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Conrad, the times, and some explorers.

Even in a day when historicism in literary studies is ubiquitous, the pitch and duration of historicist fervor that has surrounded Conrad's Heart of Darkness is extraordinary. Since its original publication over a century ago, the text has flourished amid a swarm of meta-textual narratives variously critical, political, philosophical, and historical. As Benita Parry attests, Heart of Darkness has enjoyed a "singular afterlife" (41), one that Allan Simmons aptly captures in the metaphor of "a pendulum swinging back and forth between aesthetics and history" (104). First appearing serially as "The Heart of Darkness" in three monthly installments of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine running from February to April of 1899 (Simmons 91), the narrative has interested those with an interest in Africa from the start. The initial February installment garnered Conrad an invitation to address a British pacifist's rally in March (Najder 288). He declined. The narrative, as he saw it, was not primarily political, nor was he inclined to be. Yet for friendship's sake he attended the rally and, as he later put it, "revolted a little" (qtd. in Najder 288). The mixed aspect of this literary beginning echoes the larger historical, political, aesthetic, and deeply personal ambiguities of the novel--a book that won't hold still.

Whatever the ambiguities of text and context, however, it would certainly seem that readers today, as the beneficiaries of more than a century of research focused on the novel must be, better positioned than Conrad's original readers to appreciate Heart of Darkness's African resonances. Kurtz and Marlow are today no more familiar household names than Leopold and Stanley, Emin Pasha, Casement, Klein, and Rom. And arguably as notorious as Conrad himself is Achebe, whose famous denunciation of Conrad as "a bloody racist" has re-inscribed the centrality of the work in a post-colonial world (Achebe 788). Study after study of Conrad's novel, though it clearly presents itself as art, has treated with remarkable earnestness the task of identifying possible real-world counterparts for events and characters depicted in the text. "Finding" Kurtz in the historical narrative has become tantamount to Stanley's notorious nineteenth-century "finding" of Livingstone, and a curious sort of academic scramble for Africa may be seen in recent intensive efforts to continue to discover sources that may have inspired Conrad's tale. (1)

But these are historical echoes with a difference. Whereas a late nineteenth-century explorer-journalist of the likes of Henry Stanley could grandiloquently profess an aim "to flash a torch of light across the western half of the Dark Continent" (Through the Dark Continent 1:127), illumination remains the current aim, but in a reciprocal arc. Today the torch of inquiry is often flashed back on late nineteenth-century travel narratives themselves, including Heart of Darkness and Stanley's own voluminous works. Quite often the current aim is to descry instances in which ignorance or prejudice appears to have engendered toxic misrepresentations of Africa, even in the works of the well meaning. That Heart of Darkness should come under special scrutiny in this regard is hardly surprising; so striking and enduring a narrative merits analysis commensurate with its influence.

One ironic effect of the scholarly concentration on the novel, however, has been a tendency to spotlight a few historical figures without necessarily illuminating the larger historical landscape. The larger view would necessarily include gaining both a broader view of events in Africa and a clearer awareness of the degree to which those events were familiar to Conrad's contemporary readers. The central search for Kurtz is a case in point. Thanks to the work of such excellent scholars as Norman Sherry, Ian Watt, and Patrick Brantlinger, we know of several striking Kurtz-types, most prominently: Georges Antoine Klein, Emin Pasha, Major Edmund Musgrave Barttelot, Arthur Eugene Constant Hodister, Charles Henry Stokes, Captain Hubert Lothaire, and Captain Leon Rom (Sherry 92-118, Watt 140-145, Brantlinger 261, 267-8). The Kurtz-like characteristics of these historical figures have been described in considerable detail, as have the ways in which Conrad might have become aware of each man. I have observed a resulting inclination, especially among those relatively new to Conrad studies, to view such figures almost as if they constituted a police line-up. The assumption is that one of them is the "real" Kurtz, the key inspiration for Conrad's character.

Such a view naturally begs the question of which general information source Conrad relied on most heavily. Was his personal experience paramount, and Kurtz perhaps merely an enhanced version of Klein? Or were books like Stanley's In Darkest Africa more influential, suggesting the centrality of Stanley himself, or Emin Pasha, or perhaps Barttelot? Were newspaper accounts or public lectures the major spark, pointing to men like Hodister, Stokes, Lothaire, and Rom: victims of murder or perpetrators of murderous crimes that received intense media coverage? Or was Conrad most inspired by sources more anecdotal, perhaps stories friends like Roger Casement might have told him of Europeans indulging in barbarity in the enabling seclusion of the Congo's forests?

Careful reading of any of the scholars I have mentioned leads to a valuable perception: Kurtz is most likely a deliberate composite. In Conrad's creative practice "all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" (Heart of Darkness 49). Watt convincingly shows Kurtz to be a "distillation" of the twin phenomena of (1) "going native," and (2) European imperialists taking their unchecked local powers as an "open invitation to every kind of cruelty and abuse" (144-5). Brantlinger similarly demonstrates that a Kurtz-like turn to barbarism was actually "a quite common pattern of behavior" (268). Yet for all this historical evidence it is not surprising that readers not possessed of Brantlinger and Watt's intimate knowledge of late-nineteenth-century world affairs should still gravitate toward some singular Kurtz. Such readers will still wonder how clearly Conrad and his contemporaries might have perceived the abundantly non-fictional nature of the character--the same sort of historical uncertainty that overshadows the novel as a whole.

What I will attempt to show here is that, contrary to what many present-day readers might guess, almost nothing in Conrad's representation of the Congo would have startled a British reader in 1899 who followed the news of Africa--even in as widely circulated and broadly focused a journalistic organ as The Times. Nor would even the most lurid and sensational aspects of Heart of Darkness have been shocking in themselves to readers acquainted with Africa through the popular accounts of explorers such as Henry Stanley and his protege Edward Glave. (2) Conrad's novel deals in the contemporaneously familiar--as, I believe, he intended that it should. Yet his aim was not activism. On the contrary, the appearance of verisimilitude facilitated his artistic aim of creating a "sinister resonance" in the book ("Author's Note" xi). Conrad's triumph in Heart of Darkness is that he made sensational once again what through repetition had become mundane. His vulnerability is that he failed to make allowance for the parallel artistry of other writers. Purporting to be objective, his journalistic predecessors had already gravitated in their African news coverage and book-length travel sagas toward the savage and arcane, producing caricatures of African life that, to borrow Marlow's words from Heart of Darkness, were "too dark altogether" (77). By invoking the readymade setting of "the Dark Continent," and in his turn selecting for savagery, Conrad ironically replicated and even concentrated key elements of the poisonous propaganda of his day.

The irony of this is that Conrad almost certainly meant well. The same may even be true of the much maligned Stanley. As recent biographies have shown, both men were first and foremost professional writers with a good sense of what would sell. Both were also moralists, Conrad melding his art to the mission of unmasking the mutual destruction so common in colonial encounters, Stanley both in writing and in numerous fiery speeches earnestly attempting to convince Europeans of the need to dedicate more resources to the civilizing mission in Africa. Though these moralistic aims work at cross purposes, each in its own way is supported by a sensationally "dark" vision of Africa. It is this vision Conrad opted to embrace. Rather than revising prevailing notions of African backwardness and barbarity (as no one would properly do in a fictional narrative until Achebe produced Things Fall Apart in 1958), Conrad, like Stanley before him, did precisely what Marlow shudders to do in the final passages of Heart of Darkness. Despite his own values and misgivings, he ultimately let a horribly false perception stand.


As is well known, Conrad first pursued the prospect of employment as a steamboat captain in Africa in September 1889 (Najder 138). He eventually got the job, sailing from Europe in early May 1890 (Najder 144). He arrived in the Congo in June 1890, but illness limited his stay to only six or seven months (Najder 148, 161-2). By the end of January 1891, he was back in Europe (Najder 166). Upon his return he made the monumental career shift to become a writer (Najder 194-6). He began writing Heart of Darkness roughly nine years later, in December 1898 (Najder 286). The manuscript was completed in February 1899, and part one of three appeared in Blackwood's that very month (Najder 288). It seems logical to assume that whatever prior interest Conrad may have had in Africa was heightened by his specific interest in working there and his continuing interest, following his visit, in the place he had come to know firsthand.

Thanks to the digitization of historical documents it is now possible to get a fairly clear sense of what Conrad and his contemporaries would have encountered in their daily papers with regard to Africa. Specifically, a search of The Times Digital Archive for the period spanning September 1, 1889, to February 28, 1899, turns up 257 direct matches in which the word Congo appears in an article title or byline (Times). If the search is expanded to include articles that mention the Congo anywhere in their content the total number approaches 3,000. Most of these, as might be expected, are relatively short news and opinion pieces. But several in each year are more extensive, featuring personal accounts and serious investigative journalism with detailed descriptions of places and events. The Times itself, of course, is only one of many papers and magazines with significant readership in England in the 1890s, but as England's leading paper it serves as a useful repository of the news in general. What its coverage demonstrates is that the Congo may indeed have been a faraway place vis-a-vis Europe, but it was not a place seldom mentioned. And while it was not unusual for a considerable degree of uncertainty to be present in Congo reports, many key events and especially attitudinal trends were confirmed by multiple independent articles. Both the big picture and intriguing specifics of the Congo news coverage in The Times from 1889-1899 can be showcased by a sequential outline, followed by a more detailed look at key subjects relating to Heart of Darkness.

