The renaissance 1485 – 1625 The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement

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3.The absurdity of evil

This novella is, above all, an exploration of hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion. It explodes the idea of the proverbial choice between the lesser of two evils. As the idealistic Marlow is forced to align himself with either the hypocritical and malicious colonial bureaucracy or the openly malevolent, rule-defying Kurtz, it becomes increasingly clear that to try to judge either alternative is an act of folly.


1.Observation and eavesdropping

Marlow gains a great deal of information by watching the world around him and by overhearing others’ conversations, as when he listens from the deck of the wrecked steamer to the manager of the Central Station and his uncle discussing Kurtz and the Russian trader. This phenomenon speaks to the impossibility of direct communication between individuals: information must come as the result of chance observation and astute interpretation. Words themselves fail to capture meaning adequately, and thus they must be taken in the context of their utterance. Another good example of this is Marlow’s conversation with the brickmaker, during which Marlow is able to figure out a good deal more than simply what the man has to say.

2.Interiors and exteriors

Comparisons between interiors and exteriors pervade Heart of Darkness. As the narrator states at the beginning of the text, Marlow is more interested in surfaces, in the surrounding aura of a thing rather than in any hidden nugget of meaning deep within the thing itself. This inverts the usual hierarchy of meaning: normally one seeks the deep message or hidden truth. The priority placed on observation demonstrates that penetrating to the interior of an idea or a person is impossible in this world. Thus, Marlow is confronted with a series of exteriors and surfaces—the river’s banks, the forest walls around the station, Kurtz’s broad forehead—that he must interpret. These exteriors are all the material he is given, and they provide him with perhaps a more profound source of knowledge than any falsely constructed interior “kernel.”


Darkness is important enough conceptually to be part of the book’s title. However, it is difficult to discern exactly what it might mean, given that absolutely everything in the book is cloaked in darkness. Africa, England, and Brussels are all described as gloomy and somehow dark, even if the sun is shining brightly. Darkness thus seems to operate metaphorically and existentially rather than specifically. Darkness is the inability to see: this may sound simple, but as a description of the human condition it has profound implications. Failing to see another human being means failing to understand that individual and failing to establish any sort of sympathetic communion with him or her.



Fog is a sort of corollary to darkness. Fog not only obscures but distorts: it gives one just enough information to begin making decisions but no way to judge the accuracy of that information, which often ends up being wrong. Marlow’s steamer is caught in the fog, meaning that he has no idea where he’s going and no idea whether peril or open water lies ahead.

2.The Whited Sepulchre

The “whited sepulchre” is probably Brussels, where the Company’s headquarters are located. A sepulchre implies death and confinement, and indeed Europe is the origin of the colonial enterprises that bring death to white men and to their colonial subjects; it is also governed by a set of reified social principles that both enable cruelty, dehumanization, and evil and prohibit change. The phrase “whited sepulchre” comes from the biblical Book of Matthew. In the passage, Matthew describes “whited sepulchres” as something beautiful on the outside but containing horrors within (the bodies of the dead); thus, the image is appropriate for Brussels, given the hypocritical Belgian rhetoric about imperialism’s civilizing mission. (Belgian colonies, particularly the Congo, were notorious for the violence perpetuated against the natives.)


Both Kurtz’s Intended and his African mistress function as blank slates upon which the values and the wealth of their respective societies can be displayed. Marlow frequently claims that women are the keepers of naïve illusions; although this sounds condemnatory, such a role is in fact crucial, as these naïve illusions are at the root of the social fictions that justify economic enterprise and colonial expansion. In return, the women are the beneficiaries of much of the resulting wealth, and they become objects upon which men can display their own success and status.

4.The river

The Congo River is the key to Africa for Europeans. It allows them access to the center of the continent without having to physically cross it; in other words, it allows the white man to remain always separate or outside. Africa is thus reduced to a series of two-dimensional scenes that flash by Marlow’s steamer as he travels upriver. The river also seems to want to expel Europeans from Africa altogether: its current makes travel upriver slow and difficult, but the flow of water makes travel downriver, back toward “civilization,” rapid and seemingly inevitable. Marlow’s struggles with the river as he travels upstream toward Kurtz reflect his struggles to understand the situation in which he has found himself. The ease with which he journeys back downstream, on the other hand, mirrors his acquiescence to Kurtz and his “choice of nightmares.”


1901 – 1950

BRITAIN 1901 – 1950

Queen Victoria’s death corresponded with the start of the new century, and Britain entered a new era in which its supremacy on the world stage come to an end as the result of two ruinous global wars.

