No light at the end of the Heart of Darkness


An annual return to the home my grandfather retired to and a rifle through the rump of his library sparks off a reflection on the way in which the main questions raised by Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" are answered - far from optimistically - in his "Lord Jim"

Tony Curzon Price
Tony Curzon Price
6 August 2012

Jesus, who's name is pronounced like the monkey, 'rhesus', not like the Messiah and who had been my grandmother's gardner, came by the other evening - our second evening at La Vina, the small house at the end of the dirt track that I’ve written about before. He sat down at the terrace with the mushroom table above the vaulted Moorish water cistern. My mother - who’s known him for ages - since her teens here in Menorca, anyway - asked him about his health, his family, his garden, his house. He was happy to talk about all that, and as I listened to my mother’s patient, polite, talk, she reminded me of her father, the man who retired here, who pretended, along with Omar Khayam whom he tried to translate better than Fitzgerald, that heaven was a garden, a book of verse, a glass of wine and “her”, whoever she was, whatever she was for in this particular vision of contented bliss. Indeed, here is that very verse from the rump of his library in the little house.



These summers at La Vina become moments to think about generations for me. My grandfather retired here in the late 1950s. He is present - mainly through his library now, but a few other touches here and there as well. Like the welcoming tile encrusted next t o the front door. He was no Arabist - he always loved Persian culture but had never become one of those Foreign Office lovers of Arabia. But maybe he thought the protection of Allah felt right, given the Moorish past of the island. The cistern that is at the heart of livability down this dirt track is, so he said, from before the expulsion of the Arabs.

My mother was a teenager here; we - my siblings and I - came as children, as teen-agers, as adults; we come now as parents. And even my grandfather’s time here, to judge from his library, was a time of remembering and of trying to understand. According to my mother, he had said, in retirement, that “I have spent my whole professional life working for the British national interest, and no one has been able to tell me what that is or why it’s of such importance.”

Judging by the library, he spent at least as much time, here in the summer heat, pondering his adventurous, “great game” professional life as he did trying to honour his allegiance to the noble hedonism of the Rubayat.

One of the books I picked up in the rump library this year - I was struck at first by the name of the editor, Marion Miliband (wife of Ralph, mother of the politicians) - was the “Observer book of the 19th Century” - a 1966 compilation of Observer articles written between 1800 and 1900 that tells the story of how t he immediate post-colonial period chose to understand the rise of British power across the globe. JPP - my grandfather - did not buy a lot of new books in the 60s. This one’s not a bad place to start for someone troubled by what the British Empire turned out to have been and troubled by their own role in the story.

Austen Henry Layard , whose classic 3 volume history of Nineveh is also in the library, well-thumbed, is quoted in the Observer anthology in 1857 on what Marion Miliband still calls the Indian Mutiny:

What has taken place in India is horrible, but are our hands clean? From the very beginning our empire was founded upon fraud … Hitherto, you [Britain] have done nothing to reconcile the feelings of the people of India to the Government which rules them. If you tell them you are a peaceful, a Christian and a civilised nation, and you do not recognise the rights of those who are not Christians, but will take possession of their property and their country, that would be honest; but you must be prepared to carry out your doctrine by force. But by practically acting upon that doctrine, while pretending to respect the rights of the Indian people and professing a regard for their interest, you have so weakened your moral power over them that the whole country is against you.

Layard is impressively radical in his assessment of the time. Unusually so. And thumbing Nineveh myself, I get a real sense of the indignation of the man as he tells the story of the Chaldeans - the ancient Iraqi Christian community - and its betrayal by all before his very eyes. Almost 100 years before, he seems to share the sensitivity of Orwell, quoted by Pankaj Mishra , who continues his excellent, indignant series against the new apologists of empire in the Guardian. Orwell’s judgement was that the empire was “despotism with theft its final object”.

Much more common in the Miliband anthology is what one imagines is the Whiggish view of the day. Here, for example, is a report of a speech by Asquith in 1898:

We should never allow ourselves to forget that in the course of history Russia and ourselves had become what might not extravagantly be called “trustees of the Asiatic world” (cheers). There we stood, in that vast continent inhabited by an enormous population, some of which had relapsed into a barbarism from which a large part of the remainder had never emerged, and upon the cordial cooperation of these two greater civilising agencies of the West depended not merely our own industrial future, but the whole development of the continent of Asia itself (cheers).

This is certainly a wonderful example of the move that Mishra notes, in the words of the Indian nationalist, Aurobindo Ghose , that the notion of the trusteeship was a “Pharisaic pretension ... especially necessary to British imperialism because in England the puritanic middle class had risen to power and imparted to the English temperament a sanctimonious self-righteousness which refused to indulge in injustice and selfish spoliation except under a cloak of virtue, benevolence and unselfish altruism.

