About the author:
Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish novelist. Many critics regard him as one of the greatest novelists in the English language—a fact that is remarkable as he did not learn to speak English fluently until he was in his twenties (and always with a Polish accent).
Conrad is recognized as a master prose stylist. Some of his works have a strain of romanticism, but more importantly he is recognized as an important forerunner of modernist literature. His narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many writers, including Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, V.S. Naipaul and John Maxwell Coetzee.
Conrad's novels and stories have also inspired such films as Sabotage (1936, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from Conrad's The Secret Agent); Apocalypse Now (1979, adapted from Conrad's Heart of Darkness); The Duellists (a 1977 Ridley Scott adaptation of Conrad's The Duel, from A Set of Six); and a 1996 film inspired by The Secret Agent, starring Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette and Gérard Depardieu.
Writing during the apex of the British Empire, Conrad drew upon his experiences serving in the French and later the British Merchant Navy to create novels and short stories that reflected aspects of a world-wide empire while also plumbing the depths of the human soul. Conrad became a naturalised British citizen in 1886.
Conrad was born in Berdyczów (now Berdychiv, Ukraine) into a highly patriotic, impoverished Polish noble family bearing the Nalecz coat-of-arms. His father Apollo Korzeniowski was a writer of politically themed plays, and a translator of Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Shakespeare from the French and English. He encouraged his son Konrad to read widely in Polish and French.
In 1861 the elder Korzeniowski was arrested by Imperial Russian authorities in Warsaw for helping organize what would become the January Uprising of 1863–64, and was exiled to Vologda, a city with a very harsh climate, approximately 300 miles (480 km) north of Moscow. His wife, Ewelina Korzeniowska (née Bobrowska), and four-year-old son followed him into exile. Due to Ewelina's weak health, Apollo Korzeniowski was allowed in 1865 to move to Chernihiv, Ukraine, where within a few weeks Conrad's mother died of tuberculosis. Conrad's father died four years later in Kraków, leaving Conrad orphaned at the age of eleven.
In Kraków, young Conrad was placed in the care of his maternal uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski—a more cautious figure than his parents. Bobrowski nevertheless allowed Conrad to travel to Marseille and begin a career as a seaman at the age of 16. This came after Conrad was rejected for Austro-Hungarian citizenship, leaving him liable to 25-year conscription into the Russian Army.
Conrad lived an adventurous life, becoming involved in gunrunning and political conspiracy, which he later fictionalized in his novel The Arrow of Gold, and apparently had a disastrous love affair, which plunged him into despair. His voyage down the coast of Venezuela would provide material for Nostromo. The first mate of Conrad's vessel became the model for Nostromo's hero.
In 1878, after a failed suicide attempt in Marseilles by shooting himself in the chest Conrad took service on his first British ship bound for Constantinople, before its return to Lowestoft, his first landing in Britain.
Barely a month after reaching England, Conrad had signed on for the first of six voyages between July and September 1878, from Lowestoft to Newcastle on a coaster misleadingly named Skimmer of the Sea. Crucially for his future career, he 'began to learn English from East Coast chaps, each built to last for ever and coloured like a Christmas card.'
In London on 21 September 1881, Conrad set sail for Newcastle as second mate on the small vessel Palestine (13 hands) to pick up a cargo of 557 tons of 'West Hartley' coal bound for Bangkok. From the outset things went wrong. A gale hampered progress (sixteen days to the Tyne), then the Palestine had to wait a month for a berth - and was finally rammed by a steam vessel. The captain's wife, Mrs Beard, looked after Conrad and sewed his buttons on while he lived on board, moored in the Tyne not far from Percy Main.
Palestine sailed from the Tyne at the turn of the year. Then the ship sprang a leak in the Channel and was stuck in Falmouth for a further nine months. After all these misfortunes, Conrad writes: 'Poor old Captain Beard looked like a ghost of a Geordie skipper.' The ship set sail from Falmouth on 17 September 1882 and reached the Sunda Strait in March 1883. Finally, off Java Head, the cargo ignited and fire engulfed the ship. The crew, including Conrad, reached shore safely in open boats. The ship is re-named Judaea in Conrad's famous story 'Youth', which covers all these events. This voyage from the Tyne was Conrad's first fateful contact with the exotic East, the setting for many of his later works.
In 1886 he gained both his Master Mariner's certificate and British citizenship, officially changing his name to "Joseph Conrad." Prior to his retirement from the sea in 1894, Conrad served a total of sixteen years in the merchant navy. In 1883 he joined the Narcissus in Bombay, a voyage that inspired his 1897 novel The Nigger of the Narcissus.
