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Heart of Darkness Paperback – November 6, 2018
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- Lexile Measure : 970L
- Item Weight : 4.2 ounces
- Paperback : 78 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1503275922
- ISBN-13 : 978-1503275928
- Product Dimensions : 6 x 0.18 x 9 inches
- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 6, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #41,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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To start, there are many editons of this book being reviewed here. Some reviews mentioning the formatting, illustrations, etc may have absolutely nothing to do with the edition you are thinking of purchasing. I "bought" the free Kindle edition with a beige and dark green cover. It is a fine edition and true to the original text.
Otherwise, there's not much I can say about Heart of Darkness that hasn't already been said by 1000+ reviewers. I will say that the density of the language isn't entirely to torture you. This was a common style in 1899, when this novella was written. It does seem to me, though, that the prose is easier to hack your way through the farther you get into the story. Also, give Conrad a break on some of his language and depictions regarding the African natives. He was caged by the knowledge and beliefs of Victorian England in his world view. He's making a good point. Trust me.
It's not an easy read, but with insight and maturity on the part of the reader, Conrad still has something to say.
The biggest detriment, literary wise, is the format Conrad chose for the story. Perhaps this was a more popular format in the time it was written and I'm viewing it through a 21st century lens, but I found telling the whole story through Marlow entertaining colleagues to be extremely dry. The first third was especially dry and difficult to get through.
The casual racism expressed by Conrad via Marlow was also off-putting, but I also recognize that's a by-product of the era of which it was written. Some may view it as a book to be bemoaned due to this, and that's a valid prerogative. I prefer to look at it as a form of incrementalism. For Conrad to condemn imperialism and go as far as he did in his condemnation of racism strikes me as a considerable move at the time, a step towards where we are today.
The parts that stood out, though, stood out brilliantly. Kurtz as a charismatic sociopath, obsessed with remaining in his fiefdom, was particularly chilling. I also loved Marlow's final interaction with Kurtz's intended. Definitely worth reading, especially as context to such works as APOCALYPSE NOW and SPEC OPS: THE LINE.
I have reviewed a handful of texts by Conrad here on Amazon. My notes on _Nostromo_ are, at the time of writing, my second most popular review. I have also shared my thoughts on _Lord Jim_ and _Tales of Unrest_. I have not read Conrad’s entire oeuvre, I would not call myself an expert on his work, and I do not consider him my favorite author. In spite of all this, I have a picture of him on my writing desk: I have adopted him as a muse, as the literary equivalent of a patron saint. My main reason for this is that, like him, I am (and always will be) an ESL writer. The first thing I learned about Conrad was that he had made a name for himself and entered the canon by writing in a language that was not his first. Conrad is one of my literary role models.
It seems silly to go into the plot of _Heart of Darkness_, so I’ll summarize it in one sentence: a man is made captain of a steamer headed into the heart of Africa, where he has an encounter that marks him for the rest of life. _Heart of Darkness_ is largely a monologue in which Marlow recounts to his new companions the voyage that led him to Kurtz. Some critics have described _Heart of Darkness_ as a doppelgänger story, in which a man is forced to confront his dark half. Kurtz has in turn been interpreted as an incarnation of Freud’s id, Jung’s shadow, and Nietzsche’s übermensch, the man who is beyond good and evil. All of these interpretations are valid. _Heart of Darkness_ also had a great impact on T. S. Eliot: “The Hollow Men” was inspired by Conrad’s novella, and _The Waste Land_ originally bore “The horror! The horror!” as an epigraph, until Ezra Pound recommended that Eliot delete it. You may have heard, also, about the so-called Achebe controversy, the result of an essay in which the great Nigerian author accused Conrad of being “a bloody racist.” _Things Fall Apart_ (1958) is, among other things, a response to _Heart of Darkness_ from the perspective of the colonized. So is V. S. Naipaul’s _A Bend in the River_ (1979).
Now, to my thoughts on the book. The first thing I wanted to discuss is the issue of genre. I am by no means the first one to point this out, but _Heart of Darkness_ is neither a novel nor a short story: it is a novella. What is a novella? Let me begin by stating what it is not. A novella is not just a short novel, nor is it simply a longish short story. The novella is an autonomous genre, and while mere physical length is a factor here, it is not the determining factor. You can tell a novella by its structure. In a nutshell, if the novel is characterized by development, and the short story tends to rely on revelation, the key concept of the novella is the reexamination of a situation. In the case of _Heart of Darkness_, the central situation would be Marlow’s perplexity vis-à-vis the African reality. The novella favors a spiral structure. We seem to come back to the same place, but it’s not exactly the same place: every time we come back, we are at a different level. The novella, as you may know if you have read some of my other reviews, was my dissertation topic; that’s why I make a big deal out of this. For more on the topic, please check out my reviews of Doris Lessing’s _Adore_ and Leo Tolstoy’s _The Death of Ivan Ilyich_.
Another issue I wanted to emphasize has to do with publication context. We have come to see _Heart of Darkness_ as an independent work, and of course it is, but the reader should keep in mind that the novella’s first appearance in book form was in the collection _Youth: a Narrative, and Two Other Stories_ (1902). Why is this important? The book is composed of one short story and two novellas: “Youth,” _Heart of Darkness_, and _The End of the Tether_. All three of them are sea tales, and each one deals with a different stage in a person’s life: youth, middle age, and old age. _Heart of Darkness_ was thus part of a triptych, and reading it in that context affords the reader an ampler appreciation of the text.
