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  • Debt to Ivanhoe in Conrad”s Heart of Darkness
  • Rodney Stenning Edgecombe (bio)

Since Joseph Conrad’s novels are to some extent adventure stories moralisés, there would have been an a priori likelihood of his having read Walter Scott, the fons et origo of the boy’s tale, even without the confirmation supplied by his letter to William Blackwood in 1902: “And Sir Walter, himself, was not the writer of concise anecdotes, I fancy.” (Letters, 2:418.) It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find that a striking simile in Heart of Darkness--”smiles and frowns chasing each other over that open countenance like sunshine and shadow on a wind-swept plain” (Part 2, 75-76)--can be traced back to Ivanhoe: “Gratified pride, resentment, embarrassment, chased each other over his broad and open brow, like the shadow of clouds drifting over a harvestfield”(Ch. 5,38).

Rodney Stenning Edgecombe
University of Cape Town
Rodney Stenning Edgecombe

RODNEY STENNING EDGECOMBE lectures English literature at the University of Cape Town and holds one of its Distinguished Teacher Awards. He has published 11 books, the most recent being on Thomas Hood—and 382 articles on topics that range from Shakespeare to nineteenth-century ballet and opera.


Conrad, Joseph. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Ed. Frederick Karl, Laurence Davies, Owen Knowles, Gene M. Moore and J. H. Stape. 9 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983-2007.
———. Heart of Darkness. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe. London: Caxton, No Date. [End Page 83]


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