0006 | Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

heart

REVIEW:
I actually listened to the public domain audio version of this available at www.librivox.com

Dark is the right word for this book. On every level I found it depressing from Conrad’s pandering to melodrama right through to the subject matter. Not a single good thing happens in the entire episode. The whole is dark; the people, the weather, the water, the minds and motivations of the central characters. If Conrad actually speaks through the storyteller in this book, then he was one hell of a miserable, ethnocentric guy.

I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Sure, the subject matter was dark but then I’ve read novels that are dark (take Roy’s God of Small Things as one example) but captivate through their style. Conrad has about as much style as a B-grade 1930s horror movie. Everything is over-exaggerated. It can’t just be a tree. It has to be a towering figure of doom wrought throughout with the shimmering evanescence of the myriad leaves... or some such laborious description. The characters all struggle with their own selves as if this is all we are born to do. At every turn of the page you fight back the urge to smack them all in the face and just say “Lighten up will you?!” . This gives it all a very unrealistic quality. After all, no one takes themselves that seriously even if we are all prone to wonder at ourselves. The effect is to create a flat two-dimensional array of characters that can only be regarded as ethereal – perhaps that was his intent.

As a glimpse into the world of savagery it is interesting provided you yourself possess your own heart of darkness. I’m desperately hoping that Conrad ironically intended the image of savagery to be painted by the colonisers and not the colonised. That would be subtly and nicely done. But I’ve a nasty feeling that he really did consider Africans as savages and himself as the noble higher race. If so, this book is appalling in its worldview, something I’ve since discovered others, including no less than Achebe, have been critical of.

OPENING LINE:
The Nelly, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails and was at rest.

WORDS:
yawl: A two-masted yacht in which the smaller after mast is less than half the height of the forward mast

CLOSING LINE:
It [the Thames] seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

RATING:
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

FINISHED:
2007 – Jan

  • Emily October 6, 2008, 1:09 am

    “I’m desperately hoping that Conrad ironically intended the image of savagery to be painted by the colonisers and not the colonised. That would be subtly and nicely done. But I’ve a nasty feeling that he really did consider Africans as savages and himself as the noble higher race. If so, this book is appalling in its worldview, something I’ve since discovered others, including no less than Achebe, have been critical of.”

    I think it’s more than appropriate to question Conrad’s personal view of the Africans he writes about. I know Chinua Achebe has lambasted Conrad for his supposedly racist portrayal–fair enough.

    Nevertheless, if you can get your hands on it, you might want to take a look at an article by Dorothy Trench-Bonett called “Naming and Silence: A Study of Language and the Other in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” from the journal Conradia. It’s a very enlightening take on this issue, and contrary to Achebe’s. I tend to see Conrad the way Trench-Bonett does. Also, it’s a very readable article and not annoyingly academic.

    Sorry for the unsolicited suggestion, I just always feel the need to defend Conrad, as he’s one of my favorites.

    Reply
  • Torq April 18, 2012, 10:47 am

    “It [the Thames] seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” What a haunting last line. Conrad’s saying is that the events in the Congo were brutal, basic and irrational and that they originated from the heart of Western (so-called) civilisation. There’s no noble higher race here. The barbarism and degradation were a result not of some kind of intrinsic savagery within the Congolese but rather, as is still the case, Africa’s place in the Global Economy. He would have betrayed the prejudices of a nineteenth century writer, he seemed not to know what to make of his own black skinned characters as can be seen in “The Nigger of the Narcissus” but I think the thrust of the novel is more accurate then and now about the truth behind Colonialism (sorry, Globalisation) than most writers then and now could possibly manage: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” And of course unlike today’s bourgeois writers he actually travelled the seas, faced the risks and saw these things first hand before he became a writer. I agree with you on how uneven the novel is and how he rambles on and on – it drives me mad because in the same novel is one of the best opening passages I have ever read. When he wrote well Conrad was a master.

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