Jasanoff does not forgive Conrad his blindness, but she does try to present his perspective on the changing, troubled world he traveled, a perspective that still has strong resonance today ... she becomes a detective piecing together the incidents big and small that formed classics like Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Under Western Eyes and Nostromo. She helps us make sense of the seeming contradictory decision on Conrad’s part to write about the effect of empire but never set his novels in any of the colonial possessions of his adopted homeland, Britain ... His art, which he defined as the capacity to make readers hear, feel and see, was able to capture the contradictions within empires and the resistance to them. This is the Conrad who comes alive in Jasanoff’s masterful study. The Dawn Watch will become a creative companion to all students of his work. It has made me want to re-establish connections with the Conrad whose written sentences once inspired in me the same joy as a musical phrase.
The Dawn Watch will win prizes, and if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the prizes ... The Dawn Watch is an expansion of the biographical form, placing an individual in total context: Joseph Conrad in world history ... In a globalised world, Conrad’s writing has a new applicability; he writes about quandaries that we know ... Jasanoff sees Conrad’s prescience about the future direction of the world in novels like Nostromo (set in South America, which he had barely visited) as stemming from a theory of globalised capitalism that drew on direct observation. His writing was implicitly political at every turn, but he had seen too much on his travels from childhood onwards to put much faith in organised politics.
...what makes Heart of Darkness (1899) and indeed Conrad himself so interesting is precisely the fact that they don’t evade their moment. They embrace it instead; they confront it. The achievement of Maya Jasanoff’s continuously perceptive book lies in showing just how. The Dawn Watch is the most vivid and suggestive biography of Conrad ever written. Yet it covers only a part of his life. Or maybe I should say that it skips over a lot, that it barely touches many of the things that fill most other biographie ... We’ve lately begun to see books about serious literature that combine rigorous scholarship with an appeal to the general reader, works of inspired popularization that avoid the specialized language of literary theory. Most of them use the scaffolding of biography, and the best are James Shapiro’s two studies of single years in the career of Shakespeare, 599 and 1606. The Dawn Watch is a worthy companion, with its story framed by an account of Ms. Jasanoff’s own travels, first on a container ship, and then down the Congo River itself. It isn’t perfect, and she does scant themes and works she should really consider ... I wish Maya Jasanoff’s beautifully written book were longer.
Moving between artfully assembled fragments of biography, history and accounts of four of Conrad’s novels, carefully chosen — The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and Nostromo — Jasanoff reconstructs his early, most peripatetic years and their historical contexts, also sprinkling her text with very brief accounts of her own adventures at sea in Conrad’s footsteps. Jasanoff is stronger as a historian and biographer than as a literary critic or travel writer. But approaching Conrad’s life and fiction as a historian, as she mostly does, opens up many fertile areas ... Jasanoff narrates all this expertly, with clever segues and joins ... This is an unobtrusively skilful, subtle, clear-eyed book, beautifully narrated. Occasionally the scheme of seeing Conrad through the prism of history can feel strained; and one also senses the difficulty of trying to say something new.
In The Dawn Watch, Jasanoff tells the life story of a novelist. The book comes in the form of a biography of Joseph Conrad, but in fact through Conrad she tells the story of a whole phase in world history ... Jasanoff’s travels have given her an empathy and an understanding for Conrad, and also for the victims of imperialism, that breathe on every page of this magnificent book ... Through it all, she shows how Conrad’s story is part of a broader history — the history of globalization and empire — world history ...best book on Conrad since Watt’s.
Deftly melding biographical narration, historical analysis, and literary explication, Jasanoff lets readers glimpse in Conrad’s fiction the fate of vulnerable individuals who ventured too far in a world rapidly losing its boundaries. And as one who—despite the cost and the danger—has retraced many of Conrad’s journeys, Jasanoff compellingly asserts the novelist’s continuing relevance as an interpreter of our (post)modern geopolitical and cultural perplexities. Certain to attract both history buffs and those drawn to literary biography.
