Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Conrad once called himself as “homo duplex”, because he never held a stable position (he had two nationalities and also two professional careers). He was born in the territory of Poland in 1857, but learning English was required for his Master Mariner qualification. In 1890 he received a commission which brought him to Africa, where he saw many horrors and he had a nervous breakdown. Finally, he died in 1924 because of a heart attack. Conrad’s heroes are solitary figures (for example, at the end we don’t know about Marlow’s destiny) and the task of the writer is to record the complex pattern of life. Conrad writes about the Belgian Congo and the China Seas because these were the places he knew well. Moreover, he often chooses to set his stories in a ship, in a river or in the jungle (they’re a sort of microcosm). He uses various narrative techniques: first person narration, an invisible narrator, journals and letters (so, the point of view often changes!).
Finally, his first language was Polish, and his second language was French, but he wrote in English!
Heart of Darkness
The novel is set at the end of the 19th century and it’s told by Marlow, a sailor that is taking off for Africa. He’s involved in the ivory trade in the Congo and, once in Africa, he met a French gun-boat firing into the jungle even if, apparently, there were no enemies. Then, Marlow was disappointed by the organization and by the cruelty of the colonialists and heard Kurtz’s name for the first time. He arranged an expedition to reach Kurtz and bring him back to civilization, also because Marlow found out that Kurtz was a sort of reporter. Finally, Marlow met Kurtz to interrogate him, but Kurtz died whispering the words “The horror, the horror”…and, when Marlow called on Kurtz’s fiancée he told her that her beloved had uttered her name while dying. The main difference between Marlow and Kurtz is Marlow keeps his principles, while Kurtz completely changes and, loosing himself, he finds “the horror”, and he died whispering these ambiguous words! “Heart of Darkness” can also be read as Marlow’s journey in search of the self, but he didn’t transgress his limits!