A childhood ambition to visit central Africa was realised in 1889, when Conrad contrived to reach the Congo Free State. He became captain of a Congo steamboat, and the atrocities he witnessed and his experiences there not only informed his most acclaimed and ambiguous work, Heart of Darkness, but served to crystalise his vision of human nature — and his beliefs about himself. These were in some measure affected by the emotional trauma and lifelong illness he contracted there. During his stay, he became acquainted with Roger Casement, whose 1904 Congo Report detailed the abuses suffered by the indigenous population.
The description of Conrad's protagonist Marlow's journey upriver closely follows Conrad's own, and he appears to have experienced a disturbing insight into the nature of evil. Conrad's experience of loneliness at sea, of corruption and of the pitilessness of nature converged to form a coherent, if bleak, vision of the world. Isolation, self-deception, and the remorseless working out of the consequences of character flaws are threads to be found running through much of his work. Conrad's own sense of loneliness throughout his exile's life would find memorable expression in the 1901 short story, "Amy Foster."
In 1891, Conrad stepped down in rank to sail as first mate on the Torrens quite possibly the finest ship ever launched from a Sunderland yard (James Laing's Deptford Yard, 1875). For fifteen years 1875-90, no ship approached her speed for the outward passage to Australia. In her record-breaking run to Adelaide, she covered 16,000 miles in 64 days. Conrad writes of her:
'A ship of brilliant qualities - the way the ship had of letting big seas slip under her did one's heart good to watch. It resembled so much an exhibition of intelligent grace and unerring skill that it could fascinate even the least seamanlike of our passengers.'
Conrad made two voyages to Australia aboard her, but in 1894 he had parted from the sea for ever and embarked upon his literary career - having begun writing his first novel Almayer's Folly on board the Torrens.
In March 1896 Conrad married an Englishwoman, Jessie George, and together they moved into a small semi-detached villa in Victoria Road, Stanford le Hope and later to a medieval lath-and-plaster farmhouse, "Ivy Walls," in Billet Lane. He subsequently lived in London and near Canterbury, Kent. The couple had two sons, John and Borys.
Notwithstanding the undoubted sufferings that Conrad endured on many of his voyages, he contrived to put up at the best lodgings at many of his destinations. Hotels across the Far East still lay claim to him as an honoured guest, often naming the rooms he stayed in after him: in the case of Singapore's Raffles Hotel, the wrong suite has been named in his honour, apparently for marketing reasons. His visits to Bangkok are also lodged in that city's collective memory, and are recorded in the official history of the Oriental Hotel, along with that of a less well-behaved guest, Somerset Maugham, who pilloried the hotel in a short story in revenge for attempts to eject him.
Conrad is also reported to have stayed at Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel. Later literary admirers, notably Graham Greene, followed closely in his footsteps, sometimes requesting the same room. No Caribbean resort is yet known to have claimed Conrad's patronage, although he is believed to have stayed at a Fort-de-France pension upon arrival in Martinique on his first voyage, in 1875, when he travelled as a passenger on the Mont Blanc.
As the quality of his work declined, he grew increasingly comfortable in his wealth and status. Conrad had a true genius for companionship, and his circle of friends included talented authors such as Stephen Crane and Henry James.
A further insight into Conrad's emotional life is provided by an episode which inspired one of his strangest and least known stories, "A Smile of Fortune." In September 1888 he put into Mauritius, as captain of the sailing barque Otago. His story likewise recounts the arrival of an unnamed English sea captain in a sailing vessel, come for sugar. He encounters “the old French families, descendants of the old colonists; all noble, all impoverished, and living a narrow domestic life in dull, dignified decay. . . . The girls are almost always pretty, ignorant of the world, kind and agreeable and generally bilingual. The emptiness of their existence passes belief.”
The tale describes Jacobus, an affable gentleman chandler beset by hidden shame. Extramarital passion for the bareback rider of a visiting circus had resulted in a child and scandal. For eighteen years this daughter, Alice, has been confined to Jacobus’s house, seeing no one but a governess. When Conrad’s captain is invited to the house of Jacobus, he is irresistibly drawn to the wild, beautiful Alice. "For quite a time she did not stir, staring straight before her as if watching the vision of some pageant passing through the garden in the deep, rich glow of light and the splendour of flowers."
The suffering of Alice Jacobus was true enough. A copy of the Dictionary of Mauritian Biography unearthed by the scholar Zdzislaw Najder reveals that her character was a fictionalised version of seventeen-year-old Alice Shaw, whose father was a shipping agent and owned the only rose garden in the town. While it is evident that Conrad too fell in love while in Mauritius, it was not with Alice. His proposal to young Eugénie Renouf was declined, the lady being already engaged. Conrad left broken-hearted, vowing never to return.
