17. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad. .
History: Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood's Magazine. In writing Heart of Darkness, Conrad drew inspiration from his own experience in the Congo: eight and a half years before writing the book, he had gone to serve as the captain of a Congo steamer.
Plot: The story opens with five men, apparently old friends, on a boat on the Thames. One man, Marlow, begins telling a story of a job he took as captain of a steamship in Africa. Marlow learns that he is to travel up the river to retrieve Kurtz (if he is alive), who was evidently left alone in unfamiliar territory. Kurtz has quite a reputation in many areas of expertise. He is somewhat of a rogue ivory collector, "essentially a great musician," a journalist, a skilled painter, and "a universal genius”. Marlow is finally able to leave on his journey with five other white men and a group of cannibals they have hired to run the steamer. He notes that the cannibals use a respectable amount of restraint in not eating the white men, as their only food source is a small amount of rotting hippo meat, and they far outnumber the white men, or "pilgrims" as Marlow refers to them. They arrive at the station and Marlow meets Kurtz's right-hand man, whose admiration and fear of Kurtz are palpable. The Russian explains that Kurtz is near death and that Kurtz had ordered the native tribes to attack the steam ship. Marlow and his crew take the ailing Kurtz aboard their ship and depart. During this time, Kurtz is lodged in Marlow's pilothouse and Marlow begins to see that Kurtz is every bit as grandiose as previously described. During this time, Kurtz gives Marlow a collection of papers and a photograph for safekeeping; both had witnessed the Manager going through Kurtz's belongings. The photograph is of a beautiful girl whom Marlow assumes is Kurtz's love interest.
One night, Marlow happens upon Kurtz, obviously near death. As Marlow comes closer with a candle, Kurtz seems to experience a moment of clarity and speaks his last words: "The horror! The horror!" Marlow believes this to be Kurtz's reflection on the events of his life.
Marlow later returns to his home city and is confronted by many people seeking things and ideas of Kurtz. Marlow eventually sees Kurtz's fiancée about a year later.
Review: I read this for a history class. It was terrible to read. I never have liked Joseph Conrad . Dark is the right word for this book. On every level I found it depressing from Conrad’s pandering to melodrama right through to the subject matter. Not a single good thing happens in the entire episode. The whole is dark; the people, the weather, the water, the minds and motivations of the central characters The characters all struggle with their own selves as if this is all we are born to do.
Opening Line: The Nelly, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails and was at rest.
Closing Line: It [the Thames] seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
Rating: rubbish poor mediocre okay good very good superb