News of the Congo in the decade preceding Heart of Darkness falls into a sequence of roughly half a dozen major topics: tariffs, exploration, the Congo Free State's ongoing war with the Arabs, African brutality and cannibalism, European atrocities committed against Africans, and the building of the Congo railroad. In the months leading up to Conrad's departure and during the entire time he was in Africa, news of the Congo in Europe was dominated by a discussion of tariffs the Congo Free State proposed to levy on non-Belgian imports and exports, especially liquor and ivory. Free trade was, of course, a founding principle of the State, but it was argued that some tariffs were necessary to cover the rising costs of local government administration. Among the more vocal defenders of this policy was Stanley, just back from the Emin Pasha expedition (Jeal 384-8). Quick to insert a moral aspect to the debate, he emphasized in an October 1890 letter to The Times that duties collected by the State contributed directly to the fight against slavery and ongoing efforts to end the oppression of Africans (Stanley, "Congo State"). This was not the sort of news likely to be of much interest to Conrad, even if he had been around to read it. However, less mundane reports were soon to come, just after he returned to England.

About midyear in 1891 the tariff talk transitioned into coverage decrying the supposedly rampant brutality and cannibalism of native Africans. The lurid news focused on reports of an Arab uprising and the related murder of British trader Arthur Hodister ("Arab Rising"). Norman Sherry is probably quite right in supposing that Hodister's trading career and violent death may have added key components to Conrad's eventual rendering of Kurtz. So too might the lucrative life and violent death of British ex-missionary Charles Stokes a couple of years later. Less dramatic but perhaps equally formative in terms of public perceptions of Africa was the steady stream of articles that came out between those reports. Early in 1892 several articles highlighted ongoing European exploration efforts in central Africa. Then the focus returned in the latter part of 1892 (in a long series of articles continuing through early 1894) to the ebb and flow of the Congo Free State's war with the Arabs. More exploration coverage followed in mid-1894; then in January 1895 the tide of news turned back again to Europe, where Belgium was caught up in a debate about whether the government should buy the Congo from Leopold. In the summer of 1895 the flow of relatively routine headlines was superseded by the news of the audacious hanging of Stokes, allegedly for treason, by the Belgian Captain Lothaire ("An Englishman Hanged"). This story pitting ex-missionary against Congo Free State officer foreshadowed the melee that was about to ensue in the British press.

Hard upon the coverage of Stokes's execution came a torrent of articles enumerating widespread atrocities allegedly committed in the Congo by Europeans (mostly Belgians). Missionaries who had lived in the Congo were the primary accusers, and officials of the Congo Free State the emphatic defenders of their countrymen, disputing every report. Three major missionary reports in particular painted an ugly picture of Belgian abuses in the Congo. The first, apparently gleaned from a recently returned British missionary who remained anonymous, came out in October 1895 ("Congo Free State" 14 Oct. 1895). The second, attributed to American Baptist missionary John B. Murphy, came out a month later, in November 1895 ("The Congo Free State" 18 Nov. 1895). The third, attributed to Danish missionary E. V. Sjoblom, came out in May 1897 ("Affairs on the Upper Congo"). The fierce exchanges prompted by each of these expose pieces raged in The Times until about the summer of 1897, with approximately 40 articles appearing in all. If Conrad had any awareness of the news of Africa in the public press, the issues and events headlined at this time likely made a significant impression on him.

As these debates subsided a series of relatively bland articles once again followed, reporting on such things as a new Congo outdoor museum exhibit created in Brussels ("The Congo Natives"), and the opening (at long last) of the Congo railroad from Matadi to Stanley Pool ("The Congo Railway"). This calmer topical trend continued up until the time Conrad began Heart of Darkness about a year and a half later, in December 1898.

Looking at the broad sweep of this decade of news, it becomes clear that by the late 1890s the Congo was anything but a land of utter mystery to Europeans. As early as 1893 mail was crossing central Africa from the Congo to Lake Tanganyika ("The Arabs and the Congo State"), and it was not uncommon as the decade progressed for articles in The Times to include detailed geographic descriptions of a sort that only readers well acquainted with the Congo would have been able to appreciate (see, for instance, "France and the Congo Free State"). Along these lines, a February 1895 article points out the clear contrast in "the maps of the Congo State of 1890 compared with those published in 1894," showing how rapidly European knowledge of the region had expanded in those years ("Belgium and the Congo State"). This article, which refers to a sort of internal report made by the Congo Free State to the government of Belgium in connection with the annexation effort, points out that "up to 1889 ... the Congo State had only occupied a very limited portion of its territories. Outside the zones contiguous to the steamer traffic, the Lower Congo was not known. In the Upper Congo occupation was confined to the banks of the rivers." By 1894 the situation had changed dramatically. This leads to the illuminating insight that Conrad did not set his novel in the historical moment in which it was actually composed in 1899, but in the earlier moment of his own African experience in 1889. Even so, much that came later, in the 1890s, augmented the backdrop for Conrad's book.

Not only was Congo geography well known in Europe by the late 1890s, the very language readers today associate with Heart of Darkness was featured in the press, as were accounts of sensational river battles and cannibalism. A range of articles invokes a rhetoric of novelty vis-a-vis Africa, recounting exploration in areas "no white traveler has seen" ("An Expedition), or venturing into "an unknown region where no European had penetrated before" ("The Congo State" 28 Nov. 1894). Words like "exterminated" and "pacification" also appear ("The Congo Free State" 25 Oct. 1893; "The Congo Free State" 27 Mar. 1894). One article reports explorers going upriver being attacked "persistently" by natives ("Exploration of the Upper Congo"), while another recounts a day-long river battle in which the African antagonists were "urged on by their sorcerers" ("Cannibalism on the Congo"). The same article claims that "the Bakuma tribe in the neighbourhood of Stanley Falls have for some time past given themselves up to cannibalism, cases of which are a daily occurrence, the victims being supplied by murders and raids on neighbouring tribes." Captured Europeans were reportedly eaten as well, as in the case of a M. de Poumayrac, who was wounded in a river skirmish and then taken by members of the Bubu tribe "alive into their village and there murdered" ("The Congo State" 16 Sept. 1892). "All the captives" taken on this occasion were reportedly "eaten by the Bubus, who indulged in orgies extending over several days." Still another report tells of a Mr. Walker, an Englishman, killed "for chop'" on the Upper Congo in 1895 ("The Congo Free State" 16 Sept. 1895), and just two days later a similar report describes a Captain Burrows being "speared to death and then eaten" ("The Situation in the Congo Free State"). The collecting of heads for trophy purposes is also noted in The Times: "the heads of Hodister and of his three companions, [...] together with the heads of the horse and the three mules which the white men were riding" were displayed by their murderers ("The Congo State" 19 Sept. 1892).

In view of such articles, it seems clear that Conrad would hardly have needed a Congo insider like Casement to open his eyes to the contemporary African situation, or to provide details to bolster his narrative. He could have turned to his daily paper for that. In fact, The Times could have provided, in a sense, both the beginning and ending of his narrative: Fresleven and Kurtz. As Sherry has long since pointed out, the death of Freiesleben/Fresleven was an actual event (15). Moreover, contrary to Sherry's conclusion that "we can be reasonably certain that when Conrad accepted the command he knew only the bare fact of Freiesleben's death" (16), he may actually have read about it in some detail before he ever left England in early May of 1890. Two weeks earlier, on April 16th, The Times published a report of the incident, including an account of how the captains body was abandoned by his fleeing crew, and a notation that the whole incident had apparently arisen out of a botched palaver with natives over some hens ("Collision with Natives"; Conrad, Heart of Darkness 9). Other aspects of the story, such as the role played by the chief's son, may indeed, as Sherry concludes, have come from verbal accounts Conrad heard in the Congo. However, the telling detail of Freiesleben's death and the retaliatory desertion/destruction of an entire village resulting from something as insignificant as a disagreement over the price of chickens need not necessarily have come from Conrad's acquaintance with Captain Duhst (Sherry 17, 21-22).

More importantly, even an occasional reader of The Times could hardly have failed to pick up on the persistent motif of the enlightened European officer, posted far from any central administration, losing his moral bearings and "going native" in the depths of Africa. Echoing Kurtz's takeover of villages around an inland lake (Heart of Darkness 56), Arthur Hodister's onetime travelling companion Delcommune was celebrated in The Times for his explorations among the lakes of the Upper Congo, where he reportedly "brought into peaceful subjection all the negro chiefs near Lakes Moero, Bangala, and the banks of the Lualaba" ("Exploration on the Congo"). Hodister himself, whose Congo career has been carefully charted by Sherry (95-111), and whose death, as already mentioned, caused a flurry in the British press at a time when Conrad would likely have been paying attention, was specifically hailed in The Times as a man of "ideas," and "one of the very best Europeans who could have been chosen for the task assigned to him of opening up trade in the heart of Africa" ("The Arab Rising"). Like Kurtz, Hodister was noted for the unusual closeness of his friendships with African followers, and he apparently even fathered a child with an African mistress ("The Congo State" 22 Aug. 1892; "The Congo State" 17 Oct. 1892).

Still more provocatively informing were the missionary reports of 1895-7, in which Captain Lothaire was singled out as a man "held in special awe by the natives" ("The Congo Free State" 14 Oct. 1895). It was related that "the people on the Lulanga river call him 'Lofembe,' meaning 'mist,' by reason of the uncertainty of his movements." Clearly the rash execution of Stokes showed even those as far away as England the unpredictable and violent behavior this man was capable of in his worst moments. The missionary being quoted further opines that "the real difficulty in the Congo is the fact that young and inexperienced officers are far from the Central Administration." The general tenor of these observations was corroborated in The Times by another Englishman recently returned from "some years residence on the Congo," who confirmed "the general charges of inefficiency and brutality made against the State officials," for whom he says "the chief object" was "to get rubber and ivory at any price rather than to civilize" ("The Congo Free State" 14 Oct. 1895). "They make no scruples," he went on to say, "in setting one tribe against another, using the stronger as a catspaw to obtain the ivory from the weaker"--real world actions directly prefiguring those of fictional Kurtz."

