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Heart of Darkness

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There was an interesting, though unsatisfactory, discussion about Conrad and this work this morning on "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4 (repeated in truncated form this evening at 9.30). Some of the talk was dithery and unsubstantial but it's worth a listen if you've ever meant to read the book, or if you want to be reminded of it. It is a book that is referenced by so many books and films, it's one of those few 'Bible and Shakespeare' essential readings, I think.

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There was an interesting, though unsatisfactory, discussion about Conrad and this work this morning on "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4 (repeated in truncated form this evening at 9.30). Some of the talk was dithery and unsubstantial but it's worth a listen if you've ever meant to read the book, or if you want to be reminded of it. It is a book that is referenced by so many books and films, it's one of those few 'Bible and Shakespeare' essential readings, I think.

 

Yes, I think Melvyn Bragg wanted one or two of the dons to get to 'the heart of it' rather more, especially the significance of 'the horror, the horror': the woman prof waffled especially I thought. I read the novella many years ago and made myself get through the first part of the narrative.

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I listened to the programme in the hope that it would inspire me to try yet again to read this little book - How can one not finish a book that short? Yet I have started it two or three times and given up after just a few pages.

 

Sadly, although I still feel I ought to read it (is that one of the threads we lost?) I don't feel any more enthusiastic about doing so.

 

And I agree that the woman academic 'waffled' about 'The horror, the horror'

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Here is the previous thread on this book, recovered from Google:

 

#1

15th August 2006, 06:39 PM

 

Hazel

Heart of Darkness

I can't believe there isn't a thread for this already. And I wasn't quite sure how to 'thread' it as this book was originally released in 1899 as a 3-parter, then finally released as a novel in 1902 - a real cusp of a novella. I am going for pre-1900 because it is part of my 19thC lit course for next year's uni. Anyhoo -

 

Amazon Synopsis -

Marlow voyages into the wildness and jungle of the Belgian Congo to meet Kurtz, a company agent, and having found him, realizes that Kurtz has won supremacy over the natives through unrestrained violence. The story explores the workings of the subconscious, and addresses political imperialism.

Even if you haven't read the book, you most probably will have seen the film Apocalypse Now which is loosely (very) based on the book.

 

I found this a very disturbing read as Conrad really manipulates language to firstly, pound the notion of 'darkness' and 'light' on you, secondly, transport you to an unimaginable habitat and people, and thirdly, bewilder you with discussion of shipping, ivory, the government, and finally Kurtz himself. Is he bad, good, hero, criminal, to be admired, to be feared, or all of the above? For the most part I was confused - but I think I was meant to be. Conrad really wants you to be empathetic to Marlow (for the majority of the novel our narrator), yet through using a primary unnamed narrator, be also on the outskirts listening to this wild tale.

 

To be honest, I enjoyed reading it - it disturbed me and I never quite knew where I was, but that was kind of the point and I am still thinking about the book. The length of the book is slight, but that suits this story because it is essentially just one tale being told in conversation to a group of men. Hmmmm, it's a thinker folks.

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#2

16th August 2006, 01:11 PM

MissRibena

 

Hi Hazel

 

This sums up my impression of this book really well. I had heard so much about it in references in other works that I felt I really had to read it. I still wasn't very sure what it was all about by the end of it but the atmosphere of fear and menace was really well done and the confused relationships between the colonialists and natives was captured perfectly. I can see what it has become so important

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#3

17th August 2006, 01:03 PM

 

Hazel

The parallels throughout the book are pretty clearly defined -

 

dark, natives, uncivilised, menace, evil, Kurtz, colonized

 

light, colonizers, the west, good, decent, civilised

 

this is an accomplishment and the continuous parallels set up the great 'break' in the end when Marlow appears to switch sides.

 

Conrad does use language well to confuse the reader and place us at the feet of the Marlow in the first half of the novel. The 3 chapter also serve the change in Marlow well, in the first he is on the light side, the second he is wavering and the third he is, as they would say in Star Wars, come to the dark side.

 

I am still wondering if I really enjoyed it!

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#4

17th August 2006, 03:24 PM

Sherman_McCoy

 

Originally Posted by Hazel

light, colonizers, the west, good, decent, civilised

 

Hazel it was a good few years ago I read this book, but aren't the colonizers portrayed as greedy monsters exploiting the natives?

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#5

17th August 2006, 03:30 PM

 

Hazel

Originally Posted by Sherman_McCoy

Hazel it was a good few years ago I read this book, but aren't the colonizers portrayed as greedy monsters exploiting the natives?

