Historical Context

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Early History
The history of European expansionism goes back at least as far as the fifteenth century. Much European exploration was related to trade, particularly in tea, spice, silk, and other goods not readily available in Europe. The long relationship between England and India is a good example: in competition with its long-standing enemies the Dutch, the English began trading with India in 1600 and soon formed the East India Company (EIC). Throughout the seventeenth century, the EIC strengthened its presence in India by acquiring territory, and by the eighteenth century, with little organized resistance from Indians, who lacked a centralized government, England controlled most of India through the EIC. As the power and territory of the English increased, the rights of Indians decreased; by the close of the eighteenth century, Indians were not allowed in high government positions and the English had cut Indian wages. The resentment of Indians, reaching a peak with the Mutiny of 1857, demonstrated to Queen Victoria the need for the English government to relieve the EIC of its rule in India in order to protect its trade interests there. She named herself “Viceroy of India” in 1859. It was in part a public relations move intended to convey England’s concern for India, though official and unofficial acts of racial exclusion increased in scope. The domination of Africa did not begin until the mid to late nineteenth century as it moved southward from the full possession of Egypt in 1882 to the military victory in the South African (Boer) War (1899–1902) and the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

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Global Conflicts
Though England was the dominant colonial power in the era, several other countries were aggressively seeking to add to their land holdings, sometimes leading to violent conflict among European nations in addition to force used against the native peoples. Spain, France, and Russia had long been colonizers, and the New Imperialism countries, including Germany, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and the United States, also sought colonies to protect their economic and military interests. The increasing number of colonizers and the limited amount of territory sparked a virtual feeding frenzy, particularly among the newer colonizers. Between 1875 and 1914, the rate of colonization was three times that of the rest of the nineteenth century. That period also saw a flurry of conflicts between colonial powers, including the South African (Boer) War (with the Dutch Afrikaners), the Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish-American War, and the Russo- Japanese War. The race for land in Africa produced a number of confrontations among European forces; France and England nearly went to war for control of territories of the Congo, Ethiopia, and the Sudan. Such conflicts were sometimes resolved through diplomatic means, as competing colonial states bargained for control and defined new boundaries for contested territories. The result, especially in the case of the African continent, was national boundaries drawn with no regard to geography, ethnic groups, or economic relationships. Thus, even after the colonial powers withdrew, the native peoples of Africa were left to struggle with the results of colonial deal-making.

British Imperialism
The era during which Colonialism as a literary movement peaked coincides with a period historians sometimes call the second British Empire, or, more generally, the New Imperialism, from 1875 to 1914. England’s defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War compelled France to give up most of its foreign colonies and granted England free passage throughout the seas. To some extent, the loss of the American colonies also motivated the pursuit of additional territory and the consolidation of power in existing colonies. In England itself, one of the chief crafters of imperialist policy as the second British Empire opened was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was said to be Victoria’s favorite prime minister. Disraeli sought to consolidate Britain’s colonial holdings, and he was also skilled in swaying public opinion by emphasizing the glory and stature that global expansion brought to the crown, represented by the figure of Queen Victoria. The death of Victoria in 1901, bringing a sixty-four-year reign to an end, thus shook the imperialist enterprise, and soon so did a worsening economy. As the first decade of the twentieth century continued, England found the need to align with its former colonial rivals France and Russia to face an increasing threat from Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. When Germany invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, England declared war, thus entering the conflict later to be known as World War I. That conflict permanently transformed international politics, marking the decline of the colonial era and England’s dominance in international affairs.

Rebellion and Independence
Native people were not unwilling to defend their territory, though for much of the colonial period the lack of an organized leadership in lands previously inhabited by various tribal groups or loosely knit principalities made successful resis- tance difficult. In some ways, however, defeats could be as powerful as victories. The defeat of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was partly responsible for the growth of Indian nationalism. The arrest of two nationalist leaders in Amritsar in April of 1919 sparked a series of events that culminated in the British army opening fire, without warning, on a public gathering, killing 379 Indians and wounding 1,200. The Amritsar massacre gave new momentum to the nationalist movement in India and inspired protestor Mohandas Gandhi to a career of nonviolent protests, urging “noncooperation” with British policies that eventually led to the withdrawal of Britain from India in 1947.

