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Editor: Ira Mark Milne
Date: 2009
Document Type: Topic overview; Critical essay; Work overview; Brief biography; Excerpt
Pages: 31
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About this Person
Born: June 22, 1856 in Bradenham, United Kingdom
Died: May 14, 1925 in London, United Kingdom
Nationality: British
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Haggard, Henry Rider; Haggard, Rider
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c. 1875


The boundaries of Colonialism, like those of many literary eras, are difficult to draw. The history of Colonialism as a policy or practice goes back for centuries, and arguably the story of Colonialism is not over yet. Thus literature of several ages reflects concerns about Colonialism in depictions of encounters with native peoples and foreign landscapes and in vague allusions to distant plantations. As colonial activity gained momentum in the late nineteenth century, so the reflection of that activity—as a celebration of European might or as fears of what lay in the wilderness—grew in intensity. Thus rough boundaries for the literary movement of Colonialism would begin in 1875, when historians date the start of a "New Imperialism," through the waning empires of World War I and up to the beginning of World War II, around 1939, although the years after World War I reflect primarily nostalgia for an era that was rapidly coming to a close. Colonialism is primarily a feature of British literature, given that the British dominated the imperial age; even colonial writers of other nationalities often wrote in English or from an English setting. The literature of Colonialism is characterized by a strong sense of ambiguity: uncertainty about the morality of imperialism, about the nature of humanity, and about the continuing viability of European civilization. Perhaps the essential colonial critique is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, though such works as Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Page 123  |  Top of ArticleFarm and E. M. Forster's A Passage to India similarly explore the paradoxes of Colonialism. Colonial literature is also full of high adventure, romance, and excitement, as depicted in Rudyard Kipling's spy thriller Kim or the adventure tales of H. Rider Haggard. Isak Dinesen's memoirs, including Out of Africa, similarly romanticize the wildness of the colonial landscape and the heroism of adventurous colonizers.


Joseph Conrad (1857–1924)

Though considered one of the masters of modern English literature, Conrad was ethnically Polish. He was born in the Ukraine as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, but he correctly presumed that Conrad would be a surname more easily pronounced by readers of the English language, in which he wrote. He lost his father at the age of four to Russian authorities, who arrested him for nationalist activities on behalf of Poland. His mother died when he was eight, leaving him in the care of his uncle. He joined the British navy in 1880 and became a British citizen in 1886. In 1890 he traveled to the Belgian Congo, a difficult trip that provided the background for Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, first published in serial form in 1899 and 1900. Heart of Darkness is a paradigmatic work not only of colonialist literature but also of modernist literature. Conrad wrote several major novels, including The Nigger of Narcissus (1897), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and Under Western Eyes (1911). Conrad's works are widely believed to be highly critical of the colonizers, especially when they are compared to the works of his contemporary Rudyard Kipling, the only other author who is as representative of colonialist literature as Conrad himself. Scholar William York Tindall, in Forces in Modern British Literature, 1885–1956, wrote that Conrad was distinct from Kipling in "producing many novels and stories that without being imperialistic are colonial." The postcolonial African writer Chinua Achebe, however, contended that Conrad was a racist who depicted Africans as "savages." Conrad turned down an offer of knighthood in 1924; he died of a heart attack that same year, on August 3, in England.

Rudyard Kipling Rudyard Kipling(Popperfoto / Getty Images)

Isak Dinesen (1885–1962)

Isak Dinesen is the pen name adopted by Karen Blixen, who was born Karen Christentze Dinesen on April 17, 1885. Dinesen was born in Denmark, fifteen miles north of Copenhagen. Her father, Wilhelm, committed suicide when Dinesen was ten. She nonetheless grew up on her family's comfortable estate as a member of the upper classes. She was schooled in painting and design and began writing stories as a young woman, publishing three ghost stories in Denmark before moving to British East Africa in 1914. That year, she married her cousin Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke of Sweden and moved with him to a coffee farm in Kenya. She was married only seven years before divorcing her husband, who had infected her with syphilis. She kept the coffee farm, preferring the relative freedom of life in Africa. She stayed for ten more years before returning to Denmark in 1931, where she began writing about her life as an early colonist. Her major works about Africa include Out of Africa (1937) and Shadows on the Grass (1960), which depict in detail her view Page 124  |  Top of Articleof Africa and, in particular, the Africans who worked for her on her coffee farm. One of her short stories on a non-colonial theme, "Babette's Feast" (1958), was made into a major motion picture by Gabriel Axel in 1986 and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Sydney Pollack directed a film version of Out of Africa in 1985, with Meryl Streep portraying Dinesen. The film won an Academy Award for Best Picture that year along with six other Academy Awards. Dinesen died of malnutrition on September 7, 1962, in Denmark and is remembered by modern readers as either a white colonizer with a patronizing view of Africans or a sympathetic advocate of the colonized. She was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature.

E. M. Forster (1879–1970)

Edward Morgan Forster was born January 1, 1879, to Edward Forster, a painter and architect, and Alice (Lily) Whichelo Forster. His father died when he turned two years old; afterwards, he was cared for by his mother and his paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton, who focused almost solely on his health and development. He attended several prep schools then entered Cambridge in 1897. He was already publishing books while at Cambridge, in addition to studying literature. However, his first real success did not come until 1910, with the publication of Howard's End, a critique of both class structure and cultural taste in Edwardian England. Forster first visited India for pleasure in 1912 and began writing about it in 1914. He visited again in 1921, when India was much changed by the rise in nationalism following a 1919 attack by the British military on Indian civilians. There he worked as a personal secretary for a maharajah. A Passage to India (1924), Forster's last novel, is often thought to be influenced by the Hindu and nationalist views of India. The novel was such a success that Forster feared he could not live up to it, and though he continued writing for many years, he never again wrote a full-length novel. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, an informal collective of writers, artists, and intellectuals, all of whom are associated with Modernism, including Virginia Woolf. He was homosexual but not openly so; his novel Maurice, which addressed homosexual themes, was not published until after his death. He died June 7, 1970, in Coventry, England.

H. Rider Haggard (1856–1925)

Henry Rider Haggard was born on June 22, 1856, in Bradenham, Norfolk, England, and moved to South Africa at the age of nineteen. He worked in the colonial service for at least five years before returning to London and pursuing a career in law. Inspired by the success of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Haggard began writing adventure novels of his own, eventually penning over thirty. Among the most well known is King Solomon's Mines (1886), which was an immediate commercial success. Its popularity may have been enhanced by the multiple anonymous reviews Haggard wrote with his friend Andrew Lang to promote the book. King Solomon's Mines began a series of South African adventures featuring the white hunter Allan Quatermain. Perhaps Haggard's best-known novel is She (1887), which features the character She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a catch phrase still in use. "She" is a beautiful but deadly Arab goddess who presents an obstacle to a white adventurer sometimes considered a prototype of Indiana Jones of the Raiders of the Lost Ark films. Haggard was a friend of Rudyard Kipling and shared many of Kipling's views about native peoples. His books depict white heroes as brave adventurers and black men and women as exotic and mysterious. He died May 14, 1925; his autobiography, The Days of My Life, was published in 1926.

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865. His father was the curator of the Lahore Museum, the setting for the first scene of his novel Kim (1901). Kipling lived with his parents, British natives, for five years until he went to England for schooling. He came back to India in 1882 as a journalist and worked seven years in the northern part of India. He left India to travel throughout the British colonies, including South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, and New Zealand. He married an American, Caroline Balestier, and lived for a short time in the United States. During those years, he also began publishing short fiction to great success. Soon he returned to England, where he was already well known as a writer. Two of his major works are generally considered children's literature: The Jungle Book (1894–1895) and Kim. He also published several collections of stories and an autobiography, Something of Myself (1934). Much of his earlier work, including Kim, was written Page 125  |  Top of Articleduring very difficult times in Kipling's life; he nearly died from influenza, and he lost his seven-year-old daughter Josephine to the disease. Kipling coined the phrase "the white man's burden" as a description of Colonialism in the 1899 poem of the same name. The poem echoes the beliefs about race and imperialism that are reflected in most of Kipling's works, which suggest that it is the obligation of white Westerners to bring the "primitives" of other races into the fold of civilization. Kipling died following an intestinal hemorrhage, January 18, 1936, in London, England, and is buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923)

Katherine Mansfield is the pseudonym of Kathleen Mansfield Murry, born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp on October 14, 1888, in Wellington, New Zealand. Mansfield's father was a banker and her family was very comfortable, both socially and financially. Mansfield was sent to London, where she studied cello at Queen's College in London from 1902 to 1906. She returned to London in 1908, bored with the quiet life in New Zealand. She became involved in the bohemian artistic community, and her writing began to attract the attention of editors and publishers. Her first collection of short stories, In a German Pension, was published in 1911 but was not very successful. She then sent stories to the magazine Rhythm and began a correspondence with editor John Middleton Murry. He published "The Woman at the Store," and they soon moved in together; Murry and Mansfield married in 1918. Her writing was highly regarded by contemporaries such as Virginia Woolf. In 1917, Mansfield contracted tuberculosis and nearly died as a result; she was in frail health for the rest of her life and also suffered bouts of depression. In her last years, Mansfield convalesced at many resorts around Europe, writing prolifically. She died of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January 7, 1923, in Fontainebleau, France. Her husband later edited and published her large quantity of unpublished poems and stories.

Olive Schreiner (1855–1920)

Olive Schreiner was born in South Africa to missionary parents on March 24, 1855, the ninth child out of twelve. Schreiner rejected Christianity, which caused a lot of argument within her religious family. At age 16, she began working as a governess but frequently changed households to avoid the advances of her male employers. When possible, Schreiner returned home to live with her parents or brothers, but her family's poverty meant she had to return to work. In 1874, Schreiner went to work as governess on the Foucheś family farm, an experience which formed the basis of her novel The Story of an African Farm. She moved to England in 1881, hoping to train to be a medical doctor; however, her ill health (Schreiner suffered from asthma and angina) kept her from her studies. The Story of an African Farm, published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron, was a popular and critical success. Troubled by her relationships with several men, Schreiner returned to South Africa in 1889 and became involved in politics. She married a farmer, Samuel Cronwright, in 1894, who shared her religious and political views. As strife built between the British and the Boer (settlers of European origin who lived outside British rule in South Africa), Schreiner and her husband became increasingly isolated for their sympathy with the Boer. Despite ill health and unpopularity, Schreiner worked hard for the rest of her life to dissuade the British and the Boer from going to war. She also argued for women's suffrage and gender equality. Schreiner died in her sleep on December 10, 1920, in Wynberg, South Africa.


Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness, by Conrad, is, in the eyes of many scholars, an essential literary expression of Colonialism. In his important work on Colonialism, Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said wrote that Heart of Darkness "beautifully captured" the "imperial attitude" in its depiction of Europeans dominating Africans and African resources and in its sense that there is no alternative to imperialism and thus to Colonialism. The novella was first published in serial form in 1899–1900 and in book form in 1902, as British imperialism was peaking. The book is generally understood as an important critique of the evil done in the name of empire. The empire challenged in Heart of Darkness is not the British Empire specifically; set in the Belgian Congo, the story seems to condemn European oppressors, most notably Leopold II of Belgium. Whether doing so was Conrad's intent, this

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  • Sydney Pollack directed the film adaptation of Dinesen's Out of Africa, released in 1985. The film starred Meryl Streep as Dinesen and Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton and focused on their relationship. In addition to Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction, the film won the award for best adapted screenplay.
  • The film version of Forster's APassage to India was directed by David Lean, who also directed Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, and was released in 1984. The film was nominated for a host of Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who played Mrs. Moore, won for Best Supporting Actress. In a review of the film that appeared in the New Yorker, noted critic Pauline Kael wrote, "Like the book, the movie is a lament for British sins; the big difference is in tone. The movie is informed by a spirit of magisterial self-hatred. That's its oddity: Lean's grand 'objective' manner . . . seems to have developed out of the values he attacks."
  • The epic film Apocalypse Now is loosely based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, though set in Vietnam in the 1960s. The film, released in 1979, is considered one of the masterpieces of director Francis Ford Coppola and was re-released in August 2001. The film starred Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. Marlon Brando played Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, who raises his own army of Cambodian tribesmen and murders Vietnamese intelligence agents. He is pursued by Captain Benjamin Willard, a revision of Marlow, who is played by Martin Sheen. The film was nominated for Best Picture.
  • Richard Attenborough's biographical epic Gandhi won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi. Released in 1982, the three-hour film also starred Candace Bergen, the playwright Athol Fugard, Sir John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, and Martin Sheen.
  • Allan Quatermain, Haggard's fictional adventurer, is in the twilight of his career when he joins up with a group of other heroes from fiction—Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, and Dr. Jekyll—in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Released in 2003, this film is directed by Stephen Norrington and stars Sean Connery as Quatermain. As of 2008, it was available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox.

interpretation seems to resonate with the popular British belief that British colonization was benevolent and morally superior to European colonization. The story of Heart of Darkness is told by Marlow, who is sent into "darkest Africa" to find Kurtz, an exceptional agent and head of the inner station who is reported to have abandoned every pretense of morality or civilization. The "heart of darkness" in the title is thus not strictly Africa, as readers might initially expect, but the heart of a white man, who proves capable of incomparable evil. Heart of Darkness is also considered an example of Modernism, with its sometimes unaware narrator, its departure from chronological order, and its questions about the so-called civilized human nature when it remains beyond the constraints of social and civic order.


Like Heart of Darkness, Kipling's Kim was published at the height of the British Empire, in 1901, though it is a very different kind of story. Kim is often considered children's literature, a Page 127  |  Top of Article
H. Rider Haggard H. Rider Haggard(The Library of Congress) spy thriller and coming-of-age story about a young Irish orphan known as "Little Friend to All the World." Kim, or Kimball O'Hara, meets and travels with a Buddhist holy man on his spiritual quest, unaware that the British government is using him to obtain important information. The book thus explores one aspect of Indian spirituality (Indian Buddhism is a relative of one of the dominant Indian religions, Hinduism) as well as the political struggles of the Indian colony. Kipling was not particularly critical of imperialism, and Kim reflects the belief, widely held particularly prior to World War I, that the colonization of India was a politically sound act for England as well as a moral obligation for a superior race. If Kim reveals a more optimistic view of the aims of empire than Heart of Darkness, it also belongs to a different type of literature. Though both works are representative of Colonialism, Kipling's Kim looks back to the more traditional form of the late-Victorian era, which Modernist writers vigorously rejected.

Lord Jim

Conrad's Lord Jim was published as a serial novel in 1900. Like Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim is largely told from the perspective of the narrator Marlow, who follows the story of a wandering English sailor named Jim, in part to help him, and in part to determine the truth of his life, especially regarding one important event. Jim stands trial for abandoning his ship and leaving the passengers behind to die, an act of moral cowardice he does not deny but also cannot explain. Eventually, he comes to live in the East Indies among the natives in an attempt to redeem himself, but when the native chief's son is murdered by a British looter, Jim feels responsible and accepts a death sentence from the chief, who shoots him in the chest. In Marlow's eyes, Jim's death is a heroic act that serves as his redemption, but the novel itself offers several other possible interpretations, concluding with a moral ambiguity that is a hallmark both of Conrad's work and of Modernist fiction in general. The style of the novel is also modern, characterized by chronological jumps forwards and backwards, shifts in point of view and narrative style, and a lack of closure. Though it came to be considered an exemplary modern novel, early readers did not respond favorably to Conrad's innovations.

Out of Africa

Dinesen's memoir Out of Africa was published in English in 1937. British Colonialism was waning when the book was released, but the stories recalled by Dinesen capture a wide swath of colonial history, from 1914 to 1931, and reflect the ambiguous perspective on British colonial practices that is characteristic of much colonialist literature. Dinesen tells of her failed marriage, her difficulty in making her Kenyan coffee farm economically viable, and her relationships with African natives. As it covers the period that marks the decline of the British Empire, which began with World War I in 1914, the book reflects a sense of nostalgia for a lost time and place that infused much late colonial writing. The book was not an immediate success in England; Dinesen's publisher informed her that the book was popular among intellectuals, if not the general public, though he also stated his belief that Out of Africa would "take its place in the permanent great literature of the world," according to Olga A. Pelensky in Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer. Dinesen cited as one of her inspirations Olive Schreiner, a novelist born in South Africa.

A Passage to India

Published in 1924, A Passage to India hints at the end of the colonial era in British India and the Page 128  |  Top of Articlerise of Indian nationalism. Its author, E. M. Forster, used his experiences in India to depict the tense relationship between the British and Indians, suggesting that even among friends, a truly friendly relationship is difficult to sustain. The title of the novel comes from a Walt Whitman poem of the same name in which Whitman questions the value of the British presence in India but also hopes for unity between East and West. The novel tells a complex story of two English women visiting India in the 1920s, a volatile time after the galvanizing massacre at Amritsar in 1919 that sparked the steady increase of Indian nationalism and inspired the political career of Mohandas Gandhi. One of the women accuses one of her Indian companions of attacking her, fueling the hostility of both local British and Indians, though she later recants. The book is also a story of friendship between an English professor and his Muslim friend, perhaps inspired by Forster's friendship with his Muslim student Syed Ross Masood, to whom he dedicated A Passage to India. The book was well received at its publication and was adapted to film in 1984.


She is the story of the monstrous goddess Ayesha, known only as She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and the adventuring hero Leo Vincy. First published by Haggard in 1887, the novel broke sales records with its immense popularity, especially among men, possibly because of the strong sexual overtones and the mysterious heroine. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed rules over a society where male and female roles have been reversed. Vincy is shipwrecked on the African coast and journeys through a mysterious landscape to the people ruled by She, a journey that critics, including Sandra Gilbert in "Rider Haggard's Heart of Darkness," have said resembles "a symbolic return to the womb." The ruler She is both exotically sexual and darkly threatening, not unlike colonial depictions of Africa itself. She also evokes fears of a growing feminist consciousness at the close of the Victorian era; Sigmund Freud wrote that She captured some of his fears of "the eternal feminine" as a castrating threat.

The Story of an African Farm

Olive Schreiner's novel The Story of an African Farm, first published in 1883, was among the first major novels of the colonialist era. Schreiner was the daughter of missionaries in South Africa, though after her father was found guilty of violating trading regulations she was largely left to fend for herself. She worked as a governess on African farms, educating herself with the works of Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Carlyle while working on her novel. She went to England in 1881 and worked two years to find a publisher for The Story of an African Farm. The novel was a great success, though it was the last one she published in her lifetime; her later writings were works of political nonfiction. In The Story of an African Farm, Schreiner states rather modern views about women's roles in colonial society, a theme that was also common to the writings of women missionaries during the colonial era. Jed Esty argues in a 2007 essay for Victorian Studies that Schreiner's novel is also related to the Bildungsroman movement, although the youthful characters, like the colonies themselves, are unable to mature given the unstable position they are in.

"The White Man's Burden"

Kipling first published his poem "The White Man's Burden" in McClure's Magazine in 1899, and throughout that year the poem was republished in several British and U.S. magazines and newspapers. In it, Kipling encourages white people to go out to their colonies and establish civilization there for the benefit of "sullen" natives living in darkness. Kipling repeatedly emphasizes the lack of gratitude white colonizers must accept as part of their burden, claiming that native "sloth and heathen folly" will often counteract European works of civilization and that colonizers can expect to be hated by those they free from the "bondage" of their "loved Egyptian night." The poem was especially influential in the United States, where it appeared as the country was about to enter its own imperialist period by taking control of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba. Anti-imperialists also latched onto the poem, publishing immediate parodies suggesting the hypocrisy of the notion of a "white man's burden." The phrase became a slogan for those on each side of the imperialist debate.

"The Woman at the Store"

"The Woman at the Store" is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand native who is considered a master of the genre. Mansfield spent little time in colonial New Zealand, preferring even as a young woman to live in London. Page 129  |  Top of ArticleHer stories reflect her wide travels, including her visits to her family's estate in New Zealand. Her New Zealand stories, which include "The Woman at the Store" and "The Garden Party," depict British colonists doing their best to stay connected to their homeland by maintaining their old social practices and pretensions on foreign soil. These standards are in marked contrast to the conditions of native inhabitants and the poverty forced upon them by colonial practices. First published in 1911, "The Woman at the Store" describes the encounter between a party of traveling colonists and a lonely, crude woman with whom they are forced to stay overnight. The hopelessness of the woman and her child and the limited sympathy and understanding of the travelers, one of whom narrates the story, combine to paint a very bleak picture of colonial life.


Imperialism and Empire

Attention to the aims and ends of imperialism is a repeating theme of colonialist literature. As a political term, imperialism refers to the policy of an outside power acquiring colonies—whether settled or not—for its own political and economic advantage. Though Europeans had participated in imperialist activity for centuries, in the late nineteenth century imperial powers, including England, France, Belgium, and Germany, began competing fiercely to increase their colonies, resulting in a high level of aggressiveness and a greater degree of intrusion into previously independent areas. In addition to economic motives, imperialism was fueled by a widely held, self-justifying belief that the "superior" white race of Europe should bring civilization to the "less developed" peoples of color living on other continents. Colonialist literature both affirms and critiques this belief, often at the same time, in keeping with the ambivalence of even the most sympathetic Europeans. Dinesen's Out of Africa, for example, has been praised for its positive portrayal of Africans even as it has been condemned as the work of a racist. Such conflicting readings can exist because the book, like many other works of Colonialism, contains both ideas.

National Identity

Colonial practices redefined national boundaries. As the British Empire grew, it came to draw its boundaries over a larger and larger portion of the globe, and at its greatest it controlled one-fourth of the globe. While this control was a source of English pride, it was also a threat to British national identity: if Indians, Africans, and inhabitants of the West and East Indies were British subjects, were they also British? And if not, what constituted British national identity? Colonial authors sometimes depict British colonists clinging to British mores, as in Mansfield's short fiction or Forster's A Passage to India. Others, such as Kipling, appear more confident, using exotic portrayals of "primitives" and their customs to suggest an inherent, unbridgeable difference between the colonizers and the colonized. Some authors also explored the possibility of "going native," which was sometimes considered an abasement, sometimes a mark of increased nobility. This theme is hinted at in Kim, Lord Jim, and Heart of Darkness, among other works.

Gender and Sexuality

Ideas of the masculine and feminine underlie much of colonialist literature. The very act of colonization is often seen and described as a form of penetration, and such disparate works as Heart of Darkness and She portray the white male journeys into a feminized dark landscape. Depicting the colonizer as masculine and the colonized as feminine creates an essential difference between the two and implies the latter needs to be mastered and possessed. Yet for white women authors, Colonialism offered a kind of freedom unavailable to women remaining behind in developed countries, especially in Victorian Britain. Dinesen frequently commented on the freedom afforded her by living in Africa. Single women could travel unaccompanied as missionaries, and many women took the opportunity to advance the cause of women's education through missionary work. The daughter of missionaries, Schreiner takes on some of these issues in The Story of an African Farm. As she decries the treatment of native women, she makes the argument that all women have inherent human rights and deserve the same advantages men enjoy.


