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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 27 December 2016
As a yacht anchors in the Thames and the crew settle down one of them, Charles Marlow, recites an experience he had when he took to sailing on freshwater. And so we have here one of Conrad’s most read and studied works, although this is only a novella. First published in serial form in Blackwood’s Magazine this tale still has the power to provoke and stimulate discussion.

Obviously inspired by and based in part on the author’s own experiences this is a story that really grips you. As Marlow takes a job to captain a steamboat up and down the river between trading posts in Africa, he is employed by an ivory business. As Marlow keeps hearing of the genius Mr Kurtz, he is intrigued. But when he actually meets Kurtz things are not what they seem.

Taking in Imperialism and the rapacious way of companies to drain areas of natural resources for their own profits this is something that we are still dealing with today. With the native Africans treated like dirt and looked down upon we also see how the Europeans employed by the company come in different guises, from lazy incompetents to those greedy for profit and gain, all backstabbing each other for their own personal advancement.

We see that Kurtz is from a new way of thought, with the idea of suppressing the native religions and superstitions and trying to make them more like ‘civilised’ Europeans. This novella has come under attack at different times due to such things as supposed racism and so on, but personally I along with many others have found this to be slightly erroneous. Conrad firstly was writing in the language and prejudices of his time, and he does portray the inhumanity shown towards the native population quite graphically. His story also makes us think and question what right we have to change a whole people’s ideas and beliefs just to make them the same as ours. In all Conrad shows us here the cruelty and greed that we can show to one another, and how the real world is, which makes this so powerful and intense a read.
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on 5 November 2016
Nothing personifies the corrupting influence of power and greed better than Kurtz,driven to the limits of sanity not by uncivilised Africa, but by his selfish pursuit of wealth and control over the local populace.

Conrad brilliantly depicts the hypocrisy of Imperialism as ‘civilised’ nations plundered 19th Century Africa under the guise of bringing the light of Western civilisation to the darkest depths of the continent.

As the second phase of African imperialism begins, led by China, the same themes explored by Conrad remain equally as relevant today. Whilst modern imperialism is less moral in its remit, the environmental and human consequences of civil war within nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo are likely to be equally as catastrophic.

An aptly titled work - the darkness lies not in the heart of Africa but in the self seeking heart of the developed world.
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on 29 September 2016
‘One can’t live with one’s finger everlastingly on one’s pulse.’

Marlow recalls an adventure to his shipmates on the Thames. Like any recollection, the story is offered through the filters of memory and experiences and is prone to the exaggeration of detail and key elements. This allows for a richness of description of people and place as well as for the cranking up of tension throughout.

Marlow falls into a job of captaining a steamer on its journey along the Congo to meet up with a renegade ivory trader called Kurtz. Kurtz is the one-time darling of the company, but his success and obsession seems to have gone awry and the respect that he was once held in has festered into the fear and contempt of those he works for.

As the story progresses, a sense of impending horror builds. Each of Marlow’s encounters offers foreboding. The chances of surviving the heat and conditions seem slim. The pictures that are painted of Kurtz offer contradictions, but unify in the danger they emit. As the time comes for the steamer to arrive at Kurtz’s camp, I felt and genuine panic and curiosity about what was about to follow. For me, this engagement is brought about because of the device of the story-teller addressing the audience directly. It’s also heightened by superb detail where all is viewed through whatever the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles might be.

The bulk of Heart Of Darkness is beautifully put together. The power of the unseen and threatened is immense. If there’s an issue for me, then it’s that the journey is so much more than the arrival. Kurtz, such a giant throughout, is something of a shadow of himself by the time we meet. That which is unseen shrinks as the curtain is pulled back. This is clearly intentional and it’s more than likely that I’m missing the point, but the sense of anti-climax I experienced has been difficult to shrug off. Maybe the issue was that I was expecting Brando to make an entrance and it felt more like they’d sent on an understudy who had never really acted before.