Colonial Education and Patronage
The role of literature and language in colonial activity was a matter of government regulation. Colonial education systems and colonial literature bureaus sought to increase literacy and develop written communications as part of their “civilizing” process, but in so doing they created a hierarchy of language, making the written European languages and histories superior to the oral languages and histories of many native cultures. Arts such as literature were patronized, while native arts including weaving and carving were devalued and considered evidence of unevolved cultures. In countries where several native languages were spoken, colonial governments often encouraged the dominance of one language, directly or indirectly suppressing languages or verbal traditions that were connected with indigenous religious practices.

The Science of Imperialism
Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) in an effort to describe his theories of evolution by the principle of natural selection. According to this theory, desirable traits for survival dominate in a species while undesirable traits recede, by a natural course of progress. Darwin’s ideas were adapted from biology to sociology by Benjamin Kidd, whose Social Evolution (1894) was published in the United States and England to immediate popular acceptance. He followed this work with The Control of the Tropics (1898), in which he depicted colonization as a moral obligation of the “Anglo- Saxon” empires of Britain and the United States, in part to save the “lower races” from the crueler practices of other European colonizers and in part to “elevate” them to a higher level of social evolution. Such arguments played an important part in maintaining public support for imperialist policy.

Literary Style

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Setting
Colonialist literature was consistently set in the colonies. From a European point of view, colonial territory was singular: colonized land and people all fell in the category of “other,” even for the Europeans living in the colonies. Politically, geographically, and culturally, however, the colonies were widely different. For example, England’s relationship with India began with the spice trade in the sixteenth century, but England did not venture into the African interior until the nineteenth century. India built sophisticated cities that would have been unfamiliar to tribal Africans in rural areas, as would the ports of Cape Town. Thus Conrad’s view of Colonialism from the Belgian Congo would necessarily be different from that of Kipling or Forster, not only because of their philosophical differences but because of the different geographical backgrounds from which they drew.

Narration
Though there is not a particular narrative style for colonialist literature, the perspective of the narrator and the mode of narration is an important aspect of style in fiction written during the colonialist movement. To some extent, this feature is relevant to the literary movement of Modernism (see below), which broke up seemingly stable functions of literature such as point of view, narrator, and even plot. Thus the narrators of Conrad’s novels are not necessarily reliable sources of information, nor are they the central focus of the novel or a center for interpreting the action of the novel. The fragmented narration of characters such as Marlow highlights the political and ethical morass of European colonization. More broadly, however, the narrative perspective of much colonialist literature gives “subject” status only to white colonizers, as if it were impossible to relate to the colonized as anything but “object.” Fundamental to imperialism, this perspective reflects the tacit belief that Europe is central and dominant, and the rest of the world is peripheral and dominated.

Autobiography
The colonial experience brought forth a flood of memoirs and autobiographies of colonists eager to share their experiences and observations with friends and family at home. In particular, this was a way that many women were able to publish respectably, and several women produced memoirs, journals, and collections of correspondence from their travels or missionary work. Many of these were widely and eagerly read at the time, though modern readers mostly value them as historical documents. Out of Africa is a notable exception, though it shares several qualities of travel and missionary writing. With such works, the authority given to the writer’s observations and opinions, as part of a “true story,” was high; Victorian and Edwardian readers admired missionaries and adventuring colonists and formed their opinions about colonized peoples through these texts. Yet as many readers of her works have remarked, Dinesen portrayed the African landscape and people in terms of her memory and nostalgia as well as her necessarily limited European perspective. In writing a book of literature, she crafts a story out of events that may or may not have a direct relation to each other. Though not autobiographical works, the same could be said of Mansfield’s New Zealand stories, drawn as they were from distant childhood memories.

Modernism
Literary historians have sometimes maintained that the rise of Modernism as an aesthetic is directly related to a growing European crisis of confidence in imperialist policy. Doubts about the progress of civilization, the benevolent nature of humanity, and even the existence of truth are conveyed artistically not only in the theme and tone of Modernist literature but in some cases in the disjointed, ambiguous style of the language itself. Both Conrad and Forster belong as much to the history of Modernism as to the history of Colonialism. Yet Colonialism is not simply a thematic subset of Modernism, in part because it is also represented by more traditionalist authors, such as Kipling and Haggard.

