Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Originally published in 1899, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness follows the experiences of Charles Marlow, a sailor transporting ivory in central Africa who has been ordered to bring back Mr Kurtz, a rogue ivory trader. Conrad describes the protagonist’s arduous journey based upon his own real life experiences throughout the novel, recounting Marlow’s perilous journey up the Congo River in search of the renowned yet mysterious Mr. Kurtz. What Marlow witnesses on his voyage as the novel progresses horrifies him and his encounter with Kurtz makes him question his beliefs about civilization and human nature.

Conrad explores the nature of imperialism through Marlow’s first-hand account of the brutal treatment of the natives. The protagonist realises the sinister reality of European colonialism, through the poor status and destitute living conditions of the Congolese people and the evil objectives of those who call themselves “civilised.” Conrad contrasts these ‘civilised’ individuals, the white men with the ‘barbaric’ natives while the civilised are the ones displaying barbaric behaviour with their cruel treatment of the citizens pursuing them for their personal gain.

The title of the novel has significant meaning as the journey into the heart of the Congo represents a symbolic journey into the darkness of the heart of humanity. The mission to find Mr Kurtz is based on the evil intentions of the ivory company to steal ivory from the Congolese depicting the often greedy motives of companies to deplete the natural resources of areas for their own profits, a theme that is still relevant today. The character of Kurtz is also overcome by darkness as his greed for power transforms him into a savage conqueror. In this sense, the expression “heart of darkness” relates to the degrees human beings can go to as well as the vivid imagery of the jungle and river within the novel.

The novel has been the basis for many adaptations, specifically the Oscar-winning film Apocalypse Now (1979) which substitutes the Belgian Congo for the jungles of Vietnam. Apart from being an effective commentary on human nature and the horrors of imperialism, the novel draws readers in on a visual level. The scenery of Central Africa is breath-taking and Conrad exploits the landscape to convey a sense of horror and anxiety paralleling the physical environment with the character’s emotions.

Heart of Darkness is a fundamental tale of the dangers of nature and the darkness of the human soul, a compelling exploration of the human psyche and a worthwhile read. The imagery, character development and gripping plot all serve to make this a narrative that deserves the praise and acclaim it has received since its publication in the late nineteenth century. If you wish to read an enjoyable yet brief masterpiece I would recommend picking up a copy of this novel.

Book Review: The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Muse by Jessie Burton was published in 2016 as a follow-up to her 2014 debut The Miniaturist. It is written from two perspectives, the first being set in London, in 1967. Odelle Bastien is a young woman who is living in London, having arrived from Trinidad 5 years earlier. She has a new job at The Skelton art gallery, which is a refreshing change for her, having hated her previous job, working in a shoe shop. Despite having lived in London for quite some time- it is initially evident that Odelle feels out of place. Unlike the multicultural London we know today, Odelle is discriminated against for the colour of her skin, in a place she calls home.

The other narrative is set in Southern Spain in 1936. Olive Schloss is a nineteen-year-old girl with not only Odelle’s love of art, but great artistic talent. She has been accepted to a prestigious art school in London but keeps the acceptance letter hidden from her parents. Her mother’s depression and her father’s long, frequent absences from the family home, make the idea of leaving them, an impossibility for Olive. However, the underlying and more poignant reason for her declining the opportunity of a lifetime is that ultimately, she doubts her abilities as an artist. Similarly, Odelle, an aspiring writer, is uncertain about her own talent until she meets Marjorie Quick, her new boss at The Skelton art gallery. ‘Quick’ by which she likes to be addressed, submits one of Odelle’s poems without her knowledge and it is published in a magazine. Olive’s own work is also eventually made famous.

The novel addresses the harsh but real issues that women, particularly women of colour, faced at the time the novel is set and still face today. Olive struggles throughout the novel with the idea that it is far easier for a man to become a successful artist than a woman, while Odelle suffers from blatant racism on a day-to-day basis. Burton creates two culturally rich and realistic viewpoints and keeps the reader engaged by only revealing the link between the two, at the very end. The message imminent throughout the novel, embodies the idea that women can do whatever they put their minds to- and this is extremely relevant in today’s culture with such movements as This Girl Can, Time’s Up and Me Too.

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend picking up a copy of this novel. The talent that is Jessie Burton’s excellent writing, combined with the emotive and unique subject matter make it impossible to put down and the story really stays with you for a long time after you finish it.

Everything You Need To Know Before You Get Here

Hello Freshers!

I have been speaking to (and probably annoying) some of you on group chats and hearing your worries about starting university, so to put your mind at ease I am going to tell you everything you need to know!

I’ll get onto the technical stuff in a minute, but the most important thing I have to tell you is not to worry! First year doesn’t count towards your final degree (a phrase I’m sure many of you will be repeating to yourself as you hand in an assignment you finished only minutes before the deadline).

First year is all about settling in and finding out what works for you and what doesn’t. Over the year you will complete assignments that allow you to get comfortable writing critically and to learn what your lecturers want from you. Nobody is expecting you to be perfect on your first go otherwise you wouldn’t need to be at uni. First year is just about finding your feet, so don’t take it too seriously. Have fun, make friends (luckily EngSoc are here to help with these two things) and grab opportunities.

Now, let’s get onto the technical stuff.

Choosing Your Modules

I have seen a lot of people very confused by this, but my main piece of advice is don’t panic! Everything will become clear in time!

As a first year English student (or joint honours) you don’t get a lot of choice in the modules that you do. You do a variety of modules that introduce to you all different types of literature and techniques, so that you can learn what areas interest you the most and what you would like to pursue in second and third year, where all modules are optional.

I am not sure when you will be able to choose your modules but this is all done through the student banner on Sussed (the site for students at Southampton University) and everything is clearly laid out for you. You will be told exactly what modules you have to take, depending on whether you are straight English or joint honours. This process might seem a little confusing at first, but just bare in mind that the system won’t allow you to do it wrong, so don’t panic, you’re not going to ruin your whole degree!

Reading Lists

I know that everyone wants to come to university completely prepared and ready for any questions you might be asked, but really, its not necessary. So don’t rush to get ahead on buying books and doing the reading. I know you probably think of lecturers as big, scary academics who are going to slap your wrists for not bringing a pen to class, but actually they are very cool (most of them, anyway, some make questionable fashion choices). They’re not going to yell at you for not having the books in the first week, they were once students so they know that coming to uni is a stressful and very confusing time, so they don’t expect you to have everything sorted. They are there to support you.

One of the scariest things I found when coming to uni was a) how much reading we had to do and b) how expensive all of that reading was. Well, I can’t lie to you, its a lot of reading. Like, a lot. But, you have plenty of spare time because English students have very little contact hours, meaning it is mostly independent study (aka getting drunk often). As for expenses, that is something EngSoc are trying to help with. Although English students have been trying to negotiate some way to make the resources more affordable, there hasn’t been much progress. This year EngSoc have created a facebook page for students to sell their books and in my experience this has been very helpful! I managed to get a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (that’s a lot of plays) for under £10 (I’m sure you all find this just as thrilling as I do).

I guess this whole blog post can be cut down into one phrase: don’t rush. Everything will become clear to you. Remember to keep checking your email as this is how you will be contacted about modules and reading lists. Take it easy and most importantly, enjoy the experience! First year is great!

That’s all for now folks, stay lit!

President: Cassidy Harvard-Davies
Vice President: Daniella Smith
Secretary (and author of this masterpiece): Jenna Ransome
Social Secretary: Lauren Hoven
Events: Grace Hasset
Sports: Anna Roberts
Welfare: Simran Mann