Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) was an English novelist and short-story writer of Polish descent, whose works include the novels Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and the novella Heart of Darkness. He is still viewed as a writer of complex skill and striking insight, but above all of an intensely dark vision. He has been increasingly regarded as one of the greatest English novelists.
When I recently reread Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a hauntingly sombre novella, my first thought was that there are either several planets in his chart in the 12th house or planets on low points.
With his birth time set at 3:30pm which has a DD Rodden Rating (dirty data), his chart reveals that there are three planets in the 12th house in an intercepted Taurus and half the planets in his chart close to low points: the Moon, Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury. And while there are ways out to Pluto/ Jupiter and Uranus – those 12th-house planets in an intercepted Taurus, as well as to Venus in an intercepted Scorpio – all possible outlets other than the one to the Sun are too close (for comfort) on low-points.
Conrad is known for his deeply pessimistic view of life, seeing predominantly the dark side of humanity: the corruption of the characters in his writings because of their ambitions and greed, or their idealistic desire for reform and justice which never see the light. He believed that the moral disaster and self-disgust of man could not be changed.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell said what he enjoyed about Conrad’s writing was “…the boring down into things to get to the very bottom below the apparent facts.” And after meeting Conrad: “He seemed to feel I had understood him; … then he said he had grown to wish he could live on the surface and write differently, that he had grown frightened. His eyes at that moment expressed the inward pain & terror that one feels him always fighting….” Could all those planets on low points be at the bottom of this?
Freud was born a year before Conrad and man’s search for what lay underneath human consciousness would manifest in the thought and writings of these two great men, as if universal human consciousness at the end of the 19th Century was becoming conscious of the dark unconscious, the main psychological themes of the 20th Century.
There are many examples of this undertow in Conrad’s Lord Jim novel. Describing Jim’s state of mind, he writes:
“…it was like a creature that, finding itself imprisoned within an enclosure of high stakes, dashes round and round, distracted in the night, trying to find a weak spot, a crevice, a place to escape, some opening through which it may squeeze itself and escape. This awful activity of mind …”
“He appealed to all sides at once – to the side turned perpetually to the light of day, and to that side of us, which like the other hemisphere of the moon, exists stealthily in perpetual darkness, with only a fearful ashy light falling at times on the edge.”
“He was not speaking to me, he was only speaking before me, in a dispute with an invisible personality, an antagonistic and inseparable partner of his existence – another possessor of his soul.”
And, of course, the final words of the dying Kurz who had spent many years in the dark heart of the dark continent, in the Congo: “The horror! The horror!”
So for this article, I am going with the ‘dirty’ birth time to see whether other Age Point dates correlate with events in Conrad’s life. Perhaps it will clean up some of the dirt in the Rodden Rating.
The Bathtub in the chart looks like a boat, with the trine linking Conrad’s Saturn and the North Node/Neptune as the mast, and the Small Learning Triangle as the flag which is hanging, rather than flapping in the wind, as if all the wind were taken out of Conrad’s sails. This certainly seems to have been the case in his early life where several events correlate with his Age Point Progression.
His Emotional Ego
His father, Apollo, was a poet and an ardent Polish patriot involved in the Polish insurrection against Russian rule. Just before Conrad turned 5, at the 1st house low-point, his father was exiled to a town in Russia where the family lived from 1862 to 1863.
Perhaps because Conrad as a child experienced the suffering that comes with asserting oneself as a Pole, he would never assert himself as one. Twenty-four years later – in 1887 – he became a British subject. It was also the year of the C1, the major shift in his consciousness. He then took the name of Conrad – his Polish name was too difficult to pronounce for the British.
Scarcely back in Poland, his mother started suffering from TB, due to the unhygienic conditions in exile. Conrad experienced her unending pain for several years. She died in 1865. Then his father also got TB and he knew what that meant: more suffering. At that time, his Age Point was moving closer to the low point of the 2nd house, followed by the Moon nine months later.
In 1869, his father died – on the same day as his 12th birthday! He was now an orphan. All these losses of country, home and family at an early age must have clouded his vision of life. There is also too much water (-10) in his temperament, suggesting that he felt all these losses intensely. In addition, the four quincunxes surrounding his core made him extremely sensitive.
On the positive side, his father, who had home-schooled him, also introduced him to the English language, as he was translating the works of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo to make a living. Languages – English, followed by French – would become Conrad’s most valuable possessions. It is noteworthy that when his Age Point was on the opposite side of the Possession Axis, from 1899 to 1904, Conrad would pay his dues with his finest novels: Lord Jim (1900) and Nostromo (1904).
His Physical Ego
His maternal uncle, a lawyer called Bobrowski, then became his surrogate mother, taking over the duties of Saturn in Conrad’s 3rd house of learning. He gave his nephew much advice, admonition and financial help. Bobrowski sent Conrad to school at Krakow and then to Switzerland, but Conrad was bored by school and didn’t do well, although he spoke French fluently, and had some knowledge of Latin, German and Greek. He was also unusually well read.
Shortly after the low-point, Saturn is stressing to leave the 3rd house behind and get to the 4th, just like Conrad was stressing to get to the sea which would become his new home. In 1874, aged 17, he left for Marseille. His consciousness encountered Saturn that same year and his uncle enabled his travelling, thanks to an allowance of 2,000 francs a year and putting his nephew in touch with a merchant whose ships were part of the French merchant service.
It is noteworthy that the trine between Saturn (at the bottom of the mast) and the North Node/Neptune (at the top) pointed the direction for Conrad’s soul’s journey: into Pisces, into creativity and the dissolution (Neptune) of his Polish past. All that intuition in his temperament as indicated by the overdose of fire ( -12) might have unconsciously influenced his decision. He would spend the next 16 years at sea, literally and often figuratively.
