The Historian's Heart of Darkness
Reading Conrad's Masterpiece as Social and Cultural History
Edited by Mark D. Larabee
January 2018, 178pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-5106-3
$45, £35, 40€, A62
Please contact your preferred distributor for pricing.
Paperback: 978-1-4408-5108-7
$35, £27, 31€, A48
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eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5107-0
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Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness reveals important truths about Europe and Africa a century ago, as well as illuminates historical forces that shapre the world we live in now.

Fiction has power to portray historical truth. This book presents Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to students and general readers as an insightful guide to the history of Europe and Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The phrase “heart of darkness” has become familiar shorthand for conjuring an ominous sense of hidden or deeply rooted evil. How did these words become so evocative? The answer lies in the richness and acute insight of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s story based on his 1890 journey on the Congo River. Conrad’s novella illustrates many crucial themes of European and world history through the last two centuries: civilization; exploration; colonialism and imperialism; race, and conflict based on race; trade and globalization; commercial exploitation; and the impact of changing technology, especially for communication and transport. Heart of Darkness deserves to be studied today for its value as social and cultural history. In this edition, Conrad’s story is shown to reveal important truths not only about Europe and Africa a century ago, but also about the historical forces that shape the world we live in now.

Featuring the texts of both Heart of Darkness and Conrad’s autobiographical “Congo Diary” along with more than 200 annotations, this book enables readers to appreciate the connections between Conrad’s writing and its historical context. Introductory essays explain Conrad’s unique position as a chronicler of history, provide critical background information on how Europeans partitioned Africa and created the Congo Free State, and describe how the ivory and rubber trades brutalized the natives. Readers will learn how Conrad contributed to European awareness of the atrocities committed, and they will discover how the story’s literary qualities form an essential part of its historical meaning. The numerous illustrations and maps depicting the historical Congo Free State provide a visual element to the story of Heart of Darkness—a fictionalized tale that can be interpreted as history and that can help us interpret today’s postcolonial, globalized world.


  • Presents a fresh perspective on Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness by presenting this fictional story as a crucial source of historical knowledge
  • Explains key background information for better understanding Heart of Darkness, such as how Conrad's life uniquely positioned him to chronicle social and cultural history; the colonial partitioning of Africa and the founding of the Congo Free State; and the ivory and rubber trades in the Congo and the atrocities ensuingfrom these lucrative industries
  • Provides the texts of both Heart of Darkness and Conrad's autobiographical "Congo Diary" along with more than 200 annotations that illuminate the links between the story and its contexts as well as identify how Conrad shaped historical facts for his fictional portrayal
  • Ideal for students taking classes on modern world history, European history, African history, British history, western civilization, European colonialism, exploration and empire, or imperialism
Mark D. Larabee, PhD, is formerly associate professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the author of Front Lines of Modernism: Remapping the Great War in British Fiction and numerous articles on Joseph Conrad and other authors, including contributions to the books Conrad and Nature, A Historical Guide to Joseph Conrad, Approaches to Teaching Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and "The Secret Sharer", and Joseph Conrad: The Short Fiction. His writing and research have won national awards, including the Bruce Harkness Young Conrad Scholar Award from the Joseph Conrad Society of America and an award from the College English Association. Larabee received the Naval Academy's first-ever Military Professor Teaching Excellence Award. He has served as a regional delegate to the Modern Language Association, is active in the Joseph Conrad Society of America, and is the executive editor of Joseph Conrad Today, the official publication of the Joseph Conrad Society of America.


"This book will be most appreciated in academic libraries, whose readers, whether studying history or literature, will appreciate the interweaving of the two disciplines. Given its rather reasonable price and its readability, other libraries should also consider it if their patrons are interested in British literature or African history."—ARBA, March 13, 2018

"A thoroughly excellent, thoughtfully-produced and rewarding edition of Heart of Darkness."—The Conradian, March 17, 2019

"In this thoughtfully curated edition, Mark Larabee shows us how and why Heart of Darkness is a novel for all seasons. Born out of the tumult of the late Victorian global empire, it hurtles through a world of geopolitical complexities and moral dilemmas from which we have not yet exited. This splendid annotation makes readers into witnesses of a historical drama that anticipates the very age we are living in."—Antoinette Burton, Professor of History and Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, Department of History, University of Illinois, and Author of An ABC of Queen Victoria’s Empire

"Mark Larabee’s The Historian’s Heart of Darkness provides a significant contribution to the enormous body of work devoted to Conrad’s great novella. The introduction is well-informed and rich with historical detail; the information concerning the political and economic context of the story is especially fine. Larabee’s notes to the text are extensive and authoritative. This book reflects substantial research and scholarship; I hope it will introduce Heart of Darkness to generations of historians and their students."—Richard Ruppel, Professor, English and Peace Studies, Chapman University, past president of the Joseph Conrad Society of America

"Mark Larabee's new edition of Heart of Darkness is an important resource for scholars and the definitive text for classroom use. Clear and careful, rich and concise, this historical edition fully situates Conrad's text in the world in which he wrote and to which he was responding. Only by grounding their reading in the specific historical details that this edition provides can readers begin to understand the ironies and nuances of Conrad's method and masterpiece." —Debra Romanick Baldwin, Associate Professor, University of Dallas; Past President, Joseph Conrad Society of America

"Mark Larabee’s edition of Heart of Darkness is an excellent presentation of the tale. Its extensive emphasis on the novel’s historical context sets it apart from the crowd of other classroom editions, as does Larabee’s close attention to detail in his exhaustive explanatory notes. This historical background, along with the other supplementary materials provided, return Heart of Darkness once again to the time and geography that originally produced it, making this edition invaluable for students, instructors, and scholars alike."—John G. Peters, University Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Texas, General Editor of Conradiana, and Author of Joseph Conrad’s Critical Reception
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