“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.”
“In everything I have written there is always one invariable intention, and that is to capture the reader’s attention.”
“by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel… before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”
Fueled by wine, pizza, and pretzels, my reading group plunged into the Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s masterful novella. What a ride! We all had different editions; one of us even retrieved a well-worn college text. My copy was only 77 pages long — and yet, this incredibly rich story has spawned countless pages of lit crit and probably enough dissertations to sink one of the ships our boy Joseph sailed on in his youth.
Why has this slim 1910 novel endured — and continued to spark controversy? While our crew didn’t crack the code, we took an admiring look at how Conrad hooks his readers:
He uses incredible detail: Whether he’s describing a ship at anchor on the Thames or repairing a rattle-trap riverboat, Conrad writes with a level of detail that’s both immersive and engaging — it’s detail in the service of emotion.
He revels in words: His language is rich and ripe, yet precise. A forest is “like a breathing animal,” a dying man is “like a vapor exhaled by the earth.” Vivid images constantly arrest the reader’s attention.
He employs repetition skillfully: Conrad explores ideas and images in a cumulative way, lulling readers and sweeping them along on a tide of words freighted with deepening emotion. He hooks you and doesn’t let go.
He makes singleness of purpose a virtue: His theme and story are very deep and dark — and he pursues them relentlessly. There are no subplots, no escape into lightness or humor — there is only the journey the reader is compelled to take into heart of darkness.
What a rivetting, disturbing story. What a master craftsman. Write on!