Heart of Darkness was written in ~2 months, in the winter of 1898 and and the beginning of 1899. Marlow is the narrator and Conrad's alter ego. He travels to the Congo for a Belgian trading company in search of their brilliant ivory trader, Mr. Kurtz, who has gone AWOL (if you will) to gain a strange ascendancy over the Africans there. It deals with colonialism, the ambiguities of so-called civilization, genocide, the West, etc. An example of nested narration.

What is truly amazing about Joseph Conrad is that English was not his first language. Read Heart of Darkness and see how many times you have to hit the dictionary, then realize how great his command of the English language was.

Interesting factoid: Heart of Darkness is one of Bono's (of U2) favorite books. It was also the nickname for the acoustic section of their set on the Zoo TV tour for Achtung Baby.
An AP English essay concerning Heart of Darkness. Once again, please do not copy this or use the thesis as I would not want to be involved in academic collusion.

Heart of Darkness Essay

Although Kurtz’s self-centered view allows him to see the darkness of an individual’s heart, it is also this same view—-caused by his capitalistic obsession with ivory, lack of civilizing influence, and “The fascination of the abomination”—that prevents him from seeing the redeeming qualities of civilization. In response to Kurtz’s pronouncement—“The Horror!”—Marlowe says this: “Kurtz’s stare…could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness.” Kurtz could not see the flame, yet the flame does exist. How could Kurtz be so blind to miss that one flicker of light in the ‘unfathomable darkness’? The key is that Kurtz did fathom the darkness, but could only do so because of his totally self-centered view.

The misplaced focus that capitalism places on the individual over society drives Kurtz’s inward, self-centered spiral, manifesting in his obsession with ivory. At its core, the capitalistic system that permeates Heart of Darkness is based upon the importance of the individual, the maximization of shareholder value, the ]total disregard for the good of civilization in favor of the ‘Almighty Buck’]. Even in his darkest moments “the appetite for more ivory had got the better of the…less material aspirations.” This appetite led him to even more “unsound method” that, according to the Manager, “ruined the district” and “closed the district to us for a time.” The tenants of capitalism tell Kurtz to use the method that will most maximize his future in the company, his future monetary worth. Likewise, the Manager calls Kurtz’s method “unsound” and closes the district to defraud Kurtz and thus maximize his future profit. Neither of these actions benefit the district; capitalism drives each individual to ignore what is best for society as a whole and instead “look out for number one.”

With no civilizing influence to restrain his vagrancies, Kurtz’s selfish attitude becomes still further developed. In one sense, the purpose of civilization is to restrain corporations from the more destructive practices of capitalism. We are supposed to react with shock when we hear about Kurtz’s excesses because it is a ‘crime against humanity.’ Similarly, we don’t allow murder because it would do civilization as a whole more bad than good. However, as Kurtz descends into the “Heart of Darkness” that the inner station represents, all of these restraints drop away. Now it becomes plain that “Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts”. He uses the ‘rebels’ heads to deter future attacks against him and accepts his position as the natives’ God. This in no way benefits others; it is done solely for his personal benefit, damn the consequences to others. Kurtz’s self-centered attitude has been increased tremendously by simply removing a few mental restraints.

While the previous two causes contributed to Kurtz’s decline, it is his embrace of the “abomination” of Africa that drives him over the edge into a completely self-centered view. According to Marlowe, “I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions.” Kurtz stares into the face of the “abomination” of Africa and is horrified, but he is also fascinated and slowly begins to follow its questionable ways. While some of the natives’ traditions might have been beneficial to society, it is not these that Kurtz embraces. Instead, Kurtz accepts the worship of the natives, the human sacrifices, the ‘ornamental’ rebels and uses it to benefit solely himself. It is this combination of the removal of all restraints and the ability to become a ‘God’ in a group of worshipers’ eyes that allow Kurtz’s selfishness to grow without bound.

The capitalistic philosophy that underlies all of Heart of Darkness plants the first seed of Kurtz’s ensuing total self-centeredness. This seed germinates when Kurtz arrives at the central station—the ‘Heart of Darkness’—and all civilizing influences are removed. It finally blossoms into its final maniacal form as Kurtz’s fascination with the ‘abomination’ of primitive man comes to fruition. It is this self-centric attitude that allows Kurtz to sum up the experience of an individual; however, it is also this attitude that prevents him from seeing the connections between people—the way an individual’s inner hollowness can be filled through his interactions with similarly hollow people—that redeem man.

