Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness

Hesperus Press Limited Edition
of Heart of Darkne


Synopsis of Heart of Darkness (1899)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, is a short novel, presented as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow’s job as the master of a steamship on the Congo River in Africa.. 

Conrad's Heart of Darkness  explores the  human subconscious and is also a terrifying portrayal of the dangers of imperialism. It is an early example of modernist literature and has been  hailed as the first novel of the twentieth century.

Conrad experiments with the ‘Stream of Consciousness’  style of writing twenty years before James Joyce employed the technique in his epic book Ulysses and much of the story happens within the mind of Marlow. The story is extremely cerebral, relying on the chaotic stream of Marlow's own consciousness to tell his story. Often  very  impressionistic the text is intentionally ambiguous, placing much of the responsibility to form conclusion on the reader.

The story begins on the River Thames at Gravesend and ends on the River Congo in the Belgian Congo. 

Misundertood by some as a racist, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a bitter denunciation of European and above all Belgian, colonialism.


Steamer SS Roi des Belges


Hesperus Press Limited Edition of Heart of Darkness


Heart of Darkness

Hesperus Press Limited

Published London, 2012

ISBN : 978-184391-008-4

UKP 6.99                                        

This edition contains an excellent forward by the writer and newspaper columnist A.N Wilson plus Conrad’s Congo Diary and Conrad’s Up-river Book.

In the forward, A.N Wilson discusses Nigerian novelists Chinua Achebe’s 1975 lecture as a ‘swingeing assault on Conrad’’s reputation’. He compares then compares this lecture with Adam Hochschild’s book King Leopald’s Ghost

The Congo Diary is Conrad’s diary of his journey through the Congo jungle from Matadi and Kinshasa between 13 June and 1 August 1890. 

The Up-river Book are Conrad’s own notes of his journey on the steamer Roi des Belges which commenced on the 3 August 1890. Conrad made these notes to assist him in his future role as master of a Congo River Steamship.

The Up-river book gives us a fascinating insight in to the a river journey on the Congo River and helps us understand the difficult journey the narrator-protagonist Charles Marlow takes in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

I purchased my copy of this edition of the Hesperus edition Heart of Darkness second hand from Bohr’s Books in Phnom Penh in May 2013.

The Hesperus edition of Heart of Darkness can still be purchased new from a number of book sellers in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. It is not avaliable from Amazon in the UK or U.S.A. 


Adam Hochschild’s King Leopald’s Ghost


Chinua Achebe’s lecture and Adam Hochschild’s King Leopald’s Ghost.  

In February 1975. the Nigerian novelists Chinua Achebe’s gave a lecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in  which he criticized Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Achebe thought that Conrad depicted all Africians as ‘niggers’ and ‘savages’ and Africa as ‘a metaphysical battleground devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril’.  The writer and newspaper columnist A.N Wilson describe this as a ‘’swingeing assault on Conrad’s reputation’’.

However, Adam Hochschild’s King Leopald’s Ghost tells the story of what Conrad saw and what the Belgians did in the Congo.  The book explains that the Belgians behaved with savagery and cruelty. He also identifies that Mr Kurtz is based upon a real person, Leon Rum, who in 1899 wrote Le Negre du Congo, a racist rant which describes Africians as a subhuman species.

Hochchild explains that Conrad was an open-eyed observer who caught the mood of the Congo with piecing accuracy. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is not racist but a bitter denunciation of European and above all Belgian, colonialism.

Adam Hochschild’s King Leopald’s Ghost is avaliable from Amazon & other book sellers (2013)


King Leopold II of Belgium 


King Leopold II  of Belgium & The Belgian Congo

King Leopold II  (1835–1909) was the King of the Belgians, and was responsible for founding and exploiting the Congo Free State.

In 1878, King Leopold II asked the famous English explorer  Sir Henry Morton Stanley to establish a Belgian colony in the Congo and set up outposts along
the Congo River including one  at Matadi. 