Something of his feelings is considered to permeate the recollections of the captain. "I was seduced by the moody expression of her face, by her obstinate silences, her rare, scornful words; by the perpetual pout of her closed lips, the black depths of her fixed gaze turned slowly upon me as if in contemptuous provocation."
In 1894, aged 36, Conrad reluctantly gave up the sea, partly because of poor health and partly because he had become so fascinated with writing that he decided on a literary career. His first novel, Almayer's Folly, set on the east coast of Borneo, was published in 1895. Together with its successor, An Outcast of the Islands (1896), it laid the foundation for its author's reputation as a romantic teller of exotic tales, a misunderstanding of his purpose that was to frustrate Conrad for the rest of his career.
Except for several vacations in France and Italy, a 1914 journey to Poland, and a 1923 visit to the United States, he lived in England.
Financial success evaded Conrad, though a Civil List pension of £100 per annum stabilised his affairs, and collectors began to purchase his manuscripts. Though his talent was recognised by the English intellectual elite, popular success eluded him until the 1913 publication of Chance — paradoxically so, as it is not now regarded as one of his better novels. Thereafter, for the remaining years of his life, Conrad was the subject of more discussion and praise than any other English writer of the time.
In April 1924 Conrad, who possessed a hereditary Polish coat-of-arms (Nalecz), declined the offer of a (non-hereditary) British knighthood from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, and he died shortly thereafter.
His death came on August 3, 1924, of a heart attack, and he was interred at Canterbury Cemetery, Canterbury, England, under his original Polish surname, Korzeniowski.
Of Conrad's novels, Lord Jim and Nostromo continue to be widely read, as set texts and for pleasure. The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes are also considered to be among his finest books. He also, over a period of a few years, composed a short series of novels in collaboration with Ford Madox Ford, writing on these at the same time that he was working independently on other publications.
Chapter 2 of The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' opens with a description of a ship as "a detached fragment," a small planet traveling the void.
Lord Jim is a subtle book about character flaws, the nature of existence, and the search for meaning.
Chapter 8 of The Secret Agent speaks of the pathos of poverty, giving the reader a look through Stevie's eyes at a repugnant cabbie and his horse.
The main character of the conspiracy novel Under Western Eyes is Razumov, which not oddly, perhaps, echoes the future books/movie by another author about trying to manipulate thinking robots into crime and murder.
Arguably Conrad's most influential work remains Heart of Darkness, to which many have been introduced by Francis Ford Coppola's film, Apocalypse Now, inspired by Conrad's novella and set during the Vietnam War. The themes of Heart of Darkness, and the depiction of a journey into the darkness of the human psyche, still resonate with modern readers.
Conrad, an emotional man subject to fits of depression, self-doubt and pessimism, disciplined his romantic temperament with an unsparing moral judgment.
As an artist, he famously aspired, in his preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897), "by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel... before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask."
Writing in what to the visual arts was the age of Impressionism, Conrad showed himself in many of his works a prose poet of the highest order: thus, for instance, in the evocative Patna and courtroom scenes of Lord Jim; in the "melancholy-mad elephant" and gunboat scenes of Heart of Darkness; in the doubled protagonists of The Secret Sharer; and in the verbal and conceptual resonances of Nostromo and The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'.
The singularity of the universe depicted in Conrad's novels, especially compared to those of near-contemporaries like John Galsworthy, is such as to open him to criticism similar to that later applied to Graham Greene. But where "Greeneland" has been characterised as a recurring and recognisable atmosphere independent of setting, Conrad is at pains to create a sense of place, be it aboard ship or in a remote village. Often he chose to have his characters play out their destinies in isolated or confined circumstances.
In the view of Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis, it was not until the first volumes of Anthony Powell's sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, were published in the 1950s, that an English novelist achieved the same command of atmosphere and precision of language with consistency, a view supported by present-day critics like A. N. Wilson. This is the more remarkable, given that English was Conrad's third language. Powell acknowledged his debt to Conrad.
Conrad's third language remained inescapably under the influence of his first two — Polish and French. This makes his English seem unusual. It was perhaps from Polish and French prose styles that he adopted a fondness for triple parallelism, especially in his early works ("all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men"), as well as for rhetorical abstraction ("It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention").
T.E. Lawrence, one of many writers whom Conrad befriended, offered some perceptive observations about Conrad's writing:
He's absolutely the most haunting thing in prose that ever was: I wish I knew how every paragraph he writes (... they are all paragraphs: he seldom writes a single sentence...) goes on sounding in waves, like the note of a tenor bell, after it stops. It's not built in the rhythm of ordinary prose, but on something existing only in his head, and as he can never say what it is he wants to say, all his things end in a kind of hunger, a suggestion of something he can't say or do or think. So his books always look bigger than they are. He's as much a giant of the subjective as Kipling is of the objective. Do they hate one another?
