The Historian's Heart of Darkness: Reading Conrad's Masterpiece as Social and Cultural History

, Author
Mark D. Larabee
ABC-CLIO, 2018

The phrase "heart of darkness" has become familiar shorthand for conjuring an ominous sense of hidden or deeply rooted evil. How did these words become so evocative? The answer lies in the richness and acute insight of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's story based on his 1890 journey on the Congo River. Conrad's novella illustrates many crucial themes of European and world history through the last two centuries: civilization; exploration; colonialism and imperialism; race, and conflict based on race; trade and globalization; commercial exploitation; and the impact of changing technology, especially for communication and transport. Heart of Darkness deserves to be studied today for its value as social and cultural history. In this edition, Conrad's story is shown to reveal important truths not only about Europe and Africa a century ago, but also about the historical forces that shape the world we live in now.

Featuring the texts of both Heart of Darkness and Conrad's autobiographical "Congo Diary" along with more than 200 annotations, this book enables readers to appreciate the connections between Conrad's writing and its historical context. Introductory essays explain Conrad's unique position as a chronicler of history, provide critical background information on how Europeans partitioned Africa and created the Congo Free State, and describe how the ivory and rubber trades brutalized the natives. Readers will learn how Conrad contributed to European awareness of the atrocities committed, and they will discover how the story's literary qualities form an essential part of its historical meaning. The numerous illustrations and maps depicting the historical Congo Free State provide a visual element to the story of Heart of Darkness—a fictionalized tale that can be interpreted as history and that can help us interpret today's postcolonial, globalized world.