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Heart of Darkness & Selections from The…

Heart of Darkness & Selections from The Congo Diary (1902)

by Joseph Conrad

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Joseph Conrad begins his 1902 novella by having the sub-narrator, Charlie Marlow, talk about the Romans conquest of England centuries before. "And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth." I found this a bit odd. The only thing I could think Conrad (or Marlow) was doing, was to justify invading Africa, since this was not first instance of colonization. That goes along with a doctor telling Marlow he would love "to watch the mental changes, on the spot" of people who travel to Africa. But I'm thinking... what about the Africans? They're the people being kidnapped and murdered and sold into slavery. What about THEIR mental changes? The book is pretty darn racist, but I guess some people still are today, a century plus later. I think Conrad was either ironically OR unconsciously matching the general racist thoughts of early 20th century people. If he went out pointing most reader's inherent racism in 1902, he might have lost a lot of his readers at the start. They wouldn't have finished the book. But it is hard to say what writers were thinking, especially writers so far in the past. I'm not entirely sure that the book is ABOUT even Africa, since the book mainly seems to be about a character named Kurtz (he is the only character actually given a name except for the sub-narrator), even if Kurtz is first met twenty pages near the end. The book seems to say the "wilderness" has affected him (and certainly not stealing large amounts of ivory and using less that savory means to go about doing that). So instead of Africa, the book is about a pretty horrible guy. Maybe that is why the book is so short. The modern library edition I have has an excellent piece by Chinua Achebe who can sum it up better than I can: "..there is a preposterous and perverse kind of arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the breakup of one petty European mind." I'm glad that the modern library edition included Achebe's piece, even if he wasn't entirely complimentary to the book. He is one of the famous Afican writers, after all. The writing was wonderful at times, which is why I guess the book has survived so long. And it's still quite a puzzle. ( )
  booklove2 | Jul 24, 2012 |
Heart of Darkness is a strange book, even for a lit. major who has read it before. First of all, our narrator is three times removed from the story--he's a sailor on The Nellie telling us (the readers) about his experience listening to another sailor (Marlow) tell a story about something that happened to him years ago. More than once during the course of the book I forgot about the narrator, The Nellie and the Thames.

The heart of the story is Marlow sharing his journey deep into the Congo to retrieve a brilliant and charismatic ivory-hunter who has gone missing. Marlow fills us in on his growing up, how he got the appointment with "The Company" as their pilot, languishing with useless hangers-on at The Company station while waiting for passage down the river into the heart of the jungle, and finally his journey downriver to the camp of the mysterous Kurtz, what he finds there, and how the effects of that meeting radiate outward for the rest of his life.

This short novel is full of commentary about the African natives, colonialism, and how these two very different cultures simply could not mesh. Included in this particular edition is commentary and essays about the novel, including the by now famous essay by Chinua Achebe wherein he states that Conrad is a racist. Having those essays right there at my finger-tips as I read the novel enriched the reading experience immeasurably, and rather than having Heart of Darkness removed from the canon I think it should instead always be paired with Achebe's essay. Whether or not Conrad was in fact racist, reading the two pieces together brings the student a much more well-rounded and enlightening reading experience.

Literary criticism aside, Conrad's novel is full of beautiful prose. While the story itself may seem to progress at a snail's pace at times, this pace seems perfectly in sync with the pace of the river, and life in the Congo. This seemingly slow pace gives the reader every opportunity to lose herself in the vivid descriptions of the landscape, and Marlow's keen insights into the colonial psyche. While this may not be an easy book to read, it is without a doubt a worthwhile book to have read. ( )
  bkwurm | Jan 6, 2012 |
Heart of Darkness, while one of Conrad's most famous novels is not among my favorites. In it he explores the issues surrounding imperialism in complicated ways. At the very least, the incidental scenery of the book offers a harsh picture of colonial enterprise. The impetus behind Marlow’s adventures, too, has to do with the hypocrisy inherent in the rhetoric used to justify imperialism. The men who work for the Company describe what they do as “trade,” and their treatment of native Africans is part of a benevolent project of “civilization.” Marlow refers to his helmsman as a piece of machinery, and Kurtz’s African mistress is at best a piece of statuary. It can be argued that Heart of Darkness dramatizes the oppression of nonwhites in a sinister way that is much harder to remedy than the open abuses of Kurtz or the Company’s men. The existence of nonwhites and their exoticism enable his self-contemplation. This kind of dehumanization is harder to identify than colonial violence or open racism. Heart of Darkness ultimately offers a powerful and complex presentation of issues surrounding race. Another theme surrounds the nature of observation and Marlow gains a great deal of information by watching the world around him. He can be found overhearing others’ conversations, as when he listens from the deck of the wrecked steamer to the manager of the Central Station and his uncle discussing Kurtz and the Russian trader. This phenomenon speaks to the difficulty of direct communication between individuals: information must come as the result of chance observation and astute interpretation. Words themselves often fail to capture meaning adequately, and thus they must be taken in the context of their utterance. Another good example of this is Marlow’s conversation with the brickmaker, during which Marlow is able to figure out a good deal more than simply what the man has to say. Ultimately the bleak character of the novel work against it for me. This is a world that I find difficult to contemplate. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Aug 14, 2011 |
absolutely AMAZING. that's all. i can go on at lengths about why i love this book. ( )
  riverscollide | Oct 13, 2010 |
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"Heart of Darkness & Selections from The Congo Diary" is a shorter work than "Heart of Darkness & The Congo Diary". Please don't combine the two works. Thanks.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037575377X, Paperback)

Introduction by Caryl Phillips
Commentary by H. L. Mencken, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Lionel Trilling, Chinua Achebe, and Philip Gourevitch

Originally published in 1902, Heart of Darkness remains one of this century’s most enduring works of fiction. Written several years after Joseph Conrad’s grueling sojourn in the Belgian Congo, the novel is a complex meditation on colonialism, evil, and the thin line between civilization and barbarity. This edition contains selections from Conrad’s Congo Diary of 1890—the first notes, in effect, for the novel, which was composed at the end of that decade. Virginia Woolf wrote of Conrad: “His books are full of moments of vision. They light up a whole character in a flash. . . . He could not write badly, one feels, to save his life.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:06 -0400)

With an Introduction by Caryl Phillips Commentary by H.L. Mencken, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Lionel Trilling, Chiua Achebe, and Philip Gourevitch "Heart of Darkness," which appeared at the very beginning of our century, was a Cassandra cry announcing the end of Victorian Europe, on the verge of transforming itself into the Europe of violence," wrote the critic Czeslaw Milosz. Originally published in 1902, Heart of Darkness remains one of this century's most enduring--and harrowing--works of fiction. Written several years after Conrad's grueling sojourn in the Belgian Congo, the novel tells the story of Marlow, a seaman who undertakes his own journey into the African jungle to find the tormented white trader Kurtz. Rich in irony and spellbinding prose, Heart of Darkness is a complex meditation on colonialism, evil, and the thin line between civilization and barbarity. This edition contains selections from Conrad's Congo Diary of 1890--the first notes, in effect, for the novel which was composed at the end of that decade. Virginia Woolf wrote of Conrad, "His books are full of moments of vision. They light up a whole character in a flash. ... He could not write badly, one feels, to save his life."… (more)

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