In Conrad's time, literary critics, while usually commenting favourably on his works, often remarked that his exotic style, complex narration, profound themes and pessimistic ideas put many readers off. Yet as Conrad's ideas were borne out by 20th-century events, in due course he came to be admired for beliefs that seemed to accord with subsequent times more closely than with his own.
Conrad's was, indeed, a starkly lucid view of the human condition — a vision similar to that which had been offered in two micro-stories by his ten-years-older Polish compatriot, Boleslaw Prus (whose work Conrad admired): "Mold of the Earth" (1884) and "Shades" (1885). Conrad wrote:
Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow....
In this world — as I have known it — we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt....
There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that... is always but a vain and floating appearance....
A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains — but a clot of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing.
Conrad is the novelist of man in extreme situations. "Those who read me," he wrote in the preface to A Personal Record, "know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests, notably, among others, on the idea of Fidelity."
For Conrad <writes Britannica> fidelity is the barrier man erects against nothingness, against corruption, against the evil that is all about him, insidious, waiting to engulf him, and that in some sense is within him unacknowledged. But what happens when fidelity is submerged, the barrier broken down, and the evil without is acknowledged by the evil within? At his greatest, that is Conrad's theme.
In 1975, Chinua Achebe published an essay, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'," wherein he labeled Conrad a "thoroughgoing racist." The essay set off a storm of controversy regarding Conrad's legacy. Achebe's point of view is that Heart of Darkness cannot be considered "a great work of art" because it is "a novel which celebrates... dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race."
Referring to Conrad as a "talented, tormented man," Achebe drew on several instances of apparent racism in Conrad's writings in which the author derided "niggers" as variously "unreasoning," "savage" and "inscrutable." Conrad's advocates, however, in defending his reputation and the ongoing value of his work, have reproached Achebe with disregarding the "historical context" of Conrad's work.
Citing Heart of Darkness, Conrad's advocates have also noted that he refers to the rhetorically noble aims of European colonialists sardonically, thus illustrating his cynicism of the presumption that white men are inherently virtuous—the popular sentiment of his day. This is a central theme of the novel itself. The character Marlow's experiences in Africa expose the brutal reality of colonialism and the falseness of the rationalisations given for it. Ending a passage describing the condition of chained, emaciated slave workers, Conrad remarks, "After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings."
Poland's Baltic Sea coast at Gdynia features an anchor-shaped monument to Conrad.
In San Francisco, California, near Fisherman's Wharf, there is a small triangular Joseph Conrad Square, named after Conrad in the late 20th century.
Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Polish-born writer Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski). Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood's Magazine. It is widely regarded as a significant work of English literature and part of the Western canon.
This highly symbolic story is actually a story within a story, or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts, from dusk through to late night, his adventure into the Congo to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary.
The story details an incident when Marlow, an Englishman, took a foreign assignment as a ferry-boat captain, employed by a Belgian trading company, on what readers may assume is the Congo River, in the Congo Free State, a private colony of King Leopold II; the country is never specifically named. Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver; however, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz to civilization in a cover up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region.
In writing the novella, Conrad drew inspiration from his own experience in the Congo: eight and a half years before writing the book, he had served as the captain of a Congo steamer. However he became ill and returned to Europe. Some of Conrad's experiences in the Congo, and the story's historic background, including possible models for Kurtz, are recounted in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.
It is also alleged that Conrad drew from the adventures of Sir Roger Casement.
The story-within-a-story device that Conrad chose for Heart of Darkness — one in which an unnamed narrator recounts Marlow's recounting of his journey — has many literary precedents. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein used a similar device, but the best examples of the framed narrative include Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Motifs and themes
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!"
T. S. Eliot's use of a quotation from The Heart of Darkness--"Mistah Kurtz, he dead"-- as an epigraph to the original manuscript of his poem, The Hollow Men, contrasted its dark horror with the presumed "light of civilization," and suggested the ambiguity of both the dark motives of civilization and the freedom of barbarism, as well as the "spiritual darkness" of several characters in Heart of Darkness. This sense of darkness also lends itself to a related theme of obscurity — again, in various senses, reflecting the ambiguities in the work. Moral issues are not clear-cut; that which ought to be (in various senses) on the side of "light" is in fact mired in darkness, and vice versa.
