The first novel that I have completed for the Victorian Reading Challenge is the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This work was published in 1899 in a three-part series in Blackwood’s Magazine. Also, this is the 18th novel that I have completed from my 1001 list. This dark and foreboding story revolves around the narrator Charles Marlow, an Englishman who is hired by a Belgium trading company to captain a boat in Africa. Please note that there some spoilers in this review.
When Marlow arrives in Africa, he learns that the boat he is supposed to captain has been sunk. Also he finds out Kurtz, a respected and valued employee of the same company that Marlow works for, is ill. Marlow starts to suspect that finding Kurtz is of utmost importance and supersedes his actual assignment of shipping ivory down the river. He sets out with the manager, some agents, and a crew consisting of cannibals in search of Kurtz. During his experience, Marlow sees firsthand the brutal treatment of the natives by white traders. And once he locates Kurtz’s hideout, Marlow sees a row of human heads on poles. While bringing the ailing man back, Marlow is present to hear Kurtz’s final words, “The horror! The horror!”
Conrad’s story delves into different degrees of darkness. These include the actual darkness of the wilderness and the dangers hidden within, the darkness of the white man’s brutalization of the natives, and the darkness that is lurking within individuals. Furthermore, during the opening pages, Marlow discusses how the Romans discovered England many centuries ago. He wonders, did the Romans think that the inhabitants of England were wild and uncivilized natives? I found this thought fascinating, since in Marlow’s day, the English were going into Africa and had the same thoughts about the Africans. They were an uncivilized bunch and the English had the duty to civilize them. This comparison between Roman times and Marlow’s time made me wonder who was actually civilized: the natives or the whites who used dehumanizing methods to get the natives to conform to own standards.
This novel is an intense read. I think that I am still processing all the different levels of human depravity that are actually discussed and hinted at in the novel. And it may behoove me to reread this work in a few years time since I think there is much to be learned from this tale.