Early English novelists depicted a very general reality; that is, what many observed to be "real" is what found its way into the narratives. For example, several novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries emphasize, or entirely revolve around, the idea of social status. Samuel Richardson's Pamela addresses a servant's dilemma between her morals and low social position; the hero of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones must also confront his "low birth." Jane Austen famously portrayed class struggles in nearly every one of her novels. These texts all represented the world at its face; the actions of the characters spoke for their "reality," and the narrator was simply the descriptor of these events. The novels conformed to a very narrow world-view, limited by popular thought. True, there was much to explore within this confinement, as shown by the range of commentary in the texts. Still, as stories they could only offer what society observed: a kind of reality by consensus. As Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness demonstrates, modernism rejected the aims and methods of realism, and claimed the inner self represented the real more closely than the public world. Furthermore, realism appeared to represent the world wholly and concisely. Conrad's novel rejects this, and instead exposes the failure of language to describe a complete reality. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow himself is incomplete, and so is his narrative. He is forced into imprecise language, resigned to using negative modifiers and repeating inexact words. He struggles to tell his story satisfactorily, and by his own admission, his telling is deficient. The limitation of language, then, becomes the focus of t...
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...e rejection of nineteenth century realism. Since Marlow the storyteller is flawed, his story falters as a result. The novel effectively reduces each to their flaws, but does not attempt to hide its limitations behind a manufactured authority. It is this absence, or seeming absence, of controlled writing that brings Heart of Darkness closer to "the real" than any authoritative work of realism.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. New York: Dover, 1990.
Erdinast-Vulcan, Daphna. The Strange Short Fiction of Joseph Conrad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 78-108.
Greaney, Michael. Conrad, Language, and Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 57-76.
Hawthorn, Jeremy. Studying the Novel. 4th ed. London: Arnold, 2001. 60-61
Leavis, F.R. The Great Tradition. New York: Stewart, 1950. 173-82.
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