Taken together, The Times coverage provides a telling glimpse of just how much an author like Conrad might reasonably have assumed his untraveled English readers would already have known about the Congo in the late 1890s. The point here is not, however, that The Times should be recognized as some sort of unacknowledged but clearly essential source for Heart of Darkness. Conrad may well have read some of the articles I have noted; he may alternately have read reports of the same events in other papers or magazines. There is really very little to go on apart from the circumstantial evidence of intriguing topical similarities. But these topical similarities are precisely the point. Much more germane than fervent source-sleuthing is the recognition that a venue like The Times is a repository of commonly held late-Victorian news and views of the Congo, and the attendant realization of just how closely Heart of Darkness meshes with that metanarrative. Ideologically, The Times presents a classic Orientalist outlook, not flagrantly biased but clearly working from a Eurocentric perspective that both relishes and looks down on Africa for "its sensuality, its tendency to despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habits of inaccuracy, its backwardness" (Said 205). Editors at The Times and other contemporary periodicals could be sure of their readers' interest in wars, tariffs, exploration, cannibalism, Belgian barbarism, and railways through Africa. Conrad could likewise assume that his readers--the same readers--would readily accept a place like Africa as a natural setting for a Kurtz-like devolution into savagery.

Such ideological perceptions had been introduced and then reinforced through literally thousands of representations in the public press. Both prior to and parallel with such media, however, these attitudes were developed through the wildly popular African exploration and colonization narratives of men like Stanley and Glave. Their texts do so much more than just share a common vocabulary and catalogue of events with Heart of Darkness. They operate from the perspective of the individual psyche, just as Heart of Darkness does, offering depth and detail of an entirely different magnitude. Thanks to such books many of Conrad's contemporary readers would already have possessed a deep sense of the twin fascination and alienation of strange African lands, would already have shuddered and thrilled at myriad descriptions of native barbarism, and would already have known through dozens of blow by blow accounts something of the ethereal chaos of a river battle. These are the representations Heart of Darkness most closely and fully parallels, and which formed a shared, intimate metanarrative of African experience in Conrad's day--though not necessarily a veracious one.


In a way directly prefiguring Heart of Darkness, Henry Stanley (and Edward Glave after him) presented in his work numerous contrasting descriptions of what may bluntly be termed good and bad Africans, wild and tamed Africans. These contrasts create an overall impression that admits certain instances in which the everyday sub-Saharan African was found to be "a cleanly, decent creature" (Stanley, Through the Dark Continent 1:382), only to conclude that African people were "crafty, fraudful, deceiving, lying, thievish knaves taken as a whole, and seem to be born with an uncontrollable love of gaining wealth by robbery, violence, and murder" (1:408). This dismal portrait, Stanley attests, was the reality of "most--nearly all African tribes" (1: 409). In short, the natural African in Stanley's representation is inscrutable, amoral, and prone to sudden violence. Not only are these negative appraisals stated explicitly, they are abundantly substantiated by the broad sweep of Stanley's published record, especially in Through the Dark Continent, which is punctuated by vivid descriptions of a grand total of thirty-two "desperate combats ... with the insensate furies of savage-land" (2:277, 324). The tone of Heart of Darkness is not, of course, as extreme as this, but the net effect is similar, and several particulars are strikingly so. In Conrad's novel, as in Stanley's writings, Marlow's initial perception of Africa as an inscrutable netherworld gradually gives way to a clear comprehension of mercurial ferocity lurking in the African interior. An undercurrent of violent indulgence has sucked Kurtz into its depths, and the textual elements that initially signal this devolvement--most potently the ambush of the steamboat and the heads on posts around the Inner Station--echo the work of Stanley and Glave.

Stanley is, of course, a major historical figure who needs little introduction. He was the driving force behind several cross-continental explorations, and went on to work directly for Leopold. Glave is less well known. In Conrad studies Glave is recognized as the author of personal journals that may well have provided the spark that reignited Conrad's interest in writing about the Congo. (3) These journals, published posthumously in the American Century Magazine in 1897, contained in their pages one particularly incendiary report: how in 1895 the Belgian Captain Leon Rom had "ornamented his flower-beds" around the Stanley Falls station "with the heads of twenty-one natives killed in a punitive expedition" (Glave 706, Hochschild 144-7, Firchow 128-32). This incident was further referenced in a December 17, 1898, article appearing in Conrad's beloved Saturday Review--placing the date of publication very near the time that Conrad began writing Heart of Darkness (Saturday Review 802, Najder 286). (4)

It was under Stanley's direct command that Glave got his start in Africa, and his near-hero worship of his legendary precursor apparently extended back to Glave's youth in "old England," where "books of travel and adventure formed the whole of [his] schoolboy library," and he read with special, indeed "breathless attention the narrative of [Stanley's] thrilling journey, 'Through the Dark Continent'" (15). Glave was captivated first by the "vivid narratives," and later on by the actual "graphic words" of Stanley, and loyally attested in his own work that Stanley had produced "truthful pictures of African scenes" (In Savage Africa 389). Stanley, in return, provided a glowing introduction to Glave's In Savage Africa: Or, Six Years of Adventure in Congo-Land (New York, 1892, and London, 1893), a text whose very title declares its kinship to Stanley's narratives.

The notion that exploration and colonization have their genesis in childhood longings for adventure is embodied in Marlow's boyhood fascination with maps. That is a motif Conrad claims as autobiographical, but one which also features prominently in the works of Stanley and Glave. Marlow, of course, ties his romantic fascination with Africa to the mysterious blank spaces on maps, especially "the biggest--the most blank" space of all: the center of Africa (7-8). This notion provides a bridge in Heart of Darkness from the early frame story into the main narrative, and is all the more notable in the eyes of scholars because Conrad later made it personal. Fie claims in a well-known piece written late in life for National Geographic Magazine, the 1924 essay "Geography and Some Explorers," that he had felt such longings as a boy (271).

But though the experience may indeed have been personal, as a narrative motif it was far from original. Some two decades earlier in the opening pages of Through the Dark Continent Stanley had stated that his motivation for embarking on his arduous and likely perilous cross-continental trek was that "the western half of the African continent is still a white blank" (1:8). Glave, in his turn, would recall in even more perfect harmony with Heart of Darkness how as a boy he had developed "a peculiar fascination" with Africa owing to the mysterious allure of the "vast unnamed blank spaces" on "a great map of the 'Dark Continent' [that] hung on the walls of [his] classroom" (Glave, Savage 16; Firchow 132). Again in this case, as in the case of the confluence of Heart of Darkness and The Times, the repeated map motif works simultaneously in two ways. It lends a certain authenticity to Conrad's narrative. Heart of Darkness seems from the outset to be operating according to set codes of the African travel book genre, almost like invoking the muse at the outset of an epic. But it also betrays a Eurocentric and solipsistic perspective. For the lure of the unknown is innocent enough in itself, but as Edward Said has rightly noted, the notion of blank spaces on maps clearly ignores the reality that places so represented are in fact well known to the people already living there (216). These "natives" have as much right to pursue their lives without intrusion as do the British schoolboys who assume their island home to be the ordinary center of the world.

A similarly one-sided perspective connects Heart of Darkness back to Stanley's early books through the perceived strangeness of Africa on first arrival. For although Glave, extraordinarily, seemed relatively inclined to embrace the newness of Africa without feeling threatened by it, it is not Glaves openness and apparent enthusiasm for African travel that Conrad echoes in his tale. (5) Rather it is Stanleys sense of alienation and impending doom in the face of the blank unknown. In Conrad, as in Stanley before him, Africa is "dark" in the Hegelian sense of being unknown and ultimately unknowable. (6) Stanley muses in Through the Dark Continent on the alienation he felt as his mental fabrication of Africa began to give way to concrete reality. "What a forbidding aspect had the Dark Unknown which confronted us!" he writes. "I could not comprehend in the least what lay before us" (2: 126). "Even the few names which I had heard from the Arabs conveyed no definite impression to my understanding," he goes on to say. "What were Tata, Meginna, Uregga, Usongora Meno, and such uncouth names to me? They conveyed no idea; and signified no object; they were barren names of either countries, villages, or peoples, involved in darkness, savagery, ignorance, and fable" (2: 126-127). In like manner, though with less melodrama, Conrad's Marlow chronicles the progress of his approach to Africa, noting "we called at some more places with farcical names" (79).

The notion that an outsider might lose his moral bearings in such an environment is also predicted by the work of Stanley. In Darkest Africa specifically calls attention to the problem of leaving a European in charge of the relatively remote outpost at Stanley Falls. Chronicling the early stages of the Emin Pasha expedition, Stanley brings up the topic in connection with his efforts to elicit aid from the disgruntled local Arab leader Tippu-Tib, who was upset that his camps near the Falls had been attacked by the Belgian officer in charge there. Stanley records reasoning thus with Tippu-Tib: "Do you know that that station has given us a great deal of trouble. We sent Amelot, you remember. Well, he just left the station without orders, and died somewhere near Nyangwe; then the next, Gleerup, a Swede, followed suit, and travelled across Africa instead; then we sent Deane, and for a change he would have war with the Arabs.... It is difficult to get men who are always wise, and understand thoroughly what their orders are" (1:70). No mention is made of Rom; this was before his time at the station. But he would certainly continue the trend. As would, ironically, Tippu-Tib himself. For Stanley proceeds to offer him the job, which he accepts, but then proves to be a renegade in his own right, continually promising and never delivering aid to the ill-fated Rear Column of Stanley's expedition. What seems clear in all of these accounts is the effectual isolation of the officer in charge. Maverick behavior grew out of the situation itself, a situation characterized by a mix of power and infrequent communication with external authority, just as Watt suggests (144-5). Given this background, Conrad's placement of Kurtz in a parallel setting can hardly be deemed accidental. Such settings were notorious--thanks especially to Stanley's works--as the settings of real, recurring perplexities.

In a narrative move that is emblematic of Conrad's genius he both invokes these familiar preconceptions about the heart of Africa and accentuates their applicability by locating Kurtz's Inner Station not merely at Stanley Falls, but in the far more isolated headwaters of the Kasai River, a tributary of the Congo. As White and Finston have cogently demonstrated, the longstanding notion that the Inner Station is based on the outpost at Stanley Falls where Conrad's own up-river journey ended is contradicted both by precise references in Heart of Darkness to distances travelled, and by the novel's description of the station's environs (. Both the set distances and the details of the river itself--a shallow, narrow waterway with forests hemming it in closely on both sides--attest that "Conrad located Kurtz's Inner Station on the west bank of the Kasai, 300 miles upriver from a military post and just over 800 miles from the Central Station situated at Kwamouth where the Kwa (a.k.a. Kasai) and the Congo rivers converge" (White and Finston 15). As White and Finston point out, indeed Conrad "had to know" that owing to "fairly numerous public records" his more astute contemporary readers would quickly recognize that the Inner Station was not located on the vast and easily navigable Congo (5). "A lonely station on the Kasai," however, fits the bill perfectly as it is a place well beyond even Belgian military control (White and Finston 15-16). Vis-a-vis Europe and those areas of central Africa that were under regular Congo Free State direction, Conrad places Kurtz in a place of extreme uncertainty for a European, a sort of geographical abyss.

Furthermore, in Stanley's works and later in Glave's the aura of uncertainty inherent in the setting of Kurtz's downfall is given a particularly lurid aspect through the insistent repetition of a particular symbolic image: human skulls used for symbolic decoration. This arresting image, which casual readers might easily assume to be unique to Heart of Darkness, comes up not once or twice but many times in previous texts. In Heart of Darkness, of course, Marlow attests that "the first result" of his sudden apprehension that it was human heads rather than merely "round carved balls" on the "half a dozen slim posts" in front of Kurtz's house "was to make me throw my head back as if before a blow" (52, 57). Yet both Stanley and Glave had made it abundantly clear that the display of skulls on posts was a commonplace in central Africa. For example, Stanley, in one notable description of a community of several villages he raided in retaliation for an attack on his company, conveys in Through the Dark Continent that "evidences of cannibalism were numerous in the human and 'soko' skulls that grinned on many poles, and the bones that were freely scattered in the neighborhood, near the village garbage heaps and the river banks" (2: 274). In another instance he casually mentions that "human skulls ornamented the village streets of the island" (2:237-8), and in still another passage he notes the display of some thirty bleached skulls in front of a village chief's house, commenting: "It is the same story throughout Africa" (2:27). The commonality of the practice is further dramatized when Stanley makes it clear that the fear of having their own heads taken was never far from the thoughts of his company: "every man felt that he must either fight or resign himself to the only other alternative, that of being heaved a headless corpse into the river" (2:184).

In Glave's plainly derivative work the practice of taking and displaying skulls is if anything even more clearly placed in the foreground. As Firchow attests, even if the Rom account in Glave's 1895 diary provided the immediate impetus for Conrad's creation of Kurtz, Glave's most substantive influence probably came through his 1892 book, In Savage Africa. In this book Glave describes his own discovery of an abandoned village, where "placed on sticks in front of [the houses] were several whitening skulls" (qtd. in Firchow 135-6). This, however, is only the beginning. Glaves treatment of the topic is much more extensive than Firchow has maintained.

Glave refers to the practice of decorating with skulls no fewer than seven times in In Savage Africa, often at considerable length (51, 71, 73, 122-6, 194-5, 204-6, 220). He tells, for instance, how in one of the first villages he visited near his new station in Lukolela he found that "nearly every hut was decorated with the whitening skull of some slave or victim," affirming the "characteristic barbarism" of the local people (51). In the following chapter this barbarism acquires a personal flair as Glave recounts how an "old chief" in an adjacent settlement declared "that he was 'Mokunje Monene (the big chief) of this part of the country," and warned the interloping Glave "that his vengeance would not be complete until my head decorated the roof of his house" (71). Glave subsequently discovered that such "ghastly ornaments" did indeed abound in front of this chief's house (73). In fact Glave went on to attest that the ritual murder of slaves especially was something of a local pastime, which at irregular but not infrequent intervals introduced a sort of festival atmosphere into the community, as "old and young of both sexes give themselves up to the indulgence of the ghastly spectacle" of violent executions (122-6). Glave's neighbors apparently went so far as to tempt him with the prospect of taking some trophy heads of his own by assisting them in a raid. The instance testifies to the suggested ordinariness of the practice: "it was strange to these savage beings," he explains, "that I should express abhorrence of their scheme" (220). In fact, "the only attempt at ornamenting their village huts is by hanging up bunches of skulls in conspicuous places" (220). His squeamishness made little sense to them, though in deference to his wishes and authority they apparently ceased to perform their ceremonies in his presence or with his knowledge (126, 204).

Glave, despite sometimes being counted a friend of Africa, (7) cannot stop talking about heads on posts. And consequently, as in the writing of Stanley before him, this practice comes to imply an entire culture that delights in the shedding of blood. For Stanley and Glave, as also for Kurtz and Marlow, heads on stakes are a threat, symbolizing the twin danger of violence being done to one's person, and the temptation of being seduced by the blood lust of the alien culture. Marlow, significantly, finds the "round knobs ... not ornamental but symbolic; ... expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing" (Heart of Darkness 57). In actuality skulls displayed on posts were ornamental (as well as symbolic), but in Conrad's novel, as in the works of his predecessors, the inherently sensational nature of the image viewed from a European perspective makes it dominant, the thing that readers cannot stop thinking about, even long after their direct engagement with the text is over. Thus Africa becomes for readers predominantly a place where human heads get jammed on posts to give a house a little decoration--a place inhabited by beings capable of and even eager to enact such atrocities.

The imagery is powerful in itself. Yet in Heart of Darkness, even more than in the works of Stanley and Glave, it becomes extraordinarily potent owing to Conrad's better understanding of, or perhaps simply truer instinct in rendering, sensational narration. As recent scholarship on literary sensationalism distinguishes, there is "material that is made sensational by its manner of display and material that is inherently sensational" (Stevens 78). Conrad's selection of this particular image displays a good instinct for the inherently sensational, and his ironic achievement is that even more successfully than the explorer-journalists who preceded him he displays this material in a manner that makes it memorable. Whereas both Glave and Stanley tend to multiply examples and details, Conrad invites the reader into a gripping experience of progressive apprehension.

As Warren Francke attests, speaking specifically of the emerging sensationalism in journalistic work of the late nineteenth century, "the core of sensational news is sensory detail" (81)--the inclusion of "not only sights and smells, but sounds," details that help to fully create a vicarious experience (84). As Francke stresses above all else, effective sensationalism requires "involving readers in the sensory experience, ... particularly in its application to 'how the other half lives,' i.e., to low life and the dark side" (84). This Conrad does to perfection in the moment when Marlow sees the human heads displayed around the Inner Station. Apprehending all things through Marlow, as the narration solely allows, we as readers also perceive at first only a knob-topped picket fence. This is the image that the second installment of the tale leaves us to ponder. Only several pages later, in the third and final installment of the book, are we given a glimpse of the true nature of these knobs, as seen through Marlow's spy glass. Seeing the heads clearly at last, we too are struck back, as by a blow. No dozen or even hundred carefully catalogued instances of such ornamentation can match the effect of this singular realization. Nor are all the passages in Glave and Stanley together any more memorable in their symbolism and detail than the subtle notation that all but one of Kurtz's trophy heads are "turned to the house," and the subsequent description of the one out-turned head: "black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids--a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth" (Heart of Darkness 57).

Similarly, though reconstructing a river battle was Stanley's forte, Conrad's appropriation of this sensational spectacle in Heart of Darkness may well exceed in its potency even the cumulative impact of all thirty-two "desperate combats" recorded in Through the Dark Continent (2: 277, 324). For whereas here again exploration narratives like those of Stanley and Glave tend to create emphasis through repetition and dramatic description, the net effect is arguably to overwhelm the reader and blunt the impact of each individual account. In contrast, the ambush of the steamboat in Heart of Darkness turns the familiar event of a river battle with natives into a key plot element dramatizing the uncertainty and danger of the densely forested riverbank environment. Heads on posts, it might be suggested, are only the quiescent evidence of savagery. Behind such symbols are vivid events: raids, rituals--murder. Unlike Stanley, Conrad manages to channel the dread of such horrors without making their practitioners accessible to our full apprehension.

In Stanley's books a river battle is most often a wide-open conflict fought with rifles and spears and occasionally hand-to-hand by men in canoes or on shore in villages. The excitement of these spectacles derives from the staggering numbers of African assailants and their incredible strength, extraordinarily colorful dress, and implacable ferocity. In the second volume of Through the Dark Continent, for instance, a typical river battle account begins with local warriors in canoes approaching suddenly "from both banks at once, in fierce concert" (2: 200). Aided by interpreters Stanley tries unsuccessfully to reason with his assailants, but is told in response: "This is our river ... We don't want you for our friends; we will eat you" (2: 200-01). The African warriors proceed to paddle rapidly forward, crying out: "'Meat! meat! Ah! ha! We shall have plenty of meat! Bo-bo-bo-bo, Bo-bo-bo-bo-o-o!'" Conrad, of course, picks up on the cannibalistic notion presented here and in so many other accounts, even mimicking Stanley's pragmatic rumination: "It seemed to me absurd to be angry with people who looked upon one only as an epicure would regard a fat capon" (Through the Dark Continent 2: 201). Conrad has the "head-man" of his cannibal crew ask for a captive to be given to them so they can "Eat 'im!" (40), in response to which Marlow thinks to himself that he "would no doubt have been properly horrified had it not occurred to me that he and his chaps must be very hungry" (Heart of Darkness 40).

