joseph conrad

Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Norton Critical Edition (4th ed). First pub. 1899, 506p.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

It’s taken me a long time to actually rea Heart of Darkness. I was supposed to read it in first year of university, but I skipped it and wrote my assignments on the other novels in the course. I now regret that decision, because Heart of Darkness is a great short novel that would probably have helped me out in my history degree as well as my English studies.

It is interesting to read Heart of Darkness as a text in light of colonisation and post-colonisation. You really get a glimpse into how people were thinking about the ‘exploration’ of ‘new worlds’. Be prepared for lots of mentions of ‘savages’, and archaic language that is now interpreted as offensive, but was accepted vocabulary at the time. It is interesting that at the end of the story, the white people come off as much worse characters than any of the ‘savages’ featured in the story.

I was expecting an adventure text from Heart of Darkness and instead I ended up receiving something more along the lines of a supernatural ghost story. This actually disappointed me – I love action and adventure. However, I think that it makes Heart of Darkness more accessible for many of today’s readers because we’re exposed to supernatural content in books all the time. I wonder what people of the time took from the supernatural element of the narrative.

Heart of Darkness was not my first Joseph Conrad, in fact I read and reviewed The Secret Agent last year for the Classics Club (link to review). I enjoyed the plot of The Secret Agent, and I would say that overall I enjoyed The Secret Agent more than I enjoyed Heart of Darkness. The writing style in The Secret Agent is different, not as descriptive or as full of allegory. The language in Heart of Darkness is certainly more lyrical and beautiful than The Secret Agent but to me, the language makes it harder to get at the story. I enjoyed reading passages of Heart of Darkness out loud, the language is beautiful – if you like accomplished writing, then Heart of Darkness is for you, if you like plot driven and simple prose, maybe try The Secret Agent first, like I did.

I will be picking up more of Conrad’s works, I did enjoy Heart of Darkness, and I’ve heard that Under Western Eyes is related to The Secret Agent, and responsive to Crime and Punishment, which sounds interesting.

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Review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

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The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, Wordsworth Classics Edition, 1993 (orig. pub. 1907), 256p.

In my pursuit of completing the Classics Club Challenge I have committed to reading two novels by Joseph Conrad. I had both books in my club spin and The Secret Agent happened to be the book that was picked I’m glad, because I wasn’t about to pick it up by myself.

I do read a lot of spy and action novels so The Secret Agent was not a difficult book for me to read. However, there was little intrigue. It was obvious what had happened as soon as it occurred. I will not spoil the plot twist, because it would be disappointing to know what happens going into this novel, but it was very paint by the numbers. for me, at least. I’m not sure how many espionage thrillers were published when TSA was released, so for its time it could have been ground breaking!

The main character was well written but certainly not one of my favourites. I would not invite him to a dinner party. His wife on the other hand was spectacular, she was a breath of fresh air. She constantly surprised me and made me laugh. She certainly does not disappoint and I would recommend this novel to anybody who likes strong and strange female characters in their Victorian fiction.

I am now looking forward to reading Heart of Darkness which is sitting on my bookshelf taunting me because I have been scared of reading Conrad which is silly, I’ve read some much more intimidating texts over the years! My biggest pet peeve is the cover of the Wordsworth edition – it features an old motorcar, but one that had not yet been released. Also, not a single car appears in this novel. Just one of those pet peeves I suffer from!

I enjoyed The Secret Agent and rated it four stars. I’m happy wit my recent progress of the Classics Club Challenge, I have made real headway in this past month, and hope to read lots more classics over the winter.