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Marlow & Kurtz
by Asa Butcher
2006-09-30 09:21:05
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Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
Penguin Books Ltd. (2000)

I have been writing iKritics for nearly two years and no other book has given me more trouble than Heart of Darkness. The biggest problem was the opening paragraph: should I focus upon its basis for the Apocalypse Now screenplay, should I mention how it was written by a non-native English speaker or maybe I should concentrate on emphasising how much detail is contained within a mere three chapters and 100-pages.

I had never read or considered reading this novella before, but when my Grandad received a copy free with his Sunday newspaper and presented it to me, I assumed that it was a sample of the full book because it was so thin. One hundred pages divided into three chapters gave me the false understanding that I could fly through the pages and be on to my next book in a matter of days…how wrong was I.

My senses were overwhelmed by the quantity of information, emotion and ideas conveyed in those few pages and it took me a couple of weeks to carefully read and comprehend everything Joseph Conrad had written over 105 years ago. His vibrant descriptions of the Belgian Congo, the breath of life he gives all the characters, primarily Marlow and Kurtz, and the thought-provoking observations of life, such as "your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others", all kept me hooked.

The reason Conrad's fourth book is particularly short is due to it originally being published as a three-part series in Blackwood's Magazine (1899) and later compiled into a single edition. Heart of Darkness is a frame tale, a story within a story, narrated by a man called Charlie Marlow. He methodically describes his experience as a steamboat captain in a 'God-forsaken wilderness', which readers can assume is the Belgian Congo. Marlow hears of a man called Kurtz, whose reputation precedes him, and he is intrigued to investigate him further.

As always with my iKritics of these classic pieces of literature, there is the danger of it becoming an essay analysing Conrad's use of racist language and imagery or the controversy that surrounds his novella. However, plenty of others have previously done better jobs than I could ever do, such as Chinua Achebe, so I shall not stray into that analytical territory.

A fact which surprised me about Conrad was that English was his third language, which you would never guess from his language and style. He learnt English before the age of 21 and gained British citizenship in 1886 changing his name from Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski to the one we all know today; Poland's loss was England's gain. Heart of Darkness has appeared on countless literary great lists, such as The Modern Library 100 Best where it charted at #67.

Despite the book being commonly associated with John Milius' Apocalypse Now screenplay, the book has also been the inspiration and influence for numerous other books and films, such as Star Trek: Insurrection, Peter Jackson's King Kong and Ben Elton's novel The First Casualty. However, upon finally reading the book I wanted to watch Francis Ford Coppola's film again and just see how much it did inspire the plot because I don't recall the napalm in the morning quote in Conrad's original text.

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Do you live near Helsinki?

You're invited to the first gathering of Helsinki's newest, wildest, shiniest book club! This new group is an organization founded by members of the Finn-Brit Players and the Department of English of the University of Helsinki. The theme of the first event will be Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness on Friday, September 29th, at 19:00.

Finnish-British Society, Puistokatu 1BA
Contact Simiam Ghan for more information: dighole62-at-hotmail.com

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Get it off your chest
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Jack2006-09-29 15:05:31
Should I read another Conrad novel before this one?

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