Africa was known as "The Dark Continent" in the Victorian Era with all the negative attributes of darkness attributed to Africans by the English. One of the possible influences for the Kurtz character was Henry Morton Stanley of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" fame, as he was a principal explorer of "The Dark Heart of Africa", particularly the Congo. Stanley was infamous in Africa for horrific violence and yet he was honoured by a knighthood. However, an agent Conrad himself encountered when travelling in the Congo, named Georges-Antoine Klein (Klein means 'small' in German, as Kurtz is 'short') could have possibly served as an actual model for the Kurtz that appears in Heart of Darkness. Klein died aboard Conrad's steamer and was interred along the Congo, much like Kurtz in the novel.. Among the people Conrad may have encountered on his journey was a trader called Leon Rom, who was later named chief of the Stanley Falls Station. In 1895 a British traveller reported that Rom had decorated his flower-bed with the skulls of some twenty-one victims of his displeasure, including women and children, resembling the posts of Kurtz´s Station.
In the novel, Conrad uses the river as the vehicle for Marlow to journey further into the "heart of darkness." The descriptions of the river, particularly its depiction as a snake, reveal its symbolic qualities. The river "resembl<es> an immense snake uncoiled" and "it fascinates <Marlow> as a snake would a bird." Not only is Marlow captivated by the river, representing as it does the jungle itself, but its association with a snake gives this "fascination of the abomination" its metaphorical characteristics. The statement that "the snake had charmed me" alludes to both the idea of snake charmer and the snake in the story of Genesis. While typically, a snake charmer would charm the snake, in this case, Marlow is charmed by the snake, a reversal which puts the power in the hands of the river, and thus the jungle wilderness. Furthermore, the allusion to the snake of temptation from the story of Adam and Eve demonstrates how the wilderness itself contains the knowledge of good and evil, and upon entering that wilderness Marlow will be able to see, or at least explore, the characteristics of humanity as well as good and evil.
Throughout the novel Conrad dramatizes a tension in Marlow between the restraint of civilization and the savagery of barbarism. The darkness and amorality which Kurtz exemplifies is argued to be the reality of the human condition, upon which illusory moral structures are draped by civilization. Marlow's confrontation with Kurtz presents him with a 'choice of nightmares' - to commit himself to the savagery of the human condition, or to the lie and veneer of civilized restraint. Though Marlow 'cannot abide a lie' and subsequently cannot perceive civilization as anything but a veneer hiding the savage reality of the human condition, he is also horrified by the darkness of Kurtz he sees in his own heart. After emerging from this experience, his Buddha-like pose aboard the Nellie symbolizes a suspension between this choice of nightmares.
The major purpose and theme of Conrad's novella is the exploration of the degradation of human morality through Marlow's symbolic journey towards the "heart of darkness." As Marlow "penetrate<s> deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness," and further and further into the African wilderness, he probes further into the human subconscious and psyche, represented by the jungle. Marlow's experiences in the jungle, and the episodes of barbarism, depict what happens when man crosses the line of civility and gives in to his baser instincts, such as violence. This theme of atavism, or the reversion to more primal or ancestral behaviors and instincts, is featured prominently in the novella.
The reversal of the black and white imagery is also a major theme in the novel. Conrad challenges typical literary associations when he associates "black" with "good" and "white" with "bad" or "evil." The associations of black with good, or at least not with with more moral ambiguity than is typically seen, appear throughout the novel, especially in reference to the African natives and their actions. However, the most prominent example of the white/bad association occurs at the beginning of the novella. When Marlow sets out for Europe to receive his work assignment, he remarks that "I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre." A sepulchre, or a type of tomb or container for human remains, obviously has bad or morbid connotations. This city, which contains the "Company's offices," can be surmised as a city in Belgium, with which Marlow has notably bad and death-like associations. The synthesis of "whited" and "sepulchre" demonstrates the reversal of black and white connotations that Conrad employes, and uses here to reveal his dislike of the Belgian companies that operated in the Congo where Marlow is sent. Furthermore, Marlow's symbolic journey can be interpreted with the Sigmund Freud's "psychic apparatus" that involves the id, ego, and super-ego. Most importantly, the id, or the part of the psyche that deals with one's subconscious instincts and basic drives, appears as part of the major theme, where Conrad explores what happens when the id is unleashed.
To emphasize the theme of darkness within all of mankind, Marlow's narration takes place on a yawl in the Thames tidal estuary. Early in the novella, Marlow recounts how London, the largest, most populous and wealthiest city in the world at the time, was itself a "dark" place in Roman times. The idea that the Romans, at one time, conquered the "savage" Britons parallels Conrad's current tale of the Belgains conquering the "savage" Africans. The theme of darkness lurking beneath the surface of even "civilised" persons appears prominently, and is further explored through the character of Kurtz and through Marlow's passing sense of understanding with the Africans.
