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Semi-Detached Empire

Semi-Detached Empire: Suburbia and the Colonization of Britain, 1880 to the Present

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Semi-Detached Empire
    Book Description:

    In the first book to consider British suburban literature from the vantage point of imperial and postcolonial studies, Todd Kuchta argues that suburban identity is tied to the empire's rise and fall. He takes his title from the type of home synonymous with suburbia. Like the semi-detached house, which joins separate dwellings under one roof, suburbia and empire were geographically distinct but imaginatively linked. Yet just as the "semi" conceals two homes behind a single façade, suburbia's apparent uniformity masks its defining oppositions-between country and city, "civilization" and "savagery," master and slave.

    While some people saw the suburbs as homegrown colonies, others viewed them as a terra incognita beyond the pale of British culture. Surveying a range of popular and canonical texts, Kuchta reveals the suburban foundations of a variety of unexpected fictional locales: the Thames Valley of H. G. Wells's Martian attack and the gaslit London of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but also the tropical backwaters of Joseph Conrad's Malay Archipelago and the imperial communities of Raj fiction by E. M. Forster and George Orwell. This capacious view demonstrates suburbia's vital role in science fiction, detective tales, condition-of-England novels, modernist narratives of imperial decline, and contemporary multicultural fiction.

    Drawing on postcolonial theory, urban studies, and architectural scholarship, this book will appeal to readers interested in Victorian, modern, and contemporary British literature and cultures, especially those concerned with how place shapes class and masculine identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2958-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Part One: Foundations

    • 1 Semi-Detached Empire
      (pp. 3-35)

      In an 1891 article for theContemporary Review,the journalist and historian Sidney Low revealed a striking trend in the previous decade’s census returns. Contrary to popular belief Britain’s population was growing “not in the cities themselves, but in the ring of suburbs which spread into the country.” The data led Low to what must have been a startling conclusion. “The Englishman of the future,” he declared, “will be a suburb-dweller. The majority of the people of this island will live in the suburbs; and the suburban type will be the most widespread and characteristic of all” (“Rise” 548). If...

    • 2 Reverse Colonization in The War of the Worlds
      (pp. 36-56)

      In the spring of 1895 H. G. Wells moved from London some twenty-five miles southwest, to the Surrey village of Woking. At the age of twenty-nine the former draper’s apprentice and schoolteacher had already published two science textbooks as well as a host of literary reviews and scientific articles, mostly unsigned. With the impending release ofThe Time Machineand the prospect of future contracts, Wells felt, as he later put it, “fairly launched as an author” (Experiment447). For the next year and a half, he “lived very happily and industriously” in Woking (Experiment458), where he composed two...

  5. Part Two: Façades

    • 3 Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Anglo-Indian
      (pp. 59-83)

      Arthur Conan Doyle’sThe Sign of Fouroffers a fitting approach to the suburban façade. In this, their second adventure together, Holmes and Watson aid Miss Mary Morstan, a client seeking information on the whereabouts of her disappeared father. Whisked via carriage through the “torturous by-streets” south of the Thames, an enamored Watson babbles to Miss Morstan while Holmes calls out the names of each road they pass, fearing aloud that “our quest does not appear to take us to very fashionable regions.” Yet Watson is soon awed by their surroundings: “We had indeed reached a questionable and forbidding neighborhood....

    • 4 Outposts of Progress: Joseph Conrad’s Suburban Speculation
      (pp. 84-114)

      InThe Soul of London(1905), an impressionistic foray through the English capital, Ford Madox Ford recalls a sight that “always piques my curiosity.” An “odd terrace” thrown together by some speculative builder sits in abandoned decay on a road beyond the city. The structure “contains four immense, thin-walled, pretentious stucco houses . . . break[ing] off in uncompleted doors, uncompleted foundations, and a plot of grimy wasteland.” In this deserted edifice Ford imagines “a bold speculation’s falling to pieces, getting the nickname ‘Blank’s Folly,’ growing begrimed, being forgotten” (38). The sight is one that had become common in London’s...

    • 5 Beyond the Abyss: Degeneracy and Death in the Edwardian Suburb
      (pp. 115-146)

      The folly of modern imperialism would not come home to many Britons until the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902). Thanks to its incursions in South Africa, Britain entered the twentieth century victorious—though far from triumphant. In exchange for the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the British suffered a host of devastating blows. These included unexpected military defeats during “Black Week” late in 1899, reports of physically unfit volunteers by the inspector general of recruiting in 1900, the Prince of Wales’s desperate plea—“Wake Up, England!”—in 1901, and a stubborn Boer guerrilla campaign that held out until 1902. By...

  6. Part Three: Semi-Detachment

    • 6 Ressentiment and Late-Imperial Fiction
      (pp. 149-170)

      InGrowing,an account of his years as a civil servant in Ceylon, Leonard Woolf—the Bloomsbury affiliate, Hogarth Press publisher, and eminent internationalist—describes imperial society in terms of a typical London suburb: “White society in India and Ceylon, as you can see in Kipling’s stories, was always suburban. In Calcutta and Simla, in Colombo and Nuwara Eliya . . . relations between Europeans rested on the same kind of snobbery, pretentiousness, and false pretensions as they did in Putney or Peckham. . . . The flavour or climate of one’s life was enormously affected, even though one might...

    • 7 George Orwell and the Road to West Bletchley
      (pp. 171-200)

      Flory’s suicide did not solve Britain’s attempted detachment from its colonial possessions. Nor did it bring an end to Orwell’s writing about empire. Perhaps the most surprising place where the subject resurfaces isThe Road to Wigan Pier(1937), which examines living conditions in English coal country alongside an account of Orwell’s evolving political views. The book’s second half begins: “The road from Mandalay to Wigan is a long one and the reasons for taking it are not immediately clear” (121). The nod to Kipling—and the unexpected imperial subtext it introduces—suggests the importance of Burma in shaping Orwell’s...

  7. Epilogue: “In the Blood and Not on the Skin”
    (pp. 201-210)

    As white working-class migrants continued to make the trek from inner cities to suburban estates and New Towns, another era of migration was getting under way—one that resulted in today’s “multiracial” Britain. In 1948 colonial subjects of color were granted right of entry to the country under the British Nationality Act, and in some cases the government positively encouraged their immigration to make up for postwar labor shortages. The docking of theSS Empire Windrushlater that year brought the first members of the so-called New Commonwealth to British shores, and their presence has changed the face of Britain,...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 211-234)
    (pp. 235-254)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 255-264)