June Discussion Book: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

At our June 2, 2011 meeting we will discuss Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This selection was made by Neil, and he provides the following information about the selection:
A short time ago, as I looked through a list of well-known authors seeking someone new for me to read, Joseph Conrad’s name jumped out at me.  So thought I’d give him a try.  Two of his works interested me enough to download and read, Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.   I went for the shorter one first and now I offer it as my choice for our June 2nd discussion.  (Lord Jim still awaits, patiently I hope.)
As you know, this is a very short novella.  The printed version I have is only 77 pages.  It can also be downloaded for your PC or Kindle for free from Amazon.com.  Because of its brevity, everyone has several options in dealing with it.  Some who are busy or less interested can choose to leave it until June 1st.  Others might want to read it two or three times or more, make notes in the margins or in your notebook, or even lead the discussion.  And some may also wish to dig into other, related material.  For the latter group, a few suggestions:
1.    The historical context in which the story is placed.  African exploration and colonization by several European countries, particularly Belgium and King Leopold II.
2.    Films that portray the time period and historical figures, such as “Stanley and Livingstone” (now only available in VHS, I think), starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Stanley; or the one made by National Geographic, “Forbidden Territory: Stanley’s Search for Livingstone” starring Aidan Quinn, available from Netflix.  Or you can watch “Apocalypse Now” again, which is based in part on Heart of Darkness.
3.    There is a shortened, radio version by Orson Welles from a 1938 broadcast of his show, “The Mercury Theater on the Air”. http://www.mercurytheatre.info/
4.    Also, there is the broader issue of the role of literature, theater and cinema as they relate to social/political discussion.  Heart of Darkness has been portrayed by some as an attempt to expose the violent and rapacious nature of colonization in the late 19th century.  (Is it any different 120 years or so later?)  If this appeals, additional material to study might include: Alan Stone’s Movies and the Moral Adventure of Life or On Moral Fiction by John Gardner.  (These two works were suggested to me some months ago by our friend David Gilmour.)  Also available for your Kindle (or not) is Ethics at the Cinema by Ward E. Jones.
5.    Etc.
My current inclination is to begin our June 2nd discussion with a brief presentation on the historical context as mentioned in item #1 above.  Others will be better informed than I and will, no doubt, add useful information.  From there the conversation will go wherever it goes in the usual, unexpected and informational way of our group.

About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
This entry was posted in 2011 Selections, Heart of Darkness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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