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Heart of Darkness 
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Post Heart of Darkness
As we wait for January's slow creep to February I figured we could do a bit of preliminary discussion, in this thread, about Heart of Darkness. First, out of curiosity, of those who plan on reading and discussing: Who has read it before? How long ago? and In what context? Also, if anyone wants to discuss their memories from prior readings, that might be interesting to collect here too.

I read Heart of Darkness at 17-years-old, while a senior in high school...ahem 12...years ago. I didn't pick it up exactly on my own. A friend and I would swap books that we wanted each other to read. So I blessed him with books like Wuthering Heights and he forced me to read books like Heart of Darkness. From that first reading, I remember that I thought the book started out slowly, and I didn't pay much attention until Marlow's story was finally floating down the river. I remember only skimming any passages that talked about boats, or described boats. I remember very powerful imagery of environment and the people that inhabit the environment. I also don't think I quite understood the story's end. I'm looking forward to rereading Heart of Darkness, as I really only recall shadows of the story itself. What I most remember, when I was actually paying attention to what I was reading, is that Conrad's writing is both powerful and graceful.



Wed Jan 09, 2008 3:25 pm
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I read Heart of Darkness in College, over 30 years ago.

I only read it because it was compulsory reading. I remember that I didn't like it much, and I found it, well...dark.
All that comes to mind was that it took place in Africa, the narrator was a (white) man (?).
Was there a religious theme? Something about colonialism?


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Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:11 pm
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Ophelia wrote:
I read Heart of Darkness in College, over 30 years ago.

I only read it because it was compulsory reading. I remember that I didn't like it much, and I found it, well...dark.
All that comes to mind was that it took place in Africa, the narrator was a (white) man (?).
Was there a religious theme? Something about colonialism?


Have not read it yet, but I had come across it in references from other works I was reading last year and thus kept it in mind to check out.

Mr. P.


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I read it in the exact same circumstance as you, Irish. About 11 years ago, in high school. I always found I enjoyed books less that I was forced to read, and I wouldn't really say Heart of Darkness was an exception. I found it to be quite a slow and dense novel, and like you, I think I began to skim some of the description. I remember thinking how amazingly long it took me to read what seemed to be a short book.

As I recall (and in my opinion), the book was about exactly what the title says, the heart of darkness within us. I think the premise was that when removed from civilization, we can lose ourselves in our primitive instincts. I vaguely recall some passage about how one can't help respond to the dances and rituals the natives performed. That it calls to another side of us, repressed by modern society.

I could be completely wrong though, it was a while ago!



Thu Jan 10, 2008 9:29 am
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Ophelia, I recall you recounting that, during your years in college, character exploration was highly discouraged. I'm curious how one could possibly discuss Heart of Darkness without discussing at least some of Marlow's mental state, and then of course the observations' of Kurtz.

Otherwise, there's definitely a colonial theme, which touches on civilizing the indigenous people, but largely focuses on economic (ivory) and labor colonial efforts. I don't really remember a lot of religious elements to the narrative. There are supernatural elements, Dante and Faustian references, and explorations of morality. But I don't remember a lot of discussion about religion per se.

Theo, while I did read Heart of Darkness at high school age, it wasn't as part of a class assignment, so it wasn't technically forced on me. In truth, I didn't like the book much then, and it's sat on my bookshelf for the past decade garnering very little further attention from me. But, for some reason, I've grown curious about the little novella. And, after rereading it over the past weekend, I'm sure my lack of enthusiasm with it on first reading was because I wasn't ready to read and enjoy it. I'm very much looking forward to our discussion here. I think I noted, on my rereading, exactly the passage to which you're referring, but I'll let you rediscover it on your reading.

As a follow-up question, who of us has seen Apocalypse Now? And is there any interest in doing a book to movie tie-in during the quarterly reading?



Fri Jan 11, 2008 12:32 pm
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I've read the novella at least twice, once in high school, again in college. There might have been a third reading in there somewhere, but I've also read a handful of Conrad's short stories as well. Over the years, I've grown to be something of an admirer of Conrad, although I'm not sure I can get with "The Secret Agent", which I started but put back down. On the whole, I like Conrad better when he's writing about the colonial experience.

My most enduring impression of "Heart of Darkness" is probably Conrad's use of language, which is nothing short of astounding. It's even more impressive when you realize that English wasn't Conrad's first language. I think I've read that it wasn't even his second or third language. In this particular work, he uses language to achieve not only a sort of density indicative of the jungle environment, but also to achieve a sort of murkiness, a heaviness like that of the tropical atmosphere. But more than simply evoke a physical environment, the language gives texture to the experience of human nature that Conrad has chosen to explore.

It was my second reading before I started paying attention to the framing narrative. There are two sets of characters in the book -- those encountered during Marlowe's jungle excursion, and those who hear his story on a boat docked in the Thames. That's what struck me the second time around, and I'll be interested to take another look at how those two scenario's interact.

And thirdly, since I had, by that time, seen Apocalypse Now, I was given pause by the scene in the novella that has no counterpart in the movie. I want talk about it just now, since it comes towards the very end of the book, and I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it's a curious omission on Copolla's part, and I think it adds something to the novella that's lacking from the film.

