cover image The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

Maya Jasanoff. Penguin Press, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59420-581-1

Harvard historian Jasanoff (Liberty’s Exiles) undertakes a review of Joseph Conrad’s life and work that broadens into an acute, original study of 19th-century European imperialism and an emergent globalized world. Polish-born Conrad (1857–1924) was an accomplished seaman before he turned to writing, having learned English as an adult and picked up on the craft of fiction in part from reading Charles Dickens. He became one of England’s most celebrated authors and prose stylists. Jasanoff’s vivid descriptions of Conrad’s travels enrich this narrative. From the extraction of ivory to the impact of rubber demand, she describes the dreadful Belgian colonial trade that Conrad knew firsthand, having worked briefly on a Congo riverboat, a job that he detested and in which he encountered a “European regime of appalling greed, violence, and hypocrisy” that informed his novels. But Jasanoff’s more anachronistic language, such as a description of her subject as “a dead white man” who was “alarmingly prejudiced” by contemporary standards, gives the impression that she is judging him by today’s very different moral standards. Despite this, Jasanoff’s skillfully written book makes a persuasive case that Conrad was “one of us: a citizen of a global world.” [em]Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.) [/em]