Midterm Review Part One (303)

The most effective way to prepare for the midterm is to review the readings to date with some of your classmates. We began with such a (rather cursory) review toward the end of class on Thursday, touching primarily on Vaninskaya’s essay “The Late Victorian Romance Revival.” Now the title of this article alone ought to set us thinking because it contains an example of one of the key concepts we encountered in the Toohey reading. If you’re able to make this link relatively easily, then congratulations.

Vaninskaya’s arguments largely concern the ways in which adventure fiction (imperial romance) was valorized by its proponents. A link is forged here, between the pleasures of literature and, in a sense, the deep psychology of humanity itself. Note Vaninskaya’s references to those scholars who equate the love of romance with a long history of storytelling. These sources contend that the love of narrative is a profoundly human trait. Against criticisms of romance as jejeune, one scholar maintains that romance stirs the imagination, in effect rejuvenating jaded moderns.

Of the essays directly relating to adventure romance all but one are written by women. Given the “classic” adventure genre’s largely homosocial fictional worlds why might this be? In part this preponderance of female critics might speak to 1) the major influence of feminism on literary studies and 2) the overt issue of gender in books such as King Solomon’s Mines. To the extent that the analysis of gender is identified as a kind of scholarly “women’s work” it would seem that feminism still has much work to do. Contrary to popular misconceptions, gender denotes the cultural baggage attached to the categories of masculine and feminine. Can you think of specific themes or tropes in the fiction we’ve read to date (two texts in total, not one) that encourage interpretations which focus on gender? Are there characters, settings, and/or plot turns that raise the issue of gender and allow us to relate text to context (or style to period)?

The British Empire was ruled by Queen Victoria until her death in 1901. Though the Empire had not yet reached its height (by 1922 it covered 1/4 of the world’s land surface and claimed dominion over 1/5 of the global population) at the time King Solomon’s Mines was published it had a foothold on every continent and, significantly, required men to control and administer it. Not every member of this massive colonial apparatus was English (or Scottish or Welsh). In fact, as Boahen tells us, the colonization of Africa depended upon cultivating “native” participants– those who could bring knowledge of local languages and customs to bear on the complexities of ruling millions and facilitating the exploitation of natural resources. Another aspect of colony-building was the formation and articulation of an imperial ideology– a set of stated motives and justifications for what amounted to theft on the grandest scale imaginable. Here the concept of “the civilizing mission” comes into play. Africans (and Indians and, more indirectly, Latin Americans) were to be gifted the virtues of christianity and capitalism. Rule by “enlightened” Europeans, this ideology proposed, could only benefit those benighted peoples whom modernity had passed over.

Against this presumption– an arrogance founded not only in a “common sense” white supremacy but the intellectual narcotic of the concept of (capital P) Progress*– Africans (many of whom at this point in history did not identify as such) formulated various responses. Read Boahen’s article to get a fuller sense of the range of strategies deployed, from military and passive forms of resistance to accommodation.

Even so, adventure fiction performed a crucial ideological function in dramatizing and valorizing the elsewhere of the colonies. King Solomon’s Mines, for example, contains its share of imperialist dogma, though notably the novel is not a blind celebration of the European presence in Africa. We discussed this on Thursday at some length, so I don’t think it necessary to reiterate what was said. However, it should be noted that if Haggard ventriloquizes through the character of Ignosi some species of anti-colonialist conviction, he does so largely to preserve the Zulu-esque Kukuanas as “splendid” and “noble savages.”


*”In essence, the idea of progress holds that human experience, both individual and collective, is cumulative and future-directed, with the specific objective being the ongoing improvement of the individual, the society in which the individual lives, and the world in which the society must survive (Bowden 50).