Themes developed in the novella's later scenes include the naïveté of Europeans — particularly women — regarding the various forms of darkness in the Congo; the British traders and Belgian colonialists' abuse of the natives; and man's potential for duplicity. The symbolic levels of the book expand on all of these in terms of a struggle between good and evil (light and darkness), not so much between people as within every major character's soul.
The novel is largely autobiographical, based upon Joseph Conrad's six-month journey up the Congo River where he took command of a steamboat in 1890 after the death of its captain. At the time, the river was called the Congo, and the country was the Congo Free State. The area Conrad refers to as the Company Station was an actual location called Matadi, a location two-hundred miles up river from the mouth of the Congo. The Central Station was a location called Kinshasa, and both these locations marked a stretch of river impassable by steamboat, upon which Marlow takes a "two-hundred mile tramp."
The Company was in reality the Anglo-Belgium India-Rubber Company formed by King Leopold II of Belgium charged with running the country of the Congo Free State in 1885. The Congo Free State was voted into existence by the Congress of Berlin, which Conrad refers to sarcastically in his novella as "the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs."
Leopold II declared the Congo Free State his personal property in 1892, legally permitting the Belgians to take what rubber they wished from the area without having to trade with the African natives. This caused a rise in atrocities perpetrated by the Belgian traders.
The Congo Free State was taken out of the personal property of the king and made a regular colony of Belgium, called Belgian Congo, in 1908, after the extent of atrocities committed there became generally known in the West, partially through Conrad's novel.
In a post-colonial reading, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe famously criticized the Heart of Darkness in his 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", saying the novel de-humanized Africans, denied them language and culture, and reduced them to a metaphorical extension of the dark and dangerous jungle into which the Europeans venture. Achebe's lecture prompted a lively debate, reactions at the time ranged from dismay and outrage - Achebe recounted a Professor Emeritus from the University of Massachusetts saying to Achebe after the lecture, "How dare you upset everything we have taught, everything we teach? Heart of Darkness is the most widely taught text in the university in this country. So how dare you say it’s different?" - to Cedric Watts' A Bloody Racist: About Achebe's View of Conrad (1983), which sets out to refute Achebe's critique. Other critiques include Hugh Curtler's Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness (1997)
In King Leopold's Ghost (1998), Adam Hochschild argues that literary scholars have made too much of the psychological aspects of Heart of Darkness while scanting the moral horror of Conrad's accurate recounting of the methods and effects of colonialism. He quotes Conrad as saying, "Heart of Darkness is experience...pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case."
Heart of Darkness is also criticized for its characterization of women. In the novel, Marlow says that "It's queer how out of touch with truth women are." Marlow also suggests that women have to be sheltered from the truth in order to keep their own fantasy world from "shattering before the first sunset."
The most famous adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, which translates the context of the narrative from the Congo into Vietnam.
? 1925 - T. S. Eliot quoted the line, "Mistah Kurtz, he dead," along with the folk saying, "A penny for the old Guy," at the beginning of his poem, "The Hollow Men."
? 1938 - Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air adapted Heart of Darkness for radio.
? 1940s - Lux Radio Theater, with Brian Aherne as Marlow.
? 1943 - Orson Welles did a half-hour adaptation for the radio show This is My Best.
? 1958 - Playhouse 90 episode# 3.7, aired November 6 - American television version of Heart of Darkness starring Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt, Richard Haydn, Inga Swenson, and Boris Karloff as Kurtz.
? 1959 - Things Fall Apart - A novel by Chinua Achebe that is often seen as a response to Heart of Darkness. The novel attempts to give readers a sense of African culture from Achebe's point of view, rather than the one that Conrad gives in Heart of Darkness.
? 1970 - Robert Silverberg's novel Downward to the Earth is in part a re-telling of Heart of Darkness, and uses the name of Kurtz.
? 1979 - John Milius based his script for Apocalypse Now on the novel and moved the plot to Vietnam. The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
? 1989 - J.F. Lawton based his film Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (also known as Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death) on Conrad's book. Kurtz, now a feminist played by Adrienne Barbeau, has taken to the jungle's amazonian inhabitants, rather than continuing to write books that nobody reads and promoting them on TV talk shows. Mimicking the original, her dying words are "The horror! The horror... of Letterman!"
? 1992 - Sven Lindqvist's 'Exterminate All the Brutes', an odyssey into the Heart of Darkness, European colonialism and the following genocide.
? 1993 - Nicolas Roeg filmed Heart of Darkness for television with Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz.
? 1993 - In the novel Headhunter by Canadian author Timothy Findley, a schizophrenic spiritualist accidentally sets Kurtz free from page 92 of Heart of Darkness, and is forced to find a Marlow to defeat him. The novel recasts Kurtz and Marlow as psychiatrists in an apocalyptic version of Toronto.
