Taming Cannibals

Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians

Patrick Brantlinger
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Taming Cannibals
    Book Description:

    In Taming Cannibals, Patrick Brantlinger unravels contradictions embedded in the racist and imperialist ideology of the British Empire. For many Victorians, the idea of taming cannibals or civilizing savages was oxymoronic: civilization was a goal that the nonwhite peoples of the world could not attain or, at best, could only approximate, yet the "civilizing mission" was viewed as the ultimate justification for imperialism. Similarly, the supposedly unshakeable certainty of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority was routinely undercut by widespread fears about racial degeneration through contact with "lesser" races or concerns that Anglo-Saxons might be superseded by something superior-an even "fitter" or "higher" race or species.

    Brantlinger traces the development of those fears through close readings of a wide range of texts-including Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Fiji and the Fijians by Thomas Williams, Daily Life and Origin of the Tasmanians by James Bonwick, The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold, She by H. Rider Haggard, and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Throughout the wide-ranging, capacious, and rich Taming Cannibals, Brantlinger combines the study of literature with sociopolitical history and postcolonial theory in novel ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6263-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Race and the Victorians
    (pp. 1-24)

    Taming Cannibals is the third in a trilogy of studies that I have published dealing with race and imperialism in British culture from about 1800 into the modern era. Rule of Darkness (1988) explored the relations between imperialism and literature with reference to different territories and issues (the exploration of central Africa, the Indian “Mutiny,” emigration to Australia, and so forth). It investigated some of the intricate and often contradictory connections between abolitionism and liberalism on the one hand, and imperialism and racism on the other. It also dealt with a wide range of literary forms such as maritime novels,...

  5. Part I. Two Island Stories

    • 1 Missionaries and Cannibals in Nineteenth-Century Fiji
      (pp. 27-45)

      Although in the 1800s both Tasmania and Fiji became British colonies, their historical trajectories were in several ways mirror opposites. In 1801 the British established a penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was first named). Free settlers began to arrive two decades later, and by the 1830s nearly all of Tasmania’s Aborigines had been exterminated by violence and disease. Much of the violence took place during the “Black War” of the late 1820s, when the Aborigines put up a fierce resistance to the invasion of their island. Missionary, humanitarian, and anthropological efforts to save at least the remnants...

    • 2 King Billy’s Bones: The Last Tasmanians
      (pp. 46-62)

      The Fijians gradually gave up warfare and cannibalism while becoming Wesleyan Methodists and voluntarily joining the ranks of the colonized. In contrast, the indigenous inhabitants of Tasmania were overrun and exterminated by British convicts and settlers. The Tasmanian story is closer to the experiences of indigenous peoples elsewhere in the empire. As the number of Tasmanian Aborigines rapidly dwindled, missionaries and humanitarians tried to save them from complete annihilation. Starting in the 1830s, their depopulation was widely publicized as evidence that some or perhaps all “primitive races” were doomed to extinction when they came into contact with “white civilization” (Brantlinger,...

  6. Part II. Racial Alternatives

    • 3 Going Native in Nineteenth-Century History and Literature
      (pp. 65-85)

      According to its advocates, the grand purpose of the British Empire was to bring civilization and Christianity to “the natives” of the non-Western world. But the advocates often also claimed that “the natives” could not be fully civilized. Perhaps their souls could be saved—though even this was debatable—but “the natives” could only “mimic” or “ape” their white betters. The same notion circulated in the United States: slaves and ex-slaves could be partly but never fully educated; they could only copy, typically with comic effect, members of the white race.¹ In contrast, Native Americans were often viewed as a...

    • 4 “God Works by Races”: Benjamin Disraeli’s Caucasian Arabian Hebrew Tent
      (pp. 86-108)

      As a “gentleman rover” like James Brooke or General Gordon, Richard Burton preferred adventuring abroad to stuffy, conventional life in England. He declared that in the desert “your morale improves . . . the hypocritical politeness and the slavery of Civilization are left behind you” (quoted in Burton, Life 104). He delighted in playing various “native” roles in which, he wrote, “I could revel in the utmost freedom of life and manners” (Pilgrimage 1:11). A founder of the Gypsy Lore Society, Burton was often called a gypsy. “The more I got to know” him, wrote his wife, “the more his...

  7. Part III. The 1860s:: The Decade after Darwin’s Origin

    • 5 Race and Class in the 1860s
      (pp. 111-135)

      Comparing attitudes toward urban poverty in both Britain and British India, John Marriott treats the 1860s as a “watershed” for explanations of social phenomena in terms of race, ranging from poverty and the urban underclass to the evolution of the human species. So, too, in his study of attitudes toward “the Negro” in nineteenth-century Britain, Douglas Lorimer writes, “After the mid-century, and especially from the 1860s onwards, English spokesmen adopted a more stridently racist stance” (16). And Alastair Bonnett contends that, starting in the 1860s, “the use of the language of race” to describe the urban working class “became so...

    • 6 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Irish
      (pp. 136-156)

      The main factors that produced the nineteenth-century racial stereotype of “the Celt,” as well as the equally stereotypic notion of “the Anglo-Saxon,” were economic, political, military, religious, and institutional rather than biological. Yet Irish attitudes and behavior were typically attributed to race. The centuries-long conquest and exploitation of Ireland by England produced many varieties of blaming the victim, all stereotypic. By the Victorian era these had led to a widespread view in England of the Irish or Celtic “race” as brutes, savages, degenerates, white apes, noxious weeds, overpopulating rabbits, drunken beggars, and so on. Wales and Scotland were the other...

  8. Part IV. Ancient and Future Races

    • 7 Mummy Love: H. Rider Haggard and Racial Archaeology
      (pp. 159-179)

      Although he was neither an explorer nor an archaeologist, H. Rider Haggard penned adventure stories that helped set the pattern for fiction combining geographical with archaeological discovery. Including the racist stereotyping of Africans and Middle Easterners, the pattern is alive and well in such action-adventure films as the Indiana Jones and Lara Croft Tomb Raider series. Haggard’s three best-known novels—King Solomon’s Mines (1885), She (1887), and Allan Quatermain (1887)—feature British heroes discovering the remnants of ancient civilizations in southeastern Africa. Each of these “lost” civilizations was the work of a white or light-skinned race. In the 1880s, when...

    • 8 “Shadows of the Coming Race”
      (pp. 180-202)

      In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890 tale of mummy love “The Ring of Thoth,” the English Egyptologist Vansittart Smith chances upon an attendant in the Louvre secretly unwrapping a mummy. The attendant turns out to be a nearly immortal Egyptian and lover of Atma, whose mummy he is unwrapping. The ancient Egyptian tells Smith that he is “not one of the down-trodden race of slaves who now inhabit the Delta of the Nile, but a survivor of that fiercer and harder people who . . . built those mighty works which have been the envy and the wonder of all...

  9. Epilogue: Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” and Its Afterlives
    (pp. 203-226)

    At an 1898 meeting of the Anglo-African Writers’ Club, its president, H. Rider Haggard, introduced his friend Rudyard Kipling as a “true watchman of our Empire.” Haggard declared: “I do not believe in the divine right of kings, but I do believe . . . in a divine right of a great civilising people—that is, in their divine mission. Yes, it is the voice of those true watchmen of whom I speak that warns, that stirs the blood and braces the minds of peoples, awakening them from the depth of sloth and selfseeking.” Haggard went on to say that...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 227-242)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 243-268)
  12. Index
    (pp. 269-278)