No white colonial author has escaped the charge of racism, in large part because of the totalizing nature of the imperialist worldview that maintained white European superiority—whether

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  • Images can be more powerful than words in swaying public opinion. Locate editorial cartoons, book illustrations, or other visual art that depicts colonized peoples. Sources might include illustrated versions of Kim or The Jungle Book, newspapers in which "The White Man's Burden" appeared, or books about English history. What does the physical appearance of colonized peoples seem to imply about their intelligence or temperament? Which details of the images give you some insight into the political position of the artists? Do any details of the images give you some insight into the date each was published (e.g., published before or after the start of World War I)?
  • Economics played an important role in colonization. Choose a colony and describe the production and trade of a commodity it produced (e.g., tea, spice, coffee). Consider whether the resource could have been grown or manufactured in Europe, what kind of labor was required for production (e.g., skilled or unskilled), and who consumed the resource. What insight does this give you into the acquisition of this particular colony?
  • The belief that darker races were not as far advanced along the continuum of civilization is sometimes referred to as Social Darwinism. In addition, Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fittest" justified for some Europeans the use of force to take the resources of "weaker" societies. In your own words, summarize the scientific theories of Darwin in regard to evolution and natural selection, which you find in Darwin's own writings. Do these ideas transfer from biology to sociology? What about economics? Support your opinion with examples and analysis.
  • Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea attempts to correct the colonialist history of Jane Eyre by offering an alternative perspective. Read a colonial work such as Kim, She, or Out of Africa and try to imagine the events from the perspective of one of the native characters, such as the Buddhist holy man Teshoo or the African tribal leader Kinanjui. Choose one event from the novel and write a short story from that character's perspective, using what you are learning about imperialism to illuminate where a native perspective might differ from that of the original novel.
  • The charisma and reputation of the British Queen Victoria were central to the symbolism of imperialism, while the actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Lytton were its teeth. Choose one of these individuals—or another government official of your own finding—and research his or her individual role in the history of Colonialism. Summarize your findings, giving an overview of your subject's actions while addressing such topics as public opinion and opposition within the government.

biological or cultural in nature. Even Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which is widely believed to be highly critical of imperialist policies and practices, cannot envision a worldview outside imperialism, and one of the foundations of imperialism is an abiding belief in racial difference. Kipling provided a straightforward articulation of these beliefs in his poem "The White Man's Burden," which suggests that whites were under a moral obligation to educate, civilize, and Christianize the darker races, or even to care for them as their stronger "protectors." By contrast, Forster's A Passage to India depicts Indians as professionals and intellectuals, although the novel closes by suggesting that the differences between Indians and Europeans are too great to be bridged even by the most well-meaning individuals in either culture.

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Human Nature

Questions about racial difference and national identity reflect narrower aspects of larger concerns about the nature of humanity. The benevolent paternalism of some literature relies on an optimistic view of human nature: progress is the natural course of human evolution, the wealth of the imperial powers is evidence of their progress along this course, and the "backward" societies of tribal peoples reflect their need for assistance toward higher evolution. Here again is the attitude of "The White Man's Burden." At the peak of the colonial movement, however, this view became suspect. Conrad's novels perhaps reflect the bleakest view of progress, civilization, and human nature, although Forster's work also expresses grave doubts about civilization's advancement.


Although works such as She and Kim are the most straightforward celebrations of Colonialism as an exotic adventure, the romantic ideal of the wanderer appears in colonial writing of several varieties. In Out of Africa, Dinesen writes of her affair with the pilot Denys Finch Hatton, who is depicted as an exciting, independent adventurer who bravely faces danger on safari. Lord Jim is a darker tale of adventure, which casts its wanderers as morally ambiguous at best, ruthless thieves and murderers at worst. Mansfield's story "The Woman at the Store" deflates the romantic image of adventure travelers by contrasting the wealth and privilege that allows Europeans to travel by choice with the poverty and hopelessness that entrap those who inhabit the tourist destinations.



Colonialist literature was consistently set in the colonies. From a European point of view, colonial territory was singular: colonized land and people all fell in the category of "other," even for the Europeans living in the colonies. Politically, geographically, and culturally, however, the colonies were widely different. For example, England's relationship with India began with the spice trade in the sixteenth century, but England did not venture into the African interior until the nineteenth century. India built sophisticated cities that would have been unfamiliar to tribal Africans in rural areas, as would the ports of Cape Town. Thus Conrad's view of Colonialism from the Belgian Congo would necessarily be different from that of Kipling or Forster, not only because of their philosophical differences but because of the different geographical backgrounds from which they drew.


Though there is not a particular narrative style for colonialist literature, the perspective of the narrator and the mode of narration is an important aspect of style in fiction written during the colonialist movement. To some extent, this feature is relevant to the literary movement of Modernism (see below), which broke up seemingly stable functions of literature such as point of view, narrator, and even plot. Thus the narrators of Conrad's novels are not necessarily reliable sources of information, nor are they the central focus of the novel or a center for interpreting the action of the novel. The fragmented narration of characters such as Marlow highlights the political and ethical morass of European colonization. More broadly, however, the narrative perspective of much colonialist literature gives "subject" status only to white colonizers, as if it were impossible to relate to the colonized as anything but "object." Fundamental to imperialism, this perspective reflects the tacit belief that Europe is central and dominant, and the rest of the world is peripheral and dominated.


The colonial experience brought forth a flood of memoirs and autobiographies of colonists eager to share their experiences and observations with friends and family at home. In particular, this was a way that many women were able to publish respectably, and several women produced memoirs, journals, and collections of correspondence from their travels or missionary work. Many of these were widely and eagerly read at the time, though modern readers mostly value them as historical documents. Out of Africa is a notable exception, though it shares several qualities of travel and missionary writing. With such works, the authority given to the writer's observations and opinions, as part of a "true story," was high; Victorian and Edwardian readers admired missionaries and adventuring colonists and formed their opinions about colonized peoples through these texts. Yet as many Page 132  |  Top of Articlereaders of her works have remarked, Dinesen portrayed the African landscape and people in terms of her memory and nostalgia as well as her necessarily limited European perspective. In writing a book of literature, she crafts a story out of events that may or may not have a direct relation to each other. Though not autobiographical works, the same could be said of Mansfield's New Zealand stories, drawn as they were from distant childhood memories.


Literary historians have sometimes maintained that the rise of Modernism as an aesthetic is directly related to a growing European crisis of confidence in imperialist policy. Doubts about the progress of civilization, the benevolent nature of humanity, and even the existence of truth are conveyed artistically not only in the theme and tone of modernist literature but in some cases in the disjointed, ambiguous style of the language itself. Both Conrad and Forster belong as much to the history of Modernism as to the history of Colonialism. Yet Colonialism is not simply a thematic subset of Modernism, in part because it is also represented by more traditionalist authors, such as Kipling and Haggard.


Missionary Writing

The work of Christianizing the "heathens" of the Third World was an important focus of Colonialism; some historians have suggested that the seemingly "compassionate" purpose of "saving" the darker races put a positive face on the aggression of imperialist policy. Some missionaries, however, felt that the blessings of "Christianity and commerce" were necessarily linked; the famous missionary and researcher David Livingstone was an advocate of this position. Missionary writing was very popular with readers back home, since it gave moral support to the work of colonizing and provided supposedly true-life adventure stories and in some instances added substance to discussions about the role of women by depicting the exploitation of native women in non-Christian countries. Some missionaries were also among the earliest ethnographers; they depicted the physical and cultural features of native societies with a semi-scientific tone. This too added weight to the authority of missionaries' tales, and the writings of missionaries helped shape ideas about biological and social relationships among the races. Particularly after the start of the antislavery movement in Europe, missionaries were inclined to conceive of natives as possessing the potential to evolve into civilized individuals resembling Europeans, which they understood as a natural and desirable progression. Thus, while most missionaries clearly thought of the darker races as "other," they also argued for their common humanity. Publishing a missionary memoir was also a ready way for women to get into print, and the form was generally thought more respectable than fiction.

Travel Writing

Both men and women wrote travelogues, but as with the literature of missionaries, the greater mobility of women in the late nineteenth century meant an increase in the publication of women's writing, which made women's colonialist travel writing a significant genre in its own right. Many women writing during the era of high imperialism reflect the paradox of the times: They are simultaneously writing against the oppressive strictures of Victorianism and reinforcing the oppressive policies of the colonial powers. Yet, as Sara Mills argues in Discourses of Difference (1991), "women travel writers were unable to adopt the imperialist voice with the ease with which male writers did." As a result, Mills claims, "their writing exposes the unsteady foundations on which [imperialism] is based."

Colonial Themes in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Several works of nineteenth-century literature that might not be classified under Colonialism in a strict definition nonetheless exhibit colonialist concerns. Examples often mentioned by scholars of Colonialism and post-Colonialism include Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814) and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847). In these novels, the colonial themes recede to the background, though some critics suggest that the marginal nature of the colonial elements is itself indicative of the ethos of imperialism, concealing the extent to which the exploitation of other peoples supports the privilege of the English gentry. In Mansfield Park, for example, the Bertram family acquires its wealth in part through its plantations in Antigua and the work of its slaves, though most of the Bertrams Page 133  |  Top of Articlenever set foot in the colony. Many readers have seen in the character of Sir Thomas Bertram Austen's conservative defense of British plantation owners. In Jane Eyre, Rochester's first wife Bertha is a white Creole from the West Indies, a secret locked in his attic after she goes mad. In Brontë's novel, Bertha's final act of madness is burning down Rochester's family home; however, apart from three violent acts perpetrated at night (in only one of which is she observed), Bertha is seen only once in the novel. As in Mansfield Park, the silence of the colonial presence in Jane Eyre is thought by some to speak louder than words. In fact, the imprisonment of Bertha has inspired several groundbreaking books, including Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's central work of feminist criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979, reissued 2000), and Jean Rhys's postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which tells the West Indies story of Bertha and Rochester preceding the action of Jane Eyre.


Early History

The history of European expansionism goes back at least as far as the fifteenth century. Much European exploration was related to trade, particularly in tea, spice, silk, and other goods not readily available in Europe. The long relationship between England and India is a good example: In competition with its longstanding enemies the Dutch, the English began trading with India in 1600 and soon formed the East India Company (EIC). Throughout the seventeenth century, the EIC strengthened its presence in India by acquiring territory, and by the eighteenth century, with little organized resistance from Indians, who lacked a centralized government, England controlled most of India through the EIC. As the power and territory of the English increased, the rights of Indians decreased; by the close of the eighteenth century, Indians were not allowed in high government positions and the English had cut Indian wages. The resentment of Indians, reaching a peak with the Mutiny of 1857, demonstrated to Queen Victoria the need for the English government to relieve the EIC of its rule in India in order to protect its trade interests there. She named herself "Viceroy of India" in 1859. It was in part a public relations move intended to convey England's concern for India, though official and unofficial acts of racial exclusion increased in scope. The domination of Africa did not begin until the mid to late nineteenth century as it moved southward from the full possession of Egypt in 1882 to the military victory in the South African (Boer) War (1899–1902) and the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Global Conflicts

Though England was the dominant colonial power in the era, several other countries were aggressively seeking to add to their land holdings, sometimes leading to violent conflict among European nations in addition to force used against the native peoples. Spain, France, and Russia had long been colonizers, and the New Imperialism countries, including Germany, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and the United States, also sought colonies to protect their economic and military interests. The increasing number of colonizers and the limited amount of territory sparked a virtual feeding frenzy, particularly among the newer colonizers. Between 1875 and 1914, the rate of colonization was three times that of the rest of the nineteenth century. That period also saw a flurry of conflicts between colonial powers, including the South African (Boer) War (with the Dutch Afrikaners), the Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish-American War, and the Russo-Japanese War. The race for land in Africa produced a number of confrontations among European forces; France and England nearly went to war for control of territories of the Congo, Ethiopia, and the Sudan. Such conflicts were sometimes resolved through diplomatic means, as competing colonial states bargained for control and defined new boundaries for contested territories. The result, especially in the case of he African continent, was national boundaries drawn with no regard to geography, ethnic groups, or economic relationships. Thus, even after the colonial powers withdrew, the native peoples of Africa were left to struggle with the results of colonial deal-making.

