Heart of Darkness & Other Stories

By Joseph Conrad

Rating: 3 stars

Heart of Darkness is the most famous of the three stories in this small volume, all concerned, in some way, with marine transport, whether that be on the sea or along a river.

The first story, Youth follows our narrator, Marlowe, on his first posting as second mate on a ship that’s bound for the far east, and the trials and travails of the attempt to get there. Heart of Darkness again seems Marlowe narrating his captaincy of a riverboat up the Congo river and his growing obsession with a man named Kurtz. The final story, The End of the Tether was, in my opinion, the best of the three, and the one that pulled this volume up from two to three stars. It’s the story of a life-long sea captain at the end of his days and what he does to provide for his only child.

The book doesn’t make easy reading for the modern reader, being full of colonial attitudes to all non-white races, and by ‘colonial’, I mean a sort of sneering superiority, where they’re deigned to be mentioned at all. Getting beyond that, they make for an interesting read describing the sort of world that the 18th and 19th centuries really were, and the sort of attitudes that built and maintained the British Empire.

The End of the Tether was the most personal and ‘human’ of the three, with Captain Whalley being a man that I became invested in, and whom I wanted to succeed, even though his doom was clear from relatively early on.

I don’t really have a huge amount to say about Heart of Darkness itself. It displayed probably the most crude attitudes towards non-white races, from the slaves manning the station that Marlowe starts his journey in to the ‘cannibal tribe’ that appear to worship Kurtz at the end of his journey. This made it difficult to empathise with the man and appreciate the writing.

So an interesting set of stories that are mildly interesting for their cultural history (for example the way that the phrase ‘heart of darkness’ has entered the lexicon) but they really need to be read in their historical context and putting aside all modern notions of equality — and then to be glad that such notions have been hard fought for and won.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853262401
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Year of publication: 1902

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