I want to write a novella that to some degree translates Conrad's Heart of Darkness to a modern urban setting, and I want the astute reader to be able to make multiple connections between the two works. But I'm unsure how far to go with intertextuality. Even the Wikipedia article notes that
Intertextuality does not require citing or referencing punctuation (such as quotation marks) and is often mistaken for plagiarism.
So, how do I avoid clever, deliberate literary allusion being mistaken for plagiarism?
To recap Heart of Darkness, a sailor (Marlow) regales his mates with his recollections of an ill-fated journey into darkest Africa in the late 1800s. Marlow had sailed up the Congo and met ivory trader Kurtz, a mysterious but charismatic man who had gone "native" and had become a demi-god to the local cannibal tribes. Kurtz was both mentally and physically ill, and died on the return journey. Marlow struggles with the greatness and darkness of Kurtz (in particular) and Africa (in general). Conrad's novella also touches on themes of imperial rapacity, human barbarity, colonial stupidity and waste, and the corrupting influence of power.
In my story, a journalist is commissioned to write a series of articles on urban homelessness. He spends some time visiting homeless persons' camps along the city's main river - under bridges, in disused industrial lots, etc - and learns of a dark, mysterious character (Mr Short) who seems to run some kind of extortion racket. It's arranged for him to meet Short one night, which involves him being led up-river to a secret location. The journalist is deeply dismayed at the human suffering he sees in the camps, and is both captivated and appalled by Short. I'll explore themes of exploitation and human brutality, narcissism/psychopathy (Short), capitalism, urban decay, etc.
So far so good - I'm inspired by Conrad's tale and excited about the creative possibilities of a modern "adaption". In fact, my own story will be less of a direct re-telling than the film "Apocalypse Now" in which the two main protagonists are called Marlow and Kurtz, Marlow sails up a jungle river, Kurtz says "The horror! The horror!", etc.
I'm not intending to copy Conrad's style, as his melodramatic gothic horror would seem completely over-the-top in the literary genre I'm writing in. And I want to provide enough clues for the reader to be in no doubt that Heart of Darkness is the inspiration: some subtle (e.g. my Kurtz is Mr Short - a nice twist on Conrad, who originally named his character after a company agent who died on Conrad's own journey down the Congo; he later changed the name from Klein - "small" in German - to Kurtz - "kurz" means short), and some more obvious - plenty of references to darkness, heart, horror, etc.
What I'm struggling with is how far I can go in deliberately incorporating actual text from Conrad's novel.
For example, Marlow comments about modern Europe that "what saves us is ... the devotion to efficiency." I'd like to incorporate these exact words somewhere, as a description of capitalism in a modern city. My journalist might note the "extremity of an impotent despair" in one of the homeless characters. The homeless are "dying very slowly ... they were nothing ... but black shadows of disease and starvation". Short himself is a narcissist, utterly lacking in empathy - he's "hollow to the core" (one of the more memorable lines from Heart of Darkness).
These are just a few examples of text I want to find some way of including, as a direct homage to Conrad's novella. I'm keen to add other allusions as well - to T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men, Dante's Inferno, to Lord of the Flies, Beckett's The Unnamable, maybe some Rabelais - as a way of enriching my novella. Plenty of precedents for this - Joyce's Ulysses is a minefield of literary allusion. Conrad himself in H.o.D. uses a translated line from de Maupassant.
But where do you draw the line when including multiple snatches of text from the one work? When does literary cleverness trip over into plagiarism? For example, one of my homeless characters might describe Mr Short with the following, taken verbatim from H.o.D. -
'I tell you,' he cried, 'this man has enlarged my mind.' He opened his arms wide.
Does the longer piece of text make it easier for the astute reader/critic to pick (and appreciate) the reference, or does it increase the risk of accusations of unoriginality and plagiarism?
Related questions, but not quite answering the above: