"I need not enlarge upon the pleasure of seeing my story in such a good place." — Conrad to William Blackwood, 29 November 1897

As Conrad's remark to the owner and editor of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine regarding the forthcoming publication of the short story "Karain" suggests, he was highly honoured to see his work in the pages of one of Britain's most venerable literary monthlies, initiated on All-Fools' Day in 1817. William Blackwood further gratified Conrad on December 30th, 1898, by soliciting a piece for a special thousandth number, an issue that would run 296 pages, as opposed to an average of 160 pages for other numbers in Volume 165 for the first six months of 1899. Since the novella Heart of Darkness (originally, "The Heart of Darkness") exists in six significant forms — a nearly complete manuscript, a partial type-script, the three-part magazine serial, the 1902 Blackwood's volume, the "Sun Dial" Youth volume of 1902, and the Heinemann limited English edition in the Collected Works of Joseph Conrad (1921) — little if any critical attention has been paid to the initial magazine version, presumably on the grounds that the serial version does not represent either Conrad's first thoughts or final intentions for the story (in fact, there are few substantive differences between the serial and final texts). Given the wealth of modern critical attention paid to almost every aspect of Conrad's novella, it is surprising that, while type-script and manuscript have been scrutinized, the original publication context of Heart of Darkness has not. The story's serial context may be examined under three headings:

Since 1963 the preferred text of the novella has been Robert Kimbrough's collation of four of the story's significant forms: the 1899 serial version, the manuscript, the typescript, and the 'final', revised form published in volume in 1902. The extant typescript, corresponding to Part One, is thirty-four double spaced sheets; however, "Conrad's correspondence with Blackwood shows that a revised typescript used as setting copy for Parts II and III of the serial printing once existed" (Michael and Berry 148). Despite the massive number of accidentals in Blackwood's Part One (presumably as many were introduced into the remaining instalments), the serial form of Parts Two and Three remain our only evidence as to the state of the novella after Conrad's initial revision. Although Kimbrough dismisses the form of the text which appeared in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine as "less explicit, omitting words, phrases, and one whole scene," he concedes that "it has only one totally rewritten passage and only one other fully revised" (xi). Conrad's later revisions, Kimbrough continues, are "mainly in matters of style, in smoothness of phrase and syntax" (xi), and in toning down two descriptions of Kurtz's African queen.

Kimbrough says little about the influence of serialisation on the story'sform and structure, even though its tripartite division is a direct reflection of the story's having been divided into three episodes for Maga. At first glance, the Blackwood's version of the text offers little worthy of comment that Kimbrough has not already noted. The few textual differences that Kimbrough has not discussed may be summarized thus (the base text being Kimbrough's Norton):

  1. "sea-reach," not "Sea-reach" (Part One, p. 7);
  2. "His uncalled-for remark," not "His Remark" (Part One, p. 9);
  3. "At last we turned a bend," not "At last we opened a reach" (Part One, p. 18);
  4. "manager," not "Manager" (Part Two, p. 44, 52);
  5. "sends me, he began," not "sends me, 'e began" (Part Two, p. 47);
  6. "Kurtz hung his head," not "was a bit crestfallen" (Part Two, p. 58);
  7. "he does not speak," not "say the right thing" (Part Three, p. 59);
  8. "Several figures could be made out," not "Dark human shapes could bemade out" (Part Three, p. 60);
  9. "near the river two standing leaning," not "near the river two bronze figures standing" (Part Three, p. 60);
  10. "She turned, walked," not "turned away slowly, walked" (Part Three, p. 61);
  11. "a boyish game for fun," not "a boyish game" (Part Three, p. 64);
  12. "supreme moment of complete knowledge?" not "supreme moment?" (Part Three, note 68).

Generally, Kimbrough has been very thorough in noting how the serial and ms. deviate from the final text, suggesting the care with which Conrad revised the novella after serial publication. The serial version is hardly a flawed text, however.


