Twentieth Century Literature Week 2 2014: “The horror! The horror!”

Heart of Darkness is an amazing novel in its modernist writing techniques and in its themes. It was published in 1899 in instalments in Blackwood’s Magazine. Every time I return to it I get a taste of Conrad’s fearless pursuit of the truth, his unwillingness to let outrageous events in the world go unseen. Conrad’s agenda – like Francis Ford Coppola’Apocalypse Now– is to uncover the truth, to shame the perpetrators of unnecessary violence. Art in both these instances is the handmaid of a more just world, a world where barbarism cannot go unseen. As Conrad declares in his wonderfully rich Preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus” “… art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.” “Justice”: this is what Conrad succeeds in reaching, through his narrator Marlow, as the demonic truth about Kurtz is revealed. But the deeper truth is that Kurtz, despite his insane rapaciousness, is ultimately more deeply aware of who and what he is, what he has done, than anyone in the so-called “normal” world would dare to admit. Kurtz has seen “the horror”, his own and that of the world he represents. That is why Marlow finds him so “remarkable”.



Here are a few blog questions for those interested in deepening their understanding and appreciation of Conrad.

1/Imagine you are one of Marlow’s colleagues on the ship on the river Thames in London and you have just finished hearing him tell this amazing story. Write a letter to Marlow thanking him for daring to give these insights into himself and into the events he has just experienced.

2/Imagine yourself in the role of Kurtz’s intended. Describe what you are hoping to hear from Marlow. Have you been disappointed by what you have heard?

3/Create a mini-digital kit that will help to shed light on the idea that art can provide a form of social justice to the world.

4/ Write a letter to the Editor of Blackwood’s Magazine recommending this story for its publication. Say why you think such a story should be available to the British literary public.

5/ As usual create your own blog entry linking an aspect of your own personal experience with something that may have touched you in the readings for this week. Your entry could be a poem or a super-short prose paragraph.

IMPORTANT CONCLUDING NOTE: If you are about to start reading All Quiet on the Western Front then it is a really good idea to read it while listening to it being read aloud. This adds an incredibly rich dimension to this amazing story. There are many audio versions out there. If you find a free one that is really good please let us all know: make a comment to this entry and I will pass on the good news.


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