Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad: #BookReview.

heart dark

136 pages


(I read the Penguin Classics version, which includes a chronology, introductions, notes, a map of the region, the author’s Congo Diary, an author’s note and a glossary of nautical terms.)

Written in 1899, some nine years after the author’s visit to the Congo, this novel is clearly inspired by and based on his experiences in Africa.

Presented as a tale told to a partially reluctant audience trapped on a ship at anchor in the Thames Estuary, the story employs the many qualities of the unreliable narrator. Odd shifts in the timeline, occasional jumps without explanation, reports of garbled overheard conversations lacking context all add to the experience of the reader in joining that small audience.

But the book deals with many themes. Brutality caused by prejudice, the infant of ignorance, is perhaps the most telling here. The initial horror slowly dissolving into indifference as the narrator’s experiences and exposure to cruelty anaesthetise him in self-defence against the realities. There’s also the greed encouraged by rapacious western corporations allowed free reign in a land with few authorities and little structure to deal with either criminals or cheats. And, underlying the story, is a thread about ivory that lacks the modern concern for conservation but highlights man’s obsession with the acquisition of wealth.

Marlow, the seafarer who tells the tale, is a man of his time in so many ways that he must be difficult for the young generation to understand. Colonialism, with all its good intentions and foul outcomes, guides much of his thought. Initially appalled at the treatment of the native people, he becomes obsessive about a figure of mystery, a man who appears to have promise of progression in the company for which both men work. This figure, an enigma in many ways, seems to represent the conflicts in humankind whilst moving through the stages of moral decline that are presented as inevitable in the colonial situation.

Although it’s an engaging book, full of depth and marvellous language, it is also a hard read both intellectually and emotionally.

A book of its time, it nevertheless carries many messages still only too relevant today.


[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

20 thoughts on “Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad: #BookReview.

        1. I understand he was born in the Ukraine of Polish parents (his father was a poet), who were later exiled from Warsaw to Northern Russia and then moved to the Ukraine again and on to Cracow. Joseph later moved to Marseilles and then to England. His life is chronicled in the edition of Heart of Darkness I read and reviewed. That’s the Penguin Classics edition, if you want to know more about him.

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        1. Hi Stuart and Paola,

          I would like to comment further that it is indeed not an easy novel to read, not to mention that it takes certain maturity (beyond that possessed by an average or typical high school student) to appreciate most, if not all, of its (overt and subtle) messages.

          Thank you, Stuart, for visiting and reading my long post, which contains multiple sections easily navigable through the main menu. Given the length and depth of the post, it is almost certain that only the most patient, curious or persistent readers have read it in its entirety and reaped all the benefits. I wonder whether you prefer certain sections over others. If you don’t mind, it would be a delight if you could kindly give me your feedback at the comment section of the said post at http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/the-quotation-fallacy/

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          1. Thanks, SoundEagle.
            I’m still reading the post on Quotations, as, in common with many writers, I’m usually busy with either reading or writing. But as a writer who’s been quoted, misquoted, and quoted without recognition, I’m keen to read the whole post, which is what I’m doing; in sections. I’ve left a brief comment for now, however.

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    1. I found it difficult to ‘love’. But I certainly admire the piece. Literature is a demanding field and to write so well in your third language is quite an achievement.

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