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Why is this book a classic on the literature circuit ? 
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Post Why is this book a classic on the literature circuit ?
I liked the phrase used by another member to describe this novella's status. And I wondered what others would say after some days of discussion mainly of issues of controversy and theme. These are fine topics, but do they tell us that much about why this book is still read?

I had some things to say about the novella that might have sounded negative, so I wanted to be sure to say that on the matter that really counts, I think this is a great work. There was not a page--hardly a paragraph--where I didn't wonder at Conrad's mastery of language. He is a virtuoso; he can really "bring it!" His talent doesn't stop at that level, but it is probably what most impresses me. Anyone else have an opinion of Conrad as an artist?



Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:39 pm
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DWill wrote:

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I wondered what others would say after some days of discussion mainly of issues of controversy and theme. These are fine topics, but do they tell us that much about why this book is still read?



To be irreverent, I'll say that, yes, those topics are why the book is still read.

I remember grumbling to myself as a college student when somebody -- often the lecturer by himself-- would discuss why Milton's Areopagetica
was still read in the early 1980's. Simple: the professor who was in charge of seventeenth century English literature at the Sorbonne University had put it on the list -- sometimes the same professor had written the introduction to the French edition, or the translation into French.

:)


As I was reading about this book, I realized that it was often set reading for high school and college student in the US, so that is how many readers first experience Heart of Darkness.
Is this also the case in the UK Penelope?

I wondered what impression it made, how much the complexity of the language could discourage an average seventeen-year-old. If this difficulty could be overcome, I imagine young people that age would be interested.

Then, for high school teachers as for busy Booktalk readers, the book's being short is an advantage.


Finally (to go on with heresy) , the theme: which other books in English literature were written at that time about the colonization of Africa by the Europeans, giving themes and an interesting story?


Naturally, what you write about the beauty of the language is absolutely true.



Next, I wondered what made the book popular among people like us, who don't have to read it. (I'm sure Mr P will catch up soon).

The informal discussion we had about Heart of Darkness showed that everybody had read it many years before, in high school or at college, and was eager to read it again.
The discussion has been a success-- this is due to the fine minds of the participants naturally, but I think it must say something about the book.

Perhaps some of the new members who have joined us as we were discussing Heart of Darkness chose Booktalk because the novella was the current fiction discussion.


The one thing that didn't much work for me was the story about Mr Kurtz. I did not feel much anticipation before meeting him, and then even less seemed to be revealed than I had ancipated.
Perhaps this is an element in the book I need to go back to.


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Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:53 pm
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Please Miss, Ophelia said:-

The one thing that didn't much work for me was the story about Mr Kurtz. I did not feel much anticipation before meeting him, and then even less seemed to be revealed than I had ancipated.
Perhaps this is an element in the book I need to go back to.


Ophelia, I agree with you absolutely - Kurtz was supposed to be this tremendously charismatic character....but Conrad did not convey this in his (wonderful) writing. So Why? He knew what he was doing....I am sure....now why did he write Kurtz like this? Was it perhaps to show us the shallowness of 'Glamour'? We can all sit around nodding in agreement - which doesn't achieve anything - and we can become blinded by 'public opinion' - 'spin doctoring' - 'media rhetoric' - could this be why he gave us such a tenuous picture of this character?

I never heard of Joseph Conrad at school......I heard of 'Lord Jim' in later life......We were more likely to have been given 'Masterman Ready' by Captain Marryat - we were still taught - Rule Brittania - Land of Hope and Glory - and 'Aren't We Great' - in the 1950's. But my Son, in the late 1980's and early '90's did HD as a syllabus book.



Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:58 pm
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Yeah, there was a great build-up for the entrance of Kurtz. By the time he comes on stage, I guess he's too wasted away to be able to show us his stuff. But I felt this as an anti-climax, too. Conrad keeps Kurtz pretty shadowy. I wonder if he did this in order to try to give him an air of mystery. He may have thought he could never describe Kurtz in such a way as to substantiate Marlow's awe of him, so he didn't even try. We just have Marlow telling us over and over what a powerful effect this guy had on him. Marlow even says that what was truly impressive about Kurtz was his voice, so of course Marlow wouldn't be able to convey that effect to his audience.

Does anyone grasp why Marlow so admires the last utterance of Kurtz? To me, the relationship is quite an enigma. Marlow tells the Intended that he knew Kurtz as well as any man could know anyone. Can this be true? Marlow feels a responsibility for Kurtz, but he doesn't even know why he feels it. He visits the Intended in the end without knowing why he's doing that, either. Incidentally, Marlow appears to be a bit psychotic at that point, still suffering from his illness, having some hallucinations.

I liked the things about the book that seemed absurd, such as the clerk in the starched collars in the middle of the jungle, the "pilgrims" with their staves, the Russian sailor in the parti-colored costume, the two women in black knitting in the antechamber like Greek Fates (I guess). Maybe part of the absurdity was also the role Marlow found himself playing, as he said, "the nightmare of my choice," when any choice of action would have been a nightmare. This quality could be something that links Conrad to modernism.

