From Carlyle’s Hero to Conrad’s Depraved: Hermeneutics of Morbidity in Heart of Darkness

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Abstract

The author of this paper lays out a system of hermeneutics based on the idea of morbidity aimed at checking the commitment (or the lack thereof) of individual subjects to Victorian ethics. The system stems from Thomas Carlyle’s political agenda based on his concept of “hero worship”. The system is then deployed in order to probe into the purported morbidity of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. According to the author of this paper, the character of Marlow represents a curious mixture of the heroic archetype proposed by Carlyle, combined with new critical standpoints from other philosophical programmes (specifically Nietzsche’s) proposed at the end of the nineteenth century. Firstly, the author of this paper tackles the prototype of the hero (a sort of medium between reality and Divine Truth) Thomas Carlyle posited in his On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841). The author of this paper then describes how Marlow shares some of the hero’s features (most notably social responsibility and work ethic), but fails to embody the main trait of Carlyle’s “great men”, namely, their ability to recognize Divine Truth. Indeed, rather than asserting the existence of the Truth, Marlow’s narrative reveals the existence of multiple truths, thus creating a sort of politically morbid revision of Carlyle’s formula.

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