Just in case you were wondering, this was my third essay and I got a 16 out of 20. I was so happy!

"Heart of Darkness" is also the name of a Pere Ubu song, first released on the Datapanik in the Year Zero EP, in or around 1978. It's a good song, indicative of their early style. If I could find a listing of them, or understand anything other than the chorus on the record, I would list the lyrics to it here.

The chorus of Heart of Darkness, by Pere Ubu:

"I'm looking into the
Heart of Darkness."

Heart Of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Chapter I

Chapter II Chapter III

This text is in the public domain and was acquired through Project Gutenberg (first published in 1902).

CST Approved, 11/1/03.

Heart of Darkness tells a sordid and maddening tale of one man's trip into the jungles of Africa. He is investigating the disappearance of a man, but instead disappears himself - leaving his soulless body to wander the Earth for the rest of its days.

The story begins with our nameless narrator meeting Marlow, a sailor and a "wanderer." Marlow's childhood interest in maps led him to a job as a ship skipper (calling the world "a blank place of delightful mystery", as if to highlight his naivete) called upon to undertake a particularly enigmatic quest: he is to find one Kurtz, an ivory dealer vanished in the depths of Africa. As the first part of Chapter I comes to a close, and Marlow's unfounded fears of traveling to the "centre of the earth" arise, we know that soon the familiar and safe trappings of progress are about to vanish into the pits of Hell.

As Marlow travels down the large unnamed river to his destination, he begins to see the effect of stasis on the African people: malnourished tribesmen march listlessly on the shores, "black shadows of disease and starvation." Conrad not so subtly insinuates that this is caused by progress, and that the success of Europe is founded on the blood and backs of those in the past. As Marlow unloads his boat and prepares to travel inland by foot, he sees "paths, paths everywhere" surrounded by the remnants of villages long since destroyed. Conrad draws small parallels between these ruins of battle with the ancient Greek ruins and the then-contemporary battles raging in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

As Marlow runs into the manager of a trading market between the shore and Kurtz, he notices the man's distinctive uneasy nature. As he exits the park, he hears the other traders whispering in hushed tones over a recent haul - "Ivory!" Marlow is disgusted, wondering sarcastically if they pray to the ivory on their own time. Conrad's message about the almighty dollar is quite clear. Marlow waits out at the trading post to stock up on supplies before taking off - and meets several curious people who don't merely refer to Kurtz as an ivory dealer, but as a "universal genius," a "prodigy," and "a God." The last one is particularly blasphemous to the religious Marlow. He decides to see for himself this masterful man. When the appropriately named Eldorado Expedition Company vanishes into the African jungles while seeking their fortunes, Marlow is not surprised.

As Marlow heads up to the river, closer to his destination, he notices two main things: the signs of society and civilization in any form begin to dwindle (less roads, less people, more animals), and that people within his crew seem restless, as if they know something more than they're letting on. After discovering an abandoned hut and a mysterious seaman's book filled with cipher, Marlow moves even further into the wild, noting "the rest of the world was nowhere." When the crew hears an "inhuman" shriek outside the flatboat, the rush outside and fight a small skirmish with tribesmen on the shore. Marlow's crew, consisting mostly of starving natives, makes a not-so-funny joke about catching the offending tribesmen and eating them. Here Marlow begins to realize the laws of man are just pieces of paper, but they were formed in the middle of rivers just like this - and can be rescinded just as quickly.

After the skirmish, the assistant manager leading Marlow to Kurtz laments that Kurtz is probably gone now. Conrad takes a moment to mock the European's method of handling the Africans - noting Kurtz was hired by the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs to make a report on said customs. Marlow also learns the reason for the attack - the savages are afraid that he is there to forcibly remove Kurtz. Finally, Marlow arrives at Kurtz's camp. Here, he meets the man - and in another excellent extended metaphor, we can see the difference between the European's distant representation and the real thing. Kurtz is strong, stubborn, and obviously crazy. He is very sick, just having gotten over yet another fever. We see that the world is physically changing him, as well as changing his mentality. "I had immense plans," Kurts cries out. He seems to know that he was trapped in two worlds - the world where grasping what is yours is always approved, and the inevitable shock of being out of one's element. With his dying gasps, he mutters, "The horror, the horror" a cryptic remark, Conrad's epiphany of the history of man, the brutish and short self-destruction of Hobbes fully realized in the world without order.