Always central, however, is the spectacle of the attack itself. Recent Stanley biographer Tim Jeal admires the ensuing "exciting set piece about an encounter with between fifty and sixty canoes--manned by members of the Bangala (Ngala) tribe--that extended from the morning of the 14th to the late afternoon of 15 February" in 1877 (201). Near the confluence of the Aruwimi and the Congo rivers, Stanley records, his party was attacked by a veritable armada of fifty-four "gigantic" war canoes led by a "monster canoe" and all manned by "prime young warriors, their heads gay with feathers of the parrot crimson and grey," some ten of whom were "dancing up and down from stem to stern ... who appear to be the chiefs" (Through the Dark Continent 2: 270-1). He goes on to describe "the crashing sound of large drums, a hundred blasts from ivory horns, and a thrilling chant from two thousand human throats" (2: 271). Conrad, of course, in what seems a striking coincidence, would later describe Kurtzs followers as "two thousand" "naked, breathing, quivering, bronze bodies" (Heart of Darkness 66). Stanley goes on to describe how the two sides quickly engaged one another in a furious, extended river battle: arrows and spears against repeating rifles. The African warriors "let fly their spears," were answered by "ripping, cracking musketry," and in a horror of carnage were finally put to flight. This is the sort of ostensibly historical narrative that Stanley is known for: a prototypical encounter with hostile African natives in which the "insensate ferocity" of his attackers is vividly evident (2: 59-60).

It is another sort of attack that coincides most closely with Heart of Darkness, however: the ambush. The ambush of the steamer in Heart of Darkness mirrors in particular an account given a bit earlier in volume two of Through the Dark Continent. In both Stanley's ostensibly journalistic text and Conrad's more clearly fictional one, the struggle begins before the Europeans on the river realize it. Quite abruptly in Heart of Darkness "sticks, little sticks, were flying about--thick: they were whizzing before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against my pilot-house" (44). And "all this time," Marlow recounts, "the river, the shore, the woods, were very quiet--perfectly quiet" (44). Similarly in Through the Dark Continent, Stanley recounts being "suddenly surprised by hearing a cry from one of the guards," and "turning round" only to see "an arrow fixed in his chest" (2: 178). The silence had not been broken, save for this man's cry, but following the trajectory of the arrow, "the next instant," Stanley records, "looking toward the bank, we saw the forms of men in the jungle, and several arrows flew past my head in extremely unpleasant proximity."

A sudden vision of attackers in the bush is an equally memorable moment in Conrad's narrative. Marlow discerns first a single "face amongst the leaves on the level with my own, looking at me very fierce and steady; and then suddenly, as though a veil had been removed from my eyes, I made out, deep in the tangled gloom, naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes--the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening, of bronze colour" (45). At this point in both narratives the silence is broken by a host of guns firing, with answering screams of pain from those struck on shore. Marlow recites that "a fusillade burst out under my feet," and "the bush began to howl." In Stanley the cause-effect sequence is even more striking, as "the sharp crack of the scouts' Sniders" is "responded to by an infernal din of war-horns and yells, while arrows flew past in all directions" (2: 179). Interestingly, in Stanley there is no equivalent to the curious frightening of the African attackers by a steam whistle; this detail appears to have been appropriated from Glave (Savage 189, 236; Firchow 135). Without the benefit of steamboat or whistle, Stanley's men are able to repulse their attackers only after two hours of "desperate conflict," at the end of which the Africans retreated back into "the gloomy obscurities of the jungle, where they maintained, with indomitable spirit, horn-blowing and a terrific 'bo-bo-boing'" (2:183).

Solidifying the familiarity of the scene is an additional parallel account from In Darkest Africa. Stanley describes a scouting party detached from his main group crossing a creek when "a body of natives had suddenly issued on the other side and shot their arrows into them" (177). The silence noted by Conrad reflects accounts of this event--one of Stanley's lieutenants, Arthur Jephson, wrote: "It is a curious sensation, being shot at by arrows, one sees & hears nothing but the 'pit, pit, pit' of the arrows as they strike the brushwood around" (qtd. in Jeal 338-9). Stanley himself recorded that after his men had ceased firing their attackers persisted in deadly silence, until some "two minutes later the arrows had ceased their patter among the leaves" (In Darkest Africa 177). The wording here is clearly reminiscent of Marlow's description of hearing nothing initially but "the patter of these things," and the concluding detail that finally "the shower of arrows stopped; a few dropping shots rang out sharply--then silence" (44, 46). Also curiously familiar in this later Stanley account is the image of gun-wielding men "firing in the most senseless fashion at some suspicious bushes across the creek" (177). This matches precisely with the description of Conrad's pilgrims "simply squirting lead into that bush" (45). The arrows, too, are described in a similar way, Stanley noting that they were only about two feet long, very thin, and smeared at their tips with poison (179-80), while in Conrad's version Marlow succinctly comments that the arrows "might have been poisoned but they looked as though they wouldn't kill a cat" (45). In Heart of Darkness, of course, the attack culminates in much the same way that Stanley's account began, as Marlow's helmsman is transfixed with a spear and in an instant falls dead at his side (46).

In this narrative segment that is uncharacteristically concrete in the midst of a predominantly impressionistic narrative (Brantlinger, Watt), Conrad echoes the sensationalism of Stanley. He improves on it by magnifying the intensely personal quality of the experience, and the sense of mystery and uncertainty that surrounds the African assailants. It is a mark of Conrad's carefully calculated artistry that the vast documented history of perceived African barbarism in the works of Stanley, Glave, and so many others, is cagily condensed in Heart of Darkness into the singular event of the ambush of the steamboat. Perhaps more than any other textual element this event connotes African savagery and Kurtz's degeneration into it--Kurtz may well have ordered the attack, and the event is presented as something thoroughly in the nature of his followers (Heart of Darkness 63-5).


Conrad's dovetailing of his narrative with established news reports, and more especially the published narratives of famous African explorers, is hardly surprising. He was, in the first place, an author who cared about facts. In the second place, he was an eager reader of travel books. In fact, if Heart of Darkness has often been taken rather literally, much of the responsibility for this must be directed back to Conrad himself, who in a well-known statement categorized the narrative as "experience pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case" ("Author's Note" xi). What makes this claim intriguing is not what it establishes in terms of the veracity of the novel or the mode of its composition. The mere assertion in itself proves nothing along these lines. The real significance is what it intimates about Conrad's perspectives on literary realism and how he wished for the novel to be read. This becomes clearer when his statement, so often quoted in isolation by historicist critics of the text, is read in its larger context.

Along these lines, it is a literary curiosity that Heart of Darkness, now so famous, was initially and for many years published in book form merely as the middle story in a collection that opened with and took its primary title from Conrad's Youth: A Narrative, and included also The End of the Tether. The three works together first came out in 1902, and it was some fifteen years later, in an "Authors Note" prefacing the 1917 edition, that Conrad's famous statement regarding the veracity of Heart of Darkness first appeared. In the "Author's Note" Conrad posits that Youth is "a feat of memory," a straightforward "record of experience" which "in its facts, in its inwardness and in its outward coloring, begins and ends in myself" (xi). Heart of Darkness, he goes on to say, is "experience, too; but it is experience pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case" (xi). This statement taken in its entirety is curious in that it seems to authorize historical readings of Heart of Darkness while simultaneously acknowledging an artful alteration or augmentation of his personal experience by the inclusion of extra-experiential (imagined or borrowed) ideas and events. Heart of Darkness is positioned as inferior to Youth because it is at least partially formed from details that have been appropriated or embellished. Yet Conrad seems to wish not to discredit his text by describing it as essentially a work of fiction. On the contrary, he seems eager to aver the fundamental verisimilitude of his storyline, even as apparent candor compels him to confess the artful alteration (or perhaps merely augmentation) of his own knowledge and experience.

A further distinction that develops these inclinations is drawn in the "Author's Note" between Heart of Darkness and The End of the Tether. Conrad characterizes the third and final piece in the set as "a story of sea-life" composed not from personal experience but from a general knowledge gained by "having lived that life fully" (xi). As for the extraneous details of that story, Conrad admits "one had to pick up one's facts here and there," and "more skill would have made them more real and the whole composition more interesting" (xii). Thus Heart of Darkness is situated by its author in the middle of a spectrum, a spectrum which emerges as a sort of hierarchy of literary realism, ranging from the avowedly all real narrative of Youth to The End of the Tether, a work which although wholly invented was nevertheless strategically cobbled together from accumulated "facts" so as to be as "realistic" as possible (xii).

That Conrad cared about "facts" not only in retrospect but at the time he wrote Heart of Darkness is confirmed by his private correspondence. Najder places the date on which Conrad began writing Heart of Darkness around December 15, 1898 (286). A letter to his publisher, William Blackwood, written just two days before this, finds Conrad complaining about a recent review of his early Malayan novels, Almayer's Folly and The Nigger of the Narcissus, alleging that the reviewer is "extremely laudatory but in fact telling me I don't know anything about it" (CL 2: 129-130). In response to this perceived criticism Conrad protests: "Well I never did set up as an authority on Malaysia. I looked for a medium in which to express myself. I am inexact and ignorant no doubt (most of us are) but I don't think I sinned so recklessly." He proceeds to attest that "curiously enough all the details about the little characteristic acts and customs which they hold up as proof [of ignorance or inaccuracy] I have taken out (to be safe) from undoubted sources--dull, wise books." He even goes so far as to maintain "there's not a single action of my man (and a good many of his expressions) that cannot be backed by a traveler's tale--I mean a serious traveler's." These protestations are revealing. Paired with his subsequent implied hierarchy of realism, they suggest an artist who took great care in observing human nature and local culture--mentally hoarding his own experiences--and when these proved insufficient, drew from outside sources that he considered reliable.

