26 May 2007

Joseph Conrad and 'Heart of Darkness' 1902

"He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision - he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath - '"The horror! The horror!"'

Joseph Conrad.YOUTH: A NARRATIVE & Two Other Stories [Heart of Darkness]William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1902

Current Selling Prices
$2500-$3500 /£1200-£1800

3 stories including 'Heart of Darkness' from which Eliot took the epigraph "Mistah Kurtz. He dead' for his 'Hollow Men'. Coppola took some of the plot, mood and theme for his portentous, not to say pretentious, movie 'Apocalypse Now' and a decent blend of roasted coffee in the celestial California town of Santa Cruz also uses the name. A whole lot of trivial and semi serious cultural phenomena seem to derive from it. Basically it's a bleak tale of brutalisation in the Belgian Congo, the title hints at about six meanings, racist tones have recently been detected (notably by Chinua Achebe) but it is primarily about the unknowable human heart, about imperialism, exploitation and barabarism. Kurtz,the superman figure at the very heart of the tale is as Cyril Connolly says:
'...A Dorian Gray whose picture gets a little more frightening with every brush stroke until in the final scenes everyone within reach - but one - is contaminated.'

Orson Welles tried to make a film of it in 1940 but had to abandon the idea. Coppola's very watchable movie with its doomy long opening song ('The End') has revived the fortunes of Conrad's great work and there is even a movie 'Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse' about the making of the film. Conrad said of himself in a letter to his French translator 'I am neither clever nor very eloquent. I have a certain feeling for far-off things, a taste for analysing simple emotions and a turn of phrase that strikes the English. Please note that I do not say which pleases. I don't believe I please anyone here...' He saw himself as different from Kipling whom he regarded as a 'national writer.' Kipling, Conrad wrote, was interested in his subject, whereas Conrad was interested in the effect he produced. On the subject of Kipling - his "The Man Who Would Be King" has an identical premise to Heart of Darkness—a white trader sets himself up as God-King to an remote tribe, but he is no Kurtz and is exposed as merely mortal by a woman in the tribe.

VALUE? Connolly lists 'Youth' in his 100 Key Books of the Modern Movement' and there is evidence of a revival of interest in collecting from his list. A high profile sale of a collection comes in June 2007 and the list is frequently invoked by dealers, who are holding any of the books, to add gravitas. It still works. There are three states of the book, each a little better than the other.The best is ads at rear dated 10/02, next ads dated 11/02, lastly no ads. Decent clean copies have made between $1500 and $3500 in the last two years at auction, an inscribed family copy made $20000 in 2002. Seems to be a book on the move - 5 years ago it was a $800 book in sharp condition, now a superior copy could make nearly 5 times that. 'Lord Jim' is a better book moneywise and it looks similar, 'Typhoon' is sometimes quoted as his greatest work. Lastly 'Heart of Darkness' (inevitably) shows up in 'Lost', someone is seen reading it on the beach, and along with 'The Third Policeman' it is a significant key to its myriad mysteries.[ W/Q * ]

ADDENDUM. A friend in California emailed to say that as well as the coffee in Santa Cruz, they produce a 'big' red wine called 'Heart of Darkness' pictured below.It comes from just outside Santa Cruz at Bonny Doon, home also of the excellent 'Cigare Volant.' Also someone took umbrage 'cos I called 'Apocalypse Now' pretentious. Pour moi there is nothing wrong with being pretentious - Brian Eno, often accused of it, answers that children are pretentious and Anthony Burgess felt the English were far too afraid of pretentiousness. I have a feeling he left England in a 'chauffeur driven huff' after appearing in 'Pseud's Corner'...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mine is a capuccino mistah kurtz