Alumnus Donates Collection of Joseph Conrad Works

Selection of rare books by Joseph Conrad

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is delighted to announce Paul Kennerson’s (C’63) generous donation of more than 200 volumes of works by and about Polish-British novelist and short story writer Joseph Conrad. This gift is an important addition to Georgetown University Library's world-class collection of 18th- 19th-, and 20th-century literature.

Writing from 1895 until his death in 1924, Conrad published tales of adventure informed by his experiences in the French and British merchant navies and the occupation of his native Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Conrad’s poetic prose was highly influential, particularly among American writers such as William Faulkner, Joan Didion, and Thomas Pynchon. Kennerson said Conrad’s writing can also speak to modern readers. According to Kennerson, “You can get it all: Truth, beauty, and when read aloud, ‘the magic suggestiveness of music,’ which Conrad himself called ‘the art of arts.’”

Paul Kennerson fell in love with Conrad's prose in his youth and learned to more fully appreciate literature as a Georgetown undergraduate. “To me as a youngster, Conrad was the stuff of dreams,” Kennerson said. “I could go with [his heroes] wherever they went and do in my dreams whatever they did.” Conrad’s literary work brought the human condition into sharp focus.

As he grew older, Kennerson grew to appreciate how Conrad’s use of words made him see, hear, and feel. “Imparting the gift of ‘seeing’ was no easy task for a man whose English was a third language,” Kennerson observed. “It was just foreign enough that Conrad’s use of English was always slightly askew. His language had a slant, a cut to it just a little off, so that the words came out previously unused, wondrously discovering, briskly new.”

A scene in Lord Jim helped Kennerson to understand “seeing” as Conrad meant the term. In the passage, Marlow, who has helped Jim secure his position managing a trading post on the remote island of Patusan, has reminded Jim of his tormented history and is leaving the island and observing Jim on shore as his boat pulls away. “It stopped me cold the first time I read it, “Kennerson recalled. “Maybe, for the first time in my life, I could truly ‘see,’ as Conrad meant me to”:

“He was white from head to foot, and remained persistently visible with the stronghold of the night at his back, the sea at his feet, the opportunity by his side . . . For me that white figure in the stillness of coast and sea seemed to stand at the heart of a vast enigma. The twilight was ebbing fast from the sky above his head, the strip of sand had sunk already under his feet, he himself appeared no bigger than a child—then only a speck, a tiny white speck, that seemed to catch all the light left in a darkened world. . . . And, suddenly, I lost him. . . .”

Over more than 50 years, Kennerson assembled a collection of works by and about Conrad that is regarded as one of the two most comprehensive such collections in private hands.

Now housed in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections and available for use, the Paul Kennerson Conrad Collection includes first editions, rare imprints, signed books by Joseph Conrad and Jessie Conrad, privately printed editions, annotated works, editions for the armed services, comic book adaptations, and fine bindings. To make an appointment to study items from the Conrad Collection (and other collections), contact Booth by email at