Fear of Femininity

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Global Literature

Sadman Binzaman


The Savage Woman

Kurtz's African mistress is a vivid presence in Conrad's Heart of Darkness though she seems to have no place at all in the narrative. But, certainly a woman so markedly present must have some role to play, even if indirectly. Heart of Darkness introduces several minor characters who serve major functions in the overall meaning of the work. Kurtz's African mistress functions as the truth that Marlow's narrative serves to reveal and yet in the nature of his narratives manages to conceal. Her very presence reminds us of issues Marlow - and Conrad - do not deal with.

Oddly enough, Kurtz who speaks at length of "(my) Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my..." (116) has nothing to say of the African woman who we are given to understand was an important part of his life.

The last possessive pronoun in that list may well have been intended to refer to his mistress. But Kurtz breaks off at this point or, as is more likely, Marlow censors his remarks. When we do hear of her, it is through the Russian:

"She got in one day and kicked up a row about those miserable rags I picked up in the storeroom to mend my clothes with. At least it must have been that, for she talked like a fury to Kurtz for an hour pointing at me now and then...Luckily for me, I fancy Kurtz felt too ill that day to care, or there would have been mischief." (137)

While the Russian's words affirm the savage woman's influence over Kurtz, the turn his anecdote takes, the moment it represents, negates any sense of influence. For we see the woman at a moment when Kurtz chooses for...