Joseph Conrad died at the age of 67 on 3 August 1924, the day following the 18th birthday of his younger son, John Conrad, the author of the present book. John's memories, which reach astonishingly far back into his earliest childhood, begin with his family living in poverty in a tiny cottage, 'a dark and gloomy place', at Aldington in Kent. Chance, Conrad's first immediately popular success, appeared when the boy was seven, and The Shadow-Line Conrad's last work of unimpaired quality, when he was 11. During his early teens the family's fortunes were rapidly transformed: the more startlingly so because Conrad was an extravagant as well as a very generous man. At the time of his death he was living in a substantial country-house - rented, it is true - and employing a secretary, a valet/butler, a chauffeur, two housemaids and a cook, occasional 'extra help from the village', two gardeners, and eventually (for Mrs Conrad) a living-in nurse. Jessie Conrad, although seriously incapacitated by an injured knee which defied the surgical skill even of the eminent Sir Robert Jones, was still obliged to cook the omelettes, since her husband would accept them from nobody else.
LRB 2 April 1981 | PDF Download