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Re-imagining the 'Dark Continent' in fin de siècle Literature

Re-imagining the 'Dark Continent' in fin de siècle Literature

Robbie McLaughlan
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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    Re-imagining the 'Dark Continent' in fin de siècle Literature
    Book Description:

    Maps the fin de siècle mission to open up the 'Dark Continent'<.i>Although nineteenth-century map-makers imposed topographic definition upon a perceived geographical void, writers of Adventure fiction, and other colonial writers, continued to nourish the idea of a cartographic absence in their work. This study explores the effects of this epistemological blankness in fin de siècle literature, and its impact upon early Modernist culture, through the emerging discipline of psychoanalysis and the debt that Freud owed to African exploration. The chapters examine: representations of Black Africa in missionary writing and Rider Haggard's narratives on Africa; cartographic tradition in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections; and mesmeric fiction, such as Richard Marsh's The Beetle, Robert Buchanan's The Charlatan and George du Maurier's Trilby. As Robbie McLaughlan demonstrates, it was the late Victorian 'best-seller' which merged an arcane Central African imagery with an interest in psychic phenomena.Key Features:* Opens up the 'dark continent' and its literary, historical and theoretical manifestations* Argues for an anticipation of a modernist aesthetic suggesting an unexplored relation between fin de siècle sensation literature, in particular mesmeric fiction, and psychoanalysis* Diverges from established colonial histories by drawing on an archive of special and neglected materialKeywords: postcolonial, psychoanalysis, fin de siècle, mesmerism, colonial, missionary, cartography

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4716-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1864 the Scottish historian and African explorer, William Winwood Reade, writes that ‘Africa, the cradle of civilisation, is now the last refuge of romance’.¹ This continent ‘within a continent’ had defied the attempts of white men to cross its wide expanse, with the ‘footprints’ and ‘skeletons’ of those having failed ‘scattered around its skirts’ as a visual memorial to African impenetrability.² There is more than an air of Don Quixote about William Reade. Having left for Africa in 1862 to undertake a study of gorillas, Reade, it would appear, found himself entranced by the continental interior and bewitched by...

  6. I. Militibus Christi

    • Chapter 1 Imperial Agents
      (pp. 15-23)

      Colonial chroniclers have largely overlooked the importance of evangelical missionaries and the precise role that they played in the formation and consolidation of empire. In the recent critical histories published over the past two decades, the missionary enterprise, if featuring at all, has been reduced to short chapters, as in Ronald Hyam’s Britain’s Imperial Century, or identified as a pacifying force within the broader colonial machine. Commentators have seized upon numerous contemporary reports that painted the missionaries as laughable buffoons, relegating them to the margins and footnotes of nineteenth-century cultural history. Sydney Smith voiced this idea in an article published...

    • Chapter 2 Missionary Literature
      (pp. 24-39)

      Technological advancements made in the production and operation of the printing press meant that, by the close of the nineteenth century, the publishing output of the peripheral, ‘dilettantish’ Christian organisations surpassed that of the mainstream publishing houses. The evangelical movement was able to recruit from the most affluent, discerning and educated members of society, which in turn allowed them to create a series of bespoke publications that catered for every demographic. Missionary committees were responsible for a prodigious literary output that included books, periodicals, tracts and magazines, with a circulation divided into various publications to cover all sections of the...

    • Chapter 3 The Fetish
      (pp. 40-50)

      ‘It is highly likely’, according to Jeffrey Cox, that ‘the majority of people in nineteenth-century Britain who had any knowledge at all of one or more foreign cultures received their basic information about foreign peoples, and what is more important their basic images of foreign peoples, from missionary literature.’¹ It is easy to forget that missionaries, who were often black Africa’s first point of contact with Western Europe, introduced the tribes living in the continental interior to an eclectic array of devotional texts and especially Anglophone authors. Contrary to the outdated and one-dimensional belief that a missionary’s myopic raison d’être...

    • Chapter 4 Hegel, Freud and The Double
      (pp. 51-60)

      The missionary enterprise was preoccupied with concepts and images of the double. Man was, after all, created in the double image of God. The whole raison d’être of the missionary campaign was to direct ‘heathen souls’ towards the path of Christian enlightenment. Missionary evangelism coveted the souls of the ‘savage’ population and through the conversion process manufactured spiritual others, a process that carries unholy connotations, in which man, who should be content to be a ‘lowly wise man’, undertakes the work of God.¹ Early missionary and anthropological studies of African religion centred upon the prominent role of the double within...

    • Chapter 5 The Witchdoctor
      (pp. 61-77)

      Throughout the 1890s the Juvenile ran a serialised study of indigenous beliefs under the heading, ‘Heathen Worship’. It cut against the metonymic stereotypes arising out of hectic colonial expansion, reporting on the religious rituals that were uncovered in India, China, the South Pacific and Africa. There is ‘a great difference between one heathen people and another’, reported the Juvenile’s then editor, ‘[t]he things that they worship, and the way in which they worship, differ greatly, and we think that the readers of this Missionary Magazine will find a few papers on Heathen Worship helpful.’¹ As the century drew to a...

    • Chapter 6 Rider Haggard
      (pp. 78-96)

      ‘Now I was not more superstitious than other people’, remarks Allan Quatermain in Allan’s Wife (1889), ‘but somehow old Indaba-zimbi impressed me. Also I knew his extraordinary influence over every class of native, and bethought me that he might be useful in that way.’¹ Quatermain’s grudging yet sincere respect for the supernatural gifts of his companion, confidante and protector, Indaba-zimbi, mirrors that of his creator Rider Haggard. Haggard’s time as a colonial administrator in South Africa, under the tutelage and charge of Sir Henry Bulwer, had instilled in him an ethnographic fascination with, and admiration for, the indigenous tribes of...

  7. II. Behind the Black Velvet Curtain

    • Chapter 7 Maps
      (pp. 99-122)

      According to J. B. Harley, ‘[a]s much as guns and warships, maps have been the weapons of imperialism.’¹ Before lands were officially occupied through militaristic conflict or aggressive exploration, imperialism claimed new geographies on paper, allowing Harley to conclude that ‘maps anticipated empire’.² This declaration was anticipated, in turn, by Derrida in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’, his response to Levinas’s idea that the ethical relationship between the self and the figure of the other requires the invention of a new language that does away with the verb ‘to be’. Levinas argued against the assumption that the other was an object of...

    • Chapter 8 Olive Schreiner
      (pp. 123-147)

      Olive Schreiner occupies an unusual position within the colonial romance genre. Her status as a female writer immediately sets her apart from the overwhelming majority of those who were keen to exploit African territories as a vivid setting for their fictions in the fin de siècle.

      Elaine Showalter surveys the discouraging and misogynistic literary scene in which Schreiner participated:

      Finally, male writers needed to find a place for themselves in Eliot’s wake, to remake the high Victorian novel in masculine terms, to lead a revolt of man against Queen George. The revival of ‘romance’ in the 1880s was a men’s...

    • Chapter 9 Haggard and Freud
      (pp. 148-162)

      Schreiner could boast of a rapidly growing fan base that included Oscar Wilde and Rider Haggard. After being introduced to her in 1885 – a meeting brought about, unsurprisingly, by Andrew Lang – Haggard sent Schreiner a copy of his first novel Dawn, inscribing in his messy hand that her book had ‘made a great impression upon’ him.¹ Bruce Mazlish draws attention to the biographical points of convergence in the lives of Haggard and Freud, going so far as to claim that Freud shared ‘special ties with Haggard’.² Mazlish cites as evidence the fact that both men were born in 1856 and...

  8. III. Preaching to the Nerves

    • Chapter 10 Victorian Mesmerism
      (pp. 165-183)

      It is unsurprising that the Earl of Wansborough – positioned as a figure of fun in Robert Buchanan’s novel The Charlatan (1895) owing to his naive faith in theosophy – is a fervent advocate of hypnotism. However, the Dean’s tentative endorsement aptly highlights the era’s tangled, surprising and complicated engagement with hypnosis. The Dean’s declaration that science is ‘losing its cocksureness’ intimates the turbulent relationship between empiricism and what he clumsily refers to as ‘the occult’. As a bastion of orthodox religiosity, his statement indicates that the secular sciences should be brought more into communion with ‘Unseen’ forces. The telling allusion to...

    • Chapter 11 Imperial Invisibility
      (pp. 184-194)

      T. S. Eliot’s etherised patient has become one of the staple images of literary modernism, a synonym for the atrophied and deadening stasis that stymies all forms of passionate expression. The industrialisation of the factory and the prevalence of new technologies at home and abroad in the colonial workplace transformed the types of injuries seen in hospital wards. New surgical techniques were developed to, as Susan Buck-Morss writes, literally ‘piece together the casualties of industrialism’ that now blighted the industrial proletariat.¹ In the university dormitories of the north eastern United States, students inhaled quantities of nitrous-oxide (laughing gas) during ‘ether...

    • Chapter 12 Olive Skins
      (pp. 195-202)

      A stage poster publicising the upcoming performance of a stage mesmerist from the turn of the twentieth century illustrates well how contemporary theatre-goers tied the cultural phenomenon of mesmerism to the Orient. In an obvious homage to Darwin’s monkey-to-man drawing, the slick mesmerist of the fin de siècle is depicted as the evolutionary product of a historical process of transformation. The posture of the scrawny Oriental figure in the background, diminutive and hunchbacked, stands in stark contrast to the mesmerist’s unmistakably Homo sapiens attitude.¹ This vivid association with the Orient links the mesmeric gift to continental Africa while capitalising on...

    • Chapter 13 Dark Spaces
      (pp. 203-214)

      A tradition of cartographic and discursive representation that sought to depict the African interior as a void or dark space reappears in the rural, suburban and metropolitan settings of mesmeric literature. The failure to provide a comprehensive chart of what Sir Henry Morton Stanley called in his Autobiography ‘Fatal Africa’ disillusioned some proponents of organised exploration, given that their overseas endeavours had been partly legitimised by erroneous claims to encyclopedic knowledge.² Imagined projections such as rivers, waterfalls, mountains and bizarre fauna had been used variously by cartographic science, evangelical philanthropy and imperial romance to gloss over empirical ‘gaps’ in the...

    • Chapter 14 Filthy Places
      (pp. 215-228)

      The plotting of new maps of ‘the underworld’ in mesmeric fiction becomes most apparent in the vivid delineations of urban life. For Buchanan, the modern metropolis was home to the New Fallen, a lurid setting comparable with Dante’s wretched inferno and the degraded city of Babylon from the Book of Revelations:

      Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!

      She has become a home for demons

      and a haunt for every evil spirit,

      a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.

      For all the nations have drunk

      the maddening wine of her adulteries.²

      Oliphant regards the city in a similar way to...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 229-234)

    This book opened with a quotation that greets today’s visitors to Bergasse 19, now the Freud museum in Vienna, in which Freud discusses how the artistic imagination was always one step ahead of him. This book has shown how the nascent discipline of psychoanalysis already existed abstractly in the literature of the late Victorian period. Like Freud’s own work, which existed conceptually but had yet to be written, the fiction produced in the last few decades of the nineteenth century gestured towards an experimental psychology later organised by Freud in the creation of his radical science. In Degeneration, Max Nordau...

  10. Index
    (pp. 235-240)