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September 18, 2009


Enjoyed this, Beth. I'm sure I've read some Conrads long ago though not in school but I'm forgetting the titles so that it really is time to reread them. Sometimes I read something that seems rather familiar and I realize I'd read it before. Too many books and not enough time! Do you keep a diary of your readings?

It's funny, I don't much like the "blockbuster" Conrads -- Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. I get irritated with them and wish the protagonists would just get over it :-) But I love the Nigger of the Narcissus, and my very favorite is Typhoon.

I guess I like Conrad most when he seems least literary and self-conscious. But then I don't much like literary novels, usually.

I read a load of Conrad at university, I think. Two things I'd say: 'The Heart of Darkness' is so bleak that my assumption when I read it was that it was some kind of fable or psychodrama or something, but having since read about the horrifying state of the Belgian Congo at the time, I realised it was pretty close to realism.

And 'The Secret Agent' is one of my favourite London novels.

I adore Conrad, and am always amazed that he wrote so well in a language that was probably his fourth, which he only learned as an adult.

There is a beautiful book called Exterminate All The Brutes, by Sven Lindqvist, which explores the history of European racism, imperialism and genocide using Heart of Darkness as a starting point. Definitely worth reading.


It's great to wake up to these comments!

Marja-Leena, maybe you'll be inspired to go back to some of these books, I bet they are pretty different when read as an adult.

I do keep a diary - it's the "Book List" in the Pages listed on the sidebar.

Dale, I suspect I'll agree with you when I'm done. The less-self-consciously literary passages are what sing out in the books, at least so far. And he's such a facile writer that he's often like that, when he just lets go.

Harry, delighted to see you here and to find out about your blog - except now, through you, I've discovered several more books to put on my own list! I agree about "Heart of Darkness" - it's horrific, especially that famous passage describing the dying slaves - and am looking forward especially to reading "The Secret Agent."

Bint Battuta - yes, Conrad's command of English is nothing short of astounding. Thanks for the recommendation on the Lindqvist book. I also learned that the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe wrote a scathing and controversial indictment of Conrad's racism (and by association of course, white colonial racism in general) which I'm hoping to find and to read. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Image_of_Africa:_Racism_in_Conrad%27s_%22Heart_of_Darkness%22

One thing Chinua Achebe apparently said in his critique of Conrad was that at the same time he was reducing "savages" to "white eyeballs", Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin were reveling in African sculpture. Good point, but I'm not sure it means they didn't feel superior in their own ways as well.

So many books to read so little time.Nostromo was on the list for a History of the novel English course at universty seemingly another lifetime ago but it didn't take.Then recently i saw quoted the last paragraph of the regrettably titled 'Nigger of the Narcissus'
'A gone shipmate,like any other man,is gone for ever;and i never saw one of them again.But at times the spring-flood of memory sets with a force up the dark River of the Nine Bends.Then on the waters of the forelorn stream drifts a ship --a shadowy ship manned by a crew of Shades.They pass and make a sign,in a shadowy hall.Haven't we,together and upon the immortal sea,wrung out a meaning from our sinful lives?Good-bye brothers!You were a good crowd.As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas of a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft,
invisible in the night,give back yell for yell to a westerly gale.'
Wow.It whets the appetite for more.

Kia ora Beth,
The only Conrad book I have on my shelves is Heart of Darkness. I have not read it in ages, but when I did at Uni in my 20's it really impacted me. I had never considered the real impact of colonialism upon Africa so it really opened my eyes. As one commenter wrote it was not far off the true horrors of the Belgian Congo. Cheers Beth, I am going to take it off the shelf and read it again!

I read "Heart of Darkness" at some point in high school. The feeling I remember is one of waiting for the plot to get rolling, and then stumbling over the end with a sort of surprised disappointment. I don't really remember anything about the story itself or its language. It might be time for a re-visitation, based on the discussion here... I was just considering a reading project for the winter, inspired in no little part by your Greek tragedy adventure.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.