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E.Nesbit 1887 E. Nesbit and the Fantasy of Reverse Colonization: How Many Miles to Modern Babylon? ElTAN BAR-YOSEF Ben-Gurion University of the Negev IN ONE OF THE MOST memorable moments in Rider Haggard's She (1887), the terrible, two-thousand year old queen announces her plan to travel to London and usurp the throne from the aging Queen Victoria . Poor Holly has little doubt that with nothing to stop her, SheWho -Must-Be-Obeyed would easily "assume absolute rule over the British dominions, and probably over the whole earth."1 Holly is disturbed by the bloodshed that would inevitably follow, but it is the notion of reverse colonization that seems to alarm him most: the prospect of "savage " forces invading and taking over the "civilized" world, colonizing the colonizers, exploiting the exploiters. As Patrick Brantlinger and other critics have noted, this prospect, so prevalent in late-Victorian popular fiction, reflected a growing apprehension concerning Britain's imperial hegemony, an anxiety linked to a racial and moral decline which made the nation vulnerable to attack by forces whose brutality was merely a monstrous reworking of Britain's own imperial practices.2 Reverse colonization narratives, just like the invasion scare novels of the 1880s and 1890s, were products of geopolitical fears, but they also responded to a disturbing sense of cultural guilt.3 They thus contain "the potential for powerful critiques of imperialist ideologies, even if that potential usually remains unrealized,"4 as in the case of Haggard's queen: doomed by her own crazed ambition, she perishes before leaving for London. This unwelcome invasion of an ancient Eastern queen, so neatly avoided by Haggard, is brilliantly realized in E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet (1906), when the Queen of Babylon reaches London. Whereas Haggard's imperial romance employs Gothic conventions to explain Ayesha's remarkable longevity, Nesbit retreats to fairy-tale magic: the ELT 46 : 1 2003 queen can travel from old Babylon to the Modern Babylon thanks to a sand-fairy's power to fulfill wishes. Like Haggard, Nesbit adds a temporal dimension to what is essentially a spatial invasion; the Babylonian Queen's Otherness is not simply a matter of geography, but of history. Entering the British Museum, she attempts to break the glass cases, insisting "those necklaces and earrings... were all hers."5 She continues to spread havoc by feeding the hungry masses and even butchering the members of the Stock Exchange. We will later return to this richly suggestive episode: for now it is enough to note that Nesbit's fantasy all but lacks the deep sense of anxiety which characterizes other reverse colonization narratives. What could easily have been depicted as a spectacle of horror is presented in The Amulet as an almost liberating experience; rather than employ the invasion scenario as a stark warning against Britain's imperial decline, Nesbit seems to welcome this shift in fortunes. The queen's visit to London has been read in the context of Nesbit's quest for a socialist utopia; Nesbit, after all, was not only a successful poet and children's author, but also a founding member of the Fabian Society .6 Little has been said, however, about Nesbit's reworking of the reverse colonization narrative and, broadly speaking, about her radical view of the imperial crisis.7 By considering The Amulet alongside other novels and poems written by the prolific Nesbit around the turn of the century, this essay will examine how Nesbit's comic fantasy subverts the conventions of imperial gothic tales, invasion-scare novels and "boys' own" stories, offering the children of Empire an alternative political— and literary—ethos. To rephrase Martin Green's influential dictum, Nesbit's bedtime-story does not aim to charge young Britons with the energy to go out into the world and explore, conquer and rule.8 Instead, it rejoices in exposing the state's political and social crises, celebrating the withdrawal into the domestic, the homely, the familiar. And yet, Nesbit's retreat from Empire is never free from ambiguity. The Amulet may contain Nesbit's most eloquent attack on imperial politics , but it also reveals the limits of her critique. Her ambivalence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 5-28
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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