Marlow returns to the coast, but his experiences leave him forever stunted and suspicious of the motives of modern man. He equates the two together - man in his natural state and in his tweed jacket - and he notes no real difference. Marlow also begins to hesitantly appreciate the sacrifices certain men have made in order to force progress on people. "This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it." Marlow (and perhaps Conrad) believe that control and domination are the only evolutionary ingredients for progress. At the end, Conrad makes further parallels between Kurtz and Jesus, with many of his tribal followers doubting that he is gone forever ("I cannot believe he will never be back again") and claiming his death had been a sacrifice so that they may remember what they are living for.

The plot has a lot of underlying themes: the barbarianism required for civilization to endure - one particularly chilling line in the opening chapter calls the European invasion of Africa "administration", making the reader question their own thoughtless motives of action. There are other themes involving appearance versus reality, man versus nature, and the obligatory world turned upside down motif that occurs within Marlow. A chilling tale for humanity, indeed. Read at your own risk.

Finding the Heart of Darkness

Throughout life, one must constantly fight against the forces of darkness. Kurtz, in The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, fights a battle against the so called "darkness." This darkness surrounds Africa and the African peoples. The greatest darkness, however, exists within Kurtz himself.

The first type of darkness that Kurtz must conquer is one of ignorance that surrounds the Europeans in regard to the African natives. Prior to Kurtz's voyage, he is part of a society where traditional law prevails. When he penetrates deep down the Congo River, he enters an area where it appears that law is all but absent. He observes people living under an entirely different code of ethics than the one he is accustomed. The Europeans that surround Kurtz treat the natives very poorly. They instituted many programs such as slavery that exploit the natives and their land, using as an excuse that they are inferior. Kurtz spends a great deal of time with the natives, and he learns that they are not inferior as the Europeans believe, but instead they are just not technologically advanced and have a different moral system. Kurtz even writes a book, "How to suppress savage customs," explaining his feelings toward the Africans. Though he is partially successful in his goal of illuminating the darkness (ignorance) of the Europeans, he was never able to end many of the savage customs such as slavery that are still being carried on, long after his death.

Black is used repeatedly to symbolize both the unexplored and the evil. At the beginning of the story, Marlow says of Europe, "...this also has been one of the dark places of the earth,"(67) explaining that at one point, people knew no more about Europe than they do now about Africa. He sees Africa as a "blank space on the Earth,"(70) blank meaning unknown. When he arrives, Marlow is shocked at the treatment of the natives. As he learns more, Marlow begins to realize that the darkness associated with Africa was not an evil darkness, but instead darkness based on prejudice and greed on the part of the Europeans who are unwilling to treat the natives as equals.

The most striking aspect of the story is when the reader realizes that the whites are the ones that are most "dark" and evil inside. They enslave the blacks and treat them as sub-human. When Marlow tells about the failure of the Eldorado Expedition, he says, "...News came that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals," (102) referring, of course, to the blacks. Marlow is shocked to learn that his peers were attempting to impose their moral system on people who live under a different, but not necessarily inferior system. Other than Kurtz, the person who Marlow identified with most is his navigator, a black native.

The second type of darkness that Kurtz must fight is the darkness inside himself: The forces of selfishness and greed that are compelling him to take advantage of the African peoples. This form of darkness is more sinister and more difficult to fight than the first because instead of affecting others, one must change oneself. This darkness is apparent when the time comes for Kurtz to leave the jungle and just as he is about to do so, he turns back. Instead of taking what he learned about the natives to heart, he takes advantage of the fact that in the jungle, he will be treated as a god, and will be able to do all he wants forever. It is this lapse in judgement that causes Kurtz to say at the end of the book, "The Horror, The Horror." When he says this, he is expressing the disappointment in himself that instead of doing the correct thing and returning to Europe to enlighten the people, an action that would have made a real difference in the lives of the Africans, he took advantage of his perceived superiority and allowed himself to be idolized.

