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Withim, P. (1969). Joseph Conrad—His character and his Genius: Joseph Conrad: A Psychoanalytic Biography. Bernard C. Meyer. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967. viii + 396 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 56B(2):242-246.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56B(2):242-246

Special Book Review

Joseph Conrad—His character and his Genius: Joseph Conrad: A Psychoanalytic Biography. Bernard C. Meyer. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967. viii + 396 pp.

Review by:
Philip Withim, Ph.D.

This biography is important because it emphasizes aspects of Conrad's life largely ignored by the general biographies of Aubrey (1957) and Baines (1960). Of the specialized works, only Gustave Morf's The Polish Heritage of Joseph Conrad (1930) begins to cover the same area. I feel I have learned more of what it is important to know of Conrad's life from these pages than from the other books put together.

Dr. Meyer's examination of Conrad's youth demonstrates that his parents' catastrophic life initiated in the child a pattern of alternating creative thrust toward life and withdrawal from it. Conrad's parents had lived in the service of a patriotic ideal, a service which made them heroic and remote but which ultimately left them disastrously vulnerable. They finally eked out their lives in prison and in exile.

As a result, Conrad's own life falls into a number of periods, each characterized by thrust and withdrawal. At sixteen he flees Poland and its suffocating code, but attempts suicide; then he goes to sea in the British merchant navy, but eventually flees home to England as a passenger, leaving behind his only captaincy. From thence he travels to the Congo, only to return broken in health. Finally, after getting married, he settles down to a serious writing career. But even here the same pattern is exhibited—each of his novels representing in varying degrees a creative thrust, only to be followed by physical and psychological collapse.

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