Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Principles of Life | Al-Risala, June 1988
Joseph Conrad, born in 1857 in Berdychiv, Ukraine, was orphaned in infancy, and since he had neither a formal education nor the backing of relatives, he had to support himself by working as a seaman. He travelled to various countries, at last reaching England in 1886, where he became a British citizen.
During his stay in Britain, where he died in 1924, he worked extremely hard to learn English, and his progress was such that he succeeded in becoming a novelist. His books, acclaimed as works of great literary merit, were eventually accepted as English classics, and, amongst the living writers of his time, he was ranked second only to Thomas Hardy.
An Englishman once told me that his English teacher in college had instructed him to “read Joseph Conrad, because he writes beautiful English.” Yet, according to the publisher of his book, Lord Jim, “he made his name as a stylist in English, although he was unable to speak a word of the language before he was nineteen.” The critical seal of approval has been set all the more firmly on his books by their having become permanent additions to the curricula of British universities.
Conrad’s career as a writer is a clear indication that anything can be achieved by hard work. One may be born poor, but that does not mean that he cannot educate himself, or–as in Conrad’s case–master a foreign language as if it were his own. In spite of being insignificant in the eyes of the world, it is quite possible, by dint of hard work to write something so great that the best minds of our civilization feel compelled to read it.