In my 1989 edition of Hamlyn's Dictionary of Quotations, Conrad is afforded only three spots, one of which is from Heart of Darkness, and that one the cursory and flat 'Mistah Kurtz-he dead'. I have always thought this unforgivable when the editor had so very much to choose from in 'Heart' alone. Try this: 'Glamour urged him on, glamour kept him unscathed'; or: 'it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice'.
There are lines in Conrad's work which are as condensed and ripe with meaning as the very best poetry. He can condense nineteen hundred years of Christian civilisation into barely a quarter of a page: 'I take it, no fool ever made a bargain for his soul with the devil: the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil-I don't know which. Or you may be such a thunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standing place-and whether to be like this is your loss or your gain I won't pretend to say.'
In Kurtz, Conrad produced a character who will live forever in English literature, and deserves to.
Conrad was the first truly modern writer of fiction. All the more remarkable in that English was, I believe, neither his first or his second language, but his third. Incidentally, the reader may safely ignore the occasional accusation levelled at 'Heart of Darkness' and Conrad that it and he is essentially racist. Nonsense.
My Oxford World's Classics imprint includes 'An Outpost of Progress', 'Karain', and 'Youth'. 'Karain' is the finest of the others in this volume, with, again, some wonderful quotable lines: 'as if a dead world had been laid to rest in a grave of clouds'; 'He spoke of her with fury in the daytime, with sorrow in the dark'; 'she bent her face over me-the face of a woman who ravishes the hearts and silences the reason of men'. Isn't that last one lovely? Summing up in one line the dangers of obsessive love.
But let's return to 'Heart of Darkness' one more time and remember: 'We live as we dream-alone. . . .'
Read it and read it again. There's always more to be gleaned from Conrad.
Michael Cope, 20 October, 2007