Movement Variations

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Missionary Writing
The work of Christianizing the “heathens” of the Third World was an important focus of Colonialism; some historians have suggested that the seemingly “compassionate” purpose of “saving” the darker races put a positive face on the aggression of imperialist policy. Some missionaries, however, felt that the blessings of “Christianity and commerce” were necessarily linked; the famous missionary and researcher David Livingstone was an advocate of this position. Missionary writing was very popular with readers back home, since it gave moral support to the work of colonizing and provided “true-life” adventure stories and in some instances added substance to discussions about the role of women by depicting the exploitation of native women in non-Christian countries. Some missionaries were also among the earliest ethnographers; they depicted the physical and cultural features of native societies with a semi-scientific tone. This too added weight to the authority of missionaries’ tales, and the writings of missionaries helped shape ideas about biological and social relationships among the races. Particularly after the start of the antislavery movement in Europe, missionaries were inclined to conceive of natives as possessing the potential to evolve into civilized individuals resembling Europeans—which they understood as a natural and desirable progression. Thus, while most missionaries clearly thought of the darker races as “other,” they also argued for their common humanity. Publishing a missionary memoir was also a ready way for women to get into print, and the form was generally thought more respectable than fiction.

Travel Writing
Both men and women wrote travelogues, but as with the literature of missionaries, the greater mobility of women in the late nineteenth century meant an increase in the publication of women’s writing, which made women’s colonialist travel writing a significant genre in its own right. Many women writing during the era of high imperialism reflect the paradox of the times: they are simultaneously writing against the oppressive strictures of Victorianism and reinforcing the oppressive policies of the colonial powers. Yet, as Sara Mills argues in Discourses of Difference (1991), “women travel writers were unable to adopt the imperialist voice with the ease with which male writers did.” As a result, Mills claims, “their writing exposes the unsteady foundations on which [imperialism] is based.”

Colonial Themes in Nineteenth-Century Literature
Several works of nineteenth-century literature that might not be classified under Colonialism in a strict definition nonetheless exhibit colonialist concerns. Examples often mentioned by scholars of Colonialism and post-Colonialism include Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). In these novels, the colonial themes recede to the background, though some critics suggest that the marginal nature of the colonial elements is itself indicative of the ethos of imperialism, concealing the extent to which the exploitation of other peoples supports the privilege of the English gentry. In Mansfield Park, for example, the Bertram family acquires its wealth in part through its plantations in Antigua and the work of its slaves, though most of the Bertrams never set foot in the colony. Many readers have seen in the character of Sir Thomas Bertram Austen’s conservative defense of British plantation owners. In Jane Eyre, Rochester’s first wife Bertha is a white Creole from the West Indies, a secret locked in his attic after she goes mad. In Brontë’s novel, Bertha’s final act of madness is burning down Rochester’s family home; however, apart from three violent acts perpetrated at night (in only one of which is she observed), Bertha is seen only once in the novel. As in Mansfield Park, the silence of the colonial presence in Jane Eyre is thought by some to speak louder than words. In fact, the imprisonment of Bertha has inspired several groundbreaking books, including Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s central work of feminist criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979, reissued 2000), and Jean Rhys’s postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which tells the West Indies story of Bertha and Rochester preceding the action of Jane Eyre.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Bakhtin, M. M., The Dialogic Imagination, University of Texas Press, 1981, p. 358.

Bhabha, Homi K., The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994.

—, “The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination, and the Discourse of Colonialism,” in Literature, Politics, and Theory, edited by Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, Margaret Iversen, and Diana Loxley, Methuen, 1986, pp. 148–72.

Donaldson, Laura E., Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Empire-Building, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Gilbert, Sandra M., “Rider Haggard’s Heart of Darkness,” in Partisan Review, Vol. 50, 1983, pp. 444–53.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 2000.

Herringshaw, Thomas W., Prominent Men and Women of the Day, A. B. Gehman and Company, 1888.

Howe, Susanna, Novels of Empire, Columbia University Press, 1949.

Kael, Pauline, “A Passage to India: Unloos’d Dreams,” in the New Yorker, January 14, 1985.

Macaulay, Thomas B., “Minute on Indian Education,” in The World’s Classics, no. 183, Oxford University Press, 1935.

Mills, Sara, Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism, Routledge, 1991, pp. 3, 59.

Pelensky, Olga A., Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer, Ohio University Press, 1991, pp. 140–41.

Rive, Richard, Introduction to The Story of an African Farm, Africana Library, 1975.

Ross, Robert L., “Katherine Mansfield,” in Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology, 1999, pp. 39–40.

—, “Olive Schreiner,” in Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology, 1999, pp. 61–62.

Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, pp. 19–31.

—, Orientalism, Pantheon Books, 1978.

Sharpe, Jenny, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, Autumn 1985, pp. 243–61.

Tindall, William York, Forces in Modern British Literature, 1885–1956, Vintage Books, 1956, p. 59.