His Mental Ego
Conrad’s Sun and Mercury are both in Sagittarius, indicating that adventures and experiencing life first-hand were foremost in his mind. The Sun is his strongest ego planet and is fortunately not on a low point, but Mercury conjoining the Sun is, which could be what gave his writing a sense of the uncanny.
All the voyages he went on to different and then still unexplored parts of the world, such as Africa and South East Asia, gave him the stuff Mercury is made of, which inspired the characters and situations in the 20 novels and many short stories he wrote. Sailing along the West Coast of Venezuela, for example, provided him with the details to write his Nostromo novel, which deals with man’s greed for riches (silver).
Jupiter is conjunct Pluto, suggesting that his adventures came with harrowing disasters which, indeed, they were.
Conrad – with a too fixed (-4) and cardinal (-3) motivation – became heavily enmeshed in debt upon returning to Marseille and unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide in 1878. Later that same year the British freighter he was on, back from Constantinople, landed him at Lowestoft, England. It was his first visit to the country that would become his mother country. His Age Point was approaching the low point of the 4th house and he wasn’t ready for home, family and country yet. He once again left for the sea.
While his Age Point was traversing the 5th house of creative self-expression, he began writing his earliest known letters in the English language. He also obtained his master mariner’s certificate the same year he became a British citizen – the time of the already mentioned C1.
He could now discover other parts of the world and experience several disasters, such as a cargo of coal catching fire, which would provide him with more literary material for his first novels – Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and Lord Jim, as well as several short stories. His Age Point was sailing through the 6th house and he certainly was doing his work: collecting material for his writing.
In 1889, when his consciousness was opposed by Pluto and Jupiter in the 12th house, he went on the darkest of his adventures. He remembered, as a child in Poland, how he had stuck his finger on the centre of the map of Africa and said, “When I grow up I shall go there.” His childhood dream was fulfilled when he was appointed to captain a steamboat on the Congo River to collect ivory. This resulted in his most famous work, Heart of Darkness, which would be the inspiration for Coppola’s disturbing film Apocalypse Now.
Heart of Darkness
The title of this work signifies not only the dark heart of Africa, then known as the dark continent, but also the darkness in the heart of mankind: everything that is dishonest, nihilistic and malign. Not only in the world out there, but also in the one in Conrad. He suffered immense psychological and spiritual pain in the Congo. His physical health was also damaged. He would henceforth be racked by recurrent fever and gout. It was traumatic, understandably so, as he might have been experiencing the darkness in himself, intensified by all those planets near low points in his consciousness.
Conrad was praised for his ability to use an elaborate prose to provide an illusory cover for these dark aspects of man. His Mars is in Libra on the low point of the 5th house and the man in him would always put his best foot forward on the social scene, no matter what he felt inside.
The famous socialite of that time, Lady Ottoline Morrell (the lover of Bertrand Russell) recorded her impression of Conrad in her diary: “(His) appearance was really that of a Polish nobleman. His manner was perfect, almost too elaborate; so nervous and sympathetic that every fibre of him seemed electric…” and “He spoke of the horrors of the Congo, from the moral and physical shock of which he said he had never recovered…”
Conrad’s Venus, which is in the 6th house, could have added some beauty to his work, be it sailing or writing, but she is on a low point in an intercepted Scorpio, and thus presented him with the underworld of Pluto – which he couldn’t get away from. Venus did however play a big part in his creativity, as suggested by the trine to Neptune/North Node. She provided – as Morrell commented – “… a good and reposeful mattress for this hypersensitive, nerve-wracked man, who did not ask from his wife high intelligence, only an assuagement of life’s vibrations….”
The Upper Hemisphere
Conrad’s uncle died in 1894 and his sea life was over. Now he would focus on his other work: his writing, publishing one novel after the other. In 1895, when his consciousness was beaming with his bright Sun, he published his first novel – Almayer’s Folly – followed by several others. His Age Point was in the 7th house and although he replaced his caring uncle by marrying in 1896, his closest relationship would be with his writing.
With his Age Point in the Thinking quadrant, from 1893 to 1910, he was beginning to look at the unquestioned darkness in the world. What he wrote of Kurz in Heart of Darkness, could be said of himself.
“But the wilderness had found him out early and had taken on him the terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself he did not know, things of which he had no conception, till he took counsel with this great solitude – and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him…”
The last words of the dying Kurz, who had spent several years in dark Africa, summed up Conrad’s personal experience: “The horror. The horror.” It was what Jung would call the shadow in Conrad speaking.
I wonder whether he wrote so much to balance the lack of air in his temperament with its excessive fire, earth and water. Perhaps his constant writing was his way of putting his uncomfortable, physical and emotional intuitions into some form: into books. With too much fire in his temperament, he not only intuited the dark undertow of the sea (within), but was also inspired to describe all the sensations he experienced on his years of voyages, particularly the uneasy ones. He thus became the novelist of man in extreme situations.
His life as an author was plagued by poor health, near poverty and difficulties of temperament. Yet he continued to write and be published. His financial situation only became bearable after he had paid his dues to mankind and was awarded a Civil List pension of £100. When his Age Point was sailing through the 10th house of standing out from the crowd, his novel Chance was successfully serialised in the New York Herald (1912) and his novel Victory (1915) also enjoyed some success.
Though hampered by rheumatism, Conrad continued to write for the remaining years of his life. In 1924 he refused an offer of knighthood from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Shortly afterwards, he died, just before his Age Point would have been face-to-face with Pluto/Jupiter, those planets in his hidden world. Who knows what he might have experienced then?
Hopefully this article has shed some light on the darkness surrounding Conrad’s correct birth time. I certainly am much clearer about all the darkness in Conrad’s writings.