[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 18:02 GMT
Read with us on World Book Day
It's World Book Day - and today's the day BBC News Online readers discuss the book you voted for - Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Thousands of you voted to read the classic Heart of Darkness, said you wanted to join our Book Group, and then downloaded the free electronic version of the book which we provided with help from Project Gutenberg.



Most computers will open this document automatically. You may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this PDF document.



How did Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness influence the 1979 war movie Apocalypse Now?

All around the world, events are being staged to mark the impact that books and reading can have on our lives. You will find reports of some of the events linked on the right hand side of this page.

And for us it's the day to discuss together some of the most interesting points about the book.

Join the debate now - for starters below are three areas highlighted by early members of the Book Group. Feel free to suggest a topic too.

In particular we are after the most succinct expression of what you believe "the horror" to be.


A RACIST DEPICTION?
JOHN OKEREKE, UK
I read this book for the first time a couple of months ago. I had read Conrad before, Typhoon and The Nigger of the Narcissus. Speaking as an African, I have to state that Conrad's depiction of the disintegration of one European individual's mind without taking into account or even trying to understand Africa or Africans is ridiculously myopic. The whole account is skewed and can therefore only appeal to non-Africans who will take Conrad's view of Africa (dark, primeval, primitive) as God's own truth. The man could write but it wasn't the whole truth.

KATE, US
A racist book written by a bigot and ignorant author.

MELANIE PARDUEZ, UK
'Heart of Darkness' reflects attitudes about colonialism at the turn of the 19th Century. Characters such as the Manager, who had "nothing within him" view the colonised countries on the basis of their commercial value, without any interest in the African people.

Melanie Parduez
Melanie Parduez
Yet the book also expresses an unease about the cultural supremacy of the European colonisers. This is demonstrated by the narrator's reaction to the book's central figure, Kurtz. Through the "horror" of Kurtz's behaviour, Conrad addresses the corruption of the coloniser as one who portrays 'civilisation' and 'progress' to the rest of the world, but is actually found out to be full of "vile desires" and "meanness".

Conrad was writing from within his sphere of social influence, the book is a European version of colonialism, concentrating on the effects rendered upon white European people and countries. It negates an important issue, that of the tragedy of colonialism for African people. As books should never be read in isolation, it is useful to juxtapose Conrad with Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Achebe gives a voice to the silenced black people in Heart of Darkness, making an African man central in his novel and foregrounding the continent that in Conrad's novella functions merely as the backdrop to the demise and corruption of Kurtz. Achebe's work allows us to recognise the attitudes towards colonialism that have informed our society.

OLAYINKA OYEGBILE, NIGERIA
As a work of art it is good but it portrays Africa in a bad light. However, the consolation for me and some other Africans is that it led to the writing of several books by Africans to correct the wrong views it conveys. It is one of the books that people like Chinua Achebe read and made him write Things Fall Apart... if only for that it is okay by me.

ALISTAIR, UK
Heart of Darkness is not a racist book, indeed, the central thrust is that the brutality and corruption of Belgian colonialism in the Congo is what leads Kurtz to be the monster he is. Conrad's view of the world is a complex one, informed by his life experience and the time in which he lived. That said, his view of humanity is one which still resonates; in many ways the violence and disorder which affects some parts of Africa today follows on from what we see of colonial rule at its worst in Heart of Darkness.

CHRIS, ENGLAND
A racist depiction? Certainly - but only in as much as The Nigger of The Narcissus is a racist title. Conrad's work is of its time - and, as Melanie points out, he was writing from within a certain particular social, economic and political sphere. Furthermore, we must try and separate authorial from narratorial voice. Heart of Darkness has two narrators - it cannot be taken for granted that either is expressing Conrad's own thoughts and opinions.

THURSTAN, UK
Much of the power in Heart of Darkness derives from Conrad's comparison of the Roman conquest of Britain with the European colonization of Africa almost 2000 years later. The passage at the beginning of the story which imagines the thoughts of legionaries seeing this strange and culturally alien land for the first time mirrors the feelings of the white company workers as they venture deep into the Congo later on. Rather than being the product of a bigotted mind Heart of Darkness represents an attempt by a European writer to understand a place, time and people which must at first sight have appeared beyond comprehension.

