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Reviews Jonathan Schneer, London 1990: The ImperialMetropolis. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. x+336. As Anne McClintock has forcefully reminded us, "imperialism is not something that happened elsewhere." Jonathan Schneer thinks likewise as he considers the deployment ofimperial power and influence in reverse by asking how the Empire left its imprint on London rather than how London left its imprint on the Empire. Attending to both celebrants and critics ofthe imperial mission, Schneer argues that imperialism was a major determinant ofmetropolitan identity as the tropes and dramas ofEmpire were reenacted on the city's own doorsteps. For such an exercise, 1900 and the turn ofthe century offer an apposite point in time, chiming with our own heightened fin de siècle and millennial awareness, while plunging us back into the middle ofthe Boer War and its challenges to the sureties of imperial self-belief. Schneer's literary skills stand up well to the challenge of introducing us anew to the great sweep of London's townscape and "the continual strenuous movement" of its citizens, as one awestruck observer put it. He proceeds to examine how the imperatives of Empire impacted on key constituencies in the capital's multifarious population. Proud enough as they were ofits achievements, the city's notables were nagged by the inadequacy of its architecture as a fitting statement ofits true greatness, precipitating the tortuous negotiations that produced the banal pomposity ofKingsway as a grand imperial boulevard. The entrepreneurs ofpopular culture provided much livelier sites ofimperial inspiration as the peoples, the myths, the artifacts and animals ofempire were paraded in spectacle at London's numerous theatres, music halls, and exhibitions, including the zoo. "The commingling ofclasses at so many of London's recreations," maintains Schneer, "helped to dissolve interBritish differences by emphasizing inter-imperial ones" (1 14). Thus the solidarity ofstriking dockworkers in 1900 was eroded by the claims ofa greater patriotic unity in the common struggle against the Boers as imperial insurrectionaries. The City of London, the financial Victorian Review1 37 Reviews engineroom ofthe Empire, took to this task with conspicuous zeal, pulling Londoners into closer identification with the war by raising its own regiment ofvolunteers. While continuing to emphasize the instability and ambiguity of imperialist sentiments, Schneer turns to consider specific individuals and political fractions that constituted "alternative imperial Londons." By their considerable involvement in the contemporary debate ofimperial issues, Ladies Nevill and Londonderry, as hostesses, and Flora Shaw and Mary Kingsley, as writers, are said to have stretched the bonds ofgender that imperialism otherwise reinforced. Since only Kingsley was a serious critic ofempire, this chapter seems more ofan interesting detour than a substantial contribution to the main line ofargument. Alternative visions are more convincingly represented in Schneer's excellent treatment of London's extensive radical fringe, comprising working-class reformers, disenchanted Liberals, and Irish, Indian, Caribbean and African nationalists. Such critical voices, however, hardly achieved unison, for anti-imperialists could still be racists and, the most common denominator, antis émites. Generally, they demanded change within the framework of empire rather than its extinction, though to no immediate avail, as the pro-imperialist Tory victory in the 'khaki election' of 1900 well demonstrated. Though he acknowledges the leading proponents ofthe new imperialist or post-colonial historiography and its key propositions, Jonathan Schneer writes in a more conventional mode than most in the field. This is solid rather than 'sexy,' instructive more than provocative. In places the argument can seem offcenter, as in the treatment ofgender, or contrived, as we are asked to consider pilfering by London's dockworkers as "an act of imperial selfdefinition " (50) when such practices have a longer and more plausible history as a 'moral' retaliation against capitalism. Overall, however, Schneer establishes the ubiquity and significance ofimperial markers and messages in the London of 1900, and with some eloquence. Yet historians should be wary ofsurrendering completely to the "imperial drumbeat" to which he attributes such compelling cultural influence 138volume 26 number 2 Reviews — "steady and all enveloping . . . greater than mere thrum or background noise . . . the city's defining tone and rhythm" (162). If we listen more closely, we can hear other insistent tones and rhythms, for by 1900, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 137-139
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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