Conrad is in the fortunate position of having, for all purposes, no private existence. The great shaping influences on his life are public events and historical movements. The childhood in the vacuum of Poland, the youthful smuggling of arms for the Carlists, disillusionment in the Belgian Congo are happenings not just for a biographer but for a historian. They have an air of importance in themselves, which leaves Conrad's character and life trailing behind in the glamour stakes.
We know a lot about what happened to Conrad. But, in a way, we don't know anything about him. His marriage, for instance, baffled even his contemporaries. The man who claimed he valued beauty in a woman above all other qualities married a woman whom H G Wells called 'a