Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - E-Book

Heart of Darkness E-Book

Joseph Conrad

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“The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.”

Heart of Darkness is a novel by Joseph Conrad.
Appearing for the first time in 1899, quickly became a best seller. He tells the shipping european Charles Marlow in the heart of Black Africa to track down the mysterious Kurtz, that no longer heard from again.
In 1979 director Francis Ford Coppola has made into the film Apocalypse Now.

Joseph Conrad (Berdychiv, December 3, 1857 - Bishopsbourne, August 3, 1924) was a polish writer naturalized british. He is considered one of the most important modern writers in the english language.

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ISBN 9788899181598

 

© 2016 Infilaindiana Edizioni

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Veste grafica e nota introduttiva

a cura di Infilaindiana Edizioni

Introduction

 

“The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.”

 

Heart of Darkness is a novel by Joseph Conrad.

Appearing for the first time in 1899, quickly became a best seller. He tells the shipping european Charles Marlow in the heart of Black Africa to track down the mysterious Kurtz, that no longer heard from again.

In 1979 director Francis Ford Coppola has made into the film Apocalypse Now.

 

Joseph Conrad (Berdychiv, December 3, 1857 - Bishopsbourne, August 3, 1924) was a polish writer naturalized british. He is considered one of the most important modern writers in the english language.

Heart of Darkness

 

 

By

 

 

Joseph Conrad

I

 

The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without

a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made,

the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river,

the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of

the tide.

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.

The Director of Companies was our captain and our

host. We four affectionately watched his back as he stood

in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there

was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot,

which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was

difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous

estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.

Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere,

the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together

through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making

us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even convictions.

The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of his

many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck,

and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought

out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally

with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft,

leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a

yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and,

with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled

an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had good

hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged

a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence

on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not

begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for

nothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity

of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically;

the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained

light; the very mist on the Essex marsh was like a

gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland,

and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only

the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches,

became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach

of the sun.

And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun

sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red

without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly,

stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding

over a crowd of men.

Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity

became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in

its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after

ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks,

spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to

the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable

stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and

departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories.

And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as

the phrase goes, ‘followed the sea’ with reverence and affection,

that to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower

reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in

its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and

ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the

sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation

is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin,

knights all, titled and untitled—the great knights-errant of

the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels

flashing in the night of time, from the GOLDEN HIND

returning with her rotund flanks full of treasure, to be visited

by the Queen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic

tale, to the EREBUS and TERROR, bound on other conquests—

and that never returned. It had known the ships

and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich,

from Erith— the adventurers and the settlers; kings’

ships and the ships of men on ‘Change; captains, admirals,

the dark ‘interlopers’ of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned

‘generals’ of East India fleets. Hunters for gold

or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream,

bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the

might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred

fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river

into the mystery of an unknown earth! … The dreams of

men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began

to appear along the shore. The Chapman light-house,

a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly.

Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights

going up and going down. And farther west on the upper

reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked

ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid

glare under the stars.

‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of

the dark places of the earth.’

He was the only man of us who still ‘followed the sea.’

The worst that could be said of him was that he did not represent

his class. He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer,

too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a

sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order,

and their home is always with them—the ship; and so is

their country—the sea. One ship is very much like another,

and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of

their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the

changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense

of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there

is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself,

which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as

Destiny. For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll

or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret

of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret

not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity,

the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of

a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity

to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of

an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping

the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings

out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that

sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of

moonshine.

His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like

Marlow. It was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble

to grunt even; and presently he said, very slow—‘I was

thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came

here, nineteen hundred years ago—the other day…. Light

came out of this river since—you say Knights? Yes; but it

is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning

in the clouds. We live in the flicker—may it last as long as

the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.

Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine—what d’ye

call ‘em?—trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly

to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put

in charge of one of these craft the legionaries—a wonderful

lot of handy men they must have been, too—used to build,

apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if we may

believe what we read. Imagine him here—the very end of

the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke,

a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina— and going

up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sandbanks,

marshes, forests, savages,—precious little to eat fit

for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No

Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military

camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of

hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death—death

skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have

been dying like flies here. Oh, yes—he did it. Did it very

well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either,

except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through

in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the

darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye

on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by and by,

if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate.

Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga—perhaps

too much dice, you know—coming out here in the train of

some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his

fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and

in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery,

had closed round him—all that mysterious life of the wilderness

that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts

of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries.

He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which

is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to

work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you

know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape,

the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.’

He paused.

