Darkness was here Yesterday, River Thames, Oxfordshire.
The title quotation is taken from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. The narrator draws an unsettling parallel between his experiences in the savage and barbaric landscape of the river Congo and the Thames during the Roman Empire. The painting portrays a stretch of the Thames in Oxfordshire. It is the moment the last light of day drains from the landscape, when the final warm rays of the sun blush the foliage of the riverbank trees, in minutes it will be getting dark. At such a moment when “the water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light” Conrad’s narrator draws his companions into his story. Conrad understood that in the growing shadows of the riverbank an older, more savage Britain still stirs. This is a deliberately troubling vision, perhaps doubly so as it reminds us that Roman Britain is a place where we can examine our own imperial past. The experiences of the Roman legions bear an uncomfortable likeness to our own experiences in recent foreign wars. It reminds us too that just as we recorded foreign cultures for the first time in writing, so too the Romans described the wildness and exoticism of Britain.