Mishra quotes Conrad twice in his piece, both times, unsurprisingly, from Heart of Darkness - the haunting story of the narrator’s (Marlow’s) expedition to recover Kurtz, the brilliant ivory trader who has not just gone native - he has “gone divine”. Alongside his trading duties, Kurtz had agreed to help 

the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs [who] had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. And he had written it too. I've seen it. I've read it. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for! [...] it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' &c., &c. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method.

Conrad’s prescience is in the method that he saw was required for the ends of the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs to really be met. Hand-scrawled by Kurtz on the lofty report, Marlow makes out: “Exterminate all the brutes.” If they refuse the message of ‘civilisation’ - and who does not, when delivered by “Gods” like Kurtz - you turn them to your side by extermination.

That is in fact exactly what had been happening in the Congo. Known, perhaps to Conrad the sailor and sea-captain, but not to the Observer, whose 1895 comment on the annexation of the Congo by the Belgian crown, says:

… there is no reason to doubt that a philanthropic desire to benefit the native races, to assist in the suppression of the slave trade, and to spread the blessings of civilisation, did actuate the promoters of the movement to an extent which is, perhaps scarcely sufficiently recognised today.

It was not, however, long before other motives, equally legitimate it may be, came into play … by slow degrees European statesmen awoke to the fact that the greater part of a continent was to be had for the taking, and then began that scramble of which the last act has not yet been witnessed...

In improving communications, in developing the natural resources of the country, in introducing new industries, and in teaching the elementary lessons of civilisation to the millions of savages that occupy the basins of the Congo and its tributaries, Belgium will have a task that will try her to the utmost...

Poor little Belgium, thinks the Observer … will it ruin itself in its noble endeavour? But Conrad gets it right: Kurtz’s initial motivation in going to the Congo on his ivory mission is, as far as we know, mainly about status and wealth. Kurtz, like the newly created Belgian monarchy, has a mother who is half English and a father who is half French. This is meant to mean he is “a good sort”. Conrad saw no need to fill in those blanks about his ancestry in his account of the kind of “good sort” Kurtz really is.

Here is Marlow recomposing the story of his extraordinary passenger by talking to his fiance back in Brussels:

“I had heard that her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn't rich enough or something. And indeed I don't know whether he had not been a pauper all his life. He had given me some reason to infer that it was his impatience of comparative poverty that drove him out there.”

But once Kurtz had gone out - even made a success of himself as an ivory trader - he became hooked on something much more destructive, on straight power, on that immense power that he talked about in his report:

'I was on the threshold of great things,' he [Kurtz] pleaded, in a voice of longing, with a wistfulness of tone that made my blood run cold. [...] I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations. […] I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. [...] There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air. [...] He struggled with himself, too. I saw it,—I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself. I kept my head pretty well; but when I had him at last stretched on the couch, I wiped my forehead, while my legs shook under me as though I had carried half a ton on my back down that hill. And yet I had only supported him, his bony arm clasped round my neck—and he was not much heavier than a child.

There is many a darkness at the heart of Kurtz’s story. One of them is simply narrative - we have no idea what maintains Kurtz in his position as deity in his bend on the shallow river. We have no idea what transforms the noble sentiments of the report into “the horror, the horror” of what transpires, of the final recommendation for implementation, the only possible and final solution: extermination. After all, Kurtz might just have been a bad apple … who is to say that the Whiggish optimism of the Observer was an impossibility? Why should we take Kurtz’s disposition - “a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself” - as emblematic of what happened to the powerful colonialist?

The answer, in Conrad’s work, comes from a strange quarter. The really pessimistic account of colonialism in Conrad - and Heart of Darkness is already pretty dark - is to be found in Lord Jim, in which the best colonialist imaginable - the endlessly devoted, self-sacrificing servant of his bend in the river - nevertheless abandons “his” people and forces them into a sad exile. At the end of the book, the information about the last days of Jim’s life is recomposed, nth hand, from the accounts of a sad group of lost, ghost-like Malaysians whom he should have stood by, to whom he pretended to be pledged.

Jim shows us how Kurtz might have gone about achieving supreme power and he shows us that, at least temporarily, the colonial intervention might have been seen to conform to the Observer’s hopeful picture.