In addition, he is frustrated that he cannot explain to Marlow, or anyone else for that matter, the fundamental change that has occurred within himself. The realization that is finally reached by Kurtz at his moment of epiphany, and is relayed to Marlow, is the fact that "We live, as we dream- alone."(95). It is this insight that Marlow receives from Kurtz regarding the nature of the human condition that changes his life and allows him to come from the jungle a different, stronger man. The knowledge that even if one is as morally and emotionally strong as Kurtz is, it is still immensely difficult to fight the greed and craving for power over others that can surround the heart with "darkness".

Before Marlow departs for Africa, he believes it to be surrounded with "darkness" because it is mostly unexplored. After he spends time there, he discovers that the metaphorical darkness is due to ignorance and blatant arrogance by European exploiters whose moral system is corrupt.

I wrote this for AP English a few years ago. Please don't steal it. Thanks.

An excellent stylistic game made by the french company Amazing Studio. The company was also known as Delphine - famous for the old classic games of all times like Another World and Flash Back.

Heart of Darkness looked really impressive at the time. A video teaser of the game was released during 1994 which showed impressive animation graphics similar to those of big USA companies Nintendo. However the game took 7 years to come out being released in 1999. At the time of release the game was outdated with outdated 2D graphics/animation and platform gameplay. If it had been released during the teaser release in 1994 it would have rocked and the company wouldn't have gone into liquidation.

"Beware of shadows..."

There is a darkness that dwells in the imagination. It is the sense of foreboding; a fear of the unknown world behind every wall and around every corner. A place in the mind that cannot be illuminated. As we age we learn to quell these fears, ignoring the fantastic and unimaginable horrors that the imagination flings upon us. The pit of darkness is buried, hidden away, repressed and depressed down to the farthest recesses of the mind. But such was not always the case. The young at heart, you see, face the black void and do not simply rationalize it away. There is a need to face the darkness and overcome it, for where there is a darkness there is always a brightness to provide the universal balance. The child faces the darkness of his or her imagination and feeds into it. It is the imagined peril of an innocent mind.

Eric Chahi and the team at Amazing Studio, creators of the renowned science fiction hit Another World (developed under the Delphine Software label), kept the same dark artistic design and eerie landscape from that game but strayed from the role of the adult adventurer in order to provide a visually stunning experience in the dark corners of a child's imagination. They created a world in which we are driven to face the...

Heart of Darkness
Developed by Amazing Studio
Published by Interplay Productions in North America, Infogrames and Ocean Software in Europe
Released in 1998 for the PC and PlayStation platforms
Rated E for Everyone

Heart of Darkness tells the tale of Andy, a good-natured if slightly mischievous kid who dreams of lying on the grass and watching the clouds along with his spotted dog, Whiskey. It begins, as these stories tend to begin, with every fictional child's most dreaded nightmare: elementary school. The teacher's lecture foreshadows the events about to unfold for Andy and his poor innocent pooch: "Many believe that these black holes are, in reality, doors which open to parallel worlds. Unknown, fascinating... perhaps even terrifying!" The teacher, a man of ill temperament and even more unpleasant appearance, forces Andy into a cupboard as punishment for sleeping during class, and provides the premise for the adventure ahead in Andy's apparent fear of the dark. Andy is (literally) saved by the bell and escapes to spend quality lounging time in the great outdoors. As Andy and Whiskey lie out on the grass a solar eclipse occurs (darkness), during which Whiskey is dognapped by a mysterious shadow (more darkness). This sets Andy on a path to his tree house where a yellow flying machine of his own design transports him to a desolate world inhabited by minions of one who is called the Dark Master, as well as other creatures that are both friendly and unfriendly. Thus the side-scrolling platform adventure begins.

True, the plot is simple, but like all things it is simple when one merely looks at the surface. Beneath the veneer there is a tale of a child facing the darkest recesses of his imagination, and to discover the truth behind the disappearance of Andy’s dog is to discover a story stemming from the oldest tales of the child lost in the woods, facing darkness that no man or woman would wish upon a child. We see the story through Andy’s eyes, and his bravery in the face of great danger is perhaps foolish but nonetheless inspirational. While on his quest Andy meets many foes, as well as friends in the form of the pudgy Amigos, a race of beings with pink flesh, wings, and big googly eyes atop their triangular heads. They serve as the suppressed minority in the story, attacked by minions of the Dark Master and helping Andy to fight him in the latter portions of the game. Andy ultimately faces the darkness alone and perseveres, of course, but like any good story the journey makes or breaks the tale.