As for the film, I have a copy, and actually rewatched the first half of the theatrical release a week and a half ago when I was too sick to go out. I'll definitely be interested in finishing it up, but I think we should hold off on that until after we've spent some time discussing the book and giving others and opportunity to read and discuss it as well, since a viewing of the movie can prejudice people's opinions about the book. And incidentally, we'll probably want to agree on a version of the film, since there's several versions floating about. My copy has both the theatrical release version and Apocalypse Now Redux, the extended version released this decade. The theatrical version is no doubt the easiest to manage and the most widely available, so we should probably stick with that one.



Fri Jan 11, 2008 1:02 pm
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[quote="irishrosem"]Ophelia, I recall you recounting that, during your years in college, character exploration was highly discouraged. I'm curious how one could possibly discuss Heart of Darkness without discussing at least some of Marlow's mental state, and then of course the observations' of Kurtz.

Don't worry about this. Just writing it down enabled me to overcome the obstacle. Those guidelines made sense then, but I consider them to be inappropriate to discussions like ours.

As a follow-up question, who of us has seen Apocalypse Now? And is there any interest in doing a book to movie tie-in during the quarterly reading?

I saw the film -once, when it was released. I didn't like it much then, but I think discussing it is an excellent suggestion in the context of Heart of Darkness.


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Fri Jan 11, 2008 1:40 pm
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I have begun to read 'Heart of Darkness' having obtained a copy recently. It is certainly a book I would not have chosen to read, but I am intrigued by the 'blurb'.

I was a little put-off when my son told me that the film 'Apocalypse Now' was based on this novel. I am prejudiced! This will be remedied.

I really think that if we read and discuss the book, we should also watch the film. I will do both anyway.


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Sat Jan 12, 2008 12:55 pm
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Penelope wrote:
I have begun to read 'Heart of Darkness' having obtained a copy recently. It is certainly a book I would not have chosen to read, but I am intrigued by the 'blurb'.

I was a little put-off when my son told me that the film 'Apocalypse Now' was based on this novel. I am prejudiced! This will be remedied.

I really think that if we read and discuss the book, we should also watch the film. I will do both anyway.


We should try to schedule a film viewing all together...this way we can watch and post at the same time. Maybe not...thought it would be fun to do it "live".

Mr. P.


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Sat Jan 12, 2008 1:13 pm
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Thanks Mr. P

It would be good to watch the film and comment 'together' - of course that means it would be the middle of the night here!

Btw - my son says it is one of his favourite books - although he didn't enjoy 'reading' it he enjoyed 'discussing' it in class later.


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I've never read Heart of Darkness. However, Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost is an excellent account of Belgian exploitation of the Congo, the setting of Conrad's novel.

King Leopold's Ghost included multiple references to Heart of Darkness and made me curious about it. However, I haven't decided yet whether to read the novel.



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Hello Jules

Oh do read it and join in. I might go on to read King Leopold...but it is a dismal subject isn't it?

Can we read something funny soon? I am just finnishing off the Alexander McCall Smith trilogy which starts with 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' which takes place in Botswana.

I am only half-joking. Human beings almost always find something to laugh at in the most bleak of situations. I don't think books without any humour are lifelike (ie Jude the Obscure!!!). Still, I said I wanted to read books I would not otherwise choose - so I can't argue. :sad:


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Sun Jan 13, 2008 8:00 am
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Penelope,

I'm going to copy your post and answer it in the "April and May fiction book suggestion" thread.


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Sun Jan 13, 2008 9:38 am
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Oooh Thank you Ophelia

I am not used to people paying any attention to me.....

I will try not to let it go to my head! :cry:


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Sun Jan 13, 2008 9:46 am
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Ophelia, I was more asking how you managed to discuss Heart of Darkness in college without exploring character. But, actually, looking over your first post, I can see that you don't have much memory from your first reading (same here, btw), so probably couldn't recall how you did so without discussing character.

Penelope the film is loosely based on the book, but it has a different setting. And the protagonist is American, so all the elements of British colonialism are not in the film. Though there are definitely still elements of colonialism. Although some of Apocalypse Now comes off as a little indulgent, particularly the director's cut, I think it's one of the best book-to-film I've seen. I think part of that might be because Coppola doesn't try to make a film directly from the book. And that might be possible with Heart of Darkness because of an element of the book that Mad discusses above. Conrad's use of language, in addition to drawing a narrative, seems more so to elicit a particular feel. Coppola takes that environment, that murkiness, that sense of heaviness and dread and gives it a different history. Which, for me, makes it a more interesting interpretation than anything more direct might have been. There are other elements of the book that Coppola transfers differently to film that I appreciate, but I'll save that for later. And as Mad suggests, I think it's best to save most the discussion of book-to-film until after we've exhausted discussion on the text itself.

Mad, on my rereading, I too noted the set of characters Marlow encounters on the Thames compared to those on the Congo, but not in the structural way that you outlined. Though possibly each other's observations might inform where the other was going.

Mr. P., I was having exactly the same inklings, which is why I asked how many of us have seen the film before. I think it would probably only work if it were not a first viewing of the film, so we wouldn't have to pay as close attention. I have absolutely no idea whether it would work, but it might be interesting to try. And because of how slowly the film itself moves, it might be a good one to try on.

Julian, hope you end up jumping in. If you don't already know, and if it further tempts you, Heart of Darkness is pretty short, about 100 pages



Sun Jan 13, 2008 10:17 am
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