Contemporary attitudes towards the genre of the novel have been shaped by writers as different as James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Salman Rushdie, troubled geniuses battling censorship and Philistinism to publish socially critical, realistic works of volume length. A study of the initial publication context of one of the first great modern pieces of prose fiction, Heart of Darkness , reveals another side of the novelist and his work that modern critics and readers are prone to forget: the trials and rewards of serial publication. Every bit as troubled and brooding an artist as his literary descendants, Conrad like Dickens was much concerned with the typically Victorian questions of American versus British copyright and of magazine versus volume royalties. Of his twenty volumes of work produced over three decades, thirty-seven of Conrad's short stories, novellas, and novels initially appeared serially. Conrad's early magazine efforts include the following:

"The Idiots" in Arthur Symons' Savoy (October, 1896): Conrad's first magazine appearance; "The Lagoon" in Cornhill,Vol. II (January, 1897); "A Victim of Progress" (later titled "An Outpost of Progress") in Cosmopolis ,Vols. VI-VII (June-July, 1897); The Children of the Sea ( The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' ) in Heinemann's New Review , Vol. XVI (August-December, 1897); "Karain" in Blackwood's Magazine, Vol. CLXII (November, 1897); "Youth" in Blackwood's Magazine, Vol. CLXIV (September, 1898); The Heart of Darkness in Blackwood's Magazine ,Vol. CLXV (February, March, and April, 1899); and Lord Jim in Blackwood's Magazine ,Vol. CLXVI (October 1899--November, 1900).

Although Conrad published no further works in Blackwood's, he continued to publish serially right up to the end of his career, his last such effort being (ironically) the story he was attempting to write when interrupted by Heart of Darkness: The Rescue, originally intended for the Illustrated London News in 1899, finally appeared in Land and Water (30 Jan.-31 July, 1919) and in Romance(Nov., 1919-May, 1920) in the United States.

The earliest reference to Conrad's dealings with Magaconcerns "Karain," which he mentions to T. Fisher Unwin on July 2nd, 1897, as having been under consideration for "two months" (Letters I: 364): "The story is too good to be sat upon in that manner and the Magadoes not fill me with so much respect and awe as all this comes to." From the outset, then, in May, 1897, Conrad's attitude towards working with Blackwood'sseems to have been ambivalent. By July 12th, 1897, Blackwood had made Conrad an offer of £16, although the author had made up his mind not to let it go for less than £40. Quickly, however, author and publishing house cemented a relationship whereby Conrad agreed to give William Blackwood first refusal on "any short stories I may write" (18 July 1897). To E. L. Sanderson on 19 July, 1897, Conrad admitted how flattered he was with the prospect of Blackwood's publishing "Karain": "This [offer], coming from Mod[ern] Athens, was so flattering that for a whole day I walked about with my nose in the air" ( Letters I: 367).

Writing to William Blackwood on the 9th of November, 1897, Conrad expresses his regret that, owing to a prior commitment with Heinemann's New Review, "it will not be my good fortune to appear serially in the pages of Maga." However, in postscript he adds: "Till you expressly decline I consider myself authorized to send you any short story or sketch I may write" ( Letters I: 409). As has been noted, in planning the thousandth number of his journal Blackwood decided to act on Conrad's invitation, and Conrad, "primarily a commercial storyteller aiming at the popular market" (Widmer 44), seems to have been eager to oblige, halting work on The Rescue to complete "a narrative after the manner of ÎYouthâ" ( Letters II: 139). On January 2nd, 1899, writing to Meldrum, Conrad estimated that the new story would run to 20,000 words: "It would stand dividing into two instalments" ( Letters II: 145). Despite Conrad's doubts about there being insufficient time to secure U. S. copyright, the author forwarded the first ninety pages (pages 1-57 typed by his wife, pages 58-90 hand- written), and thereby made Blackwood's deadline for the anniversary number. Writing to Blackwood on 7 February, Conrad indicates that he has "marked (on the last page [p. 65]) the place where the first instalment might end. It would be about half of the whole story or perhaps a little more" ( Letters II: 155). By the next day, however, writing to R. B. Cunninghame Graham, the story seems to have grown considerably under Conrad's hands, as he speaks of "two more instalments" ( LettersII: 157). The discrepancy may be explained by Conrad's having been notified by Blackwood that Conrad had sent enough material for two instalments, for that same day. Responding to a recent wire from the editor, Conrad concedes that he "felt the balance of the story was a little long for one instalment" ( LettersII: 161). Further, Conrad expresses his delight with other pieces in the thousandth number:

