Why all the Anxiety? Exploring ‘the Horror’ of the Darkest Interior in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Adventure Narrative
AbstractThis dissertation sets out to prove that anxiety in Heart of Darkness arises because ‘heroic’ behaviour abroad inevitably transgresses the values which inform Victorian masculine identities, thereby undermining them. The premise is based on the strong links between fin-de-siècle adventure stories set within the empire and notions of Victorian masculinity, with the main focus on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), whilst drawing on late-nineteenth-century texts from Stevenson, Rider Haggard, Kipling, Conan Doyle and Stoker, as well as the real-life derring-do of Henry Morton Stanley. This dissertation shows that degenerative behaviour set within the colonial space, where empire and masculine authority ‘permitted’ violence, is a necessary part of the male hero’s rite de passage, and such behaviour can be viewed as attractive and forgivable. The conventional/transgressive identity of colonial adventurers is explored through Marlow, with Kurtz offering Marlow the opportunity to experience, in extremis, the dilemmas and struggles which reside within the ‘self’. This dissertation shows how the anxiety in Heart of Darkness is not just discovering and embracing the ability to transgress, but it arises from the undoing of an idealised fiction of heroic masculinity by offering a horrific alternative: the ‘triumphant darkness’ within. In extending the reasoning of reverse colonization so that the returning hero becomes the agent of decay on home soil, this dissertation claims that anxiety is manifold in fin-de-siècle imperial adventure narratives, not only from embracing transgressive behaviour which undermines the ideals of the Victorian adventure hero’s identity, but also from the threat to the very foundations of society, because the returning hero brings his barbarian behaviour home with him and, either in action, through finding his new identity no longer fits within societal norms, or through the intended reader; he corrupts his society.
CitationHall, L. (2015). Why all the anxiety? Exploring ‘the horror’ of the darkest interior in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the adventure narrative. (Master's dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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