By Robert Burden (auth.)
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Additional resources for Heart of Darkness
In a letter to his publisher, Blackwood, dated 31 May 1902, Conrad states quite clearly how he reads HD. For him the story works on 'another plane than an anecdote of a man who went mad in the centre of Africa' [see Kimbrough, p. 210). He wants to insist that his work is more ambitious than just an adventure story. He sees himself as a modernist: I am modem, and I would rather recall Wagner the musician and Rodin the sculptor who both had to starve a little in their day - and Whistler the painter who made Ruskin the critic foam at the mouth with scorn and indignation.
For Fleishman this is crucial in a political reading ofHD where 'Conrad turns the vision of a meaningless universe into a political parable' [p. 27). His 'profound distrust of industrial civilization' [p. 36] and his scorn of the bourgeoisie derive from two nineteenth-century intellectual traditions respectively: that which includes Carlyle and Ruskin, and before them the Romantic poets, in England; and the French literary tradition that includes Flaubert. Fleishman argues that the moral crises of Conrad's heroes 'are object lessons in the failure of individualism' [p.
Following the Symbolists in late nineteenth-century French verse and the Impressionists in painting, Conrad wanted his writing to appeal emotionally to the senses, to return a 'magic suggestiveness' to words, forgotten by habitualisation. Here we have a canonical modernist ideal, seen in the work of Flaubert, the Russian Formalists, the Dadaists, and the Cubists and Surrealists: that art to be modern has to defamiliarise our perception of the world. Conrad and Ford, like D. H. Lawrence, felt that the novel- a form with which one could accomplish anything - was the most effective mode of writing for their day.