Gibbon especially fetched me quite. But everything is good. Munro's verses--excellent, and Whibley very interesting--very appreciative, very fair. I happen to know Rimbaud's verses. I must own that I regret the old type. ( Letters II: 162)

From this correspondence certain facts regarding the initial publication of Heart of Darkness emerge: Conrad was unaware of precisely what other material would be published alongside the first part; Conrad felt he had provided enough material for the first instalment, but Blackwood had divided that initial offering in two; Conrad had little or no control over (or sense of) the number of instalments in which Blackwood would publish the story (for the first part was only 28 pages or 14,000 words, but Conrad had felt that the first part would be over twice that length); and, finally, Conrad read the thousandth number of Maga cover to cover, eager to get a sense of the intellectual and artistic context in which his story was being read.

In the February issue of Maga, the first part of "The Heart of Darkness" at 28 pages is only the second-longest contribution, totaling 296 pages, the longest piece being Maurice Hewlett's "Madonna of the Peach-Tree," a single short story of 34 pages. The thousandth number is roughly twice as long as the average number of the first six months of 1899, containing twenty-two articles to January's eleven and March's twelve. The second and third instalments of "The Heart of Darkness" are the longest pieces in their respective issues, each being 24 pages. Studying the tables of contents for Maga, one may conclude that, since the average piece is 14 pages in length, William Blackwood was generous in the amount of space he permitted Conrad, but that he was also prepared to serialize a novel such as Autobiography of a Child over half-a-year in segments of a dozen pages or less.


The other articles appearing in the three pertinent numbers of Blackwood's, January through April, form an historical and cultural context for a late-nineteenth century reading of Conrad's novella. Maga's reader had, perhaps, a taste for exotic, overseas locales, if such titles as "Romance of the Mines: California Gold Discoveries" and "Jamaica: An Impression" (both in the thousandth number) are any indication. Certainly, that reader's understanding of the moral issues involved in the colonial exploitation as Conrad dramatizes would have been informed by his having read in January number "Romance of the Fur Trade: The Mountain Men" and "The Preservation of African Elephants." Conrad's own perspective on Heart of Darkness was likely modified by what he read in Maga. Superior to their aboriginal adversaries in fire-power and every bit their equal in terms of ruthlessness, the mountain men who explored the American hinterland in quest of wealth and adventure seem a foreshadowing of Conrad's Kurtz and his less spiritual imitators, Marlow's "predecessor" (199) Fresleven and the 'pilgrims' of the Congo Company:

Probably nineteen in twenty came to violent ends: their bones were left to bleach in the mountains, or their scalps were hung in triumph to an Indian tent-pole. They took their revenge in full, and though they were but scattered handfuls compared to the hordes of Indian braves, the balance stood on the credit- side of their account. On the whole, they rather preferred "raising hair" to trapping beaver, though the one meant profit and the other was mere pleasure. (37)