Jim starts out his colonial experience with a great dereliction of duty. He is a vicar’s son. He leaves home, in Essex , with the conviction that “when all men flinched, then he alone would know how to deal with the spurious menace of wind and seas.” Like Kipling’s imagined young man, the perfect colonialist of “If”, Jim would stand firm. The test comes, eventually, in the form so characteristic of Conrad - the boat as microcosm. The Patna is a picture of the late colonial enterprise - a rusty old hulk, being driven by its owner for maximum profit, it happens to be transporting hold-full of Muslim pilgrims from East Asia to Mecca. There is a sort of special trust that the mysteriously primitive pilgrims have placed in the officers of the Patna - a trust which is broken in Jim’s first act of cowardly abandonment.

The Patna was a local steamer as old as the hills, lean like a greyhound, and eaten up with rust worse than a condemned water-tank. She was owned by a Chinaman, chartered by an Arab, and commanded by a sort of renegade New South Wales German, very anxious to curse publicly his native country, but who, apparently on the strength of Bismarck's victorious policy, brutalised all those he was not afraid of, and wore a 'blood-and-iron' air,' combined with a purple nose and a red moustache. After she had been painted outside and whitewashed inside, eight hundred pilgrims (more or less) were driven on board of her as she lay with steam up alongside a wooden jetty.

They streamed aboard over three gangways, they streamed in urged by faith and the hope of paradise, they streamed in with a continuous tramp and shuffle of bare feet, without a word, a murmur, or a look back; and when clear of confining rails spread on all sides over the deck, flowed forward and aft, overflowed down the yawning hatchways, filled the inner recesses of the ship—like water filling a cistern, like water flowing into crevices and crannies, like water rising silently even with the rim. Eight hundred men and women with faith and hopes, with affections and memories, they had collected there, coming from north and south and from the outskirts of the East, after treading the jungle paths, descending the rivers, coasting in praus along the shallows, crossing in small canoes from island to island, passing through suffering, meeting strange sights, beset by strange fears, upheld by one desire. They came from solitary huts in the wilderness, from populous campongs, from villages by the sea. At the call of an idea they had left their forests, their clearings, the protection of their rulers, their prosperity, their poverty, the surroundings of their youth and the graves of their fathers. They came covered with dust, with sweat, with grime, with rags—the strong men at the head of family parties, the lean old men pressing forward without hope of return; young boys with fearless eyes glancing curiously, shy little girls with tumbled long hair; the timid women muffled up and clasping to their breasts, wrapped in loose ends of soiled head-cloths, their sleeping babies, the unconscious pilgrims of an exacting belief.

There is meant to be decency in the professionalism of seamen in Conrad. In Heart of Darkness, just after the dying Kurtz murmurs his final and terrifying “The horror, the horror” (the words that Marlow, for all his honesty, cannot bring himself to tell the fiancee back in Brussels), we have a reminder of the possibility of basic human decency that the microcosm of the boat offers. Marlow is comparing the death of Kurtz to the death of his pilot that the mission has cost:

I am not prepared to affirm the fellow [Kurtz] was exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him. I missed my late helmsman awfully,—I missed him even while his body was still lying in the pilot-house. Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don't you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back—a help—an instrument. It was a kind of partnership. He steered for me—I had to look after him, I worried about his deficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created, of which I only became aware when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory—like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.

In Lord Jim, we again get a sense of the decency that arises out of the role of seaman. This is meant to be the basic value that civilises the every-day of colonial life:

We've got all kinds amongst us—some anointed scoundrels in the lot; but, hang it, we must preserve professional decency or we become no better than so many tinkers going about loose. We are trusted. Do you understand?—trusted! Frankly, I don't care a snap for all the pilgrims that ever came out of Asia, but a decent man would not have behaved like this to a full cargo of old rags in bales. We aren't an organised body of men, and the only thing that holds us together is just the name for that kind of decency.

Jim - he is not yet Lord Jim by then - hangs around various South Asian ports in shame. In his own eyes, and in the eyes of anyone who knows, he failed in that basic colonial virtue of decency. He picks up odd jobs and does them with diligence - even recklessness abandon. But he can’t forget his cowardice. He knows that he will never be able to return home to Essex - the shame precludes that.