Travers, Martin, “Modernism,” in Introduction to Modern European Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism, St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Young, Robert, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race, Routledge, 1995, pp. 181–82.

Further Reading
Cesaire, Aime, Discourse on Colonialism, translated by Joan Pinkham, New York University Press, 2000. The African poet Aime Cesaire wrote this essay on the impact of Colonialism on native peoples in 1955, later published in English in 1972. Cesaire attempts to describe, in moving and poetic language, both the external and internal effects of Colonialism.

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press, 1991. Originally published in 1953, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks tells the story of Colonialism’s aftereffects in Africa from the perspective of an African man. Fanon’s work is a landmark influence on anticolonial and civil rights movements, reputed as both insightful and beautifully written.

Ferguson, Moira, Colonialism and Gender Relations from Mary Wollstonecraft to Jamaica Kincaid, Columbia University Press, 1993. Ferguson has been a pioneer in the study of women writers from colonized areas, particularly the Caribbean. This study of both English and Caribbean writers is an accessible overview of issues in gender and Colonialism.

Gilmour, David, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002. Biographer David Gilmour used extensive, previously undiscovered research to produce an updated study of the life and works of Kipling. Gilmour adds to earlier studies of Kipling’s life an extended exploration of his views on empire.

Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad, University of Chicago Press, 1996. Harpham’s study of Conrad is a literary biography that focuses on Conrad’s writings and their dominant themes.

Hobsbawm, Eric J., The Age of Empire: 1875–1914, Vintage Books, 1989. As a Marxist scholar, Hobsbawm pays close attention to the economic aspects of imperialism, but The Age of Empire is nonetheless a thorough study of the height of the era. Hobsbawm is a highly regarded historian whose works have been praised for their readability and their ability to link history to present concerns.

Lace, William W., The British Empire: The End of Colonialism, Lucent Books, 2000. In a history designed specifically for high school students, Lace details the factors that led to the fall of the British Empire.

Compare and Contrast

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1900s: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are British colonies, though nationalist movements have begun to argue for independence. Australia develops its own constitution in 1901 but is still subject to the laws of England; Canada must send troops to the British war in South Africa.

Today: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain members of the fifty-four nation British Commonwealth, headed symbolically by Queen Elizabeth II and officially by the Commonwealth Secretary-General. In 2000, Don Mc- Kinnon of New Zealand is installed as the Secretary-General, following the term of Chief Eemeka Anyaoku of Nigeria.

1900s: The British fight the South African War, or Boer War, struggling for control of the South African Boer Republics against the white Afrikaners (early Dutch settlers) who also claim the area. The decade closes with the creation of the Union of South Africa under British rule.

Today: While under the leadership of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela, its former president, the nation of South Africa is represented by its black African majority, though race relations between Africans and Afrikaners remain tense and sometimes violent. After leaving the Commonwealth in 1961, South Africa rejoins in 1994.

1900s: Responding to violence against British officials in Bengal, India, the British partition the province in 1905. The decision is also motivated by a desire to place Indian Muslims and Hindus into separate areas. Indian nationalists use nonviolence and noncooperation, including strikes and boycotts, to compel the British to rescind the division.

Today: A separate nation exists for the former Muslims of India: Pakistan, created as part of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Hostility between the nations continues, and in January 2002 United States Secretary of State Colin Powell urges talks between Pakistan and India to ward off a threat of nuclear war. Both India and Pakistan are members of the Commonwealth, though Pakistan withdrew between 1972 and 1989.

1900s: Literature taught in colonial schools emphasizes the greatness of European authors. Native students study Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in education systems guided by beliefs such as those of Thomas B. Macaulay: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”

Today: Students in British and U.S. classrooms study authors including Buchi Emecheta, Jamaica Kincaid, and Chinua Achebe, whose works reflect non-European perspectives on colonization.

Representative Works

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Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness, by Conrad, is, in the eyes of many scholars, an essential literary expression of Colonialism. In his important work on Colonialism, Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said wrote that Heart of Darkness “beautifully captured” the “imperial attitude” in its depiction of Europeans dominating Africans and African resources and in its sense that there is no alternative to imperialism and thus to Colonialism. The novella was first published in serial form in 1899–1900 and in book form in 1902, as British imperialism was peaking. The book is generally understood as an important critique of the evil done in the name of empire. The empire challenged in Heart of Darkness is not the British Empire specifically; however, set in the Belgian Congo, the story seems to condemn European oppressors, most notably Leopold II of Belgium. Whether doing so was Conrad’s intent, this interpretation seems to resonate with the popular British belief that British colonization was benevolent and morally superior to European colonization. The story of Heart of Darkness is told by Marlow, who is sent into “darkest Africa” to find Kurtz, an exceptional agent and head of the inner station who is reported to have abandoned every pretense of morality or civilization. The “heart of darkness” in the title is thus not strictly Africa, as readers might initially expect, but the heart of a white man, who proves capable of incomparable evil. Heart of Darkness is also considered an example of Modernism, with its sometimes unaware narrator, its departure from chronological order, and its questions about the socalled civilized human nature when it remains beyond the constraints of social and civic order.

