The Pequod Review:
Joseph Conrad’s best books have the scope, power and timelessness of great epics. They are about big ideas: morality, politics, social organization, identity, and what it means to be a human being. While they sometimes strain under the weight of his overly metaphorical prose, at their best they achieve the depth and expression of truly great fiction. Conrad explained the seriousness of his task in a 1905 essay:
The creative art of a writer of fiction may be compared to rescue work carried out in darkness against cross gusts of wind swaying the action of a great multitude. It is rescue work, this snatching of vanishing phases of turbulence, disguised in fair words, out of the native obscurity into a light where the struggling forms may be seen, seized upon, endowed with the only possible form of permanence in this world of relative values — the permanence of memory… Fiction is history, human history, or it is nothing.
Serialized in three parts in Blackwood’s Magazine, Heart of Darkness is a dense but ambiguous novella, on the surface an adventure story, but one that evolves into a political critique of imperialism and a journey of self-discovery. Narrated in the first person by an Englishman on a leisurely Thames cruise ship, it recounts the story told by one of his fellow passengers (Marlow) of his trip as a young man to the Congo. As Marlow’s journey takes him deeper into the heart of the country, he not only realizes the abuse and futility of the imperial project, but comes to see human life as “a mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets.”