Marlow - the wise captain of both novels, the man who really does represent decency - is himself about to return home, but he feels he has somehow to ensure Jim’s redemption. Here is how he puts his own motives for becoming involved in the story:

I was about to go home for a time; and it may be I desired, more than I was aware of myself, to dispose of him—to dispose of him, you understand—before I left. I was going home, and he had come to me from there, with his miserable trouble and his shadowy claim, like a man panting under a burden in a mist. I cannot say I had ever seen him distinctly—not even to this day, after I had my last view of him; but it seemed to me that the less I understood the more I was bound to him in the name of that doubt which is the inseparable part of our knowledge. I did not know so much more about myself. And then, I repeat, I was going home—to that home distant enough for all its hearthstones to be like one hearthstone, by which the humblest of us has the right to sit. We wander in our thousands over the face of the earth, the illustrious and the obscure, earning beyond the seas our fame, our money, or only a crust of bread; but it seems to me that for each of us going home must be like going to render an account. We return to face our superiors, our kindred, our friends—those whom we obey, and those whom we love; but even they who have neither, the most free, lonely, irresponsible and bereft of ties,—even those for whom home holds no dear face, no familiar voice,—even they have to meet the spirit that dwells within the land, under its sky, in its air, in its valleys, and on its rises, in its fields, in its waters and its trees—a mute friend, judge, and inspirer. Say what you like, to get its joy, to breathe its peace, to face its truth, one must return with a clear conscience. All this may seem to you sheer sentimentalism; and indeed very few of us have the will or the capacity to look consciously under the surface of familiar emotions. There are the girls we love, the men we look up to, the tenderness, the friendships, the opportunities, the pleasures! But the fact remains that you must touch your reward with clean hands, lest it turn to dead leaves, to thorns, in your grasp.

Marlow seems to see Jim as somehow representing his own enterprise - and every seaman’s, every European colonialist’s. If Jim’s crime cannot be made good, if that breach of trust is irreparable, then Marlow’s own homecoming will turn to thorns. By this point, Jim’s act of betrayal has become emblematic of late colonialism. There may be no redeeming of Kurtz - except through a lie, to his fiancee - but Marlow can still make the whole business all right if only Jim can redeem himself. As Marlow remarks as he goes to Jim’s sentencing for the abandonment of the Pilgrims,“the real significance of crime is in its being a breach of faith with the community of mankind”, and Marlow needs that faith to be restored for his own impeccably decent life to afford a good homecoming.

He talks with Stein, a wise and successful trader, a Swiss butterfly collector with a trading empire based out of Bangkok. Marlow explains the case, and the two men sense the imperative of finding some solution. It becomes their cause. Stein exclaims: “There is only one remedy! One thing alone can us from being ourselves cure !” [sic], to which Marlow assents: “Yes, strictly speaking, the question is not how to get cured, but how to live.” Stein’s strategy is the one that almost works:

“A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns—nicht wahr? . . . No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up. So if you ask me—how to be?"

[...] He sat down and, with both elbows on the desk, rubbed his forehead. "And yet it is true—it is true. In the destructive element immerse." . . .

There it is - redemption will come from this act: “in the destructive element immerse,” a sort of existential turn-the-other-cheek. What destroyed Jim was his failure to live up to the standard expected of the vicar’s son. The destructive element was Jim’s cowardice and betrayal of the pilgrims. Only an immersion, a confrontation with that destructive element will allow Jim’s crime to be made good.

High moral standards also play their part in leading Kurtz over the edge. Here is Marlow contrasting Roman imperialism to Victorian colonialism in Heart of Darkness:

They [The Romans] were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .

In Kurtz’s case, the high morality is never abandoned, never betrayed - it is taken to one extreme of its inexorable logic: “exterminate all the brutes.” “Civilisation” is the surpreme good, the justification for the plunder; so if it is refused, if the seed is sown and falls on barren ground, then there is nothing there to value. The method of extermination has all the justification it needs: its result, its end, is the thing of value: the end of brutishness. It is brutishness you’re getting rid of, not fellow humans. Kurtz is faithful to the great power he identifies, to the “ White man’s burden ”. But as Conrad sees, it is the unquestioned belief in that destiny which allows Kurtz to embrace the excess, to become himself that being before whom one bows down. He becomes the idea, the God, that allows the extermination of brutishness; and the pleasures of divinity may just blind the God to the brutishness the method itself is perpetrating. That, perhaps, is the final realisation of the dying, hallucinating Kurtz, whose verdict is another epitaph, one to come after “Exterminate all the brutes”: “The horror. The horror.”

As Conrad tells it, there is something especially corrupting in the righteousness of empire - something that Orwell’s unsentimental reduction of empire to theft does not capture. Orwell sees the exercise as no more than Roman-style plunder; Conrad reminds us of the utterly corrosive nature of plunder armed with righteousness.