Kim
Like Heart of Darkness, Kipling’s Kim was published at the height of the British Empire, in 1901, though it is a very different kind of story. Kim is often considered children’s literature, a spy thriller and coming-of-age story about a young Irish orphan known as “Little Friend to All the World.” Kim, or Kimball O’Hara, meets and travels with a Buddhist holy man on his spiritual quest, unaware that the British government is using him to obtain important information. The book thus explores one aspect of Indian spirituality (Indian Buddhism is a relative of one of the dominant Indian religions, Hinduism) as well as the political struggles of the Indian colony. Kipling was not particularly critical of imperialism, and Kim reflects the belief, widely held particularly prior to World War I, that the colonization of India was a politically sound act for England as well as a moral obligation for a superior race. If Kim reveals a more optimistic view of the aims of empire than Heart of Darkness, it also belongs to a different type of literature. Though both works are representative of Colonialism, Kipling’s Kim looks back to the more traditional form of the late-Victorian era, which Modernist writers vigorously rejected.

Lord Jim
Conrad’s Lord Jim was published as a serial novel in 1900. Like Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim is largely told from the perspective of the narrator Marlow, who follows the story of a wandering English sailor named Jim, in part to help him, and in part to determine the truth of his life, especially regarding one important event. Jim stands trial for abandoning his ship and leaving the passengers behind to die, an act of moral cowardice he does not deny but also cannot explain. Eventually, he comes to live in the East Indies among the natives in an attempt to redeem himself, but when the native chief’s son is murdered by a British looter, Jim feels responsible and accepts a death sentence from the chief, who shoots him in the chest. In Marlow’s eyes, Jim’s death is a heroic act that serves as his redemption, but the novel itself offers several other possible interpretations, concluding with a moral ambiguity that is a hallmark both of Conrad’s work and of Modernist fiction in general. The style of the novel is also modern, characterized by chronological jumps forwards and backwards, shifts in point of view and narrative style, and a lack of closure. Though it is now considered an exemplary modern novel, early readers did not respond favorably to Conrad’s innovations.

Out of Africa
Dinesen’s memoir Out of Africa was published in English in 1937. British Colonialism was waning when the book was released, but the stories recalled by Dinesen capture a wide swath of colonial history, from 1914 to 1931, and reflect the ambiguous perspective on British colonial practices that is characteristic of much colonialist literature. Dinesen tells of her failed marriage, her difficulty in making her Kenyan coffee farm economically viable, and her relationships with African natives. As it covers the period that marks the decline of the British Empire, which began with World War I in 1914, the book reflects a sense of nostalgia for a lost time and place that infused much late colonial writing. The book was not an immediate success in England; Dinesen’s publisher informed her that the book was popular among intellectuals, if not the general public, though he also stated his belief that Out of Africa would “take its place in the permanent great literature of the world,” according to Olga A. Pelensky in Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer. Dinesen cited as one of her inspirations Olive Schreiner, a novelist born in South Africa.

A Passage to India
Published in 1925, A Passage to India hints at the end of the colonial era in British India and the rise of Indian nationalism. Its author, E. M. Forster, used his experiences in India to depict the tense relationship between the British and Indians, suggesting that even among friends, a truly friendly relationship is difficult to sustain. The title of the novel comes from a Walt Whitman poem of the same name in which Whitman questions the value of the British presence in India but also hopes for unity between East and West. The novel tells a complex story of two English women visiting India in the 1920s, a volatile time after the galvanizing massacre at Amritsar in 1919 that sparked the steady increase of Indian nationalism and inspired the political career of Mohandas Gandhi. One of the women accuses one of her Indian companions of attacking her, fueling the hostility of both local British and Indians, though she later recants. The book is also a story of friendship between an English professor and his Muslim friend, perhaps inspired by Forster’s friendship with his Muslim student Syed Ross Masood, to whom he dedicated A Passage to India. The book was well received at its publication and was adapted to film in 1984.

