Finding Kurtz


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is driven by the search and discovery of Kurtz, the man turned mad by Africa. Kurtz is the pale white colonizer who rapes the continent, is also worshiped by the native population, and provides fodder for an endless stream of undergraduate English papers. However, there remains the question of whether Kurtz was modeled on a real life doppelgänger. Slate looks at some recent scholarship exploring the possibilities of the origins of Kurtz:

Rarely is there a single model for a complex literary character, and writers often aren’t even fully aware of their inspirations. What Marlow notes of Kurtz’s background might have been true of Conrad’s literary creation: “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” Maybe there was some Samoa in there, too.

Ian MacAllen's fiction has appeared in 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and elsewhere and nonfiction has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, The Negatives, Electric Literature, Fiction Advocate, and elsewhere. He is the Deputy Editor of The Rumpus, holds an MA in English from Rutgers University, tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →