Sunday, 15 April 2012

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

I picked this up due to the history behind the novel and curiosity as to what makes a canonical novella.

Firstly a note on the picture included to the left; I always try to get a picture of the copy of the book I own. I’ve only failed on one occasion and that was with Stephen King’s Carrie. I picked this one up as a collective of Penguin Popular Classics as I am a fan of recycling and the book is made from 100% recycled paper. However, I would advise not taking these books on holiday to hot countries as the spine melted in the intense Turkey heat and my book is now falling apart and I’m lucky to still have all 111 pages intact.

Anyway, enough with paper, let’s talk literature. From a modern perspective, Heart of Darkness wouldn’t have got through a first reading with a publisher and the bog standard rejection letter would have been sent, such is the poor quality of writing.

As for the frame story genre, I’ve never been a massive fan and Heart of Darkness isn’t going to sway me. I’m a simple person and I found it hard to follow and it didn’t hold my attention. I had to really concentrate to work out what was going on and I don’t find it an enjoyable experience when I have to work hard to understand a book.

The book is broken down into three sections and at first I thought they were really pointless. There are no definable breaks in the story and if anything they interrupt flow. However, I went away, did a little research and discovered that Heart of Darkness was originally published in three parts in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902. Even though it’s been reprinted, it’s been kept as close to its original format as possible, which is a nice nostalgic touch.

So is the book any good? Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, does not think so and says that the book is overly racist and that Conrad himself was racist. He launched this criticism in 1975 a full 51 years after Conrad’s death in 1924, and while his argument had credibility at the time, it is invalid as at the time of writing Heart of Darkness, racism was common and in line with the culture and thinking of the general population. The book and its connotations are acceptable within its own context.

That is reason why it is simply not possible to review Heart of Darkness from a modern literary standpoint; it doesn’t make sense to do so. It is easy to launch a scathing attack on a dead person; they can’t argue back. In fact, the counter argument was that Achebe was making a political statement. If that is the case, he shouldn’t use a 75 year old text to do so. Regardless of what Achebe says, Heart of Darkness is in the canon and his comments only serve to strengthen the fact that it is exactly where it belongs.

Heart of Darkness was published by Penguin Popular Classics in 1994. RRP £2.00 (Paperback) Originally published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902.

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