Certain features of this passage bear a curious correspondence to Conrad's novella, especially if one substitutes "jungle" for "mountains," "skulls" for "scalps,""native" for "Indian," and "procuring ivory" for "trapping beaver." That a commodity for the European market inspires both fur-trappers and ivory-seekers is underscored by the statistical turn of phrase ("nineteen out of twenty"), the description of scalps as currency and verification of manliness, the fiscally connotative phrase "the balance stood on the credit-side of their account," and the juxtaposition of savage and civilised motivations. The reader detects in both this writer and in Conrad an ambiguous duality of attitude towards the North American aboriginal, who is at once both Noble Savage and "red varmint" (39). Certainly, the reader of 1899 would have caught the echo of "Wall! so many of the red skunks were bound to be rubbed out" (37) in Kurtz's delirious comment, "scrawled evidently much later [than the spurious peroration for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs] . . . . 'Exterminate all the brutes!'" (498). The reader would reasonably conclude that wilderness, whether North American or African, is corrosive to the higher human attributes of Europeans who dare to penetrate the heart of darkness. He might have even connected Conrad's "Eldorado Expedition" (220) with "Romance of the Mines: Californian Gold Discoveries" (272-282).

In Heart of Darkness, the ecologically-minded readers of the early twenty-first century tend to see the hunting of African elephants (now an endangered species) in terms of the contemporary dilemma of exploitation-profit/preservation- unemployment. Surprisingly, the reflective Maga reader of a century ago would have been prepared to take a similarly negative perspective since he would have read in "Romance of the Fur Trade" that environmental devastation followed in the wake of the mountain men:

What trapper of fifty years ago could have imagined a time when the countless herds of the buffalo would be exterminated; when the Indians who had subsisted on them would have followed in their tracks. . . . (39)

Again, however, the writer expresses a certain ambivalence when he reflects that on the prairies the buffalo have been replaced by waving "expanses of golden grain," and that in the Rockies "the scream of the eagle" by the screaming of that stupendous product of European technology, the steam-driven locomotive.

Alfred Sharpe's "The Preservation of African Elephants" (89-92) provides a further intellectual context for Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" in that, through the constant harassment of native hunters who are largely unaffected by half-hearted attempts by colonial authorities at conservation ("licenses, involving the payment of fees of varying amounts" [92] for shooting elephants), the elephant in many parts of the continent will become extinct.

The actual fact is, that the African native throughout the continent, since the introduction of firearms, urged on by the high value of ivory in European markets, has slaughtered elephants wherever he could find them . . . ; and so long as ivory of all descriptions is a valuable trade article, elephants will continue to be indiscriminately killed. . . . (89)

Government monopoly, as was the case with the North American fur trade, has done nothing to preserve the animals, contends Sharpe, and the establishment of game sanctuaries "is of no avail unless the necessary measures are taken to effectually guard against molestation by natives or Europeans" (90). By implication, Sharpe's villain like Conrad's is neither European nor native, but rather all humanity's greed, which will drive the race to exploit a resource to its utter depletion.

Some of Conrad's moral issues, then, were dealt with extensively in the issue which preceded that in which "The Heart of Darkness" began. Vol. CLXV, No. M, of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine was intended primarily to pay tribute to the founding of the literary monthly by the senior William Blackwood in 1817. " Noctes Ambrosianae--No. LXXII, for example, refers to the seventy-one humorous sketches, taking the form of boisterous imaginary conversations, written by Prof. John Wilson ('Christopher North'), J. G. Lockhart, James Hogg ('Ettrick Shepherd'), and William Maginn between 1822 and 1835. Allusions to this initial staff of Blackwood'soccur also throughout Andrew Lang's "Our Fathers" (165-155), which refers to Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle ("The Great Magician" [line 8] and "the Giant Child" [line 13]) as the journal's spiritual mentors throughout its eighty-year history. Since these initial pieces emphasize verbal wit and satire, the initial reader of Heart of Darkness was primed for Conrad's satire of the Belgian exploitation of the Congolese and his cynical description of Brussels as "the sepulchral city." The range of voices in " Noctes Ambrosianae" likewise prepared the reader for the Chinese-box narratives within Conrad's novella. The speakers in the sketch are reflective of the journal's conservative political and social attitudes; for example, North feels that the Tories are in the ascendant because "Common- sense political views are now unquestionably held by large classes in the community who were formerly steeped in ignorance and prejudice" (177) but who now enjoy unparalled peace and prosperity under the Empire.

