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The Shadow-Line: A Confession

Updated on March 21, 2011

Reliving the pages

If there’s a sailor’s book that should be included in your coffee table books, it’s should be: The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad. Why? It doesn’t mean that I read this several times as part of my sleeping regimen while onboard my second commercial vessel (a container ship), MSC Australia (MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company). I can relate to the essence of the story because seafaring is mostly dominated by men of all ages (from deck boy to captain) who have unique stories to tell.

The parallelism in the story of Mr. Conrad, a master mariner (a captain) himself is very vivid, that according to him is “worthy of undying regard”. The Shadow-Line is a semi fictionalized account of Mr. Conrad’s maritime experiences. It was first published in 1915 but became a hit in 1917 when he revised it and received good praises from book reviewers.

The Shadow-Line was already in Conrad’s mind under the title “First Command” in the last three months off 1916, where the World War I was in an intensive invasion in Europe. Conrad dedicated this book to his son, Borys who were in the battlefield of France during that time. He was already 60 years old and feared of losing his son during the war. The subtitle -A Confession is included due to its semibiographical content.

I’m sure, the Captain-narrator was him, and recalled his experiences onboard ship chapter by chapter. The Shadow-Line has its account of the Gulf of Siam (Thailand) and Eastern seas (including Philippines, especially in Palawan and Singapore). The year was in 1888 when he had been appointed as captain of the barque Otago with instructions to bring her (the ship) from Bangkok, to Singapore. The story tells the brevity of the appointment and taking of command and the details of the voyage itself. Every officers and crew of the said vessel has it’s own story. These accounts were retold by the observant captain. You should really read this book. Even in this modern world where ship’s designs are really sophisticated, we still cannot master the secrets of the seas.

Who is Joseph Conrad?

Name: Joseph Conrad (christened Josef Teodor Konrad)

Born: 3 December 1857

Birth Place: Berdichev, Ukraine (Polish province under Russian rule.

Parents: Apollo and Evelina Korzeniowski

Literary Influences: At the age of nine, his father made him recite Apollo’s translation into Polish of Shakesppeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. His father also translated Victor Hugo’s Les Travailleurs de la Mer, a book that made a strong impression to Conrad’s mind, as the future mariner and teller of sea stories.

Relatives’ Contribution: In 1874, the fifteen-year-old Conrad set sail from Poland to Marseilles (I’ve been there in 2002), France to begin his life anew as a sailor. This became possible through the help of his Uncle Tadeusz.

In 19 August 1886, he became a naturalized British subject by changing his name, ‘J.C. Korzeniowski’ to Joseph Conrad.

Maritime contribution: Conrad was the sole-Polish born captain in the British merchant marine during his time.

Other worthy sea tales and unique stories of author Joseph Conrad include Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, Heart of Darkness, The Rescue, Nostromo, Under Western Eyes, The Secret Agent, Chance among others. His works are included in Giunti Classics, a book publication which also distributed the works of Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet), Edgar Allan Poe (Mystery Tales), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes), D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and many other popular works that are made into movies, too. Some of Conrad’s books were serialized on television and even made into films with other titles.


I bought my book, The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad, from one of the outlets of Wal-Mart in the USA. This became my seafaring inspiration and always carry it whenever I have a new contract onboard ship. It's a good read. I never regret I encountered this author who have made a link to mariners through his books.

The Lives of Joseph Conrad by John Stape


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    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 7 years ago from Seven Seas

      I think, all sailors should follow his examples.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Joseph Conrad is a hot topic during my high school days in world literature. He's quotations in his many books echoed in every academe in the whole world, among students who are eager to learn about seafaring and the struggles of men in the maritime world.