In the case of Heart of Darkness, there can be little doubt that Conrad's personal experience did serve as a fundamental starting point and constant compass in his composition of the novel. In a 1903 letter to Roger Casement, whose acquaintance he had first made in Africa, Conrad states that during his "sojourn in the interior, keeping [his] eyes and ears well open too," he had made "definite inquiries as to the tribal customs," and that his "informants were numerous, of all sorts--and many of them possessed of abundant knowledge" (CL 3:95). Conrad was a natural observer, and moreover he was already engaged in the drafting of his first novel, Almayer's Folly, while in Africa, and was therefore in a writerly frame of mind (Najder, Congo Diary 3-4). The "Congo Diary" may even have been kept for a specifically literary purpose. In Najder's view, "as a beginning author and realizing well the thematic possibilities offered by his African journey, [Conrad] apparently wished to put down some distinct and concrete impressions--in order to be able later to bolster his memories with hard data" (4).

Yet the need for supplementary factual material in the drafting of Heart of Darkness is apparent. Certainly the "Congo Diary," "Up-river Book," and Conrad's letters to family and friends penned during his roughly six-month sojourn in Africa would seem to indicate that he did not personally experience many of the things described in Heart of Darkness. And where his personal experience ended, Conrad seems to have been predisposed to filling in with knowledge taken from trusted sources. Conrad was a voracious, if selective, reader, and travel books were his particular passion (Firchow 132). The publication of a new travel book could evoke tremendous enthusiasm from him. On December 1, 1898, for instance, just a few weeks before he began writing Heart of Darkness, Conrad exultantly addressed a letter to his friend Cunninghame Graham, who had just come out with a book of impressions on travel and daily life in northern Africa. In his letter Conrad relates how upon receiving the package containing Graham's new book, "I dropped everything--as you may imagine and rushed at it paper knife in hand" (CL 2: 124). He goes on to provide an almost comically dramatic sketch of himself reading the book with a house guest hunched over his shoulder ("for we share our best with the stranger within our tent"), recounting that "no thirsty men drank water as we have been drinking in, swallowing, tasting, blessing, enjoying, gurgling, choking over, absorbing, your thought, your phrases, your irony, the spirit of your wisdom and of Your expression." Such extraordinary enthusiasm was not merely reserved for the work of friends. It is echoed in other letters written around the same time (e.g. CL 2: 125), and again in a February 1899 letter to his cousin by marriage Aniela Zagorska, in which he lauds Mary Kingsleys recently published account of her African travels: "I will send you soon a note on Miss Kingsley's book on Africa. Cest un voyageur et un ecrivain tres remarquable" (CL 2:156). Although by his own admission he was "awfully busy" during this period trying to satisfy the demands of "these wretched editors" with the final installment of Heart of Darkness, Conrad still found time for travel literature.

What makes this passion for travel books all the more interesting is the fact that Conrad apparently possessed "a phenomenal memory ... both of texts and of remembered details." But it was "not a memory strictly categorized according to sources, marshaled into homogenous entities; it was, rather, an enormous receptacle of images and pieces from which he would draw" (Najder 457). Instead, as Najder affirms, Conrad "treated the texts of eminent writers, and also texts of documents, as a raw material of the same kind as the content of his own memory" (457). In fact, as reflected in the tenor of his statements to Blackwood, in some instances he did so deliberately and unabashedly--to be "safe," as he put it (CL 2: 129-130). And when he did pirate material he made little effort to cover his tracks, as he "very rarely borrowed from forgotten, little-known, or second-rank books" (Najder 457). The travel books of men like Stanley and Glave were hardly "forgotten, little-known, or second-rank books," and they are precisely the sort of books that Conrad seems to have been mad after. They are also books that Conrad could safely have assumed many of his readers would have been familiar with, thus providing a ready context for his own spin on things.

By the time Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, his plot details would have been perceived by contemporaries to echo similar accounts in works of ostensibly much greater gravity, most prominently the works of Stanley and Glave. Though Conrad has emerged today as a singularly conspicuous voice representing Africa in the late nineteenth century, in his day he was merely a fictional chronicler of occurrences in the heart of Africa that were perceived to be solidly factual. His narrative, from the initial notion of the allure of blank spaces on maps to the spectacle of heads on posts and the experience of a river ambush in the heart of Africa, was hardly novel. It re-invoked prior discourses, building on and craftily enhancing their sensationalism. Verisimilitude was an artistic ideal that Conrad pursued for rhetorical reasons.


Considering Conrad's adaptation of his own experiences, including his own reading, the possibility must be acknowledged that Through the Dark Continent, In Darkest Africa, and In Savage Africa were key intertexts for Heart of Darkness. Conrad surely knew of Stanley's work, (8) and there is good reason to further suppose that this work resided in his memory as that of a "serious" traveler. Indeed Stanley's ethos was such that even his critics tended to accept his accounts, castigating his more egregious recorded actions, but in doing so essentially accepting their veracity. Jeal notes, for instance, that the initial reviews of In Darkest Africa, in which Stanley (to his own later detriment) covered for the inhumane behavior of his lieutenants, were "mostly favorable," as "even the partisan Spectator pronounced: 'the writing is always clear and rises into passages of high literary merit'" (402). The "equally demanding Athenaeum and the Edinburgh Review also praised the book, with only minor cavils, and unquestioningly accepted Stanley's account of the disaster that had overtaken the Rear Column" (402). Even more grandly, Whitehall's Review surmised that "the book must always live ... a history which, hundreds of years hence, will tell of the babyhood of Africa" (qtd. in Jeal 402). The Leeds Mercury enthusiastically proclaimed that "the voice of criticism becomes dumb in the presence of the simple record" of Stanley's accomplishment (qtd. in Jeal 403). Stanley's books were received as "history," as a "simple record" beyond factual reproach.

Furthermore, Stanley's success must have appealed on some level to Conrad. Though disdainful of the machinations and compromises of authors who made themselves popular (CL 2: 137), and genuinely averse to political activism (as reflected in his refusal to address the pacifists), he was nevertheless desperately in need of a literary success at the time he wrote Heart of Darkness. In a letter to critic-friend Edward Garnett dated December 18, 1898--quite likely the first recorded reference to Heart of Darkness--Conrad confesses, "I am now at a short story for B'wood which I must get out for the sake of shekels" (CL 2: 132). In subsequent letters to colleagues and friends he likewise complains bitterly about his "infernal tale," which "grows like the genii from the bottle" but is "a rotten thing," and one which circumstances dictate must be produced "in a frightful hurry" (CL 2: 146, 150, 151). Stanley's books presented an artistically bankrupt but financially resplendent conversion of adventures abroad into royalties at home.

The reality behind Stanley's accepted objectivity and material success is highly suspect, however. For although Stanley's books were marvelously detailed, authoritative, and generally trusted in their day and for many years after by the British press and readers generally, their contents have repeatedly been revealed in recent years to be unreliable. As time has made abundantly clear, Stanley was a fabricator of the first order. His very name and claimed Americanism were an elaborately maintained fiction. By birth he was John Rowlands, a Welshman abandoned by his mother in his infancy and mainly brought up in a workhouse (McLynn, Stanley: The Making 14-23; Jeal 17-24). Looking for evidence of his textual unreliability, one could point (as McLynn and Jeal both do) to numerous passages in the Autobiography that was published by his wife, Dorothy, after Stanley's death.

Even more interesting for current purposes, however, is an example from the early days of his journalistic career that plainly illustrates his capacity for literary fabrication. As McLynn recounts, Stanley, following a two-months-long botched romance with a "young Greek girl," got his career as a war correspondent back on track with an exciting firsthand account of a trek along the south coast of Crete with a band of guerrillas who successfully battled a group of Turkish soldiers, killing twenty-five (Stanley: The Making 77-8). "The trouble," McLynn attests, "is that Stanley was nowhere near Crete on the dates (7-18 September) when he was supposed to be accompanying the gallant guerrillas. On these days he was either in Athens or Siros or on board ship in the Aegean. Moreover, he claimed to have taken a direct service from the south of Crete to Alexandria, when everyone knew there was no such service" (78). As McLynn concludes, "The entire exciting episode was a fiction, expertly cobbled together with copious circumstantial detail from the mass of information Stanley had acquired on his passage through the islands" (78).

How much of Stanley's African information, we might wonder, is as fictional as this early bit of opportunistic journalism? For example, Stanley is perhaps best known for accounts such as the tale of the fifty-four charging war canoes. That particular account has now been anthologized (Damrosch 1924-5), and it was a fan favorite even in Stanley's lifetime. Glave repeatedly speaks of it in In Savage Africa, claiming that the Africans in his district literally marked time from it, and telling how Stanley himself, "eyes fired with the reminiscences of the glorious past," would regale listeners around the campfire in the Congo with the tale (35, 38-9, 44). But was the actual encounter really anything like the literary description that Stanley so meticulously provides? Jeal concedes that what took place was indeed "a very testing encounter," but attests that Stanley's account of it "qualifies as one of his classic exaggerations" (201). In fact the famed explorer ironically "caused totally unnecessary damage to his reputation by inflating the incident into a major battle in his book" (201). Based on the more credible unpublished diary of Frank Pocock, who traveled with Stanley as a sort of first lieutenant on the trek recounted in Through the Dark Continent, the fighting did extend over a span of two days, but no more than eight African canoes were ever involved at any one time, and the total attacking fleet did not number more than twenty (201). More canoes made the tale more exciting, however, and once the published account was out, Stanley stuck with it and repeated it as written ever after. The printed record seems to have become his personal reality going forward, even in verbal reminiscences with close friends, as Glave's account shows.

This tendency is magnified by instances where Stanley's books exaggerated the odds against him and the death tolls of his fights in order to put a favorable spin on events that had not gone well. Jeal points out the narrative that did perhaps the most damage to Stanley's reputation in his own lifetime, his exaggeration of the scope of a tit-for-tat exchange of hostilities with the inhabitants of the island of Bumbireh on Lake Victoria. According to his biographer, Stanley's "psychological need to prove that no one ever got the better of him was a character weakness he felt unable to admit to in public in order to explain his exaggeration" (222).

