Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Every student of literature has a few classics that somehow slipped away and didn't get read during those long years of secondary and post-secondary education. Sometimes we even believe we have read them because of the plethora of references. Heart of Darkness is one of mine, and I finally got around to it two days ago, thirty years after I should have.

What I liked best about this novella, and specifically about its style, was that it made me pay real attention. Sometimes with metaphorical prose, you can slide your eyes over descriptions and just get the gist without putting in the effort of visualizing. With this story, I discovered early on that there was real payoff in considering each word and what it meant. Sometimes, however, there were pictures that were disturbing to pay attention to (I'm thinking, for instance, about the shocking depiction of slavery when Marlow arrives at the port) - as a twenty-first century person, one cannot help yearning for more outrage, even though one knows there are two layers of 19th-century narrator between oneself and the - um, yep, the horror.

I liked the framing device, and how it made possible the assignment of dark qualities to London in parallel with those of Africa. I found Conrad's depiction of women as living in some unreal, protected place totally divorced from the actualities of the world to be somewhat infuriating, probably somewhat true (at least in his era), decidedly patronizing, and most of all detrimental to any hope of integrating Kurtz's Intended into the story in any way that made it richer. I can well imagine that my annoyance with the women is magnified many-fold for African black people who find themselves reflected by the other group of "non-people" in the novel, the "savages" and "cannibals". For them, as for myself, the only solace is cultural relativism - when someone shows us what they see, and shows us with such skill, it's a bit of a waste of energy to protest that the person showing should be someone else who thinks and sees differently.

So. It made me think. There were definitely stretches where I was completely drawn in. That's good enough for 4 stars.