Despite the economic gloom that characterized the first fifty years of the 20th century, British society was by no means dormant, since both World Wars acted as catalysts for profound cultural and social changes. The most significant change was the new role of women in society. The dutiful, housebound Victorian lady was being replaced by a young, fun-loving and liberated woman.

The first fifty years of the 20th century saw the end of the British Empire and of the Industrial Revolution. The two wars had meant that Britain would play a less prominent role in a world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.

British literature

Between 1910 and 1930 the impetus towards innovation and experimentation gathered pace as Modernist writers published ground-breaking works that made this period one of the most memorable in the history of English literature. They tried to find forms of expression that reflected the complexity of 20th century life.

Although the Modernist revolution instigated by Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf was the most notable development in the world of early 20th century fiction, most writing during the period respected more traditional stylistic and organizational norms.

The Bloomsbury Group, so called because it met in the Bloomsbury area of London, included E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. They followed in the aesthetic tradition of the late 19th century and totally rejected the moral and artistic restrictions of the Victorians. Forster, along with Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, dealt with colonialism as the first breaches began to appear in the defences of the Empire.

Born in the USA, Henry James became a British subject shortly before his death and is perhaps the first writer to be equally claimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

A contrasting view of the British in India is given by E. M. Forster in A passage to India. His condemnation of the ruling British elite leaves little room for any hope that the gap between governors and governed can be closed.

Modernist writers believed that nothing could be taken for granted in literary form and that no theme or subject matter was unsuitable for fiction. Writers like Joyce, Woolf, Lawrence and Conrad applied psychoanalytic theory to their work so that the inner psychology of man became as important as the external world. Modernist works are deliberately open to myriad of interpretation, and they experiment with time shifts. Joseph Conrad was one of the earliest writers to experiment with time shifts. Virginia Woolf applied her acute feminine sensibility to the examination of the inner workings of the human mind, and brilliantly exposed the spontaneous flow of her characters’ thoughts, impressions and emotions. She uses the technique of the interior monologue.

The writer who best symbolizes the Modernist revolution in fiction is James Joyce, who experimented with the form, technique and subject matter of the novel.


Rapid political and social change marked the period between the 2 world wars:

  • The British Empire was in decline

  • Countries like India were beginning to question Britain’s colonial rule

  • The Labour Party was beginning to challenge the Conservative Party

  • Women were demanding equal rights, which leads to the new role of women in society

  • The end of the Industrial Revolution

  • The forms of expression were trying to reflect the complexity of 20th century life.



Henry James was born in New York City in 1843 and was raised in Manhattan. By his mid- twenties James was considered one of the most skilled writers in America. In novels such as The American, The Europeans, and Daisy Miller, James perfected a unique brand of psychological realism, taking as his primary subject the social maneuverings of the upper classes, particularly the situation of Americans living in Europe. For James, America represented optimism and innocence, while Europe represented decadence and social sophistication; James himself moved to Europe early on in his professional career and was naturalized as a British citizen in 1915 to protest America's failure to enter World War I.

Throughout his career, James earned criticism for the slow pacing and uneventful plotting of his novels, as well as for his elliptical technique, in which many of a work's important scenes are not narrated, but only implied by later scenes.

First written in the 1880s and extensively revised in 1908, The Portrait of a Lady is often considered to be James's greatest achievement. In it, he explored many of his most characteristic themes, including the conflict between American individualism and European social custom and the situation of Americans in Europe. It also includes many of his most memorable characters, including the lady of the novel's title, Isabel Archer, the indomitable Mrs. Touchett, the wise and funny Ralph Touchett, the fast-talking Henrietta Stackpole, and the sinister villains, Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle.

The Portrait of a Lady is recognized as one of the greatest of the many great works of Henry James. Why? Well, there are the obvious answers: the novel, which was released in installments in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1880, was an instant hit; critics then and now praise its attention to psychological detail and realistic situations. It is widely acknowledged to be the masterpiece of James’s early period.
Then, there are the more intimate reasons. The characters are, in a word, unforgettable. It’s easy to find yourself deeply involved in a personal relationship with Isabel or Ralph, or to imagine yourself confronting Madame Merle or Osmond. The novel’s characters so brim with life, they seem like they can step off the page and into our lives. James’s vibrant, living, breathing microcosm of society still feels like an incredible achievement, and it’s what keeps this novel feeling so contemporary and compulsively readable.

