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Conrad: Heart of Darkness

1. Historical Context

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About this Lecture


In this module, we introduce some of the historical context for Conrad's Heart of Darkness, focusing in particular on Conrad's own career as a seaman, as well as the activities of Leopold II and the Belgians in the Congo Free State.


In this course, Professor Robert Hampson (Royal Holloway, London) explores Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. We begin by providing some of the historical context of the novel, focusing both on Conrad's own experiences as a seaman, as well as on the activities of Leopold II and the Belgians in the Congo Free State. In the second module, we think about the use of a frame narrative in the novel, before moving on in the third module to focus on the figure of Marlow. In the fourth module, we think about the figure of Kurtz – the gradual revelation of his character as one moves though the novel, his journal, and his enigmatic final words ('The horror! The horror!'). In the fifth module, we think about the theme of light and darkness in the novel, and the ways in which Conrad destabilises the conventional mapping of these categories onto 'civilized' and 'savage', before turning in the sixth module to the ways in which Heart of Darkness represents more than simply an autobiographical account of Conrad's own experiences in the Congo.


Professor Robert Hampson FEA, FRSA was Professor of Modern Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, from 2000 to 2016. He was educated at King's College, London, and the University of Toronto.He gained his BA and PhD from King's College, London, and his MA from Toronto (which he attended as the result of the award of a Commonwealth Scholarship). He is currently Distinguished Teaching and Research Fellow - and Director of the MA in Creative Writing.

Professor Hampson has an international reputation as a Conrad scholar and critic. His books on Conrad include Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity (Macmillan, 1992), Cross-Cultural Encounters in Joseph Conrad's Malay Fiction (Palgrave, 2000) and Conrad's Secrets (Palgrave, 2013). Cross-Cultural Encounters was described in The Year's Work in English Studies (2002) as 'the outstanding contribution to Conrad scholarship this year', while Conrad's Secrets was described, in The Year's Work in English Studies (2013), as 'arguably the most striking and inventive contribution to Conrad scholarship in 2012' and, by the Times Literary Supplement, as 'an indispensable resource for specialists and enthusiasts alike'. He has also edited various works by Conrad ('Heart of Darkness', Lord Jim and Victory) and was the editor of The Conradian. He has recently co-edited Conrad and Language (Edinburgh, 2016) with Katherine Baxter; he has also co-edited two collections of essays on Ford Madox Ford - Ford Madox Ford: A Re Assessment (Rodopi, 2002) and Ford Madox Ford and Modernity (Rodopi, 2003) - and works by Kipling and Rider Haggard. In January 2015, he was elected Chair of the Joseph Conrad Society (UK). Conrad's Secrets was the recipient of the Adam Gillon Award from the Joseph Conrad Society of America (2015) for best book on Conrad.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Hampson, R. (2018, August 15). Conrad: Heart of Darkness - Historical Context [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Hampson, R. "Conrad: Heart of Darkness – Historical Context." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,