In 1892, Leopold IT declared all natural resources in the Congo Free State to be his property and  ran the Congo using a mercenary force for his personal gain. 
He extracted a fortune from the Congo, collecting  ivory, and rubber. Leopald’s regime  effectively enslaved the native population using beatings, widespread killing, and frequent mutilation when the production quotas were not met.  This regime was responsible for the death of an estimated 2 to 15 million Congolese.

This became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the Belgian government.


Joseph Conrad's House,
Gillingham Street, London
SW1 - August 2009


The Heart of Darkness & T.S  Eliot


The Waste Lands

When T.S Eliot first wrote his epic poem The Waste Lands, he had chosen a line from Joseph Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness as the epigraph to his poem. The words chosen were the famous dying words of the central figure, Kurtz, as reported by Marlow, the narrator: "The horror! The horror!" 

When the American expatriate poet and critic Ezra Pound (1885-1972) edited Eliot"s manuscript of The Waste Lands, he objected to the original epigraph on the grounds that Conrads novel was not weighty enough for the purpose Eliot had in mind. So the words were removed and substituted by a quote from The Satyricon by the 1st century AD Roman poet, Petronius Arbiter. 

The Hollow Men
Apocalypse Now, a 1979 American epic war film set during the Vietnam War film, has a screenplay that adapts Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness.
Shortly before the renegade Colonel Kurtz's death in Apocalypse Now, he recites part of T. S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men".

Intrestingly, one of the epigraphs to the T.S Eliot's poem Hollow Men is "Mistah Kurtz – he dead". This ia an allusions to Conrad's character Mr Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness.



Gravesend river view 1911


Gravesend & The River Thames


The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.

Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad 

The houses of Gravesend crowd upon the shore with an effect of confusion as if they had tumbled down haphazard from the top of the hill at the back.  The flatness of the Kentish shore ends there.  A fleet of steam-tugs lies at anchor in front of the various piers. 

The Mirror of the Sea by Joesph Conrad

Between the crowded houses of Gravesend and the monstrous red-brick pile on the Essex shore the ship is surrendered fairly to the grasp of the river. 

The Mirror of the Sea by Joesph Conrad


Belgian Congo Map 1909


River Congo

Known as the heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad, the Congo region has long conjured up thoughts of pygmies, mythical beasts, dreadful plagues, and cannibals. It is a land made famous by the adventures of Stanley and Livingstone and known as a place of brutality and violence for its past, the Arab slave, the ivory trade and its long history of tribal warfare.

The Congo river is the Earth's third largest river by volume and at 4,700 km (2,920 mi) long, it the world's ninth longest river. The river and its tributaries flow through the Congo rain forest, the world's second largest rainforest.

The sources of the Congo are in the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift.  The river flows northwards from Kisangani, then gradually bends southwestwards, passing by Mbandaka and joining with the Ubangi River. It then passes Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville) and into the Atlantic Ocean near at the small town of Muanda.

Water in the Congo is alternately low (march and July) and high (May and December) twice a year.  this correspondands  to the two  rainy seasons in  the area south of the equator.


Apocalypse Now Film

Apocalypse Now is a 1979 American epic war film set during the Vietnam War, directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen.


Congo Photographs


The following photographs show the River Congo, the ivory trade and life in the Congo in the years around Conrad's visit.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge image

Gravesend & River Thames Photographs


The following photographs show the River Thames at Gravesend.  The story begins on the River Thames at Gravesend Conrad's protagonist would have sailed past the promenade, the Town pier & the Royal Terrace pier at Gravesend.

Aerial view of the River Thames at Gravesend. Gravesend is in the top right of the photograph.    River Thames at Gravesend looking towards Essex   Gravesend promenade looking upriver.  Terrace pier is in the distance.   Historic Gravesend Town Pier opened in 1834. It is the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world
Aerial view of the River Thames at Gravesend. Gravesend is in the top right of the photograph.   River Thames at Gravesend promenade looking towards Essex   Gravesend promenade looking upriver.  Royal Terrace pier is in the distance. It was built in 1844.   Historic Gravesend Town Pier opened in 1834. It is the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world

Click on thumbnail to enlarge image of the photographs below


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