Analysis of major characters


 The novel's protagonist, the Lady of the title. Isabel is a young woman from Albany, New York, who travels to Europe with her aunt, Mrs. Touchett. Isabel's experiences in Europe—she is wooed by an English lord, inherits a fortune, and falls prey to a villainous scheme to marry her to the sinister Gilbert Osmond—force her to confront the conflict between her desire for personal independence and her commitment to social propriety. Isabel is the main focus of Portrait of a Lady, and most of the thematic exploration of the novel occurs through her actions, thoughts, and experiences. Ultimately, Isabel chooses to remain in her miserable marriage to Osmond rather than to violate custom by leaving him and searching for a happier life.

2.Gilbert Osmond

A cruel, narcissistic gentleman of no particular social standing or wealth, who seduces Isabel and marries her for her money. An art collector, Osmond poses as a disinterested aesthete, but in reality he is desperate for the recognition and admiration of those around him. He treats everyone who loves him as simply an object to be used to fulfill his desires; he bases his daughter Pansy's upbringing on the idea that she should be unswervingly subservient to him, and he even treats his long-time lover Madame Merle as a mere tool. Isabel's marriage to Osmond forces her to confront the conflict between her desire for independence and the painful social proprieties that force her to remain in her marriage.

3.Ralph Touchett

 Isabel's wise, funny cousin, who is ill with lung disease throughout the entire novel, which ends shortly after his death. Ralph loves life, but he is kept from participating in it vigorously by his ailment; as a result, he acts as a dedicated spectator, resolving to live vicariously through his beloved cousin Isabel. It is Ralph who convinces Mr. Touchett to leave Isabel her fortune, and it is Ralph who is the staunchest advocate of Isabel remaining independent. Ralph serves as the moral center of Portrait of a Lady: his opinions about other characters are always accurate, and he serves as a kind of moral barometer for the reader, who can tell immediately whether a character is good or evil by Ralph's response to that character.


1. American versus European character

The contrast between the American character and the European character is a theme that appears throughout James's work. This is not surprising, since it is a contrast he observed throughout his life as an American who spent most of his adulthood in Europe. According to James, Americans tend to be naive, energetic, practical, sincere, direct, and spontaneous, and they value the individual above society. Conversely, Europeans are sophisticated, lethargic, formal, insincere, obtuse, and scheming, and they value society above the individual.

This theme is especially interesting in The Portrait of a Lady because most of its characters are Americans who have been living in Europe for varying periods of time. In general, the longer an American-born character has been in Europe, the more European traits he or she has. Gilbert has lived nearly his whole life on the Continent and is completely European in character. James uses him to personify the worst manifestations of European traits. At the other end of the spectrum is Isabel, who is just arriving in Europe as the novel opens. The things that make her distinctively American, such as her energy and independent attitude, are fresh and interesting to the European characters. They are also, however, the things that lead to her downfall. By refusing to take the counsel of those who care about her, Isabel falls prey to the more sophisticated Europeans who manipulate her for their own purposes.

James does make a moral judgment about which culture produces better people; he clearly portrays the Americans as having more integrity. But he also shows that, taken as individuals, most Americans and Europeans alike have both good and bad qualities. While Isabel is almost wholly admirable and Gilbert is almost wholly despicable, the other characters are drawn in shades of grey. Henrietta is an example of an American whom James portrays less positively. Her American qualities are exaggerated so that her directness is actually rudeness. Her lack of regard for society and convention is so extreme that she offends as routinely as Isabel enchants. Lord Warburton, on the other hand, exemplifies European qualities in their most positive form. He is sophisticated and conventional, but he is also courteous, sensitive, and gracious even in defeat. Ralph is also a positive European character, a physically weak man who is nevertheless morally strong.

2.Social and Emotional Maturation

Isabel's social and emotional development is thrown into high relief by James's contrast of American and European natures. Yet Isabel's experiences and the wisdom she gains from them are certainly not unique to American women coming of age in European society. Isabel's naiveté is common among young women in all cultures, which is one reason why the novel remains popular. It is almost a rule that young women make poor romantic choices. In fact, they often make exactly the mistake that Isabel makes: they choose a man who is charming and seductive, yet self-centered, over one who is less worldly but more substantial and caring. This oft-repeated error of youth has been the subject of many works of literature. Perhaps the best-known is Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which contrasts the naive Marianne and her wiser sister, Elinor.

In The Portrait of a Lady, James uses one theme, the contrasts between Americans and Europeans, to intensify another, more universal theme of a woman's development from naive youth to mature wisdom as she suffers the consequences of a poor romantic choice.