I first read _Heart of Darkness_ sixteen years ago, as a junior in college. I read it by my own initiative, without knowing that a couple of months later I would be reading it again for an English course titled “The Nineteenth Century Novel.” I think I read it again sometime later, and I reread it yesterday to refresh my memory before writing the notes you are so kindly reading now. Every time I have read _Heart of Darkness_, the experience has been different. (The secret, by the way, is that this is the case with any book one reads. A book is not an object: it is a living organism.) The first time we encounter a text we tend to focus on the plot. Subsequent readings are fruitful as we become more and more aware of the *text* itself. During this last reading, it occurred to me (and this is another thing I’m sure someone else has said) that as Marlow made his way into the heart of Africa, I was making my way into the heart of the text, penetrating a dense jungle. Conrad’s prose draws you in and envelops you. Even a look at the text reveals its density, as dialogue is incorporated into the paragraphs. The text itself looks like a thick jungle.
Another thing that struck me during this third or fourth reading was that the salient images and episodes had lost none of their power. Marlow sitting in the Buddha posture, Kurtz’s painting of the blindfolded woman carrying a torch, the perishing locals in the forest, Kurtz’s manuscript, the arrow attack, the heads on the posts, Kurtz’s entrance, and Marlow’s interview with Kurtz’s fiancée, which closes the narrative. Conrad’s descriptive powers are simply astonishing. Sure, he stuck adjectives all over the place, but the end result is effective. As he pointed out in one of his prefaces, his goal was “by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you *see*.” Listen to the description of Kurtz: “His covering had fallen off, and his body emerged from it pitiful and appalling as from a winding-sheet. I could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arm waving. It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men of dark and glittering bronze.” The image is not only easy to visualize; it is striking, unforgettable.
_Heart of Darkness_ appeared when literary ambiguity was appreciated. Henry James’ _The Turn of the Screw_ was published the previous year. One of the questions many continue to ask, and the reason why Achebe’s essay gave rise to a controversy, is where _Heart of Darkness_ stands regarding racism, colonialism, and exploitation. Some say Conrad was a racist. Others point out that _Heart of Darkness_ actually condemns colonialism. The fact is this: Marlow’s attitude is ambiguous. He is clearly disgusted by the exploitation he witnesses (in part because it destroys the colonizer), but it is equally apparent that he regards the locals as inferior. It seems to me that, when considering this issue, we should separate the racial question from the socioeconomic question. I read _Nostromo_ as an indictment of colonialism and unrestrained capitalism (please see my review of that novel for more on this). Another example would be the short story “An Outpost of Progress,” from _Tales of Unrest_ (1898). Colonialism, Conrad seems to say, carries the germ of its own destruction. I personally believe he was against it on moral grounds too. The racial question is undoubtedly much more complex.
Regarding Kurtz, “all Europe contributed to [his] making,” we are told. He is “hollow at the core,” “not much heavier than a child.” He has “no method at all” and “his soul [was] mad.” Marlow is repulsed by him but he also admires him. His final judgment, “The horror! The horror!” is still an enigma, as we don’t know precisely what he refers to, but to Marlow it is “an affirmation, a moral victory.” Above all, Kurtz is a voice. “You don’t talk with that man,” the Russian harlequin says, “you listen to him.” Kurtz is a text, and each one of us reads himself or herself into it.
Finally, let me add my two cents on _Apocalypse Now_ (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), as it seems somehow wrong to ignore this metatext. I was fascinated by the film the first time I saw it. With subsequent viewings, I became aware of some of its flaws, but I still believe it was adequate for the filmmakers to draw a parallel between Africa and Vietnam, to appropriate and reinterpret Conrad’s text. One thing is undeniable: much of the film’s power is derived from _Heart of Darkness_, and this is something that critics have used both to praise and to censure the film.
I hope these comments will add to your reading of one of the most brilliant novellas ever written. If you’re new to Conrad, I recommend that you continue your reading with his masterpiece: _Nostromo_. _Lord Jim_, for its part, has much in common with _Heart of Darkness_; the main difference is that it has a good man instead of an evil one at its center. _The Secret Agent_ is a compelling narrative that bears comparison with Dostoevsky’s _The Devils_ (aka _The Demons_ or _The Possessed_). _Under Western Eyes_, a memorable novel set in Russia, is a response of sorts to _Crime and Punishment_.
My next Conrad novel will be _Victory_.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the book!
Top reviews from other countries
I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed. While on the surface the book is a study, if not a criticism, of colonialism, at its heart, if you'll excuse the pun, is an examination of the most savage aspects of the human condition. Conrad presents the story in an interesting story-within-a-story format and I'm not sure there would be a more effective possible way of telling it.
As wonderful as the book is, it is not perfect. My chief criticism would be that the charisma, for want of a better word, of Kurtz is conveyed more through the opinion of the narrator than his words or actions within the story. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison but the character just doesn't have the same presence he had in Apocalypse Now, either when present or absent from a scene.
Overall, this book absolutely deserves its status as a classic and is well worth a read.
The ideas have been borrowed so liberally that some of the impact is lost. And the world is much smaller now as the fear of the unknown retreats.
The use of language is wonderful and the book can be read easily and fast. Definite recommend.
Kurtz is the star trader/future CEO gone bad, his methods unsound and lacking all restraint. His Bank 'tear treasure out of the bowels of the land.....with no more moral purpose..than there is in burglars breaking into a safe'. The bowler-hatted regulator sits in his office by the River ignorant of the trading around him.
Some other people might say it's about Colonialism, moral fibre, doing what's 'right'. Seriously good (with the added bonus of being a 'classic' that isn't a thousand pages long).