The Congo as topos of dystopic transgression in fin-de-siècle literature
In this essay, I compare the representation of the Congo as a topos of dystopic transgression in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), and in a lesser-known novel entitled Tropenwee (Tropical agony) by the Dutch author Henri van Booven, published in 1904. The
idea of the Congo as a locus of degeneration will be read, not so much as a Conradian theme, but rather, as an idea that had gained wide currency throughout Europe during the fin-de-siècle period. Particular attention will be paid to some of the narrative
techniques that shape this idea and the ideological assumptions it conveys. Moreover, I hope to show that degeneration as reflected by the writings under investigation is at once a colonial and anti-colonial theme, and therefore its significance requires moving beyond singular and clear-cut ideological labels.
Keywords: degeneration, colonialism, fin-de-siècle literature, Joseph Conrad, Henri van Booven.
Tydskrif vir Letterkunde Vol. 46 (1) 2009: pp. 95-108