British Imperialism

The era during which Colonialism as a literary movement peaked coincides with a period historians sometimes call the second British Empire, or, more generally, the New Imperialism, from 1875 to 1914. England's defeat of France in the Seven Years' War compelled

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  • 1900s: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are British colonies, though nationalist movements have begun to argue for independence. Australia develops its own constitution in 1901 but is still subject to the laws of England; Canada must send troops to the British war in South Africa.

    Today: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain members of the fifty-four nation British Commonwealth, headed symbolically by Queen Elizabeth II and officially by the Commonwealth Secretary-General. In 2000, Don McKinnon of New Zealand is installed as the Secretary-General, following the term of Chief Eemeka Anyaoku of Nigeria.

  • 1900s: The British fight the South African War, or Boer War, struggling for control of the South African Boer Republics against the white Afrikaners (early Dutch settlers) who also claim the area. The decade closes with the creation of the Union of South Africa under British rule.

    Today: While under the leadership of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela, its president, the nation of South Africa is represented by its black African majority, though race relations between Africans and Afrikaners remain tense and sometimes violent. After leaving the Commonwealth in 1961, South Africa rejoins in 1994.

  • 1900s: Responding to violence against British officials in Bengal, India, the British partition the province in 1905. The decision is also motivated by a desire to place Indian Muslims and Hindus into separate areas. Indian nationalists use nonviolence and non-cooperation, including strikes and boycotts, to compel the British to rescind the division.

    Today: A separate nation exists for the former Muslims of India: Pakistan, created as part of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Hostility between the nations continues, and in January 2002 United States Secretary of State Colin Powell urges talks between Pakistan and India to ward off a threat of nuclear war. Both India and Pakistan are members of the Commonwealth, though Pakistan withdrew between 1972 and 1989.

  • 1900s: Literature taught in colonial schools emphasizes the greatness of European authors. Native students study Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in education systems guided by beliefs such as those of Thomas B. Macaulay: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect."

    Today: Students in British and U.S. classrooms study diverse authors, including Buchi Emecheta, Jamaica Kincaid, and Chinua Achebe, whose works reflect non-European perspectives on colonization.

France to give up most of its foreign colonies and granted England free passage throughout the seas. To some extent, the loss of the American colonies also motivated the pursuit of additional territory and the consolidation of power in existing colonies. In England itself, one of the chief crafters of imperialist policy as the second British Empire opened was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was said to be Victoria's favorite prime minister. Disraeli sought to consolidate Britain's colonial holdings, and he was also skilled in swaying public opinion by emphasizing the glory and stature that global expansion brought to the Crown, represented by the figure of Queen Victoria. The death of Victoria in 1901, bringing a sixty-four-year reign to an end, thus shook the imperialist enterprise, and soon so did a worsening economy. As the first decade of the Page 135  |  Top of Articletwentieth century continued, England found the need to align with its former colonial rivals France and Russia to face an increasing threat from Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. When Germany invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, England declared war, thus entering the conflict later to be known as World War I. That conflict permanently transformed international politics, marking the decline of the colonial era and England's dominance in international affairs.

Rebellion and Independence

Native people were not unwilling to defend their territory, though for much of the colonial period the lack of an organized leadership in lands previously inhabited by various tribal groups or loosely knit principalities made successful resistance difficult. In some ways, however, defeats could be as powerful as victories. The defeat of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was partly responsible for the growth of Indian nationalism. The arrest of two nationalist leaders in Amritsar in April of 1919 sparked a series of events that culminated in the British army opening fire, without warning, on a public gathering, killing 379 Indians and wounding 1,200. The Amritsar massacre gave new momentum to the nationalist movement in India and inspired protestor Mohandas Gandhi to a career of nonviolent protests, urging "noncooperation" with British policies that eventually led to the withdrawal of Britain from India in 1947.

Colonial Education and Patronage

The role of literature and language in colonial activity was a matter of government regulation. Colonial education systems and colonial literature bureaus sought to increase literacy and develop written communications as part of their "civilizing" process, but in so doing they created a hierarchy of language, making the written European languages and histories superior to the oral languages and histories of many native cultures. Arts such as literature were patronized, while native arts, including weaving and carving, were devalued and considered evidence of unevolved cultures. In countries in which several native languages were spoken, colonial governments often encouraged the dominance of one language, directly or indirectly suppressing languages or verbal traditions that were connected with indigenous religious practices.

The Science of Imperialism

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) in an effort to describe his theories of evolution by the principle of natural selection. According to this theory, desirable traits for survival dominate in a species whereas undesirable traits recede, by a natural course of progress. Darwin's ideas were adapted from biology to sociology by Benjamin Kidd, whose Social Evolution (1894) was published in the United States and England to immediate popular acceptance. He followed this work with The Control of the Tropics (1898), in which he depicted colonization as a moral obligation of the "Anglo-Saxon" empires of Britain and the United States, in part to save the "lower races" from the crueler practices of other European colonizers and in part to "elevate" them to a higher level of social evolution. Such arguments played an important part in maintaining public support for imperialist policy.


A coherent study of the body of the literature of Colonialism arose in the latter half of the twentieth century. A precursor to this work was Susanna Howe's 1949 study Novels of Empire, which reviewed a body of literature in colonial settings. Critics from the late 1960s and early 1970s began raising questions about the morality of imperialism and the resistance of the colonized. Scholars began discussing imperialism not merely as a political policy but as a mythology, a system of symbols, narratives, and beliefs supporting imperialist action. But not until the release of Edward Said's landmark work of cultural scholarship Orientalism in 1978 was there a theory of Colonialism that encompassed the full range of colonial discourse and its uses in legitimizing and maintaining colonialist practices. Orientalism as a cultural practice entails a web of beliefs about biology, culture, race, and religion that fix the "oriental" as "other," thus necessarily "less than," justifying the West's dominance of the East. It was Said, in fact, who began the common usage of the phrase "colonial discourse" to describe the wide scope of textual practices related to Colonialism. Another of Said's major studies is Culture and Imperialism (1993). James Scannell, in a 1996 essay for the journal Style, argues that British colonial writers, such as Page 136  |  Top of Article
Queen Victoria Queen Victoria(Rischgitz / Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Kipling, Conrad, and Graham Greene, supported imperialism and selectively chose their justifications concerning why British imperial expansion was more legitimate than the imperial endeavors of other nations.

After Said, perhaps the other most influential scholar of Colonialism is Homi K. Bhabha. Bhabha emphasized the ambiguity of colonial discourse, introducing to colonialist studies the idea of hybridization, a theory first developed by the Russian scholar of the novel Mikhail Bakhtin in The Dialogic Imagination. Bakhtin defined hybridization as "a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor." Bhabha supported the work of Said but also offered a corrective by stressing the continual presence of those two languages and two consciousnesses, which create the ambivalence that characterizes the body of colonialist literature. Among Bhabha's most influential works are the essay "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination, and the Discourse of Colonialism" (1986) and The Location of Culture (1994).

Though racial difference was always a central factor in the study of the literature of Colonialism, feminist scholars insisted that gender was a missing term in the equation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak pointed to an apparent feminist blindness to colonial discourse in texts such as Jane Eyre and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in her widely quoted essay, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1985). Studies that grew out of this argument include Laura Donaldson's Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Empire-Building (1992) and Jenny Sharpe's Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Women in the Colonial Text (1993), which further explore the complex relationship between feminism and Colonialism. As Sharpe observed, many nineteenth-century feminists used the ideology of racial difference to advance their own cause. In his 1995 book Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race, Robert Young added the term colonial desire to the vocabulary of Colonialism. Young wrote that sexuality and commerce were closely bound together in colonial discourse, arguing that "it was therefore wholly appropriate that sexual exchange . . . should become the dominant paradigm through which the passionate economic and political trafficking of Colonialism was conceived."


Shaun Strohmer

Strohmer holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan and is an independent scholar, freelance writer, and editor. In this essay, Strohmer discusses empowerment and dis-integration as central themes in the literature of Colonialism.

The literature of Colonialism is often unpleasant, or at least challenging, to read. Even after most European countries had abandoned the practice of slavery, which eventually was deemed barbaric by public opinion, the taking of territory and the imposition of new governments were considered jewels in the crown of the second British Empire. Yet the era of "New Imperialism" was short-lived. In practical terms it ended with the start of World War I, but the imperial age also waned as public support for colonization declined. As the literature of Colonialism demonstrates, ambiguity and paradox

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  • Shakespeare's late play The Tempest is thought by many contemporary literary scholars to be a meditation on England's early imperialist activities, particularly in the relationships among Caliban, Miranda, and Prospero.
  • Modernist author Henry James wrote during the same years as Conrad but with a different focus. From an American perspective, James wrote novels that critiqued what he saw as the failing aristocracy of Europe, a subject closely related to the rise and fall of imperialism. James had strong sympathies with England, however, and became a British subject in 1914 in order to fight in World War I. Among James's major novels is The Wings of the Dove, an aristocratic tragedy set in London and Venice.
  • One of the more important figures to emerge from the Indian colonial era is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later known as Mahatma (meaning "Great Soul") Gandhi. His nonviolent efforts to persuade the British to leave India drew the attention of the rest of the world; he was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1930, and the Christian Century proposed his name for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934—all before his crusade for Indian independence showed a hope of success. Gandhi published his views on non-violence in several books, including An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth and Nonviolent Resistance. The well-known monk Thomas Merton published a study of Gandhi's beliefs in Gandhi on Nonviolence.
  • Chinua Achebe was born in colonial Nigeria and in the postcolonial era became one of its most important writers. Achebe has also become an important novelist and postcolonial critic. Though Achebe has adopted a European form, his works represent an African aesthetic. Among his most widely read works are Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah.
  • Another writer of postcolonial significance is Salman Rushdie, who was born in Bombay, India, in the first year of India's independence. Among his classic novels is Midnight's Children, which tells the story of India from 1910 through 1976, through the eyes of its young hero Saleem, born like Rushdie in 1947. Rushdie's fiction explores the power of memory as well as history and the lingering impact of colonization.

characterize colonial discourse. What forces underlie that paradox?

It is perhaps no accident that the increasing momentum in imperialist history is echoed in the rapid developments in the history of psychology and psychiatry during the nineteenth century. Though no historian has proven a connection, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that increased encounters with other peoples would give rise to questions about the nature of humanity. The discipline of anthropology emerged from these questions—the Royal Anthropological Institute was founded in 1871—but the existing sciences of mankind also grew. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, scholars including Alexander Bain, Franz Brentano, William James, and John Dewey began defining their discipline, seeking to describe in scientific terms the relationship between emotion and the will, states of consciousness and unconsciousness, and human mental development. In the field of psychiatry, Freud began developing his theories of the unconscious, where humans are ruled by animal instincts that must be tempered by reason or punishment. Concurrently, Darwin began publishing his series of works on

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evolution and natural selection. Indeed, to some extent the notion of the "survival of the fittest" grew out of the travels of his friend Alfred Wallace through Malaysia. Darwin too wrote about the emotions in scientific terms, publishing The Expression of Emotion in 1872. In that work he discussed the communication of animals and how their various signals reveal the foundations of the human expression of emotion.

Such discoveries were cause for optimism. As the Industrial Revolution surged forward, it seemed that science and technology held the keys to ever greater wealth and progress. Outmoded superstitions and needless self-repression could be cast aside. The dawn of a new century and the death of Queen Victoria contributed to the sense of a bold new era dominated by the power of man. At the same time, however, the new science of human nature seemed to create as many questions as it purported to answer. Not surprisingly, the notion of agnosticism, or the belief that ultimate reality, or God, is unknown and unknowable, sprang from the followers of Darwin. The scientific search for man's origin led only to a clouded mystery, far more ambiguous than traditional notions of humankind's place in the universe. Thought and emotion, even action, appeared to be ruled by forces even more remote than a heavenly deity—at best, the nervous system, at worst, the murky recesses of the unconscious.

An obvious literary response to and reflection of this paradox is Conrad's Heart of Darkness, long celebrated as a mirror for the fragmented modern man. But Conrad's antiheroes are not the only characters of colonialist literature who experience that joint pull toward both power and disintegration. Arguably, that contradictory movement is an essential part of much of the literature of Colonialism. Haggard's She and Kipling's Kim, not examples of Conrad's Modernism, nonetheless similarly reveal aspects of the paradoxical modern self. As in Heart of Darkness, in these novels contact or confrontation of man's animal nature, represented by untamed wilderness or untamed "primitives," draws the protagonist in conflicting directions.

In She both Leo Vincy and the narrator Holly find themselves tempted by the goddess Ayesha even as they loathe her and her highly sensual and barbaric brand of paganism. After receiving a chilling tour of her tombs, Holly readily succumbs to her temptations anyway, though she tells Leo frankly that a kiss from her would undo him forever. Yet somehow Holly senses something that he says "chilled me back to common sense, and a knowledge of propriety and the domestic virtues." In the unconscious of Holly, instinct and civilization struggle mightily. Likewise, Leo confronts Ayesha but staggers back, "as if all the manhood had been taken out of him." When Ayesha successfully seduces Leo after killing his wife before his eyes, Holly reports:

Leo groaned in shame and misery for though he was overcome and stricken down, he was not so lost as to be unaware of the depth of the degradation to which he had sunk. On the contrary, his better nature rose up in arms against his fallen self, as I saw clearly later on.

In Holly's terms, Leo's struggle is a struggle of those two aspects of his nature: the power of the will and the devolutionary force of instinct and desire. This struggle looks quite different in Kim, a novel with a very different tone and audience. Nonetheless, as both a spy novel and a coming-of-age story, Kim toucheson issuesof identity and development. In the closing chapter, Kim's final battle is between the Body and the Soul. In this case, the Body is tied to reason and reality, solid things that are known to exist and be useful. The Soul, particularly as it is described by the lama, is mystical and irrational. Yet it is never made clear how the battle ends. Shortly before the novel ends, Kim cries out, "I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?" Though the overall ethos of the novel appears to privilege Western empiricist knowledge over Eastern mysticism, the answer to Kim's question remains ambiguous.

Though Kim, She,and Heart of Darkness are written from a strongly masculine perspective, the Page 139  |  Top of Articleparadox of human nature is not a question limited to men. The combination of Colonialism and rising early feminism was a potent mixture for women seeking to understand their place in the world. Women did not have the same claim to the sense of power and entitlement with which white male Europeans rang in the twentieth century, yet the symbol of empire was a woman—Victoria— and individual women played major roles in the project of colonization. The writing of many women who ventured into the colonies does not display a fear of losing one's self but a sense of finding one's self. This is perhaps a reductive dichotomy—women move between oppression and integration, while men move between power and disintegration—but if we keep its limitations in mind it can help highlight some interesting aspects of colonialist texts by women. Adjacent to this difference in women's writing is the role the narrator/heroine of women's texts plays. While the men's texts discussed above depict men as dominant heroes (or antiheroes), the heroines of works such as Mansfield's New Zealand stories or even the autobiographical Out of Africa stand to the side of such figures. The narrator of "The Woman at the Store" is led by a party of men, and the external action and conflicts of the story take place between the men and the shopkeeper, as the unnamed female narrator stands by. Even in Out of Africa, where Dinesen is the subject of her own story, the hero is "played" by Denys Finch Hatton. These women write themselves into the history of Colonialism, yet the force of patriarchy does not allow them to imagine themselves as real subjects.

Such texts thus reflect the workings of colonial discourse. As Mills writes in Discourses of Difference, "Females play an important part in the colonial enterprise as signifiers, but not as producers of signification." In other words, women are not actors or subjects, but symbols, or objects. This is a difficult position from which to write, and a difficult position from which to imagine a self. The development of psychology, as discussed above, was not a great help. The normative self was naturally male simply because that was the cultural standard of the time, but in some cases the development of the human sciences rendered this cultural practice as a scientific axiom. Freud's understanding of "the eternal feminine" construed it as part of the dangerous unconscious that needed to be mastered by male will and reason. In her essay on Haggard's She, Gilbert quotes Freud's description of the novel, which he says depicts that eternal feminine as "the immorality of our emotions." Thus as symbols of empire and symbols of irrationality, women were not masters but the embodiment of that which needed to be mastered, doubly so.

Postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak suggests this in her "Three Women's Tests and a Critique of Imperialism," on Brontë's Jane Eyre. Spivak writes, "Bertha's function in Jane Eyre is to render indeterminate the boundary between human and animal and thereby to weaken her entitlement under the spirit if not the letter of the Law." In the context of our discussion, the Law can be understood as analogous to Freud's "Law of the Father," the masculine control of the illicit instincts of the unconscious. Bertha, as white Creole and female, demonstrates the need to subordinate the feminine. It is this Law, this sense of being mastered, that Schreiner writes about through the character of Lyndall in The Story of an African Farm. After visiting a Boer wedding, Lyndall reflects on her feelings of restriction and freedom and their relationship to imperialism. Her monologue is worth quoting at length:

I like to feel that strange life beating up against me. I like to realize forms of life utterly unlike mine. . . . When my own life feels small, and I am oppressed with it, I like to crush together, and see it in a picture, in an instant, a multitude of disconnected unlike phases of human life— medieval monk with his string of beads pacing the quiet orchard . . .; little Malay boys playing naked on a shining sea-beach; a Hindoo philosopher alone under his banyan tree, thinking, thinking, thinking, so that in the thought of God he may lose himself . . . a Kaffir witch-doctor seeking for herbs by moonlight, while from the huts on the hillside come the sound of dogs barking, and the voices of women and children; a mother giving bread and milk to her children in little wooden basins and singing the evening song, I like to see it all; I feel it run through me—that life belongs to me; it makes my little life larger; it breaks down the narrow walls that shut me in.

Schreiner describes in detail the wildness that Haggard and Conrad describe as threatening, that Kipling portrays as tamable, and constructs it as liberating. This liberation is not complete—Lyndall is very much a radical whose dreams are unlikely to be realized, as in Out of Africa Dinesen's sense of freedom is countered by the force of patriarchy that does not allow her to claim the role of the hero for herself. Moreover, that liberation appears to come at the cost of the continued oppression of the Page 140  |  Top of Article
Cover of Joseph Conrads The Heart of Darkness Cover of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness(Painting by Fritz Klingelhofer. From a cover of The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. J. M. Dent, 1996. Reproduced by permission of Christie's Images, London) colonized. Africa, after all, did not exist solely for the self-realization of white European women. Nonetheless, perhaps what has made works such as Dinesen's and Schreiner's compelling to successive generations of readers is that they can envision that liberation at all. Like Conrad, they do not escape paradox and ambiguity but instead write it out where it can be viewed and acknowledged. In the contemporary climate of neo-Colonialism, where the history of humanity will go from there remains to be seen.

Source: Shaun Strohmer, Critical Essay on Colonialism, in Literary Movements for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.

James Scannell

In this essay, Scannell compares the cultural ideologies and aesthetics of three authors who wrote about colonization and explores why these authors accepted British imperialism.

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In his 1970 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures published as Sincerity and Authenticity, Lionel Trilling contends of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

Today it is scarcely possible to read Marlow's celebration of England without irony; to many, especially among the English themselves, it is bound to seem patently absurd. The present state of opinion does not countenance the making of discriminations among imperialisms, present or past, and the idea that more virtue might be claimed for one nation than another is given scant credence. But this was not always the case. Having the choice to make, Conrad himself elected to become English exactly because he believed England to be a good nation.

Trilling's notion that one can discriminate among imperialisms, claiming virtue for some and not for others, is a perfect starting point for a discussion of the imperial justifications of Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and Graham Greene, all of whom saw in Britain's empire a justifiable endeavor. In their three fictions, Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Greene's The Heart of the Matter, these authors discriminate among possible motivations for the colonial project, critiquing their predecessors' justifications and offering their own. Further, having inherited a fictional tradition from Kipling, Conrad and Greene also link what they consider to be of value in the colonies to what they consider to be of value in their predecessors' texts, believing as well that more virtue might be claimed for some fictional techniques than for others. In this essay, I will present Kipling's, Conrad's, and Greene's valuations, both cultural and aesthetic, as they are presented in these colonial fictions.

Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling's first collection of stories, brought colonial India Page 141  |  Top of Articlehome to England: those individuals who went out to India were for the British reading public suddenly endowed with faces, vices, virtues, and love affairs and disappointments, their administrative, military, and patriotic roles constituted as full lives. At one stroke, Kipling created for the English reading public the culture of Anglo-India: what the British in India do for leisure; what they value; where the best and where the worst posts are; how love and friendship differ in Anglo-India as compared to at home. Though introducing a new culture is no small task, for the Victorians it could never be a solitary one. True to his Victorian fellows, Kipling sought, in capturing that culture, to justify its existence as well. Faced with such a task, where better to turn than Matthew Arnold, who had done the same for England itself nearly 20 years earlier. Thus Kipling invokes the famous Arnoldian binary from "Culture and Anarchy":

We may regard this energy driving at practice, this paramount sense of the obligation of duty, self-control, and work, this earnestness in going manfully with the best light we have, as one force. And we may regard the intelligence driving at those ideas which are, after all, the basis of right practice, the ardent sense for all the new and changing combinations of them which man's development brings with it, the indomitable impulse to know and adjust them perfectly, as another force. And these two forces we may regard as in some sense rivals.

Between the "intelligence driving at . . . ideas" and "the obligation of duty," Kipling situates Indian colonial culture. Not content with Arnold's pendulum swinging back and forth between the two, however, he adds to the binary a middle term. In the last story of his collection, Kipling brings Arnold's two forces together in the figure of McIntosh Jellaludin. McIntosh is a Hellenist:

He was, when sober, a scholar and a gentleman. When drunk, he was rather more of the first than the second. . . . On those occasions the native woman tended him while he raved in all tongues except his own. One day, indeed, he began reciting Atalanta in Calydon, and went through it to the end, beating time to the swing of the verse with a bedstead-leg. But he did most of his ravings in Greek or German. The man's mind was a perfect rag-bag of useless things.

He is also a Hebraist who at one point in his life served society, though in what capacity the reader never learns: "The public are fools and prudish fools. I was their servant once." Most importantly, McIntosh has a knowledge of a middle way, of an alternative that partakes of both opposing qualities:

I do not refer to your extremely limited classical attainments, or your excruciating quantities, but to your gross ignorance of matters more immediately under your notice. "That, for instance"; he pointed to a woman cleaning a samovar near the well in the centre of the Serai. She was flicking the water our of the spout in regular cadencejerks.

There are ways and ways of cleaning samovars. If you knew why she was doing her work in that particular fashion, you would know what the Spanish Monk meant when he said—

    'I the Trinity illustrate,
    Drinking watered orange-pulp—
    In three sips the Arian frustrate,
    While he drains his at one gulp—'

and many other things which are now hidden from your eyes. However, Mrs. McIntosh has prepared dinner, let us come and eat after the fashion of the people of the country—of whom, by the way, you know nothing.

This passage includes references both to the Hellenism of McIntosh's book learning and to the Hebraism, the "energy driving at practice," about which the narrator knows nothing. We later learn that Strickland, whom we've been brought by the narrator to respect for his awe-inspiring knowledge of the natives he rules, is for McIntosh an "ignorant man." Unlike Strickland, McIntosh does not merely know how the natives will act, but he also understands why they act. McIntosh's understanding of the significance of the cleaning of the samovar and the sipping in Browning's poem represents a marriage of the most esoteric knowledge with the most mundane of daily actions; the rhythmic cleaning is as informed by a theology or cosmology as is the three sips of the Spanish Monk. McIntosh alone sees to the heart of matters, an ability that, far from precluding an attention to ordinary practice, in fact entails a knowledge of the ideal in and through "practice."

Kipling makes much of this ability in the Plain Tales collection. Figures who embody one or the other side of the dyad are undercut, just as Strickland in all his practical glory is undercut by McIntosh. Mrs. Hauksbee, the cleverest woman in India, who helps several people stick to the straight and narrow, is herself bested at the beginning of the short story sequence in "Three and— an Extra," when she acts without the backing of an approved ideal. Trejago in "Beyond the Pale" Page 142  |  Top of Articlebrings doom upon himself and his lover: the practicality that makes his intrigue possible prevents him from fully acknowledging the cultural laws he has transgressed. On the other hand, those who err on the side of Helenism, who attach too much meaning to everyday events, are equally suspect: the "Boy" of "Thrown Away" who commits suicide over a "cruel little sentence, rapped out before thinking", or Aurelian McCoggin, whose love of "isms" is cured by an attack of aphasia. Only a handful of figures manage to inform their practical doings with the knowledge of a higher sphere. In "His Wedded Wife," the Worm, who joins a "high-caste regiment" in which "you must be able to do things well . . . to get on with them," does nothing well except read, keep to himself, and write home. The members of the regiment refuse to accept him until he inadvertently advertises his acting talents, by dressing as a neglected wife and coming upon the regiment as a fury "rushing out of the dark, unannounced, into our dull lives." The revenge is successful because his play-acting speaks to the regiment's deep feelings of complicity, haunting even those in no way concerned in this particular matter. Janoo in "In the House of Suddhoo" respects the spiritual hold the seal-cutter has on Suddhoo, though she understands it is all a sham, and that respect assures her revenge as well: "Unless something happens to prevent her, I am afraid that the seal-cutter will die of cholera—the white arsenic kind—about the middle of May." Finally, Moriarty in "In Error" is saved by his illusion that Mrs. Reiver is a saint whose respect he must earn: the "error" has no foundation in reality, but his belief in that self-constructed ideal has the amazing practical result of curing his alcoholism.

Yet this ability to get to the heart of the matter, though it involves a knowledge of the ideal, is anchored in an English practicality. In "To Be Filed for Reference," when McIntosh turns scholar during one of his drunken binges, he speaks either Greek or German, the former the language of scholars and the clergy, the latter the language of idealists. At these moments, the narrator tells us, he is not a "gentleman," nor, the reader may add, an "English gentleman." The ability to get to the heart of matters includes both a spiritual astuteness and a practical knowingness, but what these two opposing qualities have in common is a directedness, a doggedness that Kipling identifies with Englishness, an ability to recognize things as they really are. The story "In the House of Suddhoo," a tale of spiritualism, includes an account of the honor of an English gentleman, the narrator, whose principles and kindness have put him at the center of conflicting moral and legal claims:

Now, the case stands thus. Unthinkingly, I have laid myself open to the charge of aiding and abetting the seal-cutter in obtaining money under false pretenses, which is forbidden by Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. I am helpless in the matter for these reasons. I cannot inform the Police. What witnesses would support my statements? . . . I dare not again take the law into my own hands, and speak to the sealcutter; for certain am I that, not only would Suddhoo disbelieve me, but this step would end in the poisoning of Janoo, who is bound hand and foot by her debt to the bunnia. . . . And thus I shall be privy to a murder in the House of Suddhoo.

Yet for all his confusion, he nonetheless is able, in his directedness, to appreciate the complexities of his own case. In "Lispeth" the native girl taken from the hills and raised according to British tradition is "killed" not by an English gentleman but by an Englishman whose conduct is ungentlemanly and by a Chaplain's wife who advises lying in preference to a "fuss or scandal." While their actions may be very "English," they are not those of a true English gentleman and lady. Rather, Lispeth is the only one in the story to embody such traits, expecting a forthrightness of which the Chaplain's wife and the Englishman are incapable. In the same way, Moriarty is proud of his "very good reputation" and worries that his alcoholism will "undermine that reputation," but "reputation" is not enough to work his cure: he controls his alcoholism only in order to show himself worthy of the finest of English ladies.

It is the doggedness of the English, allowing them to get to the heart of matters, that qualifies the British for the role of colonial administrators. In "The Bronckhorst Divorce-Case," Strickland, the man with great practical knowledge of native life, is called in to show that Bronckhorst's accusations against Biel, which have been confirmed by native witnesses, are a total fabrication. Strickland manages to scare the natives into recanting their testimony. Thus one Englishman, Strickland, corrects through intimidation the wrongs of another Englishman, Bronckhorst, who has bribed the natives to lie, while a third Englishman, Biel, is provoked by Strickland to thrash Bronckhorst but allows him to go free of charges of "fabricating false evidence": "Biel came out of the Court, and Page 143  |  Top of ArticleStrickland dropped a gut trainer's whip in the verandah. Ten minutes later, Biel was cutting Bronckhorst into ribbons behind the old Court cells, quietly and without scandal." But all this occurs outside the courthouse, the place where such claims should be weighed. None of the three is an English gentleman, for they manage to denigrate, sidestep, and tamper with that justice housed in the British courthouse, a justice the narrator cannot report since his story follows Biel: just when "the Judge began to say what he thought," the text cuts away to Biel's punishment of Bronckhorst behind the courthouse. Such merely practical "virtues" are outside the purview of true English justice. English justice is also at stake in one of the stories that perfectly embodies the union of the practical and the ideal, the tale of "The Bisara of Poree," a magic charm in a silver box that brings good only to those who obtain it dishonestly. Churton, the present owner of the charm, is suffering because he bought the object unknowingly; his chief complaint is that "his decisions were being reversed by the upper Courts more than an Assistant Commissioner of eight years' standing has a right to expect." Magic, a spiritual practicality, and English administrative justice are thus closely linked. With the aid of the charm, Churton is able to administer justice against a fellow Englishman named Pack, who steals the charm, a justice well deserved in Churton's eyes since he had not been "brought up to believe that men on the Government House List steal—at least little things." In his practical endeavor to bring about justice, he is aided by another Englishman, who holds the knowledge of the powers of the Bisara of Poree. Together, practical action and the knowledge of esoteric matters ensures justice.

This English trait that Kipling defines and locates at the center of the colonial project in the Plain Tales is Conrad's leaping-off point in Heart of Darkness: Conrad examines Kipling's justification, finds it lacking, and offers one of his own. The first section of the story heavy-handedly presents itself as an answer to Kipling's Plain Tales, taking up as it does the question of the practical colonial endeavor redeemed by the Idea:

These chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force. . . . The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.

Marlow has enlisted the aid of his aunt in his efforts to secure a position, and his aunt in turn represents Marlow to her influential friend as one of the new "gang of virtue," those who go out to the colonies motivated not by profit but by a commitment to a transcendent idea: "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways." The gang of virtue bring to the practical colonial endeavor an intelligence that supplies "those ideas which are, after all, the basis of right practice." Clearly, Marlow distances himself from the redeeming idea at the outset, but the first section of Heart of Darkness is nonetheless ruled by it. Critics rightly emphasize how central the Idea's role in the colonial process is to the story, but they often fail to recognize that Conrad emphasizes the Idea informing practical action. As Hunt Hawkins states, Conrad judges the colonial project on the basis of "two explicit criteria—efficiency and the 'idea."'

Conrad's initial critique of Kipling is, however, aesthetic: he objects to the way in which Kipling embodies his colonial justification in the Plain Tales. Moreover, it appears that the aesthetic shortcomings of the Plain Tales lead Conrad to note the potential ethical or moral dangers of the defense of colonialism Kipling offers. Through the reactions of those listening to Marlow's story, Conrad shows that Kipling's "message" in the Plain Tales is at odds with the effect they produce in their readers. Those characters in the Plain Tales who successfully embody the spiritually informed pragmatism of the English, who are thus ideal colonial administrators, are not the characters who most engage the reader. Even a casual reader of the Plain Tales will come away with a memorable impression of Strickland, the adventurous undercover policeman, and of Mrs. Hauksbee, the cleverest woman in India. In terms of effect, the practical characters win the day, though the spiritual characters have a haunting quality that also makes them linger in the reader's mind. "The Gate of Sorrows," an eerie story that is so pervasively depressing it nearly sinks the entire volume with its weight, puncturing a hole in the stories' off-hand Page 144  |  Top of Articlenarrative charm, is powerful, as is the sudden and harrowing reassertion of spiritual right and race purity at the end of "Beyond the Pale." But Moriarty or Churton or the narrator of "In the House of Suddhoo" do not leave the same lasting impression on the reader. They are all intriguing characters, but they fade from memory until specifically recalled to one's attention, unlike Mrs. Hauksbee and Strickland. Those characters who embody the English ability to get to the heart of matters, valorized by Kipling and aligned with British justice in its colonies, do not demand the attention their privileged status seems to require.

Conrad conveys this perceived shortcoming of Kipling's collection almost from the start in Heart of Darkness, when Marlow's narrative is not met with a warm welcome. The narrator notes of Marlow's jarring first line, tossed into the silence—"'And this also . . . has been one of the dark places of the earth"'—"It was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even," suggesting a company that acquiesces to the inevitable: hearing another of Marlow's yarns. Near the end of the first section, the reader again is reminded that Marlow may not have completely captivated his audience: "There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep." While this description may betoken an awed silence or breathless interest, it may just as easily be a straightforward account of the truth: the others present are sleeping and therefore not listening. The reader can be sure only that the narrator is listening to Marlow's tale, and he is interested in Marlow's discourse on the informing idea only because it matches his own sense of Empire as well as his own tendency to see the world in terms of the Spirit moving in the real; two beliefs upon which he expounds in the prologue. As it is with Kipling, however, Conrad's story of pragmatic idealism may not be an engaging one. Marlow chooses initially to tell the story of Moriary and Churton, without regard for the interests of his listeners who might be more engaged by the likes of Strickland or Mrs. Hauksbee. The moral value of Kipling's project aside, Conrad's point here is that the fiction fails aesthetically, and this failure leads Conrad to question the very nature of Kipling's justification. The aesthetic dissonance of Kipling's collection triggers its ethical dissonance.

In the second section of Heart of Darkness, Conrad makes it clear that the impression made by such stories of the ideal informing practice is strongly at odds with the set of values those stories are intended to convey. Kipling never makes it possible for his readers to experience his own high regard for those who make ideas the basis of their practice. We share Kipling's regard for an ideal-informed practice only as an idea extracted from the text, not one experienced firsthand inside Kipling's narratives. Twice in the second section of Heart of Darkness, the listeners are again brought into the frame of the narrative, and in both instances their responses provide an occasion for Marlow to break the flow of the narrative for a more direct idea-driven form of address:

"The inner truth is hidden—luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight-ropes for—what is it? half a crown a tumble"

"Try to be civil, Marlow," growled a voice, and I knew there was at least one listener awake besides myself.

"I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do your tricks very well."

"I couldn't have felt more of lonely desolation somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life. . . . Why do you sigh in this beastly way, somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good Lord! mustn't a man ever— Here, give me some tobacco. . . . "

There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match flared, and Marlow's lean face appeared, worn, hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids, with an aspect of concentrated attention; and as he took vigorous draws at his pipe, it seemed to retreat and advance out of the night in the regular flicker of the tiny flame. The match went out.

