Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness & Early Modernism
[Literary-Historical Contexts] -  Eng 109 Lecture Outline Spring 2004
Recommended Reading:  "The 20th Century: The Modern Age & Emerging World Culture"
(Davis et al. pp. 1345-1363)

European & (esp.) British Empire-Building

      Atlantic Slave Trade (1650 - 1900): up to 28 million central & west Africans captured & driven to coasts to be sold as slaves

      1450 and 1850: at least 12 million Africans were shipped from Africa to New World--notorious "Middle Passage“ (20% mortality rate)

      Mid-18th C.  British-French wars for control of India (Robt. Clive & British East India Co.)

      C18 & C19: European political, economic, scientific interests fuel search for new markets & "exploration" of Africa

      1770: James Bruce (Brit.) reaches source of Blue Nile

      1789: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustava Vassa = slave narrative fuels anti-slavery movement

      1792: Slave uprising in Haiti led by Toussant L'Ouverture: up to 55,000 blacks wage guerrilla & frontal war against British for years.

      1795 & 1805: Mungo Park (Scot.) explores Niger River

      1795 - 1818: British seize control of Cape Colony, South Africa, from Dutch, declare control & increase Brit. immigration; Dutch Boers move inland & seize land

      1833:  British abolish slavery in West Indies.

      1839-1842: Amistad revolt (basis of 1997 Spielberg film) launches intense legal, political, popular debate over slavery in U.S.

      1855: David Livingstone (Scot.) explores Zambezi River & names Victoria Falls (Africa)


Mountains of the Moon (1989/90 – Film rated R)
Dir. Bob Rafelson, based on Wm Harrison’s biography Burton & Speke,
based on Burton’s & Speke’s journals

1850s – East Africa:  Capt. Richard F. Burton (Patrick Bergin) &
Lt. John Hanning Speke
(Iain Glen), funded by British Royal Geographical Society,
set out to discover the source of the Nile:

“balanced, uncolonial look at the variety, dignity & ferocity of African society

(-Rita Kempley, Washington Post, 23 Mar. 1990)


      1857-1858: Sepoy “Mutiny” – British Crown takes over India

      1863:  Emancipation of slaves in U.S. amid Civil War.

      1863:  British explorers Speke & James Augustus Grant, traveling downstream, & Sir Samuel White Baker, working upstream, locate sources of Nile

      Christian missionaries & European merchants come with European explorers

      View of Africans: "primitive, pre-literate, undeveloped” a/c Eurocentric theories of evolution of civilized culture.

      1870s: European “Scramble for Africa”

      1876-77: Queen Victoria declared Empress of India

      1876-1884: King Leopold II (r. Belgium, 1865-1909) uses Stanley to explore, acquire, colonize “Congo Free State” as his personal possession

      1885:  Berlin Conference European powers divide up Africa

[Map of Africa & Photo of Joseph Conrad (b. 1857-d. 1914)]:

Marlow’s & Conrad’s 1889-90 Journey into “Heart of Darkness”

Early Modernism & Heart of Darkness

      Social breakdown, fragmentation: lose faith in progress, science, religion, politics, bourgeois morality

      Alienation from urban bureaucratic society, a sterile, materialistic “waste land”

      Question, challenge structures  of human life--e.g. Christianity-challenged as “convenient fictions” created to impose order, meaning on random, senseless, violent world

 Conrad's Personal Crisis Mirrors Collective Crisis

      1889-90: Conrad goes to Congo & captains river steamboat to retrieve Klein;
trauma & illness haunt him the rest of his life

Heart of Darkness = Harrowing Critique of  Western Colonialism

      1899, 1902: Heart of Darkness exposes predatory European Colonialism & its atrocities

      Brussels = “whited sepulchre”; hypocrisy of  hollow ideals: “civilizing mission” & “White Man’s Burden

      Public opinion turns against “jingoism” (e.g Rudyard Kipling)

      1908: Leopold II loses Congo to Belgian government

      1960: Belgian Congo achieves independence

Cross-Cultural Mythic Journey

Unsettling global correspondences among world "myths" & rituals undermine white European claims to civilized superiority and divine right to rule the rest of the world -  e.g. James G. Frazer’s Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (1890) & Jesse Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (Fisher king); Carl Jung (1875-1961): all humans share common spiritual/ psychic heritage: collective unconscious, racial memories, archetypes emerge in dreams, myth/religion, art & literature.  [Jung was a student of Sigmund Freud.]

Increased access to, interest in non-Western and "minority" viewpoints, cultures, creative arts.

“Psychological” Novel

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): feeling, unconscious, inward journey into self, back into past/ childhood keys to understanding human nature/behavior
Psychoanalytical method: healing through storytelling
Focus: mental life, perceptions of story teller or central character and her/his search for meaning (vs. tale itself);
often involves inward journey into dream/nightmare world of irrational "uncontrollable" unconscious

Experimental Narrative Forms develop to represent
Limited, Unreliable, Multiple “Realities” of Uncertainty

     "Narrative frame" - like, but very different from, Wuthering Heights

      Marlow’s 1st-person narration = “limited” omniscient [not all-knowing]: introspective, discontinuous/fragmented, suggestive/evocative, a-rational connections

      Story/Plot is structured by flow of consciousness & memory:
Interior monologue, “stream of consciousness," flashforward/ flash-back
Associative (vs. linear) “logic” intertwines present awareness & memory

Joyce: stream of consciousness narration is structured by narrator's or character's flow of consciousness and memory;  associative (rather than conventional "linear") "logic" intertwines present awareness and memory [using  flash-back and flash-forward techniques). 
Interior Monologues [e.g. "The Yellow Wallpaper"] offer "limited"/uncertain/unreliable first-person accounts
Third-person "objective" point of view [e.g. "Hills Like White Elephants"] offers no explicit explanation
Narrative techniques become
discontinuous/fragmented, suggestive/evocative, subjective/introspective, a-rational connections
Irony, ambiguity, distrust of abstraction and rational systems, interest in the psychological, sense of the multiplicity of experience


Challenges for Readers


Modernist author, via Narrator suggests/evokes, but does not explain;

bulletUses personal (not public shared) symbol system that must be figured out from work itself;
bulletTreats new, previously forbidden subjects;
bulletTries to unsettle readers’ expectations; shock out of complacency;
bulletPresents open-ended, ironic, multi-layered, ambiguous and "inconclusive" stories
bulletWithout a conclusive "end" orientation, the process, journey, search for meaning becomes the focus,
meaningful in itself (even if goal never reached);
bulletReader must engage in this journey as active searcher, co-creator of meaning: "emplot" life

The “Contract”

      Audience must agree to “play” the imaginative game (“suspend disbelief”)

      The “speaking voice” mediates reader-listener’s access to the story, but it is …

      “double-voiced” dialogue (Bakhtin) between teller & listener each with active roles in making meaning.

Genre Theory (> Aristotle)

      Genre (>French): a type of literary work with defining conventions & audience expectations

      Genres develop in response to particular cultural, communication, & creative situations

      Literary genres evolve like social institutions: their conventions/codes emerge, develop, & change over time, reflecting the (changing) values, imagination, spirit of an age, culture, artist

Genre History:  Dialogues with Tradition

“Once you start making...rules, some writer will be sure to happen along and break every abstract rule you or anyone else ever thought up, and take your breath away in the process. The word should is… dangerous. …It’s a kind of challenge to the deviousness and inventiveness and audacity and perversity of the creative spirit” --Margaret Atwood


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High Modernism, W. B. Yeats, & Short Story - UNDER CONSTRUCTION - to be linked

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