Ironically, while the speakers condemn "superstition" as does Marlow in Heart of Darkness , they firmly believe in the average person's utter devotion to "the greatness and oneness of Empire" (179)Ñsymbolized by the Penny Postage--in complete contrast to Conrad's attitudes to the imperial adventures of both Rome and modern Europe. The sketch's speakers generally express negative attitudes towards contemporary fiction because

The majority of the popular writers of these times are engaged in probing--with neither experience of life nor knowledge of books to guide them--the mysteries of human unhappiness. This is more particularly the case, as you have forcibly hinted, with the female writers.(185)

Conrad, a retired seaman whose experience in the Congo paralleled Marlow's in Heart of Darkness , must have read the above remarks with a wry smile, perhaps even conscious of how the criticism of women here echoes Marlow's own feeling that the women are "out of it."

The first instalment of "The Heart of Darkness" (193-220) is sandwiched between the huzzas of "Maga for ever!"(192) of the literary wits of " Noctes Ambrosianae" and Part Two of "Seventy Years at Westminster" by the Right Honourable Sir John R. Mowbray, Bart., M. P., the first part having appeared in the July, 1898, number. All three pieces are in essence reminiscences, Conrad's fiction being bracketed by satirical colloquy and a sober-sided history regarding the introduction of the Divorce Court in July, 1857. One is reminded of E. M. Forster's remark that the genre of the novel "is bounded by two chains of mountains neither of which rises very abruptly--the opposing ranges of Poetry and of History" (25).

The second instalment of the novella is sandwiched in between a further reminiscence, Mrs. Bagot's "Bygone Days" (461-478), and the censorious "Sins of Education" (503-513). The former piece recalls the great men of Mrs. Bagot's youth (Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, George IV, and William III) and subscribes to the myth of imperial glory and personal heroism through martial conquest, the very myth that "The Heart of Darkness" explodes in the figure of another 'great man', Kurtz, who demonstrates how easily the enlightened explorer and standard-bearer of civilisation may become the rapacious exploiter consumed by his own superbia, a point which feminists contend is the only lesson of patriarchal history. Certainly in her examination of nineteenth-century history Mrs. Bagot could hardly be termed a feminist, for to her human genius is synonymous with masculine npower and authority as exhibited in the great battles of the Napoleonic wars. The final instalment of the novella is sandwiched in between "The Thames as a Game-Fish River" (621-633) and "'Christian' Quackery" (658- 668).


The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Volume One: 1861-1897. Ed. Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Volume Two: 1898-1902. Ed. Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Conrad, Joseph. "The Heart of Darkness." Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 165 (22 February, 12 March, and 13 April, 1899): 193-220, 479- 502, 634-657.

Curwen, Henry. "William Blackwood: 'Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine'." A History of Booksellers, the Old and The New . London: Chatto and Windus, 1873. Rpt. Detroit: Gale Research, 1968. Pp. 199- 233.

Forster, E. M. Aspects of the Novel (1927). Ed. Oliver Stallybrass. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

Kimbrough, Robert. "Introduction" to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. Pp. ix-xvii.

Michael, Marion, and Berry, Wilkes. "The Typescript of 'The Heart of Darkness'." Conradiana 12, 2 (1980): 147-155.

Widmer, Kingsley. "Joseph Conrad." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol, 34: British Novelists, 1890-1929: Traditionalists. Ed. Thomas F. Staley. Detroit: Bruccoli Clark, Gale Research, 1985. Pp. 43-82.

Victorian Web Joseph Conrad Bibliography

Last modified 21 June 2013