I thoroughly enjoyed much of this one. The unpeeling of humanity down to raw flesh is brutal. The levelling of civilisation to an animal common denominator is unsettling. The conflict between the futility of life and the need to fully suck out all of its juices battles to leave a sludge that’s as dark as the title suggests. The voice of the storyteller is perfect and the images conjured are vivid throughout. The destination may not have been the one I wanted to reach, but I’m delighted that I finally went along for the ride.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 12 June 2016
As a yacht anchors in the Thames and the crew settle down one of them, Charles Marlow, recites an experience he had when he took to sailing on freshwater. And so we have here one of Conrad’s most read and studied works, although this is only a novella. First published in serial form in Blackwood’s Magazine this tale still has the power to provoke and stimulate discussion.

Obviously inspired by and based in part on the author’s own experiences this is a story that really grips you. As Marlow takes a job to captain a steamboat up and down the river between trading posts in Africa, he is employed by an ivory business. As Marlow keeps hearing of the genius Mr Kurtz, he is intrigued. But when he actually meets Kurtz things are not what they seem.

Taking in Imperialism and the rapacious way of companies to drain areas of natural resources for their own profits this is something that we are still dealing with today. With the native Africans treated like dirt and looked down upon we also see how the Europeans employed by the company come in different guises, from lazy incompetents to those greedy for profit and gain, all backstabbing each other for their own personal advancement.

We see that Kurtz is from a new way of thought, with the idea of suppressing the native religions and superstitions and trying to make them more like ‘civilised’ Europeans. This novella has come under attack at different times due to such things as supposed racism and so on, but personally I along with many others have found this to be slightly erroneous. Conrad firstly was writing in the language and prejudices of his time, and he does portray the inhumanity shown towards the native population quite graphically. His story also makes us think and question what right we have to change a whole people’s ideas and beliefs just to make them the same as ours. In all Conrad shows us here the cruelty and greed that we can show to one another, and how the real world is, which makes this so powerful and intense a read.
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on 6 March 2014
This is a very interesting book written with an almost hallucinogenic imagination. Conrad must be a bit feverish when he wrote the book as a result of some tropical disease from Africa. There is no shortage of metaphors and similes suggesting the vile and sinister sensations of living in a macabre land of the unknown, `no joy in the brilliance of sunshine,' as he put it. Nightmarish scenes are omnipresent, every sound signifies an alarm of danger, and every sight evokes feelings of disgust and fear. Conrad shows an extraordinary talent in his use of English vocabulary to add mood and atmosphere to his description of places and situations, accentuating the detrimental effect of the tropical environment, i.e. the heat, vegetation, animals, etc. to the mental and physical health of men. His choice of words is particularly strong in the realm of doom and gloom.

`The horror! The horror!' these are the final words of Kurtz, the hero (or anti-hero) of this book. Kurtz, a 19th century European trader, who had 'gone native' in Congo of West Africa, was regarded by the local tribal people as their God. But did he love them? We only found out at the end of his life about his true feelings towards these people who worshipped him, `Exterminate the brutes!' he said with such disgust. It is possible that he was referring to the cannibals as `brutes'. But it is hinted in the novel that Kurtz himself, while mingling with the natives, had probably participated in their cannibalistic feast. We get the feeling that he had since gone insane from the experience. Who wouldn't? He had contracted 'brain malaria' from eating human flesh!

Kurtz is a mystery, a mythology. Throughout the novel, there is hardly any clear depiction of Kurtz apart from the scene of his death. We only get glimpses of his personality from remarks made by other people who knew him. So who was Kurtz? Was he a solitary madman, a sad misanthrope who rejected European civilization and preferred to live with the natives and act as their protector and saviour? Was he a religious nut trying to civilize and humanize the `savages' with his own belief? Or was he just another ruthless colonial adventurer who dominated and manipulated the `simple' tribal people through his ingenuity and scheming? The answer is not entirely clear until we read part of his report on the 'Suppression of Savage Customs' (p.70).