Yes, they do brutalise and exploit the natives, but what I took from it was that the colonizers were essentially good and something had gone wrong in this unfamiliar place, so the Company had sent in a good man to correct the wrongs and bring back the wrong doer. It was as if the place had made these people bad, rather than them being an brutal, imperialist regime

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_ #6

18th August 2006, 07:55 AM

gg106

 

It is interesting the discussion that this book has provoked in terms of language etc. Just thought I'd let you know that last year a descriptive extract from this was put on the year 9 Sats paper and thirteen/fourteen year olds were expected to answer questions on it focusing on use of language etc. I was pretty shocked by this - my first encounter with this text was at the age of 28 when I did my degree and I found it quite hard going. Conrad has a particular style and his syntax in particular I find quite complicated.

I agree with others on here that the story has quite an impact. Even now I can't get the image of Kurtz out of my head. A fantastic read that you have made me want to go back and read again.

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#7

18th August 2006, 10:33 AM

MissRibena

 

I found the book tough enough going as a read and decided that rather than try to come to terms with each and every sentence (which I didn't really have the patience for), I read it for an overall impression. That's probably what lead to my impression of confusedness surrounding the relationships, but reading this thread reminds me of how slippery I felt Conrad wanted to make terms like good and bad, black and white, civlised and savage. It's a complete contrast to how clear Hazel felt he was being. Maybe I got it all wrong and should go back to it again.

 

I can't imagine what I would have made of it at 14; probably not very much but you never know; maybe its intensity would have appealed to me.

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#8

18th August 2006, 12:27 PM

 

Hazel

 

Originally Posted by MissRibena

Maybe I got it all wrong and should go back to it again

 

 

I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to interpret a book. If you felt a particular way about it then thats the right reading/interpretation for you. That's what makes books interesting to discuss.

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#9

20th August 2006, 11:46 AM

MissRibena

 

Yes but by taking the kind of cursory approach that I did when reading this book, it would be possible to come away with a "wrong" impression of the author's intentions, particularly given Conrad's dense style of prose. So my opinions are based on the mood rather than the specifics, which leads to more of a judgement of the author's style than on the content. Next time around, I need to be less lazy

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I started this book last night and am really struggling already. I am encouraged by two things on this thread, the first is that other people have had to work hard to get past the beginning too, the other is someone saying it was a short book!! I am reading it for a course (maybe the same one as you Hazel? Are you another OUer?) so that may affect how I view it. If I wasn't reading it for a purpose, I would have given up by page 4...

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I am reading it for a course (maybe the same one as you Hazel? Are you another OUer?)

 

If you are doing AA316, then yes, we are on the same course!

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Yes, are you about to start or already part way through. I start in September.

 

Ah, that explains why you are reading HoD and not Dracula just now. I am nearly finished - my exam is in October. Next year is my final year. Though I am adding on an extra year to do the 20thC lit.

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This is just about the longest short novel I've ever read, if that makes sense. It seemed to take forever.

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Yes, I can sort of imagine that already... *sighs*

 

[tangent] Hazel, what course are you doing next year? And what have you done already? I nearly did the 20th c literature instead of 19th c novels. I have one more course to do after this one too, may do it then. But then, some of the English language ones looked good too... [/tangent]

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[tangent] Hazel, what course are you doing next year? And what have you done already? I nearly did the 20th c literature instead of 19th c novels. I have one more course to do after this one too, may do it then. But then, some of the English language ones looked good too... [/tangent]

 

I started with A103, then A210, U210, E301, AA316 this year, and AA306 Shakespeare next year, get my degree, then 20th C lit in 2009. I specifically left the Shakey year till the end so that I could complete my degree with the summer school to The Globe. But then the OU had to go and permanently cancel the summer school this year. Boo, hiss.

 

What courses have you done?

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A British captain accepts a job in Africa to pilot a boat bringing ivory and supplies up and down a river. What he sees—in late 19th century, colonial Africa—presents a view of the world and a dark side of humanity that he never expected.

 

Although this is a novella, it still took me a while to read it, even rereading certain passages. Conrad has a fairly heavy writing style, which alternates between wonderfully atmospheric passages and some dense soul searching. It isn't a pretty story, as humanity is laid bare in all of its ugliness, yet it isn't gory or shocking—not to a 21st-century reader, anyway.

 

Much has been made of this novella, and I'm inclined to think that it lives up to its reputation. Without telling the reader exactly what to think, it does give us an outsider's brief perspective of the horrors of colonialism in Africa. It isn't a character novel, nor is it an analysis of African culture; rather, it tackles a pressing social issue in very poignant fashion. It's a novel that should be read by socially-conscious individuals, history buffs, lovers of Literature, and, especially, people in the realm of political science.

 

If I were to pick something that I didn't like, it would have to be the short length. I would have loved another hundred pages—two hundred would have been better.

 

It definitely isn't fast-paced. It requires a great deal of patience and a desire to know more about ourselves. It's also a novel that I think I need to reread, preferably sooner rather than later, in order to better appreciate its message—and I don't often say that about most novels that I read. I eagerly look forward to reading more stories by Conrad.