It may even be that Stanley routinely embellished his representations of African savagery in a deliberate effort to inspire philanthropy. He dreamed of a day when "all the land be redeemed from wildness, the industry and energy of the natives stimulated, the havoc of the slave-trade stopped, and all the countries round about permeated with the nobler ethics of a higher humanity" (Through the Dark Continent 1: 223). "But at present," he concludes in Through the Dark Continent, "the hands of the people are lifted--murder in their hearts--one against the other; ferocity is kindled at sight of the wayfarer; [...] and each tribe, with rage and hate in its heart, remains aloof from the other." His great wish was for "a band of philanthropic capitalists ... to rescue these beautiful lands" (1: 223). Though not a man to shrink from a completely self-interested fabrication, Stanley may have been even bolder in coloring his narratives in instances where his ends were philanthropic. The "darker" he could paint it, the more the African continent seemed to cry out for enlightenment. As Through the Dark Continent progresses, the theme of a continent needing to be rescued steadily gains in strength, with more and more frequent accounts of attacks accompanied by expansive authorial commentaries. Stanley constantly harps on the "insensate ferocity of the Wadembe cannibals" (2: 59-60) and the rapacious barbarism of the "savage and murderous and cannibalistic" Manyema (2:86), for instance, not just to give his readers thrills, but as pleas for intervention.

The significance of such sensationalism informing Heart of Darkness is clear. If in fact attacks by Africans were not nearly such common nor such cataclysmic events as Stanley's books suggest, then Conrad's recognizable use of such an event as a central plot element reiterates a pestilent stereotype. The emphasis placed in Heart of Darkness on the practice of displaying human heads on posts further replicates the highly selective attention already focused on that grisly practice through the narratives of explorers like Stanley and Glave. Of all the possible tropes that could have been invoked by Conrad in relation to central Africa, he chose to tie in to the most disturbingly memorable images of African violence.

In theoretical terms, this invocation of familiar elements from prior texts might be said to function in the mode of what Roland Barthes calls "cultural codes" (18). Through the invocation or deployment of such codes, which as Barthes suggests may also helpfully be labeled "reference codes," a work of fiction like Heart of Darkness invokes "a galaxy of signifiers" whose connotations readers interpret in the context of shared cultural "knowledge or wisdom" (18). This shared "knowledge," which need not be accurate to be influential, works to "afford the discourse a basis in scientific or moral authority" (18). Stanley and his literary scions had, through selective, sensational renderings, arrayed prior to February 1899 a dense galaxy of signifiers around the focal motif of African savagery. Conrad in turn allusively channeled their narrative precision and experience-based ethos to lend an air of horrific verisimilitude to his work, thereby triggering exactly what he "hoped" for: a "sinister resonance" that does indeed "hang in the air and dwell on the ear after the last note ha[s] been struck" ("Author's Note" xi).

This artistically effectual but politically reprehensible intertextual alliance may be seen as an outgrowth of Conrad's broader motives in fashioning his tale. As Najder cogently attests, Conrad "cared for the authenticity of his sources but treated them as raw material to be subordinated to artistic transformations" (119). His correspondence supports this. In a further response to the travel book by Graham that he so enjoyed, Conrad proclaimed that "nothing approaching it had [sic] appeared since Burtons Mecca"--the book is "a work of art" (CL 2: 125). A travel book "written like this," he insists, "is no longer a book of travel--it is a creative work." Conrad esteemed Graham's book "a contribution not towards mere knowledge but towards truth--to the truth hidden in men--in things--in life--in nature--to the truth only exceptional men can see, and not every exceptional man can present to the ordinary dim eyes of the crowd." There can be little doubt that Conrad aspired to be creatively exceptional in the same way, pressing from ordinary experience the precious oil of transcendental truth, and making that truth available through the fictional medium to his late-nineteenth-century European and American reading public.

To this end, despite repeated avowals of his predisposition to rely on actual experience or credible facts, he regularly exercised artistic license in his fiction. In fact, the only explanation that might reconcile his statements with his writerly practices is that the factual and the fictional in Conrad's artistic eyes were not the same as for most people. A hint of this comes across in his explanation to Blackwood that in the Malaysian settings of his first novels he had primarily "looked for a medium in which to express [him]self" (CL 2: 130). Some years later he would offer a similar but more illustrative explanation of his artistic philosophy when confronted by an alert critic with evidence that his avowedly most personal and factual narrative, Youth (the great "feat of memory" referred to in his "Author's Note"), was, in fact, at least partly inaccurate. Richard Curie revealed in 1922 that the real world setting of the narrative was the port of Mintok, but that Conrad's story greatly exaggerates distances and alters the appearance of that port. To this Conrad protested in obvious exasperation that the real Mintok is nothing more than "a damned hole without any beach and without any glamour and in relation to the parag[graph]. is not in tone. Therefore the paragraph], when pinned to a particular spot, must appear diminished--a fake" (qtd. in Najder 94). This curious explanation gives an ironic twist to Conrad's avowals that Heart of Darkness is a narrative "in the manner of Youth" and one "quite as authentic in fundamentals as Youth" (CL 2:133, 139, 145; "Author's Note" xi).

What mattered most to Conrad, as apparently to Stanley before him, was the effect, the impact, of a text, and possibly his own reputation and credibility in connection with it. The fact is that both authors were prone to exaggeration and even outright fabrication in their writing as in their personal lives. Conrad, for his part, routinely exaggerated his experience as a seaman, inflating his resume and even lying on one occasion to a merchant marine review board. (9) This last instance in particular Najder finds "rather surprising," considering the setting and that Conrad maintained his "distortions of fact" even under "rigorous" questioning, but Najder attests that "on future occasions Conrad similarly tended to depart from the truth" (187). A Conradian equivalent of Stanley's report of running with the guerrillas of Crete appears in Conrad's correspondence from 1895. Over the course of a couple of weeks in August 1895 Conrad apparently engaged in a frenzied "buying and selling [of] claims on South African gold mines" in Paris (Jeal 213). In later recounting these events in a letter to a friend, Conrad claimed to have worked closely with a number of important Parisian financiers whom he almost certainly never met. Najder calls this "a typical hoax--not journalistic but epistolary" (214), noting that Conrad's letter "sounds a little too sensational and boastful to be taken as a faithful rendering of facts" (213). In general, Najder concludes, Conrad's reminiscences in letters and even more in literature are often "not reflections of reality" but of a "subjective personal truth" (189). From the roughly twenty years of his adult life preceding his becoming a professional writer, Conrad "tried to extract ... everything precious they could yield--everything and more" (Najder 189). Conrad and Stanley were more similar as writers than they might initially appear.


In a fascinating final twist, a thorough reassessment of the Conrad-Stanley relationship particularly is warranted in light of Jeal's biography Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer (Yale UP, 2007). Jeal provides a riveting look at the life of the explorer as it emerges from the revelatory pages of a heretofore restricted collection of more than 7,000 documents acquired from the Stanley family by the Musee de l'Afrique Centrale in Brussels in 1982. The collection includes numerous letters, journals, and exploration notebooks penned by Stanley, as well as the private diaries of Stanley's wife, and several thousand letters written to Stanley over the course of his lifetime (Jeal 8-9). Based on new evidence and nuances derived from these sources, Jeal presents a composite portrait of Stanley that differs markedly from the caustic portrayals put forward by Biernan in Dark Safari: The Life Behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley (Knopf, 1990), and by McLynn in Stanley: The Making of an African Explorer (Constable, 1989) and Stanley: Sorcerer's Apprentice (Constable, 1991). While not denying Stanley's heavily paternalistic rhetorical posture toward Africans, or his apparently frequent recourse to violence in the course of his travels, Jeal convincingly refutes charges that Stanley was maliciously racist or Leopold's willing accomplice. (10) The careful biographer repeatedly confirms his initial suspicion that Stanley "exaggerated the number and intensity of his conflicts with Africans in order to make his copy more exciting" (387, 10-11). "Journalistic hyperbole" rather than "literal truth," Jeal posits, characterizes much of the "apparently damning" content of Stanley's books, rendering the heretofore "immutable stereotype" of a "brash and brutal Stanley" quite ironic (11, 472). Stanley was, in actual practice, typically no more, and usually much less bellicose and biased than his contemporaries (13-16). But he was absolutely an early tabloid journalist, whose works tend to be the more sensational the less they were subject to corroboration.

Conrad similarly emerges from the pages of his most recent and comprehensive biography (the extensively revised second edition of Najder's Joseph Conrad: A Life (Camden House, 2007)), as an author whose frequent attestations of the realism of his fiction are belied by abundant evidence of artistic adaptation, often taking the form of sensational exaggeration. A multilayered irony emerges. Conrad, who to all appearances seems to differ markedly from Stanley in his politics, personality, and writing style, may fit a similar profile in his approach to Heart of Darkness, and in so doing replicate and enhance the impact of material that worked against the grain of core sentiments that both men privately shared. A deeper and more enveloping irony operates in the possibility that the perceived prejudices of readers may have prompted both authors to deliberately sensationalize their narratives. The irony in this case, of course, would be that these narratives would then have quickened the very prejudices that inspired their production, contributing to the perpetuation of insidious anti-African sentiments.

There is saving irony, however, in the core political views of both men. A spotlight that illuminates both Conrad and Stanley is their shared admission, late in their lives, that they really had no business ever being in Africa at all. Conrad is quite frank in the "Author's Note" prefacing Heart of Darkness regarding the inappropriateness of his presence on the continent. "Of its origins," he says of the novel, "this much may be said: it is well known that curious men go prying into all sorts of places (where they have no business)" (x-xi). So it was, he attests, with his journey to "the centre of Africa, where, really, I had no sort of business" (xi). Stanley likewise admits as much in an about-face from his self-justification in Through the Dark Continent. In that text he argued that inasmuch as self-defense, for instance, "appeared to be a necessity, then why should we regret it? Could a man contend with the inevitable?" (2: 269). Yet later he would echo Conrad's confession, drawing an even more pointed conclusion of culpability: "We went into the heart of Africa self-invited--therein lies our fault" (qtd. in Jeal 225). These are the words of the other Stanley, the heretofore only partially perceived Stanley, who Jeal introduces as a man "determined to avoid fights," who "would never condone thefts from local villagers," and whose "love of the Wangwana was unfeigned" (217, 208).

