Newest Review: ... most famous work. In my opinion it is certainly his most potent. Heart of Darkness is the 2nd of 3 books written by Conrad that make use ... more
A fantastic read from Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Member Name: millwallcris1885
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Advantages: Marlow's compelling narration
Disadvantages: Its only 110 pages
About the Author
Joseph Conrad was born in the Ukraine in 1857, the son of Polish parents. Both his parents were prominent figures in the Patriotic Polish movement and as a consequence of this were exiled to the far northern province of Volgda. Their crime was "conspiring" against the imperialist Russians.
By the age of 11, Conrad had seen the death of both his parents and was left in the care of his uncle.
At 16, Conrad realised his dream of going to sea. For 4 years he restlessly travelled the world and ran up enormous gambling debts as he went.
After this period, Conrad attempted a grizzly suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Fortunately the bullet missed his heart by an inch and Conrad survived.
In 1878 he joined the Merchant Navy and served there for 16 years. In 1886 he gained full British Citizenship and settled in England by the end of 1894.
Heart of Darkness is based on the pain and suffering that Conrad witnessed first hand during his own trip to the Congo in 1890.
Conrad died in 1924 leaving behind him a literary legacy that helped to shape and define the Modernist movement.
Heart of Darkness is arguably Conrad's most famous work. In my opinion it is certainly his most potent. Heart of Darkness is the 2nd of 3 books written by Conrad that make use of Marlow as their narrator (the other two being 'Youth' and 'Lord Jim').
The novella begins with Marlow sat aboard a ship idling on the banks of the Thames just outside London. Marlow's assertion that "this to has been one of the dark places on earth" sets the tone perfectly for what has been referred to as "the first Modern novel of the Twentieth Century".
Marlow recounts his narrative retrospectively from his vantage point aboard the ship. Along with him on deck are a lawyer, an old sea captain and other merchant sailors and Conrad draws the reader in to this group, making them feel that they are right there, hanging on Marlow's every word.
The narrative follows Marlow's journey as a riverboat captain through the very heart of colonial Africa. His experiences are focused in the Belgian administered territories (probably modern day Congo), but Marlow's stinging indictment of Colonialism reflects on all the European players.
The momentum of the text is dictated by Marlow's mission to first meet and then rescue the rising star of Belgian Colonialism, Mr Kurtz. Along the way, Marlow's mission is hampered by the sickening ignorance, greed and inefficiency of his European employers; traits which almost cost him his life.
After months of subterfuge and trickery, Marlow eventually makes it up-river to the station where Mr Kurtz is employed. When Marlow does meet the Ivory trade's leading man, he is shocked at what he finds. In Kurtz the reader can see the effects of ambition and desire removed from the shackles of compassion and accountability. Marlow is presented with a man who has been wildly successful but has been driven to near insanity by his inability to tame Africa's primal, atavistic spirit.
Safely back in the comfort of European civilisation, Marlow's reflections on his experiences are inconclusive and fleeting, yet they burn with a fierce indignation.
I have loved this book since the first time I read it almost 10 years ago. Since then I've read it at least 5 or 6 times from cover to cover and for me it improves with every read.
Marlow's narration is wonderfully insightful, as well as being tremendously entertaining. Marlow, or should I say Conrad, really does have the art of the 'seaman's yarn' down to a T. And yet this yarn is fundamentally different from what we might expect from a turn of the century text. It is angry, acerbic and vitriolic at the same time as being sensitive, compassionate and measured. Conrad does not reach any trite or easy conclusions at the close of Heart of Darkness and it is this honesty that is at the heart of the text.
Conrad wrote this book at the height of European Colonial expansion in Africa and Asia and was certainly pushing against the tide by criticising the British Empire (albeit obliquely). When Marlow says of his European neighbours "they wanted nothing more than to rip treasure out of the bowels of the land" he is making a statement about the human races own Heart of Darkness.
This is the yardstick against which all other books should be measured! If you only read one book this year, make it this one.
If, like me, 'Heart of Darkness' turns you into a Conrad addict, here are some of his other works to help you get your fix. The following list is by no means exhaustive, merely a snap shot of some of my favourites.
An Outpost of Progress (Short Story)
Youth (Short Story / Novella)
The Nigger of the Narcisus
Summary: I dearly love this book and would recommend it to everyone