"At the peak of European Imperialism, steamboat captain Charles Marlow
travels deep into the African Congo on his way to relieve the elusive Mr
Kurtz, an ivory trader renowned for his fearsome reputation. On his
journey into the unknown Marlow takes a terrifying trip into his own
subconscious, overwhelmed by his menacing, perilous and horrifying
Joseph Conrad is perhaps thought of as being one of the United Kingdom's most quintessentially British authors, so it is arguably surprising to find that he was in fact a first-language Polish, and second-language English, speaker who was granted British nationality at the age of 29. This surprise arises from the unmistakable richness of his work, of which Heart of Darkness is an excellent example.
While the nautical settings of Conrad's works may seem on the niche side, this merely serves as a framework for the precise, eloquent and well-paced descriptions for which the author is famous. This high level of imagery also lends Heart of Darkness a degree of classicism that some of his more dated works, such as The Nigger of the Narcissus, lack. This is compounded by the other techniques used by Conrad to convey a sense of impending doom, such as motifs and pathetic fallacy, which leave little work to be done in terms of plot and character.
This is not to say that Conrad does not handle these elements of the novella with his characteristic tautness and panache. Not a word is wasted and despite the descriptions, the plot is still being moved forward with every turn of the boat and every movement of the sun. Character is also mainly built up through anticipation, as well as the descriptions and dialogue of others; this has the other equally important effect of building tension and suspense, leaving the reader wanting to meet the protagonist (Kurtz) while wanting simultaneously turns away. As Conrad reiterates throughout the text, "the horror, the horror" is all-pervasive and present not only in the characters and events but also in the atmosphere and landscape.
Naturally, some of this anticipation would be lost on subsequent readings; however, the quality of the description and overall craftsmanship of the writing make excellent reasons to reread, before one even considers the deep moral and existential questions raised by the storyline and characterisation. The richness of the imagery is what makes one reach for Conrad's volume, rather than watching Apocalypse Now (a well-executed adaptation to be recommended for the ways in which is capitalises on the author's precisely-woven plot and intriguing protagonists), and it is this that makes Heart of Darkness such a resounding introduction to one of the great figures of English literature.
Other works by Joseph Conrad
Almayer's Folly (1895)
An Outcast of the Islands (1896)
The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897)
Lord Jim (1900)
The Inheritors (1901; with Ford Maddox Ford)
Romance (1903; with Ford Maddox Ford)
The Secret Agent (1907)
Under Western Eyes (1911)
The Shadow of Line (1917)
The Arrow of Gold (1919)
The Rescue (1920)
The Nature of a Crime (1923; with Ford Maddox Ford)
The Rover (1923)
First three Chapters....
8 years ago