- The New Imperialism
SCHOLARS of the literature and culture of the late-Victorian period and the early twentieth century will find much to admire in Bradley Deane’s study of manliness and imperialism in British popular fiction from 1870 to 1914. Deane covers a range of authors crucial to scholarly discussions of late-Victorian British imperialism in literature, including Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. Rider Haggard, while he also provides new ways of reading the gender performances of historical figures such as Cecil Rhodes and Robert Baden-Powell. This study will also prove valuable for those reading literature of this period in relation to postcolonial theory, since Deane deftly disputes some of the foundational claims from Edward Said and Homi Bhabha.
The guiding insight of Masculinity and the New Imperialism is that the British ideal of manliness changed in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century, shifting away from an earlier kind of developmental masculinity that emphasized restraint, self-control, and paternal authority within the domestic sphere (a masculinity discussed by James Eli Adams in Dandies and Desert Saints). In place of this restrained, domestic man, the contrasting model of manliness that Deane traces embraced violence, lawlessness, competition, and public displays of physical prowess. Late-Victorian imperial manliness was gauged not by self-development, but by the comparison among men in pursuit of honor. While the mid-Victorian ideal man aspired to increasing civilization and refinement (we might think of Dickens’s David Copperfield), the ideal man of the last decades of the century aspired toward showing courage and strength among his male peers on the imperial frontier, disavowing the overly civilized position of the mid-Victorian man, a position that was now depicted by late-Victorian imperialist writers as a source of shame.
The chapters of Deane’s book show how this shift in masculinity served the discourse of the New Imperialism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Deane provides a lucid definition of the New Imperialism as “the cultural conviction … that the Empire was the source and proof of Britain’s glory.” Early on in his argument, Deane positions Benjamin Disraeli as the most identifiable proponent of the New Imperialism, contrasting Disraeli’s political vision with the liberal vision of William Gladstone, who aligned British imperialism with the dissemination of progress and civilization and an opening of new markets for trade. After demonstrating how the conflicting views of Disraeli and Gladstone served as a shorthand for the clash between the New Imperialism and the mid-Victorian understanding of imperialism [End Page 403] as the promotion of British civilization among the colonies, Deane then analyzes a variety of imperialist works of the period in order to highlight the productive yet disturbing overlap between the new, “uncivilized” version of masculinity and the New Imperialism.
Kipling proves central to the book’s early chapters, and Deane’s readings have perhaps the most traction when they explore the works of this author. Kipling is the foremost prophet of the New Imperialism, and Deane ranges over many of his most influential writings, from the Barrack-Room Ballads (1892) and “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) to Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Stalky & Co. (1899). In his readings of “Gunga Din” and “The White Man’s Burden,” Deane establishes that manliness was at the core of Kipling’s promotion of the British Empire. Though Deane acknowledges that race and nationality do play an important role in Kipling’s oeuvre, “normative masculinity was Kipling’s primary tool to galvanize his imperialist admirers at the turn of the twentieth century.” While addressing American readers in “The White Man’s Burden,” for instance, Kipling both emphasizes the importance of civilizing the people of the Philippines and foregrounds the whiteness of the Americans, but the manly bravery, honor, and self-sacrifice required for one to take on a civilizing mission are his primary concerns in that poem. Such manly traits may also be found in non-English and nonwhite men...