‘Mind,’ he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow,

the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded

before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European

clothes and without a lotus-flower—‘Mind, none of us

would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the

devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account,

really. They were no colonists; their administration

was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They

were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—

nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is

just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They

grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to

be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder

on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very

proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the

earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those

who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses

than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it

too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the

back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an

unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and

bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. …’

He broke off. Flames glided in the river, small green

flames, red flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking,

joining, crossing each other— then separating slowly or

hastily. The traffic of the great city went on in the deepening

night upon the sleepless river. We looked on, waiting

patiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the

flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a

hesitating voice, ‘I suppose you fellows remember I did once

turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,’ that we knew we were fated,

before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s

inconclusive experiences.

‘I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to

me personally,’ he began, showing in this remark the weakness

of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of

what their audience would like best to hear; ‘yet to understand

the effect of it on me you ought to know how I got

out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place

where I first met the poor chap. It was the farthest point

of navigation and the culminating point of my experience.

It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything

about me— and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough,

too—and pitiful— not extraordinary in any way—not very

clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw

a kind of light.

‘I had then, as you remember, just returned to London

after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas—a regular

dose of the East—six years or so, and I was loafing about,

hindering you fellows in your work and invading your

homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize

you. It was very fine for a time, but after a bit I did get

tired of resting. Then I began to look for a ship—I should

think the hardest work on earth. But the ships wouldn’t

even look at me. And I got tired of that game, too.

‘Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I

would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia,

and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At

that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and

when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map

(but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say,

‘When I grow up I will go there.’ The North Pole was one of

these places, I remember. Well, I haven’t been there yet, and

shall not try now. The glamour’s off. Other places were scattered

about the hemispheres. I have been in some of them,

and … well, we won’t talk about that. But there was one

yet—the biggest, the most blank, so to speak— that I had a

hankering after.

‘True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It

had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and

names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—

a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It

had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river

especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the

map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head

in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country,

and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at

the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake

would a bird—a silly little bird. Then I remembered there

was a big concern, a Company for trade on that river. Dash

it all! I thought to myself, they can’t trade without using

some kind of craft on that lot of fresh water—steamboats!

Why shouldn’t I try to get charge of one? I went on along

Fleet Street, but could not shake off the idea. The snake had

charmed me.

‘You understand it was a Continental concern, that

Trading society; but I have a lot of relations living on the

Continent, because it’s cheap and not so nasty as it looks,

they say.

‘I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This was already

a fresh departure for me. I was not used to get things

that way, you know. I always went my own road and on my

own legs where I had a mind to go. I wouldn’t have believed

it of myself; but, then—you see—I felt somehow I must get

there by hook or by crook. So I worried them. The men said

‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then—would you believe

it?—I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women

to work— to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the notion

drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote:

‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything

for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high

personage in the Administration, and also a man who has

lots of influence with,’ etc. She was determined to make no

end of fuss to get me appointed skipper of a river steamboat,

if such was my fancy.

‘I got my appointment—of course; and I got it very quick.

It appears the Company had received news that one of their

captains had been killed in a scuffle with the natives. This

was my chance, and it made me the more anxious to go. It

was only months and months afterwards, when I made the

attempt to recover what was left of the body, that I heard

the original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about

some hens. Yes, two black hens. Fresleven—that was the fellow’s

name, a Dane—thought himself wronged somehow in

the bargain, so he went ashore and started to hammer the

chief of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn’t surprise me

in the least to hear this, and at the same time to be told

that Fresleven was the gentlest, quietest creature that ever

walked on two legs. No doubt he was; but he had been a

couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause,

you know, and he probably felt the need at last of asserting

his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old

nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched

him, thunderstruck, till some man— I was told the chief’s

son—in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made a

tentative jab with a spear at the white man— and of course

it went quite easy between the shoulder-blades. Then the

whole population cleared into the forest, expecting all

kinds of calamities to happen, while, on the other hand,

the steamer Fresleven commanded left also in a bad panic,

in charge of the engineer, I believe. Afterwards nobody

seemed to trouble much about Fresleven’s remains, till I got

out and stepped into his shoes. I couldn’t let it rest, though;

but when an opportunity offered at last to meet my predecessor,

the grass growing through his ribs was tall enough

to hide his bones. They were all there. The supernatural being

had not been touched after he fell. And the village was

deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the

fallen enclosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough.

The people had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them,

men, women, and children, through the bush, and they had

never returned. What became of the hens I don’t know either.

I should think the cause of progress got them, anyhow.

However, through this glorious affair I got my appointment,

before I had fairly begun to hope for it.

‘I flew around like mad to get ready, and before fortyeight

hours I was crossing the Channel to show myself to

my employers, and sign the contract. In a very few hours

I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited

sepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I had no difficulty in finding

the Company’s offices. It was the biggest thing in the town,

and everybody I met was full of it. They were going to run

an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade.

‘A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high

houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a dead

silence, grass sprouting right and left, immense double

doors standing ponderously ajar. I slipped through one of

these cracks, went up a swept and ungarnished staircase, as

arid as a desert, and opened the first door I came to. [...]