The film 'Apocalypse Now' was supposedly based on this book with the story transposed to Vietnam in the 20th century. But my recommendations would go to 'Aguirre - Wrath of God' (1972) by Werner Herzog, and 'Queimada - Burn!'(1969) by Gillo Pontecorvo. Both these films made interesting statements on Colonialism.

Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 July 2015
First published in 1899, Conrad’s celebrated novella “Heart of Darkness” uses the device of one tale book-ended within another. In this case, as sunset precedes the descent of darkness over the London Thames, Marlow begins to narrate to his colleagues on deck reminiscences of a visit to the snake-like river of central Africa, which has fascinated him since childhood. His task is to captain a steamboat on what is clearly the Congo. After repairing his damaged boat, he is sent to collect the mysterious ivory-trader Kurtz who is rumoured to be sick. The model for Coppola’s famous film “Apocalypse Now”, Kurtz proves an ambiguous figure. Is he criticised for having “lost his values” out of widespread envy for his commercial success? The natives seem to revere him as a kind of god, but there is evidence that he hates them.

At first, I took the book to be an indictment of the colonialism which exploited and degraded the Africans for imperial influence and commercial gain. Then I became uneasy at the evidence of stereotyping and a certain contempt for the natives. The story has a surreal, dreamlike quality, at one point the steamer is actually stranded in a heavy fog. Some descriptions are very striking, say of the bends in the river cut off from the rest of the world as the forests close in ahead and behind. Others passages seem disjointed and oddly phrased, reflecting the fact that English was Conrad’s third language so that, although remarkably expressive, words are not always used accurately.

I wondered at the time if the book is troubling for African readers, so was interested to find that it has been criticized in postcolonial studies, particularly by the highly regarded Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who in his 1975 public lecture "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness", described Conrad's novella as "an offensive and deplorable book" that dehumanised Africans. Achebe argued that Conrad, "blinkered...with xenophobia", wrongly portrayed Africa as the opposite of Western civilisation, ignoring the artistic accomplishments of the Fang tribe who lived in the Congo River basin at the time of the book’s publication. Was Achebe being oversensitive, failing to appreciate Conrad’s own sense of horror at the brutality of westerners in Africa when he was employed on a Congo steamer, himself providing the model for Marlowe? I prefer to think there is irony in what may be misconstrued as racism on Conrad’s part.

Apart from the fact that I felt myself to have failed fully to understand the book on a first reading, the ending seems rather limp and disappointing. In short, the novella is remarkable for the quality of some of the writing, and for the debate it triggers, but may have been overrated.
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on 25 November 2010
What struck me about Conrad's tale was the richness of his descriptions. The way he combines words in a highly unorthodox way succeeds in giving sections of the work a very disturbing feel to them. I suspect this stems from English being Conrad's third language. In any case, it gives the text an unpredictable tenor that keeps the reader in a state of unease, just as the author intended.

The themes are no less profound. I particularly enjoyed Conrad's critique of Western civilization - comparing the tribesmen with the supposedly superior whites and comparing the Congo with the Thames of 1000 years ago.

For all its virtues, this book is quite disorientating and requires careful reading. At several points I had to reread pages to determine who was talking to whom. In particular, the point at which Kurtz finally makes his appearance is (perhaps intentionally) skimmed over without fanfare. I feel that another read or two is in order.

This Penguin Classics edition comes with some extras. Some, like the analysis of changes made between the typescript and the book, are for enthusiasts only. Others, such as the timeline and explanatory notes are essential to any reader. It's a slim volume that is appropriately sombre-looking.

A genuine classic.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 December 2015
As a yacht anchors in the Thames and the crew settle down one of them, Charles Marlow, recites an experience he had when he took to sailing on freshwater. And so we have here one of Conrad’s most read and studied works, although this is only a novella. First published in serial form in Blackwood’s Magazine this tale still has the power to provoke and stimulate discussion.

Obviously inspired by and based in part on the author’s own experiences this is a story that really grips you. As Marlow takes a job to captain a steamboat up and down the river between trading posts in Africa, he is employed by an ivory business. As Marlow keeps hearing of the genius Mr Kurtz, he is intrigued. But when he actually meets Kurtz things are not what they seem.