I do think I can defend his decision to lie to the Intended. Earlier in the story, he flashes forward to the scene and says that the reality of Kurtz's world just didn't belong in his fiance's world, that it would have been shattering for her to hear what Kurtz really said. And then, of course, Marlow would have to explain what the words meant. Right, I'm sure I would have ducked that one, too!



Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:10 pm
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Promise and disappointment is a big theme in imperialism. Kurtz seems to share in the mystique of royalty, in that the idea is greater than the reality. Japanese Emperor Hirohito never appeared in public before Macarthur made him do so after the war. Like all imperialism (eg the Iraq war) lofty ideals such as freedom and justice have a major disconnect with their incompetent and compromised implementation. The trouble with Kurtz is that the 'redeeming idea' is so flagrantly at odds with the sordid reality that a rather gross deflation is inevitable on the slightest examination. I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to other human beings to get ivory.



Tue Feb 26, 2008 8:21 am
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Robert wrote:

"Promise and disappointment is a big theme in imperialism. Kurtz seems to share in the mystique of royalty, in that the idea is greater than the reality. Japanese Emperor Hirohito never appeared in public before Macarthur made him do so after the war. Like all imperialism (eg the Iraq war) lofty ideals such as freedom and justice have a major disconnect with their incompetent and compromised implementation. The trouble with Kurtz is that the 'redeeming idea' is so flagrantly at odds with the sordid reality that a rather gross deflation is inevitable on the slightest examination. I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to other human beings to get ivory."



Hello Robert,

Just a note to say that I sometimes don't answer your postings about HD for the very good reason that... everything is so well put that I have nothing to add! :)

So this mustn't be mistaken with ignoring you.

I like the reference you make here to Emperor Hirohito.


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Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:08 am
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Well Robert, I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to himself, to get Ivory........

He gained the whole pile of Ivory....but he had lost his own soul....

well, I don't really believe a soul can be lost....but he certainly lost his way.

It is a bit like the Wizard of Oz when we meet Kurtz isn't it?



Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:19 am
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Penelope wrote:
Well Robert, I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to himself, to get Ivory........ He gained the whole pile of Ivory....but he had lost his own soul.... well, I don't really believe a soul can be lost....but he certainly lost his way. It is a bit like the Wizard of Oz when we meet Kurtz isn't it?


No, no, non!! You are unwittingly falling for the Eurocentric fallacy



Tue Feb 26, 2008 7:07 pm
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I thought we were discussing what Kurtz meant by his exclamation.

I thought his exclamation about the horror....was his realising how he had wasted his life. I don't think Kurtz would have given the cruelties he had wreaked on the Africans a second thought.

I wasn't sympathising with Kurtz - just surmising as to what his last words meant.



Wed Feb 27, 2008 8:36 am
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Conrad is a master of ambiguity! Both meanings are very much there in Kurtz's last statement - a surface egocentric meaning of 'poor me' and a deeper objective meaning of 'what have I done to these people'.



Wed Feb 27, 2008 4:25 pm
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I like Robert Tulip's thesis that our being introduced to Kurtz as a wasted bag of bones, his head smooth & shiny like ivory, is symbolic of the moral emtpiness or perhaps viciousness behind imperialism. The only problem I have with it continues to be the report of Marlow, who does not see Kurtz as this kind of fraud, but still as extraordinary in some way. Marlow, to me, has established considerable credibility as an observer. He does clearly see that the effect of the European presence in the Congo is merely rapacity, and all the talk about improving the natives malarkey.

So I take Marlow's appraisal of Kurtz seriously and want to know what's behind it. I guess on the surface, what Kurtz accomplised, as perverted as it may have been, was amazing--a single foreigner building an empire in the interior of the Congo. Anyone would have to have some unusual charisma to do that (which is implied at the end when some acquaintance of Kurtz's says he could have been a politician who could ignite the masses).

But in dying, what Marlow admires about K. seems to be that he doesn't die as ordinary people would, making it all about his own loss, his physical pain, etc. This "remarkable man...pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth", meaning, I suppose, that Kurtz was fully illuminated about the true nature of all his actions. Marlow believes this to be a remarkable achievement because of his own near-death. M. "found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say." He fears his own summing-up would be "a word of careless contempt," but K.'s was "an affirmation , a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions."

M.'s reaction seems to explain his loyalty to K., or at least it allows him to accept that to be K.'s champion is the bizarre fate that life has assigned him. Because he survived his illness, he remains to "dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more."

Not saying I understand or accept Marlow's thinking here, but there is certainly a depth to it that makes it difficult to dismiss.



Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:09 am
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DWill wrote:

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Marlow, to me, has established considerable credibility as an observer. He does clearly see that the effect of the European presence in the Congo is merely rapacity, and all the talk about improving the natives malarkey.


Thanks Will for one more very interesting posting.

I also think that Marlow is a credible observer.
I have noticed what seems to me to be a contradiction: One the one hand he does not find that the people who praise Kurtz, like the motley-clothed Russian, are reliable witnesses, and on the other hand, in spite of all the strange witnesses, he becomes more and more eager to meet Mr Kurtz, and this seems to be more than mere curiosity.