It seems quite likely that, sensitive as both Stanley and Conrad were to the prejudices of their European and American readers, both authors sensationalized their narratives strategically, for their own pragmatic and even moralistic purposes. As societal outsiders, each in his own way--Conrad through his foreignness and Stanley through the circumstances of his birth and youth--both were keenly attuned to the insider prejudices of British society. In the intensely Orientalist atmosphere of the late-nineteenth century, the craving for books with contents that matched the sensationalism of the emerging yellow journalism was powerful (Said 41-3, 102-4). As Charles Dawbarn, in a 1915 article entitled "The Public and the Press," facetiously notes: "Journalists who conduct their newspapers for profit should learn to sit upon the fence and only descend at the proper time when the public has thoroughly made up its mind. Then the duty of the journalist is to lead the procession--whither it wants to go" (491). A similar note is struck in a 1919 article from the pages of Current Opinion: "the difficulty is that what the public wants is not invariably the truth. And the public molds the newspaper, quite as much as the newspaper molds the public" ("Problem of Truth" 181). Conrad was both a savvy manipulator of reader perceptions and a man subject to pressures from both within and without. Yet in synching his work with that of explorers like Stanley and Glave, Conrad crafted a narrative both damaging to Africa and artistically ironic.

Indeed the final irony falls back on Conrad. For implicit in the culminating textual revelation of Marlow's lie to the Intended, herself a transparent stand-in for the willfully ignorant "civilized" Western world, is the notion that readers, at least, have received the whole story, unembellished and unabridged--that Marlow has been totally frank with his hearers, and that readers by extension have been allowed to eavesdrop on the strict and entire truth. Conrad himself may well have believed this. But in reality Heart of Darkness, echoing as it does so many sensational tropes of African savagery, effectively reverberates the spurious cultural codes of its day both forward, across a century of time, and outward, resoundingly, to "the uttermost ends of the earth" (Heart of Darkness 77).


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(1.) Roughly a century after Conrad began his literary career, his notoriety has undergone a renaissance. As Padmini Mongia pointed out in 2005, "from 1993 onward, the MLA Bibliography averages over 100 listings a year with Conrad as their subject" (85).

(2.) The Conrad-Stanley connection is, of course, an obvious one in the sense that it pairs the most famous African explorer of the late nineteenth-century (Stanley), with the best known literary figure to have written about Africa in the same era (Conrad). Lines of relationship between the two have already been drawn by several scholars, most notably Robert Hampson in his introduction to the 1995 Penguin edition of Heart of Darkness (reprinted in Penguin Classics in 2000), Rosalind Meyer in a 1998 article focused on literary sources of the novel, and D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke in his introduction to the 1999 Broadview printing of the text. These studies provide a valuable groundwork of comparisons, especially at the level of plot, motif, and shared colonialist rhetoric, with Stanley and his works cast as representative of "the late-Victorian context in which [Heart of Darkness] was produced" (Hampson xii). Glaves contribution has been most fruitfully explored in the work of Peter Firchow.

(3.) Conrad had, of course, already used his Congo experience as material for "An Outpost of Progress." This short story, a fierce critique of colonialism, appeared in Tales of Unrest in March 1898 (Najder, Joseph Conrad xxi), and Conrad later confessed "a preference" for it, based particularly on his success in attaining therein "a scrupulous unity of tone," rather than being "led astray by my subject" (Najder, Congo Diary 82).

(4.) Tellingly, the Saturday Review column does not treat Glaves account of Roms savagery as a revelation, but simply as a ready example of what was by then a familiar problem. The column itself was a news feature covering a speech delivered to the Royal Statistical Society in mid-December of 1898 ("Notes," Saturday Review 802). As Hochschild suggests, it is quite likely that Conrad met that intrepid young officer as he passed through Leopoldville on his inland trek (145), and would therefore have been struck in a particular way by news of his subsequent behavior. It was not, in other words, the mere notion of ghoulish African ornamentation that would have been notable, but that Rom, a supposedly enlightened European, had indulged in it.

(5.) Glave's narrative is notable in that he never writes of Africa as a strange or forbidding place. His boyhood enthusiasm carries over into a mature relishing of every new experience. He expresses no sense of alienation in visiting various ports of call on his approach to the Congo region, and his arrival at and travel through the area is taken in stride (In Savage Africa 19-32). He seems to relish "the surrounding scenery [which] is as wild as the water it encloses" (27), and the people he meets, though variously described as "fantastically attired" (20), wretchedly "intoxicated" and "listless" (22), and "invariably friendly" (30), are all welcomed as fellow human beings.

(6.) In his infamously succinct dismissal of sub-Saharan Africa in the introduction to The Philosophy of History, Hegel states that "Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained--for ah purposes of connection with the rest of the World--shut up; it is the Gold-land compressed within itself--the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night" (91). Sub-Saharan Africa is "dark" because it keeps no written records of its history. It remains dark (for outsiders) owing to its inscrutability--which of course is not innate or inherent, but rather a reflection of the consciousness of the observer.

(7.) Glave is noted by one of the first missionaries to cry foul about European atrocities in the Congo as one "who would have been able to throw a lurid light on the practices of the State officials"--in other words, as a friend of the cause of Africans oppressed by the Belgians ("The Congo Free State" 14 Oct. 1895).

(8.) Although little in the way of direct, provable ties between the two writers exists, Conrad certainly was aware of Stanley long before he ever went to Africa, and apparently thought of him while there. Interestingly, Conrad's sole mention of Stanley is inexplicit, and would seem to indicate that he detested the man. In "Geography and Some Explorers" Conrad reminisces how, upon visiting Stanley Falls, the "very spot" of a "boyish boast" he had made to one day go to the heart of Africa, his thoughts in homage to David Livingstone were obscured by "the unholy recollection of a prosaic newspaper stunt and the distasteful knowledge of the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration" (272). The "prosaic newspaper stunt" referred to is almost certainly Stanleys much publicized finding of Livingstone (Meyer 333-4), and in order for Stanley to invade his private fantasies, Conrad must have been aware of him. Indeed, given Stanleys fame, Conrad's proximity to him on various occasions prior to the writing of Heart of Darkness, and especially Conrad's avid reading of travel literature, it would seem virtually impossible for Stanley not to have loomed large in Conrad's African consciousness. Najder, for his part, links Conrads African sojourn directly back to Stanley, stating that although "everything indicates" that Conrad did not specifically seek out his opportunity to work in Africa, the job offer tendered to him by Albert Thys, Deputy Director of the Societe Beige pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo, "probably rekindled his old interest [in the continent], which had been recently revived by a wave of sensational news about the African interior connected with Henry Morton Stanley's expedition in search of Emin Pasha" (138). Moreover, it was just days before Conrad's May 1890 arrival in Brussels en route to the Congo that Stanley passed triumphantly through that city on his way back to England, reporting on his expedition and delivering "an impassioned talk" to the delegates of an Anti-Slavery Conference being held there (Najder 145, Jeal 390). Conrad was going out even as Stanley was returning, and in a city abuzz with Stanley's name and fame he could hardly have failed to note that he was embarking on a journey that literally followed in its early going the Stanley expedition's footsteps, en route to a final destination bearing the famed explorers name: Stanley Falls. Thus it seems quite likely that Conrad would have taken time at some point to read all of Stanley's books, including the account which most closely matches Heart of Darkness in terms of its plot line, that of the Emin Pasha expedition contained in In Darkest Africa. This book came out in June 1890, just after Conrad had left Europe for Africa, but would have been easy to acquire upon his return.

(9.) Najder repeatedly reveals instances in which Conrad proved unreliable in presenting his own experiences, even to close friends or family members, and in legally binding statements. For instance, in recruiting his aunt and beloved confidant Marguerite Poradowska to help him find work as a seaman, Conrad "made himself a year younger and embellished his career" (166). Again, in a 1904 letter to the editor of The Times Conrad represented himself as one having "nearly a quarter of a century of sea service in all sorts of craft, upon seas both narrow and wide ... and in command of both sailing and steam ships"--a claim which Najder duly notes as typical of "Conrad's habitual exaggeration," since he had in fact "commanded only one sailing ship, ... for fourteen months," and "a minute river steamboat ... in the Congo ... for a period of no longer than two weeks" (Congo Diary 79, 81).

(10.) One of Jeal's most valuable revelations is that The Congo and the Founding of Its Free State, the book in which it is recorded that Stanley entered into hundreds of treaties with African chiefs in Leopold's behalf, was very probably altered by Leopold to implicate Stanley. As Jeal attests, Stanley was contractually bound to allow Leopold to make "editorial changes" or even to prohibit publication of any account of Stanley's work in the Congo. The final manuscript has disappeared, but it was very likely altered significantly. Why did Stanley allow this? He believed the Congo Free State was a good thing. So: "Unaware of all the underlying facts, many historians--even well-known ones like Adam Hochschild--have accepted, mainly on the basis of CFFS, that Stanley took away the sovereignty and the ownership of the land of numerous chiefs for a few bales of cloth and some trinkets. The manuscript pages of CFFS, Volume II, pages 195-204--in which the words of the treaties that were allegedly negotiated by him are quoted--are not to be found in the only text of the book that exists in the author's hand, and so could have been added by Leopold. The manuscript has numerous gaps, additions in other hands, and pages of printed material inserted at various points. It is therefore a distressing irony that Stanley's reputation should have been so badly damaged by later generations' reliance upon such a singularly unreliable printed source" (286).
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Author:Eastley, Aaron
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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