Knowledge Leading to Insanity in H.P. Lovecraft's "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" and the influence of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
"Science, alrady oppressive with its schocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species-if separate species we be-for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world."
--H.P. Lovecraft, "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"
Both texts, "Heart of Darkness", and "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" are about the limits of the human mind. Some are able to contain powerful universal truths and some are not. Lovecraft, twenty-one years after the publication of "Heart of Darkness", uses it as a partial basis for the exploration of the dangers of Darwin on the human psyche. Therefore, I explore Conrad's imagery and ultimate purpose in order to show how it is repeated in Lovecraft's story.
European progression into Africa can be summarized as attempting to draw a straight line to the center. In "Heart of Darkness", Conrad gives two important descriptions of European exploration to support seeing it as a linear, penetrating movement. One is the importance of rivers in exploration, which I will discuss in more detail. The other is one of the European managers description of the ideal goal of the stations on the river: to each link up in a line and ferry civilization and goodness into Africa.
Turning to rivers, they appear first when Marlow is discussing the blank spots on the map. He says that these yellow spaces are filled...
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...s lineage back to its origin led Arthur Jermyn straight into death, just as extending the line of stations into the Congo led Kurtz into death. Twenty-one years after the publishing of "Heart of Darkness", its effect on the perception of Africa can be clearly seen. Lovecraft is an American commercial author, without the colonial perspective of a 19th century English author, so his appropriation of Conrad is based solely on the power of the text. Together, both stories make a very powerful statement on the true state of the average human being and what his or her mind might be capable of understanding.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1899
Lovecraft, Howard Phillip. "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family." Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. Arkham House: Sauk City, WI. 1965. orig. pub. 1920. pp 73-83
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