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At the risk of sounding 'trite'....there is an old song....which says...'Love is touching Souls'....

I was once told that, 'Souls come in clusters.....' meaning, I think, that some people are on the same wavelength.....tuned in to the same channel so the communications are coherent. This, from experience, seems to be true.

The trick I think is tuning ourselves in and attempting to communicate with those who are on a slightly different wavelength....and before you all poo poo what I say......I would point out that everything in our senses is in wavelengths...colour, sound......light.....

We are made up of vibrations......this is physics....not religion or spirituality......maybe if we get the vibrations syncronised....we can begin to understand the God phenomena and the human situation.

Right.....now you can all nod in agreement that I am a complete basket case.......tell me.....what do you think.

Anyway....this is why I think Marlow (Conrad) couldn't communicate with the zany Russian..but he did communicate with the horrible Kurtz.



Thu Feb 28, 2008 2:16 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The trouble with Kurtz is that the 'redeeming idea' is so flagrantly at odds with the sordid reality that a rather gross deflation is inevitable on the slightest examination. I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to other human beings to get ivory.


I like this idea, that the wasted and rather pathetic man we meet instead of the Great Kurtz is symbolic of the hollowness at the core of the Europeans' professed ideals. The main problem I have with it in the context of the novella, though, is that Marlow continues to find something extraordinary about Kurtz. I dismissed M's view at first, but I think it deserves more attention in light of the trust M. establishes as an observer. He is wise, I think. He knows, for example, that the Eurpoeans are a rapacious bunch and that their talk of improving the Africans is bunk.

Marlow has a sense that he is identified with Kurtz; he comes recommended by the same people that recommended Kurtz, and he finds that the traders think he might have an "in" with Kurtz. So he has this sense of relation to Kurtz that he doesn't welcome, but it's there. (Conrad developed this idea of shared identity fully in his story "The Secret Sharer.")

What's there to admire about Kurtz, though? His achievement, although perverted, is impressive. He single-handedly forges an empire of sorts in the Congo, which would take considerable charisma. (Later, an aquaintance tells M. that K could have been a politician who could ignite the masses).

M. admires him, in death, for a different reason. When K. says his last words ("The horror, the horror"), M. says, "I went no more near the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth." He seems to think that K.'s last words show that he has a moment of illumination at the end, realization that he had let himself be captured by many "powers of darkness," as M. says earlier. Or maybe "the horror" is not just about Kurtz, but applies in a wider way to the humans, who all have this darkness at heart.

Most of us wouldn't be capable of such a "summing up," Marlow says. He himself would have probably spoken only a word of "careless contempt" because, at the end of life, we don't have thought of much besides the pity of our own demise. K.s cry at the end was "an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory!"

M. doesn't die of his own illness, but remained "to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My Destiny!"

Not saying I understand this entirely or accept it, but it has a depth that makes it hard to dismiss. And it seems, to me, to be the "heart" of the novella.



Fri Feb 29, 2008 6:49 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The trouble with Kurtz is that the 'redeeming idea' is so flagrantly at odds with the sordid reality that a rather gross deflation is inevitable on the slightest examination. I think the horror is what Kurtz has done to other human beings to get ivory.


I like this idea, that the wasted and rather pathetic man we meet instead of the Great Kurtz is symbolic of the hollowness at the core of the Europeans' professed ideals. The main problem I have with it in the context of the novella, though, is that Marlow continues to find something extraordinary about Kurtz. I dismissed M's view at first, but I think it deserves more attention in light of the trust M. establishes as an observer. He is wise, I think. He knows, for example, that the Eurpoeans are a rapacious bunch and that their talk of improving the Africans is bunk.

Marlow has a sense that he is identified with Kurtz; he comes recommended by the same people that recommended Kurtz, and he finds that the traders think he might have an "in" with Kurtz. So he has this sense of relation to Kurtz that he doesn't welcome, but it's there. (Conrad developed this idea of shared identity fully in his story "The Secret Sharer.")

What's there to admire about Kurtz, though? His achievement, although perverted, is impressive. He single-handedly forges an empire of sorts in the Congo, which would take considerable charisma. (Later, an aquaintance tells M. that K could have been a politician who could ignite the masses).

M. admires him, in death, for a different reason. When K. says his last words ("The horror, the horror"), M. says, "I went no more near the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth." He seems to think that K.'s last words show that he has a moment of illumination at the end, realization that he had let himself be captured by many "powers of darkness," as M. says earlier. Or maybe "the horror" is not just about Kurtz, but applies in a wider way to the humans, who all have this darkness at heart.

Most of us wouldn't be capable of such a "summing up," Marlow says. He himself would have probably spoken only a word of "careless contempt" because, at the end of life, we don't have thought of much besides the pity of our own demise. K.s cry at the end was "an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory!"

M. doesn't die of his own illness, but remained "to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My Destiny!"

Not saying I understand this entirely or accept it, but it has a depth that makes it hard to dismiss. And it seems, to me, to be the "heart" of the novella.



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