Saturday 1 November 2008

Heart of Darkness

Apologies for the lack of content here in the past few days - as I rather anticipated, my degree has been taking up quite a lot of my time! It's not so much that I have a huge workload, but more the fact that I don't have designated leisure time... and so no time to assign especially for this blog. But fear not, I shall continue apace!

ot a very enthused review today, however, and one I hope won't upset my tutor if she comes across it... we read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for the course on Empire Writing. I think a few of you expressed distaste for the book when I mentioned it a while ago - and I have to say I agree. Not distaste, actually, just a complete indifference. I sat and read the novella (if such it is) in one sitting, and just couldn't bring myself to care about any of it - certainly some is well written. The final scene, and 'the horror the horror' demonstrate an interesting dabbling in Modernisty writing, but in general... well, let's just say I finished it with only a minimal idea of what it was about, having already forgotten all the details. Which is quite shameful.

I'd be very happy for someone to offer a counter-argument... please step forward if you love Heart of Darkness, I'd love to here the case for the defence.

But, this possibility aside for now, I'm intrigued - how on earth did Conrad's book become so renowned? As far as I can tell, from my fairly early copy, it was initially only a subsidiary to the story 'Youth' (my copy is in a volume called Youth and Two Other Stories), which is in itself a rather underwhelming story. Perhaps Heart of Darkness revolutionised narrative or something, and I daresay I should appreciate it as a benchmark of literature, but... well, people my age have a little expression which goes like this: "meuh". That about sums up my feelings for this novella.

Those of you who aren't tutting in disgust - which 'classics' leave you feeling "meuh"? Not hatred, or even dislike, just indifference....?


  1. Where to start? Most of the books I turn to as classics leave me neither enthused nor unimpressed. I know I shame myself, but if I'm honest: The Great Gatsby, The Go Between, Diary of a Provincial Lady, A Town Like Alice... even Jane Eyre. There aren't many exceptions. Well, there are those I definitely disliked (Frankenstein, On the Road) and those I definitely liked (all Austen read thus far, A Christmas Carol) but the majority seem to be 'meuh'ish.

  2. I had to read Conrad's Lord Jim at school, for O-levels, and I simply couldn't stand it. At university I was also supposed to read another of his full-length novels (was it The Secret Agent? can't remember) and couldn't even get beyond chapter one. We also had to read HofD and I did, and it was definitely a better experience than either of the other two. I remember lots of close analysis of JC's use of colours -- black and white, I think -- which was the sort of thing we used to do in those days. But not my cup of tea.

  3. Wuthering Heights - if ever two people needed a good slap!

  4. I studied Conrad at A level, taught by a man who had lived in Africa and been forced to leave because of the threat to his family. He used to enthuse lyrically about the sunsets, the sunrises, the landscapes, the people, the traditions the..... And, as for Conrad - he would brook no argument - his work was superlative.
    Maybe you just have to have been there!
    Could be true of Yorkshire too.

  5. I've never read any Conrad - it looks as though I haven't missed anything!

    I echo Colin with Frankenstein - I was very disappointed with it.

  6. Oh dear. This in on my MA reading list next term and I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

    As far classics leaving me cold, I have *actually hated* everything I've read by HG Wells. Also gave up on Tristram Shandy in disgust while doing my undergrad. Oh, and On the Road. And Catcher in the Rye! Most overrated book of all time!

  7. We did Conrad for A level inc Heart of Darkness. I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying it; by definition is a depressing read about unremitting awfullness. I did admire it in parts at the time though 20 years later I cannot give you any specifics. My tutor certainly thoguht it was great. I might read it again one day but I have not rushed back to conrad since. I love all eras of the literary novel except the period 1870-1930ish (Henry James, D H Lawrence, Conrad, Thomas Hardy - all meuh'ish, I can see more point to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf but I am not knocked out by them either). Between the demise of Dickens and the publishing of Brideshead Revisited there's a bit of a wasteland for me.

  8. SO glad you didnt like this, i was completely unmoved by it! Hated Wuthering Heights too AND The Great Gatsby (also Cold COmfort Farm but I know you love this)


  9. I studied 'Heart of Darkness' twice over my three years at Keele, and I was heartily sick of it by the end. It's not badly written or anything, but like OVW says, perhaps you just had to be there.

    Classics that have left me 'meh-ish' - I have to concur with the Jane Eyre gang. Vanity Fair too left me completely underwhelmed. I started reading Ivanhoe, and was very quickly bored. Same goes for A Tale of Two Cities.

  10. I find Wuthering Heights impossible to read, I tried so many times before deciding to give up. But the author who comes to mind is Faulkner.

  11. Had to study this for A level at school. Five minutes into each lesson on it and half hte class was asleep. I have tried Conrad but fail to find anything in his writing that I find remotely attractive.

    As for Wuthering Heights - yes a good slap would be a really excellent idea. I am a Bronte fan of the most ardent but I dislike this book intensely.

    For O level we had to study The Trumpet Major by Hardy which killed off any inclination I had to read more of this author for some 30 years. I have read severl of his since and enjoy them but still find them somewhat difficult to really love.

    Ulysses - most over rated book of all time

    Catcher in the Rye - also totally over rated and pretentious

    and much though I appreciate him, a little of Henry James goes a long long way....

  12. Ah, Henry James..... just don't go beyond The Golden Bowl - he was reasonably readable until then. It was all that 'honing each sentence to perfection' that tended to kill it stone dead. Oh for the writer who does NOT have too much time on his/her hands!

  13. forgot vanity fair, hated that too! sorry clare! xXx

  14. Sadly Proust has not (yet) worked for me.

    Dark Puss

  15. I just finished writing a post about feeling guilty for not appreciating Middlemarch when I read this. Good to know I'm not alone!
    I haven't read any Conrad and now I suspect I never will. I don't know how he got to be so popular (maybe someone really cool blogged him) but you may turn out to be single-handedly responsible for bringing him down. That sounds like a big responsibility but I say go with it (and maybe mention you thought George Eliot could've had more car chases).
    Like the blog btw.

  16. I recently read Heart of Darkness and loved it. Actually loved it! I thought it was fascinating to read someone from that era who actually dealt with colonial matters -- England was getting so much revenue and goods from the colonies, yet so few novelists (besides Kipling, perhaps) ever thought about placing a novel there. The building suspense, the danger, moving inward and inward to someone who has, finally, lost all reason, all as a metaphor for colonial power itself! How can you not at least see the power in the narrative, even if you find it a bit of a downer?

    The Secret Agent I thought was a tad slow, on the other hand.

    I admit to being totally shocked at the list of classics you all don't like. Especially Oxford Reader. I laughed myself silly at Vanity Fair's skewering wit and have read A Tale of Two Cities three times...

  17. I loved 'Vanity Fair' when it started, but liked it less and less as it went on. I think it's got something to do with the fact that there is no single character who has redeeming qualities. They are all various shades of dark grey with streaks of selfishness.

    As for 'Tale of Two Cities' - I think I just wasn't in the right mood .... I will try again at some point!


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