Art of Darkness: Joseph Conrad Went to Africa in Search of Adventure. What He Found Ruined His Body but Made His Career

By Moore, Gene M. | Book, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Art of Darkness: Joseph Conrad Went to Africa in Search of Adventure. What He Found Ruined His Body but Made His Career


Moore, Gene M., Book


WHY WOULD A SEASONED CAPTAIN in the British merchant marine go to Africa to pilot a riverboat in the service of the king of Belgium? The idea may have occurred to Joseph Conrad during a Thames cruise aboard the yacht Nellie, a trip arranged by his friend G.F.W. Hope. Hope and Conrad's fellow guests W.B. Keen and T.L. Mears served as models for the characters in the scene that frames Heart of Darkness, Conrad's classic story of one man's journey up a river in colonial Africa and the devastation he bears witness to along the way. Soon after his trip on the Nellie, in the spring of 1890, Conrad was on his way to the Congo Free State, the Belgian king Leopold's private fiefdom in the heart of Africa, as an employee of one of the many companies created to exploit the newly opened territory. Although he was under contract for three years to serve as captain of a steamboat, a single voyage up the river and back was enough to ruin his health and leave him thoroughly disgusted and demoralized. By 1898 he had transformed these experiences into his most famous work, a novella serialized a year later and published in book form in 1902. Adam Hochschild, the author of King Leopold's Ghost, hails it as "one of the most scathing indictments of imperialism in all literature."

It seems odd that Conrad would have wished to take part in a colonial exploit that he later condemned as "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration." But as a child suffering the rigors of exile in Siberia with his parents, Conrad had gazed at maps as others gaze at stars, and the newspapers of his youth were filled with the exploits of intrepid explorers like David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. When he arrived at the mouth of the Congo River, news of the "horrors" being committed upstream had not yet been announced to the outside world. The African-American historian George Washington Williams, who traveled upriver just ahead of Conrad, would soon address an open letter to King Leopold complaining of the intimidations, chicaneries and the "murder, arson and robbery" being committed by his agents and soldiers in their dealings with the natives. In 1890 the outside world was still under the influence of the Belgian king's propaganda celebrating the opening of Africa as a philanthropic mission destined to civilize the natives, to promote free trade and to end the evils of Arab slavery.

Conrad's diaries register the shock and disappointment he felt from the moment he set foot in the Congo. He resolved to keep his distance from the area's agents and officials--the sort of men he later pilloried in Heart of Darkness--with one notable exception: He found Roger Casement, a fearless Protestant Irishman and human-rights activist, "most intelligent and sympathetic." Later, as a British consular agent, Casement would prepare the report that eventually forced King Leopold to give up his personal control of the Congo. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Art of Darkness: Joseph Conrad Went to Africa in Search of Adventure. What He Found Ruined His Body but Made His Career
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.