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Penetrating Critiques: Vulnerability, Prowess, and Contested Masculinities within the British Imperial Project in Africa

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Title: Penetrating Critiques: Vulnerability, Prowess, and Contested Masculinities within the British Imperial Project in Africa
Author: Allin, Leslie
Department: School of English and Theatre Studies
Program: English
Advisor: O'Quinn, Daniel
Abstract: Tracing intersections between archival documents and popular adventure fiction pertaining to British imperialism in Africa in the late nineteenth century, this dissertation highlights nodes of anxiety surrounding the vulnerability of the white male body and its governmental avatars by attending to the destabilization of narrative itself. Critiquing the efficacy of martial masculine prowess and male authority by underscoring the grotesqueness of male forms, narratives, and moralities, I contend that the texts examined here destabilize the legitimacy of patriarchal power. Emphasizing the relationship between institutional imperial writing and popular discourse, I argue much more complex, fraught, and critical approaches to imperialism and masculinity were circulating throughout Victorian culture than have heretofore been recognized. Chapter one, attending to dialogues between colonial dispatches, wartime reports, travel writing, and newspapers and more obviously imaginative writing, analyzes the metaphors of engulfment and penetration in accounts of the Anglo-Zulu War. While British overconfidence led to emasculation, the reassertion of white prowess was predicated on brutality and reappropriations of the trope of penetration. Thus, a crisis in the post- 1850s schoolboy culture of heroism began to fissure the conception of the ideal imperial man. Chapter two examines Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and She, arguing Haggard’s rhetorical strategies hinge on a parodic treatment of adventuring males while his critique of the frame narrative undermines the imperial adventurer’s authority. Next I analyze Richard Marsh’s The Beetle, suggesting that, in linking the grotesque male body with the ostensibly authoritative narrative’s leakiness, the novel critiques governmental legitimacy. Chapter four uses an underexplored institutional archive to argue that in Sierra Leone, colonial confrontation with the subversive violence of indigenous groups resulted in a breakdown of imperial principles and notions of the structured British military body. Confronted with white complicity in various forms of brutality, the colonial administration was forced to recognize the dissolution of the ostensibly bounded body (individual and institutional), the inadequacies of government, and the disintegration of legitimacy. Chapter five analyzes Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, urging that this new angle of reading imperial writing opens up fresh understandings of how empire operated and how national gendered identities mutated.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10214/7764
Date: 2013-12
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada