I had to actually go back and rewatch some clips from the movie version of this book because I was surprised to find out that the two characters were British. And very British!
In the movie, apparently, Allnut (Humphrey Bogart’s character) is Canadian (something I also didn’t remember) because Bogart couldn’t do an accent, which makes sense. Katharine Hepburn’s Rose Sayer remains British. And she has to be British, because the order and tradition she tries to maintain, a sense of decorum, but most important her sense of patriotism is the driving factor in the whole novel. We begin with Rose tending to her brother as he dies (a prefiguration of things to come) on his missionary service in central Africa. She laments the death, weighs her options, and decides to enlist Allnut to help her leave. Allnut is a perfectly nice and well-meaning cockney ship’s captain who promises to get her out of there. They are waylaid by Rose’s decision to try to destroy a German ship that is patrolling a large central waterway. So she enlists Allnut instead to help her build a torpedo to destroy the ship.
So this novel works on the class angle pretty heavily, and the movie does too, but Allnut doesn’t really have the kind of disdain for Rose here as I recall him having in the movie. He just doesn’t think it’s wise to risk anything to destroy the ship. And he’s right! It’s not!
Anyway, this is book is quite readable and while it mostly ignores the complicated politics of colonial Africa, it still manages to throw in some casual, if brief, racism, without bothering to think much about whether or not there’s any morality to consider.