Academic journal article Conradiana

Heart of Darkness and Allan Quatermain: Apocalypse and Utopia

Academic journal article Conradiana

Heart of Darkness and Allan Quatermain: Apocalypse and Utopia

Article excerpt

Critics often comment on the elements of romance and adventure in Heart of Darkness: Andrea White argues that Conrad "used the adventure story and shaped his materials out of it." (1) For Allan Hunter Heart of Darkness "echoes Rider Haggard's novel She," and he speaks of Conrad's "deliberate choice to parallel and even parody" Haggard's romance fantasy. Hunter argues that She (1887) "is being used as a rough pattern to refer to, and for Conrad to disagree with," and that in fact Conrad is writing an "anti-She." (2) Murray Pittock also traces the similarities between She and Heart of Darkness, and argues that "the influence of Haggard's conceptions on Conrad ... needs more specific attention than it has hitherto received." (3) I would suggest that another Haggard text, Allan Quatermain (1887), also offers strong parallels to Conrad's tale, and presents a clear idea of the type of fiction against which he was writing. After all, as Cedric Watts says, in Heart of Darkness Conrad takes "the ingredients of popula r romantic fiction (and even boys' adventure-tales) and submit[s] them to unconventionally realistic, reflective and ironic treatment." (4) Heart of Darkness is an imperial text of the fin de siecle that responds to, and subverts, earlier literary perceptions of the experience and effects of empire. While Conrad endorses some of the attitudes of his literary predecessors towards Africa and the native African, he simultaneously offers a direct challenge to the naive assumptions of the romance, and asks repeatedly "by what right people of one colour dare to impose themselves on people of another...." (Watts 81).

In the context of a study of Rider Haggard and his novels, Wendy Katz states that "Conrad seems to have felt that the heroic tradition was at an end," and that his concern was with "the failures of conventional heroism." (5) Katz thus draws a distinction between the imperial romances of Haggard and the modern works of Conrad. In Haggard's romance "conventional heroism" finds its fullest expression: white gentlemen adventurers penetrate the heart of Africa and become wealthy, benevolent rulers of an African race by virtue of their "superiority." By contrast, what Conrad's tale does is to unveil the "horror" underlying the liberal assumptions of those who wish to "civilize" Africa, amongst whom Haggard would count himself. For, as Wilson Harris puts it: "[T]he liberal homogeneity of a culture becomes the ready-made cornerstone upon which to construct an order of conquest, and by degrees 'The horror! The horror!' was intuitively manifest. Conquest is the greatest evil of soul humanity inflicts upon itself and o n nature. Such an admission--such a discovery that sacred human stasis may come to shelter the greatest evil--is a catastrophe for the liberal ego-fixed mind." (6)

Haggard's romance is rarely able to sustain such contradictory and uneasy perceptions of imperialism. Occasionally its narrative may dimly suggest a more general dis-ease, as when Quatermain, preparing for battle with the Masai who have kidnapped a young girl, has this reflective vision: "Everywhere was peace and the happiness of arising strength, everywhere save in the heart of man!" (7) But such gloomy thoughts are rapidly swept aside as the story moves into a rousing battle that affirms the moral, physical, and intellectual "superiority" of the white heroes. In Conrad's empire it is precisely that assumption of white superiority that is being questioned. As White avers, in Heart of Darkness Conrad "subverted the conventional assumptions" of the romance and adventure genre, and "demythologized the imperial subject as constructed by the adventure and travel writing of the day." (8) Examining Heart of Darkness in the context of Allan Quatermain reveals how Conrad achieves this.

1. Haggard and Conrad: The Experience of England and Africa

Rider Haggard was born in 1856. a year before Conrad, and survived him by just one year, dying in 1925. …

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