Joseph Conrad in the Popular Imaginary: The case of Heart of Darkness
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In his defining work The Great Tradition (1948), F.R. Leavis declared, with characteristic asperity, that apart from Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad, “there are no novelists in English worth reading” (Leavis 1962: 9). Notwithstanding Conrad's canonisation in the pantheon of the “great tradition” of English literature, he has been a controversial figure, first, in his native country Poland, and subsequently in parts of Africa where Achebe's ad hominem attack on the writer still echoes in the corridors of academe well into the 21st century. In this paper I argue that Heart of Darkness, as is often referenced in the media and the popular imaginary, is much more than just a journalistic shorthand or cliché for stereotypes about Africa or Conrad for that matter. Stated differently, the title of Conrad's novella has become metonymic of anything and everything negative about Africa, which in turn has detracted from the story's impact as an exposé of the evils of colonialism.
- Faculty of Humanities