jagiellonian University, whose many seminars on Polish Romanticism I attended in Cracow, and Dewayne Peterson, my former chairperson at SUNY/FIT, for their many enjoyable and ← xvi | xvii → valuable discussions about language and literature. These exemplary friends gave generously and graciously of their time and counsel.

Thanks are also due to my editors at Peter Lang, Sophie Appel and Jacqueline Pavlovic.

Lady Blanka Rosenstiel, President and Founder of The American Institute for Polish Culture in Miami, Florida, who supported my first MLA program on The Shadow-Line in 1978, has been a generous and good friend to Conradians for many decades. I thank her for her many kindnesses and for her liberal donation toward the production of my book. ← xvii | xviii → ← xviii | xix →



Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies et al., eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. 9 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983–2007.


Ian Watt. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.


Zdzisław Najder, ed. Conrad in Perspective: Essays on Art and Fidelity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.


Zdzisław Najder, ed. Conrad’s Polish Background: Letters to and from Polish Friends. Trans. Halina Carroll. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.


XXIV, 270
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXIV, 270 pp., 40 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Jean M. Szczypien (Author)

Jean M. Szczypien (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts in Amherst) was Professor of English for thirty years at SUNY/FIT in Manhattan and continues to teach there on a part-time basis. She was President of The Joseph Conrad Society of America from December 2000 to 2002. Her essays have been published in a variety of journals and anthologies. Szczypien has also lectured on Joseph Conrad at international conferences in Canada, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Poland, and the United States.


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