"Absurd!" he cred. "This is the worst of trying to tell. . . . Here you all are, each moored with two good addresses, like a hulk with two anchors, a butcher round one corner, a policeman round another, excellent appetites, and temperatures normal—you hear—normal from year's end to year's end. And you say, Absurd! Absurd be—exploded! Absurd! My dear boys, what can you expect from a man who out of sheer nervousness had just flung overboard a pair of new shoes!"

Indeed, in the second of these two examples, his listener's response leads Marlow on a digression that takes him far ahead of his story. In both Page 145  |  Top of Articleexamples, the synthesis of the practical (the dangerous particulars of the uncharted river, the new shoes, the butcher around the corner) with the ideal (the inner truth and the stolen belief) forces Marlow out of the flow of the story itself. This idealistic pragmatism, this attempt to get to the heart of matters, can appeal to readers only as an extra-narrative datum, a disembodied notion beyond the borders of the narrative, as in Kipling's story sequence.

In the third section of his story, Conrad rejects Kurtz and, in doing so, rejects Kipling's justification for such an approach to the colonial enterprise. As Marlow makes clear, Kurtz's exalted ideals have freed him of constraint, opening the way for "forgotten and brutal instincts": "There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air." In fact, the entire third section consists of Conrad's rejection of Kurtz, as one by one he is abandoned by all those who have been waiting so eagerly to meet him. First, the Russian, who had been helping Kurtz at great personal risk to himself, decamps. Then, of course, the manager, looking after his own interests, declares that Kurtz has "done more harm than good to the company." His native worshippers flee at the sound of the steamer's whistle, and even the manager's boy casts him off: "Suddenly the manager's boy put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt: 'Mistah Kurtz he dead."' Finally, back in Europe, Marlow slowly divests himself of what is left of Kurtz, his report, which he gives to the journalist friend, and "some family letters and memoranda," which he gives to Kurtz's cousin. And in lying to Kurtz's Intended, Marlow, who held to Kurtz longest, is unable to render him "that justice which was his due."

If Kipling's practical idealism provides such unsteady ground for the colonial project, what then redeems it? In the second section of the story, Conrad offers what he sees as the only real justification for empire: the spiritualism of Arnold and Kipling is rejected in favor of the rich wilderness that surrounds Marlow. Portrayed throughout the story as a dark, unknowable force to be reckoned with, the wilderness, the land and its richness is justification enough for the colonial endeavor:

"H'm. Just so," grunted the uncle. "Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this." I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence.

According to Conrad, the justification for colonialism is the land itself. Its treacherousness requires enormous skill and concentration—the accountant working in the most stressful of climates, Marlow piloting the ship up an unknown river, the native monitoring the boiler—yet such concentration pays great dividends. Kurtz's great material accomplishment, the collection of large amounts of ivory, is belittled by the manager as "mostly fossil," which Marlow glosses as ivory the natives have buried. But his repetition of the phrase transforms ivory into a rich mineral deposit that the land has been made to yield. For Conrad, the colonial endeavor has only one objective: raw material, the natural resources so plentiful in Africa.

Phil Joffe writes that "the disillusioned Conrad, in the last year of his life, wrote of his 'distasteful knowledge of the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration."' But the target of Conrad's critique in Heart of Darkness is not this attempt to tap the richness of the land, but the hypocrisy, the Lie that masks this motivation. As Born writes: "The profit motive for oneself is neatly excluded from this altruistic strand of imperial ethical progress. We can usefully recall here Orwell's telling remark 'that Kipling does not seem to realise, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern."' The colonial enterprise becomes morally dangerous when the profit motive is clouded by all sorts of grand ideals; Kurtz is Conrad's object lesson of the "horror" of that sort of colonialism. Heart of Darkness does not denigrate a colonial endeavor motivated by the richness of the untapped land. The ethical control in such an enterprise is the work ethic itself: only those who know their jobs and do them efficiently can effectively tap these riches. The Page 146  |  Top of Articlenatives left to die on the hillside are the victims of an inefficient and poorly managed colonial enterprise, one that excavates and blasts a hill for no reason: "They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on." Seen in this light, the manager's strictures on Kurtz's behavior, though heartless in their zealous concern only for profit, embody the sort of practical moral safeguard Conrad sees as part of the redeeming nature of work, the ethic of the work ethic: "'Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously— that's my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer."'

Conrad takes up the issue of materialism and idealism in his discussion of the Russo-Japanese war in "Autocracy and War," where he seems to occupy a position similar to Kipling's ideal-driven pragmatism: "The trouble of the civilised world is the want of a common conservative principle abstract enough to give the impulse, practical enough to form the rallying-point of international action tending toward the restraint of particular ambitions." He also seems vehemently opposed to the rule of material interests: "Germany's attitude proves that no peace for the earth can be found in the expansion of material interests which she seems to have adopted exclusively as her only aim, ideal, and watchword." Yet Conrad's stance in this essay is far more realistic, more expedient, than the two statements just quoted might suggest. Conrad notes that Germany's material interests are dangerous only insomuch as they have been "adopted exclusively as her only . . . ideal." Here is the Conrad of Heart of Darkness.Immediately following his rousing endorsement of a Politik driven by the Ideal, he concedes that "the true peace of the world will be a place of refuge much less like a beleaguered fortress and more, let us hope, in the nature of an Inviolable Temple. It will be built on less perishable foundations than those of material interests. But it must be confessed that the architectural aspect of the universal city remains as yet inconceivable—that the very ground for its erection has not been cleared of the jungle." Indeed, Conrad acknowledges that hope for immediate peace may be found in the pursuit of material interests, however distasteful they may be, though not according to the example set by Germany, but according to the one set by the world's democracies:

Democracy, which has elected to pin its faith to the supremacy of material interests, will have to fight their battles to the bitter end, on a mere pittance—unless, indeed, some statesman of exceptional ability and overwhelming prestige succeeds in carrying through an international understanding for the delimitation of spheres of trade all over the earth, on the model of the territorial spheres of influence marked in Africa to keep the competitors of the privilege of improving the nigger (as buying machine) from flying prematurely at each other's throats.

As the tone alone makes clear, this option does not thrill Conrad; as it is in Heart of Darkness, here his distaste for the cure is palpable. But it is a cure nonetheless, and the example he cites is none other than colonized Africa. Further, the statesman who will create delimited "spheres of trade all over the earth" has in fact much in common with the manager of Heart of Darkness. Despite a lack of stature, ability, or force of personality, the manager holds absolute authority over the region he controls:

He was obeyed, yet he inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a...a...faculty can be. He had no genius for organising, for initiative, or for order even....He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away.

Further, Conrad aligns this greatness with trade—"'He was a common trader . . . nothing more"'—and presents the manager as a representative of delimited spheres of trade, influence, and action. The manager views the Russian as a threat to ordered spheres of trade: "They approached again, just as the manager was saying, 'No one, as far as I know, unless a species of wandering trader—a pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the natives"', and "'It must be this miserable trader—this intruder,' exclaimed the manager. . .'He must be English,' I said. 'It will not save him from getting into trouble if he is not careful,' muttered the manager darkly." He insists at all times on respecting the boundaries of spheres of action: "'Well, I must defer to your judgment. You are captain,' he said, with marked civility"; "'The district is closed to us for a time"'; and "'It is my duty to point it out in the proper quarter."' The manager is no paragon, as Marlow's hatred for him makes clear, but in a world in which "the conscience of but Page 147  |  Top of Articlevery few men amongst us, and of no single Western nation as yet, will brook the restraint of abstract ideas as against the fascination of a material advantage," his pragmatic, compartmentalized role is the safest option.

Like Conrad does with Kipling, Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter begins where Conrad's narrative leaves off, embodying in its first section his materialist justification for the colonial enterprise. Though reference to it is subtle, set far in the background of Greene's narrative, the land and its allure are at the heart of Scobie's desire to stay in West Africa:

    He said aloud, "You know I like the place."
    "I believe you do. I wonder why."
    "It's pretty in the evening," Scobie said vaguely.

The narrator registers for the reader the inadequacy of Scobie's reply, which seems an odd, insufficient reason for staying, particularly in light of his wife's desire to leave and his over-wrought feelings of responsibility for her. But what seems at first like an off-hand comment gets picked up in the narrative, taking on a seriousness that the first comment never even vaguely suggests:

In the evening the port became beautiful for perhaps five minutes. The laterite roads that were so ugly and clay-heavy by day became a delicate flower-like pink. It was the hour of content. Men who had left the port for ever would sometimes remember on a grey wet London evening the bloom and glow that faded as soon as it was seen: they would wonder why they had hated the coast and for a space of a drink they would long to return.

Scobie stopped his Morris at one of the great loops of the climbing road and looked back. He was just too late. The flower had withered upwards from the town; the white stones that marked the edge of the precipitous hill shone like candles in the new dusk.

The days in the colony are harsh, and the nights, as Scobie's wearisome duels with Louise suggest, hardly restful. But evening is "the hour of content." Scobie, as he himself acknowledges, is seeking "peace" "content[ment]," and the land at evening provides these for him. Though not exactly Conrad's image of the rich, untapped, colonized land, the land as presented in book 1 nonetheless is the reason for Scobie, representative of British law in the colony not coincidentally, to stay in West Africa: for him it has a value that ensures his continued presence there. Also like Conrad, Greene aligns the value of the land, in this case its temporary beauty that gives Scobie a brief nightly repose, with work: "He had nearly everything, and all he needed was peace. Everything meant work, the daily regular routine in the little bare office, the change of seasons in a place he loved." The throw-away tag, "a place he loved," emphasizes the connection: the land provides peace, and Scobie longs only to work (in) that land. Further, this notion that the land itself, the very physicality of it, imparts "peace" to Scobie suggests that Greene also recognizes the motivation, as suggested in "Autocracy and War," for Conrad's turn to materialism: that the land, both in what it yields and in its partition, may offer the only viable chance for peace in the context of the present state of the world. Greene rather ingeniously transplants Conrad's justification for the colonial project to the West African world and the life of his British police captain, Scobie, for the purpose of critiquing it, in the same way that Conrad critiqued Kipling.

Just as Conrad first noted the aesthetic discord of Kipling's program in Heart of Darkness, so too does Greene identify an aesthetic dissonance in Conrad's colonial justification that reveals its ethical dissonance. A number of critics have concurred with F. R. Leavis's censures of Conrad's style in The Great Tradition:

There are, however, places in Heart of Darkness where we become aware of comment as an interposition, and worse, as an intrusion, at times an exasperating one. Hadn't he, we find ourselves asking, overworked "inscrutable," "inconceivable," "unspeakable" and that kind of word already?—yet still they recur. Is anything added to the oppressive mysteriousness of the Congo by such sentences as: "It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention." The same vocabulary, the same adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery, is applied to the evocation of human profundities and spiritual horrors.

At times in Heart of Darkness, Conrad's attempt to demonstrate the importance of the land to the colonial project is quite heavy-handed. The story begins with the frame narrator's description of the scene before him and his vision of the Roman triremes on the Thames and goes on to include descriptions of the mining operation at the outer station, of the dense jungle surrounding the two-hundred-mile trek inland, of the river itself and the challenge it poses to navigation, and even of the "defensive attack" Page 148  |  Top of Articlelaunched by the natives loyal to Kurtz, which is presented as a rejection by the jungle itself of the Nellie and its crew. Some of the description and evocation serves a distinct scene- and mood-setting purpose, but too often the attempt to present a distinct impression is overwrought. For instance, in the scene quoted earlier, the manager gestures towards the forest, improbably causing Marlow to leap to his feet: "It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence. You know the foolish notions that come to one sometimes." Or the description of the trip upriver, which begins with an effective evocation of the imposing fullness of the jungle:

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.