? 1995 - German metal band Grave Digger in 1995 released an album Heart of Darkness containing track also titled "Heart of Darkness," lyrics of which are based on the novel and the film "Apocalypse Now".
? 1996 - Alex Garland's book The Beach heavily references the Heart Of Darkness.
? 1998 - Star Trek: Insurrection took plot inspiration from Heart of Darkness.
? 1998 - the video game Heart of Darkness borrowed the title from the novel and was loosely based on the story.
? 2000 - "His last step. My hesitating. Excerpt from Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness" ('Sein letzter Schritt. Mein Zögern'), Art of Thomas Offhaus inspired by Heart of Darkness.
? 2005 - Peter Jackson's King Kong has many references to Heart of Darkness, such as a scene where Jimmy holds a copy of the book and says "It’s not an adventure story, is it?" As King Kong itself is a story of the cruelties of men, the film suggests that Conrad meant to explore human cruelty towards others as much as he meant to explore the Belgian Congo—and thus also the film is more than an adventure story but also explores the human will to exploit others.
? 2005 - The First Casualty, a novel by Ben Elton, follows the same storyline where a British police detective investigates a crime in the midst of the First World War, and gradually becomes painfully acquainted with the horrors of war. He is given the false name of Christopher Marlowe (cf Charlie Marlow), and he makes references to the Belgian colonisation of the Congo.
? The 2005 video game, Star Wars: Battlefront II, features a level entitled Heart of Darkness. The 501st Legion (Clone Troopers) is called in to find a lost legion on Felucia, and battle the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) with the help of Aayla Secura, their hero. An introduction to the level includes narration from the novella.
? 2007 - Heart of Darkness is a chamber opera version of the novella by the British composer Tarik O'Regan in collaboration with the artist Tom Phillips RA,<8> which is jointly in development in London with Royal Opera House OperaGenesis and in New York with American Opera Projects.
? 2007 - Publication of book by Tim Butcher: Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, ISBN 0-701-17981-3, the account of the author's 2004 journey along the same stretch of Congo river used by Conrad as the setting for Heart of Darkness. The journey had been too dangerous to complete for decades. Subsequently, Tim Butcher wrote the introduction to a new edition of Heart of Darkness published in September 2007 by Vintage Classics ISBN 0-099-51154-1
? 2008 - Trencherman - a novel by South African author Eben Venter that uses Heart of Darkness as a strong intertext in a story about an imagined South Africa where interacial fear reigns the day.
? 2008 - The video game Ninja Gaiden II's ninth level is called "Heart of Darkness" and is set in a dense South American river setting.
Sherry, Norman. "Conrad's Western World". Cambridge University Press. 1971.
Moore, Gene M. "Heart of Darkness&Other Stories". Wordsworth Classics. 1999.
"Historical Context: Heart of Darkness." EXPLORING Novels, Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Discovering Collection. Subscription required
Watts, Cedric. "A Bloody Racist: About Achebe's View of Conrad." The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 13 (January 1983)
Curtler, Hugh. "Achebe on Conrad: Racism and Greatness in Heart of Darkness." Conradiana, vol. 29 issue 1 (March 1997)
King Leopold's Ghost. Hochschild, Adam. Mariner Books. New York, 1999.
Lord Jim is a novel by Joseph Conrad, originally published in Blackwood's Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900.
The central occurrence of Lord Jim appears to be based on true events. Although Conrad never confirmed this, there seems to be too much similarity for mere coincidence. On 17 July 1880, S.S. Jeddah sailed from Singapore bound for Penang and Jeddah, with 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. The passengers were Moslems from the Malay states, traveling to Mecca for the hajj (holy pilgrimage).
Jeddah sailed under the British flag and was crewed largely by British officers. It was owned by the Singapore Steamship Company, whose managing director, Seyyid Muhammad al-Sagoff, came from a wealthy Arab family well established in Singapore. Seyyid Omar al-Sagoff, Muhammad’s son, was on board at the time of the incident. After terrible weather conditions in the first week of passage, the ship's boilers ‘started adrift from their seatings’ and Jeddah began taking in water. The hull sprang a large leak, the water rose rapidly, and the captain and officers abandoned the heavily listing ship, taking Seyyid Omar with them. They were picked up by another vessel and taken to Aden where they told a story of violent passengers and a foundering ship. The pilgrims were left to their fate, an apparently certain death.
However, to much astonishment, on 8 August a French steamship towed Jeddah into Aden - the pilgrims had survived. They had been abandoned by those meant to protect them and an official inquiry followed into this great scandal. It is strongly suspected that this dishonourable tale inspired Conrad, who had landed in Singapore in 1883, and he wove the main themes of Lord Jim around it, using the name S.S. Patna for his fictional pilgrim ship.
