My second edition of Tough to Tackle Reads is not quite the bang that Gone with the Wind was, but I think I still managed to pick a doozy.
It’sMy second edition of Tough to Tackle Reads is not quite the bang that Gone with the Wind was, but I think I still managed to pick a doozy.
It’s difficult to think of a way to start discussing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Because it’s an allegory, a dense one at that, it is exceedingly difficult to talk about on a surface level. Even prepping for this post I found myself unpacking each part like I was preparing for an essay.
So I apologize in advance for the parts of this post that read like an essay. I used barely any of my notes in order to spare you, though I enjoyed myself. Word to the wise, these are merely my rudimentary thoughts as I have not consulted outside sources beyond the introduction in my anthology*.
This is my second time reading Heart of Darkness. I read it much slower this time around so that I could have long moments to mull each part separately and then as a whole. I loved it this go as much as I did the first time. There is so much going on on so many levels that you can never get bored reading it.
I know everyone beyond high school age already has an ingrained reaction to the title, but I hope I can convince you that this story is worth your time below.
The Book Heart of Darkness is a novella, published in 1899, derived from Conrad’s personal experience in the Congo in 1890. It is as much a memoir, expanded beyond fact, as it is an exploration of human darkness, colonialism, and the ivory trade.
While it is set in Africa, it is framed in such a way as to be an oral story told aboard a ship called the Nellie which is docked on the Thames. A man aboard the ship, Marlow, who is essentially a pseudo Conrad, entertains the few members of the crew with a story about the time he sailed up the river into the centre of Africa.
If only the whole story was as simple as that.**
The Author Joseph Conrad, 1857-1924, was born in Poland as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. His younger years were rather turbulent; his father was a Polish patriot exiled to Russia for his polish nationalist activities as Poland was under Russian rule at the time. He died young leaving Conrad to be raised in part by a maternal uncle. In 1874, at age 17, Conrad travelled to Marseilles, France and launched his sea-faring adventures, which eventually lead to his learning the English language (his third) and becoming a naturalized British subject. Also during this time he travelled to the heart of Africa up the Congo River, which lead to the later writing of Heart of Darkness.
There were some difficulties during his marine days and with the help of a sympathetic ear belonging to the novelist John Galsworthy, paired with the publication of his first novel Almayer’s Folly in 1895, Conrad ditched his sea faring life for that of a writer.
He settled in London and married an Englishwoman in 1896, using his many years of adventures in exotic locales to write a myriad of deep, questioning fiction. It is said that his geopolitical understanding, no doubt influenced by his upbringing and early life at sea, and his ability to bring psychological depth to any narrative, have left their mark on English Literature and influenced many important writers.***
Length I think the fact that this story is only around 30 000 words, or roughly 200 pages, makes it that much more difficult. So much is packed into such a small piece that unpacking it is hard. But so worth it. You might pick up this book and flip through the pages and think, “Heck, this will fill an afternoon.” You can absolutely read it in an afternoon, though you are going to be slightly cross eyed and brain-fried at the end. Or perhaps that's just me.
Difficulty This story is notorious as one you either love or hate. I give it a 4/5 as far as difficulty goes because while it is dense the language is clear. While no one writes a sentence like Conrad his prose are very straightforward.
I actually find the structure of the paragraphs to be the most difficult aspect of Heart of Darkness. One, they’re long. I mean long. Longer than Saramago paragraphs (have you read the opening of Blindness?). Two, back in the late 1800s there were not a lot of rules in regards to novels or short fiction since they were a relatively new art form. The beautiful dialogue breaks we all know and love are nowhere to be found in Conrad’s story –until the final scene which is written much like an interview (since that’s what it is).
The segmentation of the story and Conrad’s narrative choice also ensure that the story keeps you on your toes. All of this combined means you really have to pay attention. Heart of Darkness is not designed for light reading, but there’s purpose behind each choice.