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Joseph Conrad was a Polish novelist who lived most of his life in Britain and didn't learn English until age 21. The young Conrad lived an adventurous life involving gunrunning and political conspiracy, and apparently had a disastrous love affair that plunged him into despair. He served 16 years in the merchant navy. In 1894, at age 36, Conrad reluctantly gave up the sea, partly because of poor health and partly because he had decided on a literary career.