So, the player is tasked with guiding Andy through the perilous Dark Kingdom where shadow creatures dwell in canyons, caverns, jungles, and even across the sky and beneath the sea. Andy is limited to the standard platforming set: walking, running, jumping, climbing, and occasionally swimming, and while there are some environmental action elements to engage the player's reflexes they are few and far between. Instead, the gameplay design relies heavily on solving puzzles to clear obstacles from the path or to create a new path that will permit further progression. An example of such a puzzle is a rock formation early in the first level when the player uses Andy's plasma cannon to shoot the rocks and bring down the wall blocking the path, albeit simultaneously ripping a hole in the cliff that allows several shadow creatures to emerge. There we arrive at the bulk of the action in the game: fighting off hordes of encroaching shadow creatures with nothing but a plasma cannon or mysterious powers from a hidden meteor. The plasma cannon is used through a portion of the first level as the player is introduced to the combat system. Eventually, however, the plasma cannon is lost (for a time) and Andy is left defenseless until obtaining what the game manual coins as the "normal" and "special" powers. These powers allow the player to kill enemies as well as manipulate mobile plant seeds to create ladders and reach previously inaccessible areas in a level. All of this weaponry is required, along with keen use of the intuitive if somewhat rigid control system, to traverse the dangerous Dark Kingdom and reach the Dark Master's lair.

Topmost among the game's many achievements is the art design. Although the pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and hand drawn environments were considered outdated by the time the game released in 1998 (in the midst of the real-time 3D boom), that does not change that the game's environments are simply stunning. It is one thing when a game can present candy for the eye as the player traipses through the environments; it is another matter when the game presents a rich, enticing world that seemingly asks the player, “stop, won’t you, if only for a moment?” Stop and enjoy the scenery; smell the overgrown roses in the steamy jungles; allow the glow of phosphorescent fungi to cast eerie shadows across cave walls; stand and look out over a vast landscape beyond the edge of a cliff beyond the edge of a lush and dark jungle, beyond the skyscape of the horizon of gray clouds. And, eventually, stare down the darkness of an evil lair where light from above casts faint traces of itself across piles of long-dead creatures and twisted formations of stone. As I said, stunning.

Having said that, when I say that the game’s background and level art are not the most impressive aspect of the art design then you may grasp what it means when I say that it is in fact the animation that is the visual highlight of the game. It is that which that took hold of my sight from the moment I first loaded that disc, so many years ago. Chahi and co.’s dedication to richly detailed animation was apparent in their previous work on Another World and in Heart of Darkness they not only met those same standards but far surpassed them. They created that stunning world and then filled it with such brilliant movement in the characters and ambient level details that one can see part of the reason why the game took over four years to develop. It begins with Andy, our guide through this fluid world. His movement as he walks along is greatly detailed. He walks, jumps, ducks, runs, swims, crawls, hangs, and climbs; his clothes sway and ripple with every movement, his hat flys off and is quickly caught as he floats through the air after a jump or runs away from strange black creatures. But we’ve seen good character animation before and since, so why, then, is the animation so important? In this case it’s a case of quality and quantity, or variety to be exact. There are many types of movement in the game, and as morbid as it may seem the most varied type of movement is death. This poor kid dies in more ways than I’ve seen any other video game. Falling from a variety of high places into bottomless pits, drowning, burning alive, crushed by rocks, bones, suffering a broken neck, and being eaten by anything with a mouth are just some examples of the many ways you can allow Andy to perish. On the flip side, Andy can dish out the deaths just as well as he can take them. With the aid of his plasma cannon, meteor powers, or even sunlight, Andy can cause enemies to burst into brilliant puffs of charred, glowing smoke, ranging from orange to green to blue, and all animated in such a way that you feel the heat and sizzle of their rapidly evaporating corpses. It could be said that these are all beautiful deaths. The ambient animation of swaying grass, falling rocks from the decaying stone beneath Andy’s feet, and smaller creatures such as butterflies and lizards all serve as further examples of the shear beauty of all that surrounds Andy.