ALLAN, UK
If this is an attempt to understand a place beyond comprehension, then the attempt hasn't worked - at least, for me. Conrad seems to have a picture of Africa as being the "heart of darkness". The lasting impression is of a place that is not worth trying to understand, or you'll go mad.

JIM, SLOVAKIA
Alistair UK's comments are closest to the historical context. Read the brilliant book King Leopold's Ghosts. The more important matter is that Conrad's genius compels us to talk about him today.

Name
Your E-mail address
Country
Your comment on this particular issue

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.


YOU CALL THIS PERFECT WRITING?
ED THOMSON, UK
I made a few abortive attempts to read it over the years but never got past the first 20 or so pages. Last month I forced myself to make time to read it all the way through, but I'm afraid to say that I wasn't impressed. I've heard it said that Conrad was capable of writing the perfect sentence, but I've rarely found any book to be as turgid and self-indulgent than Heart of Darkness.

JANE, UK
I couldn't finish it, I'm sorry. I did try. I bought it for 95p in Waterstones and settled down to enjoy it on the train, where I read for an hour a day, - the equivalent to a book a week. After 38 pages I gave up. It just didn't grab me as I was hoping it would. My colleagues at work said that it was a very good book to read, but I just didn't find it interesting or moving or inspirational. It was dark and dirty and I couldn't bring myself to care about any of the characters. Perhaps that's the point.

EVA NDAVU, REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Heart of Darkness is Conrad at his best, trying to make us see with all of our senses. It is perhaps his most disciplined work after Lord Jim. It is definitely not an easy read, but in this millennium it again shows us why good literature lives on for all time.

ANDREW WILLIAMSON, UK
I forced myself to keep reading Heart of Darkness even though it never seemed to go anywhere. I kept expecting the story to start and the background waffle to finish; yet it never did, it was just another and then another page of boring and dull descriptions of the jungle or the sea. I get the point: Colonialism was bad; Kurtz was corrupted by the "darkness", etc. Surely this could have been said in a paragraph or two and then I wouldn't have wasted x hours of my life reading all of it. I bet all those people who voted for Heart of Darkness because it was the shortest were sorry.

ALLAN, UK
Like others, I had to force myself to finish this. For me the biggest problem was in trying to understand Marlow's fascination with Kurtz and his unquestioning support for him. Conrad has the perfect vehicle for trying to explore this - Marlow trying to explain this to his companions - and yet fails to get it across.

KARL, ISLE OF MAN
I found it a difficult challenging readi requiring a large amount of concentration. While I found the sentences themselves well balanced with a rhythm and poetry, a good sentance does not make for a good novel if they do not link together. The style of writing gave no vigour to the plot line, even when fighting for his life Marlowe narration continues at the same plodding pace and does not seem to reflect the terror and adrenalin which you would assume afflicted the character at that moment. To sum up, it is great litereature but altogether it makes a turgid plodding novella that was not worth the effort of reading.

PETER GEORGE, ENGLAND
Conrad's power of description is second to none. He writes in the style of an impressionist painter and is particularly impressive when dealing with his first love of the sea and ships. Conrad's clever use of the framed narrative and his seamless shifts in perspective often in a matter of only a few lines set him up, to my mind, as one of the greatest writers in English. Quite extraordinary considering it was only his third language.

ZOE RICHARDS, UK I particularly did not like the way Conrad lists things. It's like he was trying to right an essay with a minimum number of words. I think he was trying to add something to the decriptions, but I found it tedious and skipped over them.

Name
Your E-mail address
Country
Your comment on this particular issue

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.


COULD WE ALL BE KURTZ?
MONIKA SOBEJKO, POLAND

My experience is not half as varied or dramatic as that of the author of Heart of Darkness. But I think that you don't need to sail down the Congo River, nor does your Kurtz have to be literally worshipped like a god, involving human sacrifice.

JOSEPH CONRAD
(1857 - 1924)
Born in Ukraine, the son of Polish parents
His Polish name was Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski
He became a sailor and a British subject in 1886
He spoke no English before he was 20
Conrad's greatness lies in his ability to make us recognize we are all susceptible to corruption. Perhaps the more so, the more idealistic we are - as idealists don't do anything half-heartedly. They go all the way. They have a sense of moral superiority to guide them.