The Dawn Watch delivers only minimal detail on Conrad’s literary friendships and writing career. Instead, it takes a deep look at the way his unsettled childhood and maritime travels shaped four of his masterpieces... Jasanoff takes some fiction-like liberties with her scene-setting, although she carefully sources the basis for these colorful touches ...prose can be splendidly agile, as in this turn-on-a-dime summary of the workings of Conrad’s mind... Above all, she renders Conrad as a proto-citizen of our time, ever alert to the spirit of violation that’s inherent to so many cross-cultural contacts and clashes.
This is a Joseph Conrad biography every bit as strange and ranging and confessional as Conrad himself, following him from his birth in 1857 in what was then the Russian Empire, through his adventures on sea and land... Jasanoff isn’t intent on enlisting Conrad in any 21st century concept of globalism, but in the course of the journey of her book, she does contemplate the idea that he might have helped to create that concept...almost as much travelogue as literary biography...what makes this the most engaging Conrad biography yet written: readers come to know him ...she tends to look at the most famous of Conrad’s books at least as much from the outside as the inside, giving readers the texts as they were encountered by other readers.
In The Dawn Watch, Maya Jasanoff, a professor of history at Harvard University, explores Conrad’s life and work 'with the compass of an historian, the chart of a biographer, and the navigational sextant of a fiction reader' ... Jasanoff is a splendid storyteller and stylist ... equally adept in supplying historical context for her narrative ... Most important, Jasanoff provides compelling assessments of Conrad’s novels ... Conrad 'made me see,' Jasanoff concludes, with both eyes fixed on the 21st century, that 'today’s hearts of darkness are to be found wherever civilizing missions serve as covers for exploitation.'
Jasanoff often uses historical context to deepen her reader’s understanding of Conrad’s life and fiction … Indeed, Jasanoff is less attentive to the literary qualities of Conrad’s work than to its political and economic background. Her approach is quite valuable, but, inevitably, fills in only part of the picture. Jasanoff neglects the pulleys and gears that bring Conrad’s fiction to life, just as she minimizes the sort of intimate detail that animates most biography … With her clarifying historical perspective, Jasanoff gives us an account of the life that made Conrad’s inimitable writing not only possible, but necessary.
... it is hard to imagine any student of his [Joseph Conrad's] work will produce a more strikingly original book than Maya Jasanoff’s magnificent The Dawn Watch ...not quite a biography or a work of criticism, though it contains elements of both, and fragments of travel writing too ...instead both a circumnavigation of Conrad’s world and a profound meditation on globalisation and colonialism, and of Conrad’s place in forming our perceptions of both ...writes beautifully and the book is worth reading alone for her finely crafted descriptions...he redefines the role Conrad played in helping us to comprehend the unequal, violent globalised world we live in ...an extraordinary and profoundly ambitious book, little short of a masterpiece.
Her prose often is quite bad in the way of a writer tempted to stretch herself, inspired by her literary subject ... What’s remarkable is how little Jasanoff seems to understand how that happened, and how little she seems interested in the question. What are those riparian entrepreneurs in Congo up to if not capitalism?
Thus Conrad, for Jasanoff, is her contemporary, as someone interested in current affairs as much as he is for a generation of novelists who have been fascinated by the style and the form of his books and his ability to work intensely with a single consciousness.
[Jasanoff] skilfully integrates details of Conrad’s life and accounts of his four greatest works, linking the challenges and forces that lie behind and within the novels to those of the 21st century ... Ms Jasanoff says she set out to explore Conrad’s world 'with the compass of a historian, the chart of a biographer, and the navigational sextant of a fiction reader,' and these have served her well. Anthony Powell, a novelist, once described Conrad as an 'enigmatic figure. The more we read about him, the less we seem to know him.' This biography may not fully reveal the mystery behind the man, but it is a powerful encouragement to read his books.
An absorbing biography melds history and literary analysis ... Jasanoff focuses less on Conrad’s family life (his wife and sons are lightly sketched) than on the prescient 'global compass' of his literary works. An insightful perspective on Conrad’s life and turbulent times.
Harvard historian Jasanoff 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 ... 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.'”