The in-game action is complemented by the occasional pre-rendered cinematic featuring notably dated 3D animation. The cinematics are, however, well-directed and they serve to provide dialogue and scenes that further the story along. The only folly in the game’s visuals is that there can be noticeable drops in the framerate when there happens to be too much of the aforementioned animation on screen at one time, and the framerate for the cinematics is also noticeably lackluster. Additionally, players who try both versions of the game will notice that some of the cinematics in the PC version are missing from the PlayStation version, but these are only action scenes placed in during transitions from one area to the next. The key story scenes all remain.

As any film director or game designer can tell you, sound plays a significant part in the experience that the observer or end user draws from a work. Heart of Darkness makes excellent use of sound effects for all animation in the game, from something as common as Andy’s footsteps to a screech hinting at a creature that has not yet appeared. All creatures in the game emanate eerily realistic noises as they either rush Andy or lie in wait to feed on him, and the sounds of creatures or environmental ambience serve as more than background noise, often providing clues or warnings. The game's soundtrack – composed, conducted, and produced by Emmy award-winning TV and film composer Bruce Broughton – was the first game soundtrack to be recorded by a live orchestra. The subtleties of what appears on-screen are enhanced by the swell and fall of a rousing score, and the more dramatic moments in the game’s cutscenes are all the more effective after the music kicks in to amplify the emotional impact.

In the end… well, I won’t be talking about the end as that it something the player must experience, but I will say that in the end the game is a shining example of the possibilities of the side-scrolling platformer genre that was introduced over a decade before the game released (with bits of adventure and puzzle that appeared in more financially successful games such as Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee). In the unfortunate end of Amazing Studio we received a game that ends much too quickly but will forever be remembered as an entertaining and fun experience. In the end, this is a story about a boy, his dog, and the limitless possibilities of the imagination to frighten and at the same time challenge us to face that which we fear, to face the darkness and overcome it.

Game manual for the PlayStation version of Heart of Darkness

Recommended Playing:
American McGee's Alice

Thanks to:
panamaus and Time Bandits
Space Cat and Shadow of the Colossus
Timeshredder and El Laberinto del Fauno
kovidomi and Youtube

One of the things that impressed me most about Conrad’s novel about Charles Marlow’s nightmarish adventures in the Congo was the lushness of language. I’ve been reading several works from the late 19th century, and the atmospheric opening immediately struck me as exceptional:

The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.

It’s been 115 years since Heart of Darkness was published, and I can see the imprint of Conrad’s style on modern authors such as Dan Simmons (most notably in his historical horror novel The Terror). Novels a century ago could meander in ways that no publisher would accept today; a modern popular novel needs to be a narrative machine if its author expects it to find a good home. The standard advice many beginning writers receive is to open with dialog and avoid opening with a stretch of description. In Heart of Darkness, the reader finds three whole pages of nothing but descriptive narrative before we encounter the first bit of dialog. But Conrad’s prose is so excellent that I didn’t mind.

“In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint” is not only a much more evocative way of describing “seamless” but also foreshadows the protagonist’s focus on rebuilding (and, later, struggling to keep afloat) the steamboat he’s put in charge of. The description “in the luminous space” has a lovely consonance to it, and further, it evokes the brightness of the open sea and sky — a world that is lost to Marlow on his journey into darkness.

There’s great color and detail in the middle: tanned sails, drifting barges, red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, gleams of varnished sprits. These descriptors pop and put the seascape right in the reader’s mind with just a few words. And “vanishing flatness” has a satisfying assonance to it.

The final line of the paragraph — “The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.” — is loaded with wonderful atmosphere. The assonance of the repetitive “ohs” in “mournful gloom, brooding motionless over” make that part of the description read like a lament. And that line further foreshadows the themes of the book. Why is the greatest town on earth so burdened with a hanging gloom? Because the horrors in the Congo have traveled there, psychic parasites on the souls of the men who have survived that darkness.

And that’s just the opening. The other descriptions throughout the book are equally evocative and stylish. If one can look past the despicable characters and racism in the novel, it’s an excellent study in vivid prose and represents a good model for writers who seek to improve the quality of their own descriptive writing.

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