She
She is the story of the monstrous goddess Ayesha, known only as She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and the adventuring hero Leo Vincy. First published by Haggard in 1887, the novel broke sales records with its immense popularity, especially among men, possibly because of the strong sexual overtones and the mysterious heroine. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed rules over a society where male and female roles have been reversed. Vincy is shipwrecked on the African coast and journeys through a mysterious landscape to the people ruled by She, a journey that critics, including Sandra Gilbert in “Rider Haggard’s Heart of Darkness,” have said resembles “a symbolic return to the womb.” The ruler She is both exotically sexual and darkly threatening, not unlike colonial depictions of Africa itself. She also evokes fears of a growing feminist consciousness at the close of the Victorian era; Sigmund Freud wrote that She captured some of his fears of “the eternal feminine” as a castrating threat.

The Story of an African Farm
Olive Schreiner’s novel The Story of an African Farm, first published in 1883, was among the first major novels of the colonialist era. Schreiner was the daughter of missionaries in South Africa, though after her father was found guilty of violating trading regulations she was largely left to fend for herself. She worked as a governess on African farms, educating herself with the works of Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Carlyle while working on her novel. She went to England in 1881 and worked two years to find a publisher for The Story of an African Farm. The novel was a great success, though it was the last one she published in her lifetime; her later writings were works of political nonfiction. In The Story of an African Farm, Schreiner states rather modern views about women’s roles in colonial society, a theme that was also common to the writings of women missionaries during the colonial era.

“The White Man’s Burden”
Kipling first published his poem “The White Man’s Burden” in McClure’s Magazine in 1899, and throughout that year the poem was republished in several British and U. S. magazines and newspapers. In it, Kipling encourages white people to go out to their colonies and establish civilization there for the benefit of “sullen” natives living in darkness. Kipling repeatedly emphasizes the lack of gratitude white colonizers must accept as part of their burden, claiming that native “sloth and heathen folly” will often counteract European works of civilization and that colonizers can expect to be hated by those they free from the “bondage” of their “loved Egyptian night.” The poem was especially influential in the United States, where it appeared as the country was about to enter its own imperialist period by taking control of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba. Anti-imperialists also latched onto the poem, publishing immediate parodies suggesting the hypocrisy of the notion of a “white man’s burden.” The phrase became a slogan for those on each side of the imperialist debate.

“The Woman at the Store”
“The Woman at the Store” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand native who is considered a master of the genre. Mansfield spent little time in colonial New Zealand, preferring even as a young woman to live in London. Her stories reflect her wide travels, including her visits to her family’s estate in New Zealand. Her New Zealand stories, which include “The Woman at the Store” and “The Garden Party,” depict British colonists doing their best to stay connected to their homeland by maintaining their old social practices and pretensions on foreign soil. These standards are in marked contrast to the conditions of native inhabitants and the poverty forced upon them by colonial practices. First published in 1911, “The Woman at the Store” describes the encounter between a party of traveling colonists and a lonely, crude woman with whom they are forced to stay overnight. The hopelessness of the woman and her child and the limited sympathy and understanding of the travelers, one of whom narrates the story, combine to paint a very bleak picture of colonial life.

Media Adaptations

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Sydney Pollack directed the film adaptation of Dinesen’s Out of Africa, released in 1985. The film starred Meryl Streep as Dinesen and Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton and focused on their relationship. In addition to Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction, the film won the award for best adapted screenplay.

The film version of Forster’s A Passage to India was directed by David Lean, who also directed Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, and was released in 1984. The film was nominated for a host of Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who played Mrs. Moore, won for Best Supporting Actress. In a review of the film that appeared in the New Yorker, noted critic Pauline Kael wrote, “Like the book, the movie is a lament for British sins; the big difference is in tone. The movie is informed by a spirit of magisterial self-hatred. That’s its oddity: Lean’s grand ‘objective’ manner . . . seems to have developed out of the values he attacks.”

The epic film Apocalypse Now is loosely based on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, though set in Vietnam in the 1960s. The film, released in 1979, is considered one of the masterpieces of director Francis Ford Coppola and was rereleased in August 2001. The film starred Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando. A more literal adaptation of Heart of Darkness was directed by Nicolas Roeg in 1994. The film stars John Malkovich as Kurtz and Tim Roth as Marlowe.

Richard Attenborough’s biographical epic Gandhi won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi. Released in 1982, the three-hour film also starred Candace Bergen, the playwright Athol Fugard, Sir John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, and Martin Sheen.

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