Taking in Imperialism and the rapacious way of companies to drain areas of natural resources for their own profits this is something that we are still dealing with today. With the native Africans treated like dirt and looked down upon we also see how the Europeans employed by the company come in different guises, from lazy incompetents to those greedy for profit and gain, all backstabbing each other for their own personal advancement.

We see that Kurtz is from a new way of thought, with the idea of suppressing the native religions and superstitions and trying to make them more like ‘civilised’ Europeans. This novella has come under attack at different times due to such things as supposed racism and so on, but personally I along with many others have found this to be slightly erroneous. Conrad firstly was writing in the language and prejudices of his time, and he does portray the inhumanity shown towards the native population quite graphically. His story also makes us think and question what right we have to change a whole people’s ideas and beliefs just to make them the same as ours. In all Conrad shows us here the cruelty and greed that we can show to one another, and how the real world is, which makes this so powerful and intense a read.
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on 16 March 2015
As someone who greatly enjoyed both Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and the video game Spec Ops: the Line (both adaptations of Heart of Darkness and both wonderful examples of storytelling in their respective mediums, in my opinion), it was with great anticipation that I started reading Conrad's apparent classic.

I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed. While on the surface the book is a study, if not a criticism, of colonialism, at its heart, if you'll excuse the pun, is an examination of the most savage aspects of the human condition. Conrad presents the story in an interesting story-within-a-story format and I'm not sure there would be a more effective possible way of telling it.

As wonderful as the book is, it is not perfect. My chief criticism would be that the charisma, for want of a better word, of Kurtz is conveyed more through the opinion of the narrator than his words or actions within the story. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison but the character just doesn't have the same presence he had in Apocalypse Now, either when present or absent from a scene.

Overall, this book absolutely deserves its status as a classic and is well worth a read.
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on 24 April 2012
Everyone probably knows the plot basics of Heart of Darkness and that it inspired the scenario for the Vietnam-war movie Apocalypse Now - if with a significant degree of adaptation. The narrator, Marlow, an English seaman, tells the story of his journey up an unnamed river that can only be the Congo. At the end of the trip awaits him the famous and infamous Kurtz, both master and slave to the brutal trade that is taking place in the depths of an uncharted jungle. 'The horror! The horror!' will be Kurtz's parting words. For both victim and executioner, he has only been able to accept the terrible violence that European exploitation expects of its henchmen by becoming a local blood-cult figure, by bending to his will the forest's darkest, most secret primeval practices.

The awesome strength of Heart of Darkness is in its simplicity. This is a short novella that does not dwell on or get lost in sub-plots. Marlow simply tells his story after the fact, as dusk settles on the Thames over the group of amateur sailors that is his audience. Joseph Conrad's purpose is likewise straightforward: to show us the conflict between the violent animal in man and rationality, and the impulse to do good. Fitting, moreover, with a contemporary art scene that was discovering African and island art, this upends conventional notions of civilization and humanity. The book's appeal is timeless, and it is a classic, told in deceptively straightforward yet effective terms.

But Conrad's masterpiece, published in 1902, also is an invaluable testimony in the historical sense. Though country names are left out, it is clear that the story takes place in the Belgian Congo, then the territory of the secretive Congo Free State, actually a corporation in the ownership of the Belgian king. The only difference is that the colonial undertaking was killing and causing deaths on an epic scale in the search for natural rubber, whereas in Heart of Darkness it is ivory. Conrad, having long been a seaman, had great credibility. At the time of publication, the Congo Free State was trying to fend-off a campaign to expose its terrible crimes by the journalist E.D. Morel. Conrad was taking a courageous stand. His descriptions of the colonialists are not kind. And this is, in many places, is an openly anti-racist novel. The Congo Free State's appalling exploitation of the Congo has been described in Adam Hochschild's book Leopold's Ghost (1999). Though the numbers Hochschild advances for the number of Africans killed are contested, the methods and nature of the exploitation carried out in the Congo are not.
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