The novel is in two main parts, firstly Jim's lapse aboard the Patna and his consequent fall, and secondly an adventure story about Jim's rise and the tale's denouement amongst the people of Patusan - supposedly in the Indonesian archipelago. The main themes surround young Jim's potential ("...he was one of us", says Marlow) thus sharpening the drama and tragedy of his fall, his subsequent struggle to redeem himself, and Conrad's further hints that personal character flaws will almost certainly emerge given an appropriate catalyst.
In addition to the lyricism and beauty of Conrad's descriptive writing, the novel is remarkable for its sophisticated structure. The bulk of the novel is told in the form of a story recited by the character Marlow to a group of listeners, and the conclusion is presented in the form of a letter from Marlow. Within Marlow's narration, other characters also tell their own stories in nested dialogue. Thus, events in the novel are described from several view points, and often out of chronological order.
The reader is left to form an impression of Jim's interior psychological state from these multiple external points of view. But mere facts are inadequate to explain the human condition. As Marlow remarks of the trial: "They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!" Ultimately, Jim remains mysterious, as seen through a mist: "that mist in which he loomed interesting if not very big, with floating outlines - a straggler yearning inconsolably for his humble place in the ranks... It is when we try to grapple with another man's intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun." It is only through Marlow's recitation that Jim lives for us - the relationship between the two men incites Marlow to "tell you the story, to try to hand over to you, as it were, its very existence, its reality - the truth disclosed in a moment of illusion."
Marlow is also the narrator of three of Conrad's other works: Heart of Darkness, Youth and Chance.
Jim (his surname is never disclosed), a young British seaman, becomes first mate on the Patna, a ship full of pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the hajj. In a momentary lapse (whether of courage, or judgment, or character) during an accident, Jim joins his captain and other crew members in abandoning the ship and its passengers. A few days later, they are picked up by a British ship. However, the Patna and its passengers are later also saved, and the reprehensible actions of the crew are exposed. The other miscreants evade justice, leaving Jim to face a court of inquiry alone. The court strips him of his navigation command certificate for his dereliction of duty. Jim is angry with himself, both for his moment of weakness, and for missing an opportunity to be a 'hero'.
At the trial, he meets Marlow, a sea captain, who in spite of his initial misgivings over what he sees as Jim's moral unsoundness, comes to befriend him, for he is "one of us." Marlow later finds Jim work as a ship chandler's clerk. Jim tries to remain incognito, but whenever the opprobrium of the Patna incident catches up with him, he abandons his place and moves further east.
At length, Marlow's friend Stein suggests placing Jim as his factor in Patusan, a remote inland settlement with a mixed Malay and Bugis population, where Jim's past can remain hidden. Here, Jim wins the respect of the people and becomes their leader by relieving them from the predations of the bandit Sherif Ali and protecting them from the corrupt local Malay chief, Rajah Tunku Allang. Jim wins the love of Jewel, a woman of mixed race, and is "satisfied... almost." The end comes a few years later, when the town is attacked by the marauder "Gentleman" Brown. Although Brown and his gang are driven off, Dain Waris, the son of the leader of the Bugis community, is slain. Jim continues the conflict and ultimately fulfills his heroic destiny by suffering a fatal bullet in the heart, fired by Dain Waris's father Doramin as savage retribution for the death of his son.
Allusions and references in other works
Jim's ill-fated ship, the Patna is also mentioned in Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Immortal". (N.B. Patna becomes Patria with a bit of paint peeled from the "n")
Lord Jim is the name of a boat, and subsequently the nickname of the boat's owner, Richard Blake, in Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize-winning novel Offshore.
The book has twice been adapted for film:
? Lord Jim (1925), directed by Victor Fleming.
? Lord Jim (1965), directed by Richard Brooks and starring Peter O'Toole as Lord Jim.
"Stephen Crane as a Source for Conrad's Jim", Nina Galen, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 38, no. 1 (1983).
? Tim Butcher: Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, 2007. ISBN 0-701-17981-3.
? "Conrad, Joseph," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 2005, vol. 3, pp. 547–48
? Jeffrey Meyers, Joseph Conrad: a Biography, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991.
? Zdzislaw Najder, Conrad under Familial Eyes, Cambridge University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-521-25082-X.
? Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: a Chronicle, new edition, Camden House, 2007.
? J.H. Stape, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
? John Stape. The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 1400044499.
? T. Scovel, A Time to Speak: a Psycholinguistic Inquiry into the Critical Period for Human Speech, Cambridge, MA, Newbury House, 1988.