The heaviness of the air requires such "adjectival insistence," but the description trails off into the passage Leavis singles out for its heavy-handed repetition: "This stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention." This passage may be excused as Marlow's, not Conrad's, rhetoric, but such an excuse fails to account for the strange scene of Marlow's "foolish notion." Conrad's tale falls short only when he continues to detail an impression he's already managed to capture.

Greene's criticism of Conrad in book 1 of The Heart of the Matter is later repeated in his African journal. He does not adopt Conrad's method of introducing the question of aesthetic merit by including the responses of an "audience" within the frame of his tale. Instead, within the narrative itself he introduces a motif of aesthetic appreciation, which he then links to excess. Louise's love of poetry, which is shared by the newcomer Wilson, thus becomes a symbol of excess. Wilson is introduced at the beginning of the novel as someone who loves to read poetry but, because he fears it will call undue attention to himself, he hides his interest. And, indeed, Louise's interest in poetry becomes the objective correlative of the club's dislike for her pushy, whining, and patronizing airs: "Literary Louise has got him." This mutual aesthetic appreciation eventually plunges Wilson headlong into excesses of romantic love as he tries to play the avenging, protective lover, a role Louise either ignores or ridicules.

Greene is guilty of some excess himself in his heavy-handed, incremental revelation of Wilson's spying. He punctuates the first book with hints concerning the identity of the new spy who has been sent out to report on the colonial administration:

"You ought to have been a policeman, Father."

"Ah," Father Rank said, "who knows? There are more policemen in this town than meet the eye—or so they say."

"Who says?"

"Been in to see the Commissioner about a pass. There are so many passes one has to have in this town, sir. I wanted one for the wharf. . . . "

When Wilson had gone, Scobie went in to the Commissioner. He said, "I was just coming along to see you, sir, when I ran into Wilson."

"Oh, yes, Wilson," the Commissioner said. "He came in to have a word with me about one of their lightermen."

"I see." The shutters were down in the office to cut out the morning sun. A sergeant passed through carrying with him, as well as his file, a breath of the Zoo behind. The day was heavy with unshed rain: already at 8.30 in the morning the body ran with sweat. Scobie said, "He told me he'd come about a pass."

"Oh yes," the Commissioner said, "that too."

"Then the special man they have sent from London. . . . "

"You must come back when I'm clearer, Yusef. I don't know what the hell you are talking about."

"They have sent a special man from London to investigate the diamonds—they are crazy about diamonds—only the Commissioner must know about him—none of the other officers, not even you."

"What rubbish you talk, Yusef. There's no such man."

"Everybody guesses but you."

"Too absurd. You shouldn't listen to rumour, Yusef."

She said, "Oh, Wilson's been attentive."

"He's a nice boy."

"He's too intelligent for his job. I can't think why he's out here as just a clerk."

"He told me he drifted."

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Though several of these passages serve to characterize Scobie's peculiar blindness, neither the episode with Father Rank nor that with Scobie and the commissioner, in which Scobie seems aware that something's amiss, clearly work to that end. Yet, if the passages are meant to tip the reader off to Wilson's true role in the colony, and to some extent they do have that purpose since the reader has no other means of reaching that conclusion, they are hardly notable for their subtlety. Between Wilson's earlier paranoia and the fact that the novel begins with his arrival, the reader takes Father Rank's meaningful comment as the first hint. The following passages at first confirm the reader's suspicions and finally vex the reader. The insistent and repeated hints as to Wilson's "real" role in the colony enact a narrative excess akin to Conrad's. Moreover, the diamonds, which are at the heart of Wilson's spying, connect this excess to the "natural resources" that the colonies yield.

Greene's perception of Conrad's excess, the one source of aesthetic dissonance in Heart of Darkness, leads him to note the danger of Conrad's excessively materialistic take on imperialism. In book 3, the natural profuseness of the land is invoked and, in each case, identified with illogic:

"You must promise. You can't desire the end without desiring the means."

Ah, but one can, he thought, one can: one can desire the peace of victory without desiring the ravaged towns.

They kissed as formally now when they met as a brother and sister. When the damage was done, adultery became as unimportant as friendship. The flame had licked them and gone on across the clearing: it had left nothing standing except a sense of responsibility and sense of loneliness. Only if you trod barefooted did you notice the heat in the grass.

They would imagine, he thought with amazement, that I get something out of it, but it seemed to him that no man had ever got less. Even self-pity was denied him because he knew so exactly the extent of his guilt. He felt as though he had exiled himself so deeply in the desert that his skin had taken on the colour of sand.

Then he realized what it was—a diamond, a gem stone. He knew nothing about diamonds, but it seemed to him that it was probably worth at least as much as his debt to Yusef. Presumably Yusef had information that the stones he had sent by the Esperança had reached their destination safely. This was a mark of gratitude—not a bribe, Yusef would explain, the fat hand upon his sincere and shallow heart.

Oh God, he thought, I've killed you: you've served me all these years and I've killed you at the end of them. God lay there under the petrol drums and Scobie felt the tears in his mouth, salt in the cracks of his lips. You served me and I did this to you. You were faithful to me, and I wouldn't trust you.

The land—the grass, the sand—and its resources—diamonds, petrol—are only referred to in conjunction with a reality that defies logic: Yusef's sincere yet shallow heart, desiring the end without desiring the means, having more than one's share yet left with nothing. All describe situations that are possible and yet, at the same time, wholly illogical. Greene suggests that the colonial project, tied to the land and its natural resources, motivated by the very real desire for mineral/material wealth—in other words, a colonialism based on the real and not on the ideal—creates a situation that lacks rationality because it lacks an Idea, and it exists in an atmosphere of illogic, a world in which cause and effect are out of whack and prediction is an impossibility.

A colonialism based on reality is damned to the perverse and quirky workings of that reality, and the final book of The Heart of the Matter is full of thwarted predictions. Scobie attempts to spare his wife suffering when in fact she has known about his affair all along. Although he hoped by his death to help Helen forget him, as it turns out, in death Scobie has more hold over her mind than he did in life: "'You can't love the dead, can you? They don't exist, do they? ...She put her hand out beside her and touched the other pillow, as though perhaps after all there was one chance in a thousand that she was not alone, and if she were not alone now she would never be alone again." Scobie is certain of his own damnation, but Father Rank insists at novel's end, "'For goodness' sake, Mrs. Scobie, don't imagine you—or I—know a thing about God's mercy."' Scobie embraces an all too real, meticulously planned, material solution to his problems, which fails to achieve any of its goals. The one aspect of his suicide that seems to go as planned, the material one—the dosage is enough, the climate makes it impossible to perform a post-mortem—betrays Scobie: the "colour of the ink," under Wilson's trained scrutiny, gives him away. For Greene, the colonial project Page 150  |  Top of Articlethat is motivated by very realistic material goals is even more unpredictable in its results on all levels than is that motivated by the Idea. The search for smuggled diamonds, as nearly every intelligent person in the colony concedes, is a farce, involving large merchant ships on which a handful of tiny gems could be hidden anywhere. Scobie is appointed commissioner one-half year too late, and would have, in effect, nullified the entire series of tragic events the novel narrates. Scobie's appointment is based on the "good impression" he makes in an interview in which he entirely loses his cool and acts like a man guilty of the worst corruptions. A colonial administration based in reality alone is at the mercy of a myriad of forces, all unguided: natural, psychological, political, economic, and so forth.

Greene himself sees the empire as nothing more than an outlet for those forces that English life and England itself cannot contain: thwarted ambitions, restless longings, boredom. The colonies serve not so much as a safety valve for England or as a dumping ground for undersirables, but as a haven for those whose needs are not met at home. Book 2 of The Heart of the Matter is populated with such figures. Perrot imagines himself on the frontiers of the empire, far from the decadence of the "big city," protecting the empire's borders from alien invasion—a hard thing to imagine when home is an island:

Scobie said, "If they ever joined the Germans, I suppose this is one of the points where they'd attack."

"Don't I know it," Perrot said, "I was moved here in 1939. The Government had a shrewd idea of what was coming. Everything's prepared, ye know . . . We're stripped for action here."

Scobie reads to Fisher A Bishop among the Bantus, a missionary tale that he transforms into a pirate tale set in the West Indies in order to relieve the boy's boredom. Helen Rolt is intrigued by the story, the first indication that in the wake of her extraordinary ordeal at sea, she too is looking for an adventurous and romantic alternative to her now-safe existence, a desire she repeatedly expresses during her stay in the colonies with Scobie: "'If you knew,' she said, 'how tired I get of all your caution. You come here after dark and you go after dark. It's so—so ignoble."' The colonies offer Father Rank the opportunity to be "useful": "'They were very generous in Northampton. I only had to ask and they'd give. I wasn't of any use to a single living soul, Scobie. I thought, in Africa things will be different. ...I wanted to be of use, that's all."' Finally, Harris defines the colonies as the fit place for boys who never quite fit in, who were not quite happy at school. He says: "'I wonder if Wilson was happy there. ...I don't suppose he was ...or why should he have turned up here?"' The colonies exist because they meet a need that home cannot, a restlessness that Greene never particularizes because it varies with different individuals. The need to roam, to confront the unknown, to make a name, to experience adventures, all of which spurred on the late Renaissance explorers, the Victorian expeditions to the poles, the twentieth-century astronauts and kept them from staying at home— such impulses are not limited to a celebrated or noted handful, and the colonies, according to Greene, exist to provide an outlet for those others. Scobie's tremendously strict Catholicism leads him to choose his own damnation in order to save Louise and Helen as well as God himself from the suffering his acts are inflicting on them. Clearly, such an immense project, immense in the assumptions it questions of God and man, requires a breadth, a large playing field, that England cannot provide. Indeed, Patrick McCarthy states that for Scobie "in the context of the West African colony it [Catholicism] acts as a seditious force because it undermines the pretence of law and duty. Scobie likes the colony because 'human nature hasn't had time to disguise itself.' The poverty and misery of the colony present man as God sees him." This then for Greene is the only valid justification for empire: an extensive stage on which to follow and achieve vast aspirations.

Kipling inherited a Victorian mandate: in describing the Anglo-Indian culture, he felt obligated to justify its existence. He found in Arnold a schema with which to represent Anglo-Indian life. But as Conrad recognized, Kipling failed to realize that schematization fully in Plain Tales from the Hills. Why? One can only speculate. In adopting another's schema, did Kipling ignore the power of his own first-hand contact with Anglo-Indian life, his lived experience in the colony, which in turn then took on a life of its own in his short story sequence? If such is the case, Greene's response to Conrad can be read as an odd return to Kipling's own view of the matter. Greene, like Kipling and unlike Conrad, believes the colonial endeavor can only be justified with recourse to the Idea. In the face of the Page 151  |  Top of Articlepurposelessness of Conrad's hyper-realism, Greene returns to an intellectual construct reminiscent of Kipling's Arnoldian borrowing, though he rejects that specific, as well as imported, schema. In this respect, Greene is closer to Kipling. Yet unlike Kipling, both Conrad and Greene encounter the project of empire as artists first. Conrad's initial response to Kipling in the opening section of Heart of Darkness is an aesthetic critique leveled at Kipling's failed fictional embodiment of an idea. Greene's first critique of Conrad is similarly an aesthetic one. In this respect, responding first as artists, Greene is much closer in spirit and approach to Conrad than he is to Kipling.

Source: James Scannell, "The Method Is Unsound: The Aesthetic Dissonance of Colonial Justification in Kipling, Conrad, and Greene," in Style, Vol. 30, Fall 1996, pp. 409–32.


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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3279300015