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FICTION AND EMPIRE: THE CASE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE« KENNETH WILSON York University Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is usually remembered only as the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle himself believed that his historical romances were his most important work. He felt that detective stories were part of "a lower stratum of literary achievement" (qtd. in Pearsall 66), and he aspired to be a "serious" writer; in writing historical romances, he believed he was following in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott (Jaffe 50). Doyle's historical romances, along with his other work outside the genre of the detective story, have received relatively little attention from academic critics, but they are nonetheless worth studying, because, like Kipling's fiction and poetry, Doyle's historical romances, adventure stories and science fiction novels were part of "the energizing myth of English imperialsim" (Green 3), even though they are, for the most part, set far from Kipling's overtly imperial landscapes and situations. The majority of Doyle's prodigious and popular literary output was written between 1883 and the First World War, the period that historian Eric Hobsbawm calls "the era of a new type of empire, the colonial" (Hobsbawm 57). During this period, Hobsbawm writes, the economic and military supremacy of the capitalist countries was translated into formal conquest, "and most of the world outside Europe and the Americas was formally partitioned into territories under the formal rule or informal political domination of one or other of a handful of states" (57). This was a completely new phenomenon — even the word which described it was new: "imperialism . . . first became part of the political and journalistic vocabulary during the 189Os in the course of the arguments about colonial conquest" (Hobsbawm 60). Along with the Victorian Review 19.1 (Summer 1993) KENNETH WILSON23 expansion of colonial empires came an ideology of imperialism, or what has been called "popular imperialism." In Great Britain, which developed the largest of these new colonial empires, this ideology brought together a wide range of themes: of race and Social Darwinism, of history and England's place in it, of manliness and character, and of war and adventure. The ideology of imperialism "constituted a new type of patriotism, which derived a special significance from Britain's unique imperial mission" (Mackenzie, Propaganda 2), and it saturated British popular culture during the late Victorian and Edwardian period. Imperialism had a great emotional appeal to a large — even predominant — section of British society: an appeal that was by and large produced by its various cultural expressions. Despite this popular appeal, there was some political and intellectual disagreement about imperialism. Although the period produced a multitude of Tory imperialists, it also produced Liberal critics of imperialism like C.F.G. Masterman and J.A. Hobson, whose book Imperialism: A Study (1902) called imperialism "a retrograde step fraught with grave perils to the cause of civilization" (11). The intellectual debate about imperialism took place within the context of the late-Victorian sense that society was degenerating. This apprehension about the future seems to have been a nucleus around which the debate about imperialism was organized. Indeed, a series of books were published in England around the turn of the century — including Pearson's National Life and Character (1893), Kidd's Social Evolution (1894), C.F.G. Masterman's The Heart ofthe Empire (1901) and Reich's Success Among Nations (1904) - in which a deep pessimism was expressed. Both Liberals and Conservatives in Britain felt this sense of anxiety, and both saw British society as degenerating in much the same terms. Masterman and his reformist Liberal colleagues felt that the solutions to this degeneration lay in domestic reforms — in housing, child welfare, care of the aged, the regulation of the location of industry — which would produce a sturdy, well-educated citizenry (Masterman xv, xxi). The Conservative imperialists, however, had a different solution. They saw the degeneration of national character in terms of the decay of national and individual character. The idea of "character" carried a great deal of significance; as John Field points out, "turn of the century writers tended to associate values or behaviour appropriate to individuals with ideals or actions appropriate to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 22-42
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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