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If I were to pick something that I didn't like, it would have to be the short length. I would have loved another hundred pages—two hundred would have been better.

 

 

Interestingly, Conrad had already expanded it's length beyond the original commission. It's about a third longer than it should have been. It forms part of a triptych with Youth and Lord Jim, where Marlow features again as a narrator/character. You might want to have a go with them if you liked HoD.

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I'm about 12 pages from the end of Heart of Darkness but am still unsure as to whether I will make it to the end without giving up.

 

Don't give up Hilary. I didn't do any TMAs on HoD, but did one of my exam questions on it - which was an easy question with a great answer - and got my best mark for it. For all of its life-sucking abilities, it is a short novella and has a clear line of analysis.

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Life-sucking, that's exactly what it is. But you're right, it's short enough to do a quick re-read nearer exam time. Presuming I have learned something to help me understand what's going on by then.

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This is just about the longest short novel I've ever read, if that makes sense. It seemed to take forever.

Yes I totally agree.  I just read this as part of a challenge I'm partaking in this year.  It was on my bookshelf for years and I decided enough is enough time to make it happen.  

 

Last time I picked it up I read 3 pages and was bored but this time I said no way have to do it.  The way it is written is strange, I guess because of the time period it was written in it seems to waver between flowery prose of the Victorian era and the more spartan modern style of writing.  That was one thing that made it hard for me to read.

 

I sat there with the spark notes no fear page and lit charts explanations and it took me a whole week to go through this 80 page novella.  The part at the start was rough but it got easier once they got to Kurtz.  I really enjoyed the end of the book.  Marlow's perceptions of civilization after what he had been through and how he treats his visitors and the person he visits over the matter he is wrapping up at the end of the book.

 

What I find interesting is that a lot of people will not read this due to the race issue question.  It's sort like Huckleberry Finn, written to condemn something but because it uses the language of its day the works themselves are now criticized on the very same issue the book was denouncing.

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Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness
Several decades ago I was obliged to read Conrad’s Lord Jim, and was no more than moderately engaged. This may have been partly due to my professor who had not read the book before and on that ground promptly cancelled the class. The next session she gave revealed her absolute tedium with the central figure, not Jim himself, but the teller of the tale, one who had difficulty in telling it - namely Marlow. ‘If you ever go to a party and get approached by someone called Marlow, beat a hasty retreat,’ she advised us. Well Marlow is the central character and chief narrator of Heart of Darkness. This time it’s not Jim but Mr Kurtz who is the ambivalent hero of the tale, which is set in the almost impenetrable Congo. Marlow is again the confused teller, trying to explain his obsession with Kurtz, the only white man to have reached into the heart of darkest Africa.

Marlow seems to spend his life puzzling over the moral dilemmas of unlikely heroes under enormous stress.Kurtz is Mr Kurtz to the tribes he is supposed to educate in civilised behaviour - as well as trying to make a fortune from the illicit ivory trade. He is apparently an orator who could sway multitudes of barbarians, but maybe beneath the skin he is a bit of a barbarian himself. Maybe, thinks Marlow, when the chips are down all men are. He is also, one visitor explains, an organist, a genius, says another; and ‘a very remarkable man’ Marlow agrees with Mr Kurtz’s Intended, a wraith-like creature who ‘knew him best.’ His death was a great loss to the world, she maintains.

The reader soon cottons on to the fact that this adventure story is in fact a parable of man’s existence, and that questions of the meaning and purpose of life, crucial questions left unaddressed by the white ‘pilgrims’ who accompany the party up river, is the real purpose of the book. The final section in which Marlow and the Wraith engage in reminiscence of Kurtz returns us to the Company waiting in the Thames ‘barred by a blank bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth’ where the novel began.

So Marlow is left ‘in the pose of a meditating Buddha’ no wiser, but the reader suspects that Marlow may have been mistaken about Kurtz, that the man was an intrepid adventurer seeking not revelation but gold, and that Marlow’s adulation of him is wildly misplaced.

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Like others on this thread I had tried before and never finished this novel. It came up on Audible with Kenneth Branagh as the reader. He made a valiant effort but I still wasn't interested in the story but I did at least finish it this time. 

 

I've read through all the posts on this thread and I still can't see why it is considered such an important book. Given it was published in 1899 surely a lot of people knew and condoned the behaviour of colonialism? So why would it be considered so shocking, which it wasn't. Man hurts other men in pursuit of wealth ............ nothing new there then. 

 

Some of the language was impressive but on the whole the book was dull and boring and I didn't care about any of the characters. We are told Kurtz was this bewitching orator but we were given no example of his magical way with words. 

 

Sorry but this was an extremely dull, dull book and the idea of giving it to teenagers to read is just cruel!! 

Edited by Tay

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I read the book years ago and it had no impact on me and I certainly wouldn't want to read it again. At the time I thought the writing was superb, I now tend to view it as... adjective heavy.

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