Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad, about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State, in the heart of Africa, by the story's narrator Charles Marlow. Marlow tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames. This setting provides the frame for Marlow's story of his obsession with the ivory trader Kurtz, which enables Conrad to create a parallel between "the greatest town on earth" and Africa as places of darkness.
Central to Conrad's work is the idea that there is little difference between so-called civilised people and those described as savages; Heart of Darkness raises questions about imperialism and racism.
Originally issued as a three-part serial story in Blackwood's Magazine to celebrate the thousandth edition of the magazine, Heart of Darkness has been widely re-published and translated into many languages. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness 67th on their list of the 100 best novels in English of the twentieth century.
In 1890, at the age of 32, Conrad was appointed by a Belgian trading company to serve on one of its steamers. While sailing up the Congo river from one station to another, the captain became ill and Conrad assumed command, guiding the ship to the trading company's innermost station. The story's main narrator, Charles Marlow, has similar experiences to the author himself.
When Conrad began to write the novella, eight years after returning from Africa, he drew inspiration from his travel journals. He described Heart of Darkness as "a wild story" of a journalist who becomes manager of a station in the (African) interior and makes himself worshipped by a tribe of savages. Thus described, the subject seems comic, but it isn't. The tale was first published as a three-part serial, February, March and April 1899, in Blackwood's Magazine (February 1899 was the magazine's 1000th issue: special edition). Then later, in 1902, Heart of Darkness was included in the book Youth: a Narrative, and Two Other Stories (published on 13 November 1902, by William Blackwood).
The volume consisted of Youth: a Narrative, Heart of Darkness and The End of the Tether in that order. For future editions of the book, in 1917 Conrad wrote an "Author's Note" where he, after denying any "unity of artistic purpose" underlying the collection, discusses each of the three stories, and makes light commentary on the character Marlow—the narrator of the tales within the first two stories. He also mentions how Youth marks the first appearance of Marlow.
On 31 May 1902, in a letter to William Blackwood, Conrad remarked: