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Semi-Detached Empire

Suburbia and the Colonization of Britain, 1880 to the Present

Todd Kuchta

Publication Year: 2010

Imaginatively linking the structure of suburban homes to the colonization of Britain from the late 19th c. to the present, Todd Kuchta argues that the apparent uniformity of the façade conceals the differences in class and identity that define its very foundation. His is the first book to read suburban literature and culture from the vantage of imperial and postcolonial studies.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I often thought this book about suburbia might sprawl on forever, so I take great pleasure in thanking those who have helped me, directly and indirectly, to finish. It began under the guidance of Patrick Brantlinger, whose support and friendship have meant a great deal to me. Purnima Bose, Thomas Foster, and James Naremore offered positive and practical feedback, and Joanne Wood ...

Part One: Foundations

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1. Semi-Detached Empire

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pp. 3-35

In an 1891 article for the Contemporary 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 ...

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2. Reverse Colonization in The War of the Worlds

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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 of The Time Machine and the prospect of future contracts, Wells felt, as he later put it, “fairly launched as an ...

Part Two: Fa

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3. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Anglo-Indian

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pp. 59-83

Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four offers 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 ...

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4. Outposts of Progress: Joseph Conrad’s Suburban Speculation

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pp. 84-114

In The 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...

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5. Beyond the Abyss: Degeneracy and Death in the Edwardian Suburb

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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 ...

Part Three: Semi-Detachment

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6. Ressentiment and Late-Imperial Fiction

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pp. 149-170

In Growing, 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...

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7. George Orwell and the Road to West Bletchley

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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. Per-haps the most surprising place where the subject resurfaces is The 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 ...

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Epilogue: “In the Blood and Not on the Skin”

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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 ...


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pp. 211-233


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pp. 235-254


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pp. 255-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780813929583
E-ISBN-10: 081392958X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813929255
Print-ISBN-10: 0813929253

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 4 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 755620220
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Semi-Detached Empire

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Suburbs in literature.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Degeneration in literature.
  • Literature and society -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Suburban life in literature.
  • English fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Regression (Civilization) in literature.
  • Great Britain -- In literature
  • Great Britain -- Civilization -- 20th century.
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