- The Narcissism of Empire: Loss, Rage and Revenge in Thomas De Quincey, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Isak Dinesen by Diane Simmons (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 2008
- pp. 173-175
- View Citation
- Additional Information
173 Reviews of the“system,” which could accommodate both intense female friendship and heterosexual marriage. Part 2,“Mobile Objects,” refuses to let gender confine erotic desire. Part 3, “Plastic Institutions,” shows the nature of marriage to have been malleable and contested. Marcus’s reading of the Victorian age is surprisingly utopian: before the twentieth-century labelling of sexualities and their division into homosexual and heterosexual, she argues, the possibilities for women’s relationships with women were complex, varied, and ingenious, and such relationships were happily integrated into the social structure.What has become of all those hysterical, confined, raging madwomen we used to read about? Tess Cosslett Lancaster University • The Narcissism of Empire: Loss,Rage and Revenge inThomas De Quincey,Robert Louis Stevenson,Arthur Conan Doyle,Rudyard Kipling and Isak Dinesen by Diane Simmons; pp. x + 148. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2007. $29.50 paper. The psychological dimensions of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century imperialism may be difficult to recover so long after the fact. However, poring over the wealth of literature that empire inspired can still reveal the traces, and sometimes the fictionalized evidence, of the psychological imperatives behind the imperial project.Writers of imperial romances, like Fenimore Cooper, R. M. Ballantyne, G. A. Henty, H. Rider Haggard, and John Buchan, inscribed in their literary forays into annexed lands some of the dominant contemporary ideological approaches to empire.Writers like Conrad, and to a lesser extent Stevenson, sought to contest or subvert these ideologies by problematizing the role of the white invader. In Conrad’s case, we are even offered an insight, albeit compromised, into the motivation, cultural background, and psychology of the subjugated race.1The motivations behind and the effects of imperialism are thus by no means easily quantified through an examination of its literary offspring. A re-examination of biographical details, coupled with the application of theory, can, however, help to enlighten us as to the psychological make-up of the author. Relying largely on the psychological theories of Heinz Kohut, Diane Simmons’s purpose in The Narcissism of Empire is to reveal how psychological damage and negative self-perceptions in childhood led De Quincey, Stevenson, Doyle, Kipling, and Dinesen (Karen Blixen) to their particular depictions of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century imperialism.This theory posits that parental approbation and the engendering in the child of a sense of his or her overarching importance is vital for psychological health:“Every infant, accord- victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 174 ing to Kohut, is born into a normal, healthy, state of narcissism, believing the world revolves around her, indeed, in the beginning, is her” (5). Children whose parents do not support this sense of what Simmons calls “infant grandiosity” suffer from“narcissistic injury” (6).While the theory allows that all children suffer this injury to a greater or lesser extent, Simmons cites Alice Miller’s theory that those whose injury is most acute either become bullies or suffer from severe depression in later life (7).Aristocratic and middle-classVictorian narcissism, Simmons argues, resulted largely from the custom of sequestering children away from their parents in the care of nannies who were neglectful of the child’s narcissistic needs or were abusive.The bullies and self-aggrandizing individuals of the imperial era were thus formed. The theory is intriguing, and Simmons does acknowledge competing and contradictory psychological theories so that she does not present her position as one to be followed slavishly.What follows is an attempt to prove how the theory of childhood narcissism could be applied to imperial writing. Simmons’s analysis of De Quincey’s and Stevenson’s childhoods and early adulthoods revisits familiar biographical territory but offers childhood narcissism as the key to unlock the psychological influences upon their imperial writing.Thus of De Quincey Simmons says,“In his fabrication of an Asian persona, in his manic attacks upon a people about whom he knows virtually nothing, we see an author obsessively, if unconsciously, reliving the fury of a child at the cold, withholding omnipotence of the parent” (43). She rehearses a common theme in Stevenson studies: that his experience of the“passionate Calvinism” of his nurse, Cummy, his estrangement from his stern father,Thomas...