Rule of Darkness

Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–1914

Patrick Brantlinger
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 336
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    Rule of Darkness
    Book Description:

    A major contribution to the cultural and literary history of the Victorian age, Rule of Darkness maps the complex relationship between Victorian literary forms, genres, and theories and imperialist, racist ideology. Critics and cultural historians have usually regarded the Empire as being of marginal importance to early and mid-Victorian writers. Patrick Brantlinger asserts that the Empire was central to British culture as a source of ideological and artistic energy, both supported by and lending support to widespread belief in racial superiority, the need to transform "savagery" into "civilization," and the urgency of promoting emigration.

    Rule of Darkness brings together material from public records, memoirs, popular culture, and canonical literature. Brantlinger explores the influence of the novels of Captain Frederick Marryat, pioneer of British adolescent adventure fiction, and shows the importance of William Makepeace Thackeray's experience of India to his novels. He treats a number of Victorian best sellers previously ignored by literary historians, including the Anglo-Indian writer Philip Meadows Taylor's Confessions of a Thug and Seeta. Brantlinger situates explorers' narratives and travelogues by such famous author-adventurers as David Livingstone and Sir Richard Burton in relation to other forms of Victorian and Edwardian prose. Through readings of works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, John Hobson, and many others, he considers representations of Africa, India, and other non-British parts of the world in both fiction and nonfiction.

    The most comprehensive study yet of literature and imperialism in the early and mid-Victorian years, Rule of Darkness offers, in addition, a revisionary interpretation of imperialism as a significant factor in later British cultural history, from the 1880s to World War I. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with Victorian culture and society and, more generally, with the relationship between Victorian writers and imperialism, 'and between racist ideology and patterns of domination in modern history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6703-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-1)
    Patrick Brantlinger
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    In his review of my Spirit of Reform: British Literature and Politics, 1832-1867, George Woodcock noted that I had focused on domestic politics and said little about India, Canada, and the rest of the British Empire. But the era between the first two reform bills was, he noted, also “the age of . . . the Indian Mutiny, and its end is marked not only by the second Reform Act, but also by the British North America Act of the same year.” Woodcock partially exonerated me on the ground that “early Victorian writers and journalists were for the most part...


    • 1. From Dawn Island to Heart of Darkness
      (pp. 19-45)

      Studies of British imperialism as an ideological phenomenon have usually confined themselves to the period from the 1870s to World War I, in part because those years saw the development of a militantly expansionist New Imperialism. In the 1870s Germany, Belgium, and the United States began an intense imperial rivalry against the older colonial powers, above all Great Britain, for their own “place in the sun.” Russia (like France) represented an older, more continuous threat to Britain’s imperial hegemony, but the Bulgarian crisis of 1876 and the Second Afghan War of 1878-80 marked an intensification of that threat. Declining industrial...

    • 2. Bringing Up the Empire: Captain Marryat’s Midshipmen
      (pp. 47-70)

      These entries from the log of a British midshipman during the Napoleonic Wars are also part of the juvenilia of the “seafaring Dickens,” Captain Frederick Marryat. He began his naval career at age fourteen, in 1806, the year after the Battle of Trafalgar. When he retired from the navy twenty-seven years later, he had served in the Mediterranean, Canada, and the West Indies, and with the naval flotilla that sailed up the Irrawaddy in the Burmese War of 1824-26. He had also published three of his twenty novels, beginning with Frank Mildmay; or, The Naval Officer in 1829.

      “Every high-spirited...


    • 3. Thackeray’s India
      (pp. 73-107)

      In a decade of domestic reform Captain Marryats fiction nostalgically recalled an era of military triumph. Between the Burmese campaign of 1824-26 and the Afghan and Opium wars that commenced in 1839, there was little contemporary military action for British writers and politicians to celebrate or deplore. Yet starting in February 1838 the New Monthly Magazine published an autobiographical account of the martial exploits of one Major Goliah O’Grady Gahagan, who fought in India “in all Wellesley’s brilliant campaigns” and also “by the side of Lord Lake at Laswaree, Deeg, Furruckabad, Futtyghur, and Bhurtpore.”¹ These Indian conflicts took place not...

    • 4. Black Swans; or, Botany Bay Eclogues
      (pp. 109-133)

      Out of his wartime experiences Captain Marryat fashioned his midshipman novels, celebrations of combat and youthful heroism which stand at the head of a long line of imperialist adventure stories. Related to these adventure narratives, often endings or sequels to them, are numerous accounts of settlers and settled life in new colonies—versions of pastoral which lead from the epic themes of discovery and conquest to the pacific themes of domestication and steady colonial progress. In Mastennan Ready and The Settlers in Canada, Marryat combined adventure with colonial pastoral in ways foreshadowed by The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe. And in...

    • 5. The New Crusades
      (pp. 135-171)

      As an adult Thackeray thought about visiting the land of his birth but never did so. In the summer of 1844, however, he went on a tour of the Near East arranged by the Peninsular and Oriental Company and wrote about it in Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo. In the guise of Michael Angelo Titmarsh, Thackeray as tourist pares the “mysterious Orient” down to size. “The life of the East is a life of brutes,” says the unromantic Titmarsh, sounding like Podsnap; “the much-maligned Orient, I am confident, has not been maligned near enough; for the...

    • 6. The Genealogy of the Myth of the “Dark Continent”
      (pp. 173-197)

      In Heart of Darkness, Marlow says that Africa is no longer the “blank space” on the map he had once daydreamed over. “It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. . . . It had become a place of darkness.”¹ Marlow is right: Africa grew dark as Victorian explorers, missionaries, and scientists flooded it with light, because the light was refracted through an imperialist ideology that urged the abolition of “savage customs” in the name of civilization. As a product of that ideology, the myth of the Dark Continent developed during the transition from the...

    • 7. The Well at Cawnpore: Literary Representations of the Indian Mutiny of 1857
      (pp. 199-224)

      No episode in British imperial history raised public excitement to a higher pitch than the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In 1897, Hilda Gregg remarked that “of all the great events of this century, as they are reflected in fiction, the Indian Mutiny has taken the firmest hold on the popular imagination.” By comparison, “the impression made on imaginative literature by the Crimean War is a very faint one.”¹ Gregg examined nine novels about the Mutiny, but at least fifty were written before 1900, and at least thirty more before World War II.² There was also a deluge of eyewitness accounts,...


    • 8. Imperial Gothic: Atavism and the Occult in the British Adventure Novel, 1880-1914
      (pp. 227-253)

      In “The Little Brass God,” a 1905 story by Bithia Croker, a statue of “Kali, Goddess of Destruction,” brings misfortune to its unwitting Anglo-Indian possessors. First their pets kill each other or are killed in accidents; next the servants get sick or fall downstairs; then the family’s lives are jeopardized. Finally the statue is stolen and dropped down a well, thus ending the curse.¹ This featherweight tale typifies many written between 1880 and 1914. Its central feature, the magic statue, suggests that Western rationality may be subverted by the very superstitions it rejects. The destructive magic of the Orient takes...

    • 9. Epilogue: Kurtz’s “Darkness” and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
      (pp. 255-274)

      In a 1975 lecture the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe attacked Heart of Darkness as “racist.” Joseph Conrad, Achebe says, “projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world,’ the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.”¹ Supposedly the great demystifier, Conrad is instead a “purveyor of comforting myths” and even “a bloody racist.” Achebe adds: “That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 275-302)
  9. Index
    (pp. 303-310)