Rating: 4/4 (Deep, dark and vivid)
Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is the darkest and most serious book I have read until now. The story is narrated by a fictional character named Marlow to the author and others resting on a yawl. Marlow describes a journey from his past, on a steamboat up a river in a dark continent to bring back an ivory trader named Kurtz, whom everyone reveres for his achievements. He reaches the colonial station after a risky adventure through the tropical rainforests and finds Kurtz in a near death state. His image of greatness is shattered after Marlow discovers the real activities of Kurtz in his colonial trading post. He now sees Kurtz as a reprehensible being. Kurtz dies a while later on the journey back downstream. His last words indicate his probable realization of the havoc he has caused during his lifetime. Back in Europe, Marlow faces Kurtz’s widow and has to pass on his last words.
This novella by Joseph Conrad draws inspiration from his actual journey on the Congo river in Africa. The narration from the start is strongly evocative of darkness. Everything from the descriptions of the European towns, the Congo river, the African continent, the color of the inhabitant savages, their ways of life, the colonies of the Europeans, the cannibalistic Africans who form a part of his steamboat crew and ultimately Kurtz himself. The language drips heavily with vividness. I almost felt like being in Marlow’s shoes journeying slowly up the Congo through his primeval continent. Though Marlow grows to hate Kurtz, in the end he is compelled to leave him with a good name. Like Life Of Pi, this book feels great since it left me with more than one interpretation. Is Conrad talking of the dark continent or the darkness inside us? That questions hangs in the air for a long time after I have closed this book.
Heart Of Darkness is short, hence called a novella, at just 112 pages. I read the Penguin Classics version edited by Robert Hampson. It has Hampson’s long and boring introduction which would interest only those studying the book. It also has Conrad’s actual Congo Diary in which he noted the happenings of his African journey. This book has a detailed notes section at the end of the story.
We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us — who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand, because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign — and no memories.