Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

Can't y'all just see it carved into that 5th grade desk? "Classic Bitch loves Joseph Conrad." Well it's true. Conrad is an author I had never read prior to starting my Modern Library project, likely deeming him too masculine or too difficult. Funny thing is, his writing is both masculine and difficult...but I like it. There, I've said it.

This is the second Joseph Conrad on the list thus far, and I shall state right now that while I like Heart of Darkness, I like Lord Jim far better. (Note that for the Modern Library, as far as placement on the list goes, it's the exact opposite!) Both books share a narrator (who is not always the narrator, which is hard to explain). He is a fellow called "Marlow." In fact Joseph Conrad stopped writing Lord Jim, published in 1900, to take up the writing of Heart of Darkness, published in 1902. The similarities between the two books—such as having a narrator in common—are apparent. The character of Marlow is a beloved storyteller, a seafaring man who may alternately enrapture, challenge, or even bore his listeners (other seafaring men). In Lord Jim, Marlow has a greater vocabulary, a longer story to tell with more variety of nuanced viewpoints to offer, and less direct connection to the story's true protagonist, Jim. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow himself is the protagonist of the tale he tells about Mr. Kurtz (i.e., he's telling a story from his own past). But in both books, Marlow is this wonderful, somewhat inscrutable character who cares so deeply about the men in his tales and the men in his audience. The subjects of Marlow's stories are complex, troubled, fallible, human...as is Marlow himself. (Hmm...I'm beginning to wonder if what's carved into that grade school desk isn't: "Classic Bitch loves Marlow.")

Taking that point a little further, what's funny about believing Joseph Conrad's writing to be too masculine on the surface is that the thing I love about Marlow is that he cares so much about the men who populate his stories. He takes a psychological interest in them, he struggles to understand them and to convey that understanding to others, he even falls a bit in love with them. To elevate the stories of their lives to something worthy of lengthy tellings & retellings, and to hold an audience's attention, one would have to! And all this type of behavior strikes me as...female. It's appealing to read about a man who takes an acute interest in men; it is validating. Marlow absolutely falls under the spell of the men he talks about, and that bewitching—whether you personally would agree with it or not—is successful so as to slough off on the reader.

So what is Heart of Darkness about? It is only three chapters & 125 pages long. Let Marlow tell you.