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Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Lecture given to Arts One at UBC, Jan. 11, 2016

Christina Hendricks

on 13 February 2016

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Transcript of Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness (1899)

Light and Dark
Surface and Depth

Light & Dark in Marlow's Belgian Congo
Blank map of Europe, 1890, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0:

A "Dark Continent"
Henry Morton Stanley
Through the Dark Continent; In Darkest Africa
King Leopold II of Belgium
Conrad in the Belgian Congo
The "light" of European Civilization
Frontispiece of
-- reason & philosophy removing veil from truth
"I was led to regard your enterprise as the rising of the Star of Hope for the Dark Continent, ... and I journeyed in its light ....”
George Washington Williams, Open Letter to Leopold II
Narrator (69)
See also:
Marlow's aunt (79)
"Whited sepulchres"
Brussels (75)
(Intro. 41)
with death
122 ,124, 136
covered by what? (94, 104, 124-125, 146)
The truth as hidden, in darkness
A European View
"A Bloody Racist"?
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness.'"
Massachusetts Review Vol
. 18 (1977).

Chinua Achebe, 2008. By Stuart C. Shapiro. Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0
“Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist”; “the very
of black people is called into question”
Africa is treated as a “
setting and backdrop
which eliminates the African as human factor”
“these people must have had other occupations besides merging into the evil forest or materializing out of it simply to plague Marlow and his dispirited band.”
The people are reduced to “the role of
for the break-up of one petty European mind”
A bloody misogynist?
Straus, Nina Pelikan
"The Exclusion of the Intended from Secret Sharing in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness.'" NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 20.2 (1987): 123-137.
"Marlow presents a world distinctly split into male and female realms--the first harboring the possibility of 'truth' nd the second dedicated to the maintenance of delusion.
'Truth,' then, is directed at and intended for men only
" (124).
Woman as backdrop:
"Could Marlow's truth be dramatized without the Intended's contrasting delusion? Would such notions as ... secret experience of 'inner truth' be able to be named if there were not a nameless one who is 'allotted' ... to a world of merely outer or 'public rhetoric'?" (134)
Women are "out of it" (79, 122)
J.A.M. Whistler, "Harmony in Pink and Grey" (1881)
Inversions of light and dark
“And this, also, … has been one of the dark places of the earth” (69)
“Light came out of this river since … but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker..." (70)
Blinding whiteness:
“a white fog … more blinding than the night” (111); “the blind whiteness of the fog” (115)
On the Thames:
Narrator's view of river beginning & end
(67, 69, 158)
Blind light:
Kurtz's painting (94); contrast to Encyclopédie frontispiece
Paper mache cups, Flickr photo by Suzette--www.suzette.nu, licensed CC BY 2.0
Manager at Central Station (90)
Brickmaker at Central Station (96)
Hollow Men
TS Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925)
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Mistah Kurtz--he dead.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Kurtz as hollow
“he was
hollow at the core
” (134); he was a “hollow sham” (147)
A voice with nothing behind it:
“there was something wanting in him—some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence” (134)
“The voice was gone. What else had been there?” (149)
He was a being “to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. … There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth" (144).
“Were we to let go our hold of the bottom, we would be absolutely in the air—in space" (115).
“When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality—the reality, I tell you—fades.
The inner truth is hidden
…” (105).
“it occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. What did it matter what any one knew or ignored? What did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flash of insight.
The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface,
beyond my reach, and beyond my power of meddling” (111).
Kurtz and Marlow
Kurtz gets to the hidden truth
"It was as though a veil had been rent"; he had a "supreme moment of complete knowledge" just before he died: "The horror" (148).
Kurtz able to achieve a moral victory
"He had summed up--he had judged. ... this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction ..., it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth" (149).
"It was an affirmation, a moral victory ..." (150).
"probably I would have nothing to say"; "grayness without form ..., and a careless contempt for the evanescence of all things" (149)
"Better his cry--much better" (150).
Lying to the Intended
Embodiment of pure ideals
her forehead in the gathering dark was “illumined by the unextinguisable light of belief and love” (155).
She had a “faith,” a “great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which I could not even defend myself” (156).
Like Kurtz's painting?
Does he lie to her just because women "should be out of it," or is there something more to it?
See map p. 261
Much information about Leopold is from
King Leopold's Ghost
, by Adam Hochschild (1998).
Arts One, Seeing and Knowing, Christina Hendricks, Jan. 2016
Full transcript