The Realism of Henry James

Henry James has had a tremendous influence on the development of the novel. Part of this influence has been through the type of realism that he employs. On the other hand, the most frequent criticism against James has been that he is not realistic enough. Many critics have objected that James does not write about life, that his novels are filled with people whom one would never meet in this world. One critic (H. L. Mencken) suggested that James needed a good whiff of the Chicago stockyards so as to get a little life into his novels. Others have suggested that James' world is too narrow and incomplete to warrant classification as a realistic depiction of life.

Actually, James' realism is of a special sort. By the early definitions, James is not a realist. The early definitions stated that the novelist should accurately depict life, and the novel should "hold up a mirror to life"; in other words, the early realist was supposed to make an almost scientific recording of life.

But James was not concerned with all aspects of life. There is nothing of the ugly, the vulgar, the common, or the pornographic in James. He was not concerned with poverty or with the middle class who had to struggle for a living. Instead, he was interested in depicting a class of people who could afford to devote themselves to the refinements of life.

What then is James special brand of realism? When we refer to James' realism, we mean James' fidelity to his own material. To best appreciate his novels and his realism, we must enter into James' special world. It is as though we ascended a ladder and arrived at another world. Once we have arrived at this special world and once we accept it, then we see that James is very realistic. That is, in terms of his world, he never violates his character's essence. Thus, James' realism, in the truest sense, means being faithful to his characters. In other words, characters from other novels often do things or commit acts that don't seem to blend in with their essential nature. But the acts of the Jamesian character are always understandable in terms of that character's true nature.

James explained his own realism in terms of its opposition to romanticism. For James the realistic represents those things which, sooner or later, in one way or another, everyone will encounter. But the romantic stands for those things which, with all the efforts and all the wealth and facilities of the world, we can never know directly. Thus, it is conceivable that one can experience the same things that the characters are experiencing in a James novel; but one can never actually encounter the events narrated in the romantic novel.

When James, therefore, creates a certain type of character early in the novel, this character will act in a consistent manner throughout the entire book. This is being realistic. The character will never do anything that is not logical and acceptable to his realistic nature, or to our conception of what that character should do.

In later years, James, in writing about realism, maintained that he was more interested in a faithful rendition of a character in any given situation than in depicting all aspects of life. Therefore, when he has once drawn Isabel Archer's character in one situation, the reader can anticipate how she will act in any other given situation. Her actions are not unexplainable. We are able to logically understand all of her actions. Thus James' realism would never allow the characters to perform actions which would be inconsistent with their true natures.



Edward Morgan Forster was born into a comfortable London family in 1879. His father, an architect, died when Forster was very young, leaving the boy to be raised by his mother and greataunt. Forster proved to be a bright student, and he went on to attend Cambridge University, graduating in 1901. He spent much of the next decade traveling and living abroad, dividing his time between working as a journalist and writing short stories and novels.

Long before Forster first visited India, he had already gained a vivid picture of its people and places from a young Indian Muslim named Syed Ross Masood, whom Forster began tutoring in England starting in 1906. Forster and Masood became very close, and Masood introduced Forster to several of his Indian friends. Echoes of the friendship between the two can be seen in the characters of Fielding and Aziz in A Passage to India. By the time Forster first visited India, in 1912, the Englishman was well prepared for his travels throughout the country.

Forster began writing A Passage to India in 1913, just after his first visit to India. The novel was not revised and completed, however, until well after his second stay in India, in 1921, when he served as secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas State Senior. Published in 1924, A Passage to India examines the racial misunderstandings and cultural hypocrisies that characterized the complex interactions between Indians and the English toward the end of the British occupation of India.

Forster’s style is marked by his sympathy for his characters, his ability to see more than one side of an argument or story, and his fondness for simple, symbolic tales that neatly encapsulate largescale problems and conditions. These tendencies are all evident in A Passage to India, which was immediately acclaimed as Forster’s masterpiece upon its publication. It is a traditional social and political novel, unconcerned with the technical innovation of some of Forster’s modernist contemporaries such as Gertrude Stein or T.S. Eliot. A Passage to India is concerned, however, with representing the chaos of modern human experience through patterns of imagery and form. In this regard, Forster’s novel is similar to modernist works of the same time period, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925).

A Passage to India was the last in a string of Forster’s novels in which his craft improved markedly with each new work. After the novel’s publication, however, Forster never again attained the level of craft or the depth of observation that characterized his early work. In his later life, he contented himself primarily with writing critical essays and lectures, most notably Aspects of the Novel (1927). In1946, Forster accepted a fellowship at Cambridge, where he remained until his death in 1970.

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