12 January 2009

5. Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I read this novella because it was mentioned a few times in the last book I read. I had never heard of it before. I found out it was published in 1902 and was adapted (heavily, I might add) by Francis Ford Coppola for the movie "Apocalypse Now", one of my favorite movies. When I learned that I wanted to read this book.

When I first started reading I got a little confused. The story was being told within the story. I mean, the story of the steamship going up the river to find Kurtz was being told while sitting on another boat in London. It took me a few pages to figure that out. I thought the boat in London was going to head to the river, but it was a sailing ship and that makes no sense. My error became pretty obvious within a few pages and I enjoyed the story from that time on.

It is dark. It is sad. It is depressing.

As far as the movie connection, both travel up a river to find a man named Kurtz. Everything that happens on the river, save for the narrator's reflections, is completely different. Then we get near Kurtz and the compound. The stories were very similar. One of my favorite characters in the movie was Dennis Hopper. The same character in the book ended up being fascinating to me also. That character ends up explaining a lot about why things are the way they are with the Kurtz followers.

Something else that struck me: I think I learned more new words from this book than any other book I have ever read. Even with all these new words the story was fun to read. After looking up the definitions it does give you an idea of the "darkness" of the book. Most of the words all seem to have something negative about them.

somnambulist; someone who walks about in their sleep
cravat; a cloth, often made of or trimmed with lace, worn about the neck by men
sententiously; given to or using pithy sayings or maxims
lugubrious drollery; mournful, dismal, or gloomy but something whimsically amusing or funny
athwart; from side to side
declivity; a downward slope
moribund; near death
trenchant; caustic; cutting
rapacity; greediness
assegai; the slender javelin or spear of the Bantu-speaking people of southern Africa
superciliousness; the trait of displaying arrogance by patronizing those considered inferior
prevaricator; a liar; a person who speaks so as to avoid the precise truth; quibbler
pestiferous; bringing or bearing disease
serried; pressed together or compacted, as soldiers in rows
fecund; producing or capable of producing offspring, fruit, vegetation, etc., in abundance; prolific
obsequiously; characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning

Why so many new words? Was it because the book is over 100 years old and the language was different then? Was it because the man was European and I am American? Was it because the author was far more educated than myself? Probably a mixture of all of the reasons.

So, I am writing this blog entry and looking up information on the author. I like to learn a little about the person who wrote these books. Get a little background and biographical info after reading. Anyway, what did I learn? Joseph Conrad was born in what is now Berdychiv, Ukraine. One more connection to Ukraine. I wonder why that country keeps popping up. No, really. It comes up in odd places. Am I just noticing it because I choose to or am I noticing it because it is really showing up disproportionately to other places. I will probably never know.

I did not know if I was going to count this as a book read for 2009, but after some brief internal reflection and confirmation from the 50 book challenge gods, i found that there are no freaking rules...so it counts...and even if there were rules, who the heck cares...it counts. Besides that, it really wasn't nearly as short as I thought it would be. It is published as a stand alone novella. Whatever. 5 down for 09!


  1. It definitely counts! And, wow, that vocab list is a great idea!

  2. I stole it from Blake. He had a thing he called "SAT Word Alert", or something like that. The idea seemed to fit very well with this book.

  3. It absolutely counts.

    Concerning Conrad's vocabulary, it's amazing to realize that english was his second language.

  4. Actually, English was his third language. He grew up in Poland, moved to France and picked up French as a second language. He didn't even start learning English until he was in his early twenties. Putting that into consideration, it's amazing that he became one of the great writers of the English canon.