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Heart of Darkness, I

The Congo in the toils of Belgium's King Leopold II. Detail from a cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne in the British satirical weekly Punch (1906)

« Horrible monde ; peuple inepte et lourd . . . il faut être grossier pour être compris ; on ne pense qu’en commun, en bandes. » -- Charles Baudelaire, Pauvre Belgique

"Horrible society; inane, ugly people . . . you have to be coarse to make yourself understood; they think only as a group, en masse." Baudelaire, France's greatest nineteenth century poet (if perhaps aside from "Victor Hugo, helas!"), who lived in Brussels for several years towards the end of his life for reasons of economy, developed a pathological hatred of Belgians there. This has been regarded as the ravings of a sick man. But perhaps what he saw as specifically Belgian was in fact merely a new kind of human emerging in the 1860s, which he hadn't focused on in Second Empire Paris. For they were there in France too, presently to be charted in the novels of Zola (Au Bonheur des Dames, 1883), and in also England, documented by H. G. Wells (Tono-Bungay, 1909). To put it bluntly, Europeans were becoming increasingly Americanized. The genteel aristocrats and grand bourgeois rentiers of the ancien régime were dying out and being replaced by a philistine "hard man on the dollar." Western Europe was becoming a continent of boosters and bagmen. If you couldn't make it in the metropolis, try the colonies! Africa was a great

target, and Belgium's King Leopold II was a choice specimen of the breed.


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