Jim abandons the pilgrims of the Patna. He almost exterminates them. In a way, he almost wishes they had been exterminated - that would have give n reason for his c owardice. But he is aware that his action was a complete betrayal of the idea, of the destiny of White Man as seen by Kipling. Jim’s betrayal is the empire’s betrayal. Here, then, is the dilemma at the heart of Lord Jim: in the face of the knowledge of the great betrayal, of treating those humans as if they were cattle, is redemption possible? Marlow cannot go home with a clear conscience and enjoy the fruits of his years of decent work without trying to clear that guilt. He recognises Jim’s guilt as his guilt, as the breach of trust that he too, for all his decency, has been complicit in. Jim is the ideal vehicle for redemption: he was directly guilty, his shame never left him, he will do everything possible to make good. He is Messianic in his desire for self-sacrifice.

Jim earns himself the title of “Tuan”, “Lord”, by his guilt-induced self-sacrificing devotion to the general good of Patusan. He indeed “immerses himself in the destructive element”, in his old cowardice and failed service to the natives. He is given a chance - not to reach for the sky, but to make the deep, deep sea” of his guilt and crime support him. Extreme courage in the service of the natives is meant to right the cowardice of his youthful abandonment of the pilgrims.

It almost works. Patusan thrives economically; he delivers justice wisely; he stands up to bullies; and he regularly, ritually, shows that he is prepared to die for the good of all. It could all be a commentary on Kipling’s poem. Conrad is as prescient in his account of the good intentions and motivations of guilty Europeans as he is in his account of the monstrosities that were going to be perpetrated, for the century ahead, by a humanity trapped in “a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself”.

By special dispensation, Stein gets the Dutch government to allow gunpowder to be stored in Jim’s compound. He may be prepared to die for all the natives … but he also has overwhelming force behind him. So at the denouement, when the worm enters from the world “out there”, Jim is at the centre of the fight against the destruction of the good society he has created. He is like the best-intentioned of the neo-cons today. He has never shared the beneficent power that he monopolises with his subjects. In other words, he has constructed the wrong kind of Arcadia, and that he has done so is inevitable given the reason he had for building it. He is the all-controlling power - that is what redemption requires. How could he actually share that power? It was the status quo he found in Patusan, the uneasy, trade-destroying balance between the Malays, The Bugis and the Arab that needed his attention in the first place. The selfishness of Jim’s selfless justice is that it has to be dictatorial.

The horror of the denouement is that Brown, the vile Australian renegade who disturbs the peace, has the canny ability to figure out that Jim’s own unquenchable need for forgiveness leads him to always try to forgive others. And so it is that the everyday nastiness of “out there” destroys the attempt to make good the world Jim has charge of:

It was then that Brown took his revenge upon the world which, after twenty years of contemptuous and reckless bullying, refused him the tribute of a common robber's success. It was an act of cold-blooded ferocity, and it consoled him on his deathbed like a memory of an indomitable defiance.

The colonial world has made Brown - will always make Browns - the selfish adventurer whose resentments and failures are all-consuming. That is just a part of human society. Patusan before Jim has characters like this - the vile Cornelius, the Portuguese trader, whose hatred of Jim plays its own part in the destruction of the ill-conceived idyl. But Brown and Jim are more than ordinary - they possess overwhelming force. Brown has guns and a sniper; Jim has gunpowder and the overwhelming desire for self-sacrifice. Their confrontation is inevitably going to bring down much more than their own lives.

It is the idea of moral superiority leads Kurtz to his excesses. It is the thorough application of ‘moral superiority’ that leads Jim inexorably to his own sacrifice and to abandon “his people”. The tragic irony is that it is the original dereliction of the pilgrims on the Patna that leads to Jim’s self-sacrificing virtue in Patusan. And yet it is that very conception of virtue that leads him to his second abandonment - morally more glorious, but just as bad for “his people” who are forced into their sad exile. Brown disturbs the carefully constructed balance of forces - a something or other from “out there” always will - a need for oil, a geopolitically important location … whatever it is that makes pragmatism trump virtue … and you just jump ship again.

Sunder Katwala asks , about the opening ceremony of the olympics, why the story of colonialism and its aftermath is still not admissible in the company of the world’s nations. Pankaj Mishra asks why the new apologists of empire are so popular. And I rifle through the library of a decent ageing man who tried to have the sort of homecoming that Marlow hoped for, that Omar Khayyam lyricises, but whose library shows all the traces of someone who needed to understand why that blissful reward was simply not available.

Conrad - between Kurtz and Jim - seems to me to offer the keys to an understanding of the European part of this story: the worst result of self-righteousness is now well-known and Heart of Darkness is its rightfully acknowledged chronicle; and Lord Jim shows that the best imaginable story of colonial virtue is still inevitably destructive.

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