A few from Heart of Darkness:
"I didn't want any more loitering in the shade, and I made haste towards the station. When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clear silk necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear...I wouldn't have mentioned the fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected this fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser's dummy; but in the great demoralisation of the land he kept up his appearance...His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character." (pp 29-30)
That is Marlow speaking of the man he learns is the Company's chief accountant. The passage comes abruptly after a long description of an African chain-gang, "nothing but black shaows of disease and starvation."
I wonder how often this juxtaposition is noted? This book is so infamous for its depictions of white vs. black.
A description of the fireman who works on Marlow's steamer:
"...to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs...he had filed teeth too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank." (p 66) Conrad goes on to write about the rag charms on the man's arms and the bone through his lip. Animal, animal, animal!
The next is a description of Kurtz's virtual disciple:
"Suddenly I got it. He looked like a harlequin. His clothes had been made of some stuff that was brown holland probably, but it was covered with patches all over, with bright patches, blue, red, and yellow,--patches on the back, patches on the front, patches on elbows, on knees; coloured binding round his jacket, scarlet edging at the bottom of his trousers; and the sunshine made him look extremely gay and wonderfully neat withal, because you could see how beautifully all this patching had been done. A beardless, boyish face, very fair, no features to speak of, nose peeling, little blue eyes, smiles and frowns chasing each other over that open countenance like sunshine and shadow on a wind-swept plain." (p 97)
This quotation is a great example for me of how an author chooses to physically describe a character.
The final quotation is a description of a native woman:
"And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witchmen, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress." (p 113)
This is so fascinating--I would love to see the picture Mr. Conrad had in his head when he described this woman. Consider it especially vs. the description of the fireman ("wool" vs. "hair", etc).
I'm really fascinated by cultural (mis)understanding, especially in colonialist contexts....and this book has some great examples, but I didn't particularly care for the book itself!
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books, New York, NY. 1999. (original copyright Blackwood 1902).