My first reading of Heart of Darkness came in the late 1980s, at the time when in Poland much was being said about the atrocities committed in the name of various totalitarian ideologies. So, I was reading the book from political perspective. I was thinking of all those youthful revolutionaries who wanted to do good and ended up building concentration camps, or dying in them.

It was a few years later that I realised the possibility of yet another interpretation of Kurtz's final words: the horror of realising his own miserable inadequacy, the darkness in his own heart. Am I reading too much into it? Perhaps, but watching closely my more spontaneous reactions and half-conscious thoughts, I can't help thinking that I too have a share in the part of human nature that is inclining towards evil. Coming face to face with it is certainly not pleasant. It's scary at times.

Reading Heart of Darkness is more like using a book as a mirror to see more clearly who you are.

VICKY HUGHES, US
Aside from being very challenging reading, I discern that Marlow must also deal with his own heart of darkness, in that he should have told Kurtz's fiancée Kurtz's dying words but did not. How would we readers deal with our own hearts of darkness in our modern world where civility can quickly degenerate into madness?

KATH, ENGLAND
I think that one of the most scary things about both the book and Apocalypse Now is seeing how easy it would be to become Kurtz. I think all people have it in them. Some choose to surpress it and others don't. Some social situations make supression easier and some encourage Kurtz-ness. I also think we should be wary (in this rather critical political time) of creating societies where Kurtz-ness is lauded.

MATT, ENGLAND
The interest for me lies in the notion of 'Kurtz' as an entity. Abhorrant to the reader, he represents our greatest fears, yet at the same time Kurtz is only visable from the outside. If I were to use the Nazi example, millions followed Hitler. The 'Kurtz' in him was only obvious to objective spectators. We create 'Kurtz' figures- idols, gods and leaders through our own narcissism. As such, we all have the potential to be Kurtz, but more importantly, we all have the ability to identify Kurtz in others, whilst ignoring our own capacity for evil.

ARMEN NERSES, IRAN
I've read it once many years ago and I read it again last week.It's a great work but still not one of my favourites.

I was thinking that the darkness in the book is very similar to what the conditions are in our world now. The shadows of bombs and war and violence for me maybe a reason to dislike it now cause I am afraid of what will happen. Those of us who don't like the books maybe are trying to ignore the truth, the dark side of us, the dark side of the power when we have it. Some say that this all happened in the 19th Century and at that time we weren't that civilized but are we now? If we look around ourselves we will find out how civilized we are in 21th Century.

Some say heart of the darkness is a racist book but why? Conrad just tells the truth. Weren't we racist? Aren't we still? To me it's like heart of the darkness reveals our hidden half and I know most of us don't like that. Marlow is telling the truth that it's not very delicious. I think I will go for it again cause it's really a great work.

Name
Your E-mail address
Country
Your comment on this particular issue

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.


WHAT IS "THE HORROR"

SARAH RICHARDSON, UK
Perhaps "the horror" is a vision of being met on the other side by all those souls whom he pushed there, who will be ready to take their revenge.

ANDY ARMITAGE, NZ (EX-LEEDS)
"The horror" is humanity and its nature. The 'civilised' colonialists juxtaposed against the 'savage' indigeneous of the Congo illustrate that humanity is only ever "a dog in breeches" regardless of how far up the evolutionary scale he considers himself to have climbed.

BARRY, IRELAND
The horror is the threat of having to repeat life again without being able to alter a single instance; it's the fate of the 'hollow men' who have mispent life in the service of darkness and who at the moment of death suddenly see the yawning waste of their past and the nothingness in their future. It's man's greatest fear realised. To have lived for nothing.

MIKE, UK
"The horror" is the depth of depravity that may be exposed in any of us when circumstances strip away the veneer of civilisation.

Name
Your E-mail address
Country
Your comment on this particular issue

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.




SEE ALSO:
Poll chooses top Scots book
06 Mar 03 |  Scotland
US writer Bryson tops 'England' poll
06 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Book festival nets top authors
04 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Radio 4 unveils book shortlist
24 Feb 03 |  Entertainment


INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific