Allegory and the imperial imaginary: Narratives of racial, sexual and national becoming the fin-de-siecle
Doctor of Philosophy
I draw upon theories of postcoloniality, narratology, and the new historicism to read turn-of-the-century British literary and cultural texts. I situate these texts in their particular moments of historical production in order to comment upon the elaborate fabrication of an "allegorical" narrative of nationhood, imperial identity and empire-building in fin-de-siecle Britain. As the British colonial theater at the turn-of-the-century is a vast one, my study for the most part concerns the allegorical legacies of fin de-siecle British metropolitan and imperial strategies of power and control in India. I argue that while the making of empire was more often than not bloody and violent, involving as it did military conquest and economic exploitation, the Janus-faced narrative of empire-building also required the enactment of idealistic "humanistic" schemes of cultural domination, such as ideas about the upliftment of "barbaric," "savage" people through conversion to Christianity and introduction to civil society. The rhetoric of social missioning served to putatively recode the violent, economistic narrative of colonialism as a redemptive allegory of empire. I explore both the intrinsically complicated nature of the allegorical and the myriad forms of imperial allegory: the national, the military, the sexual, and the domestic/familial. I bring to my understanding of the national allegory of Empire a postcolonial distrust of predetermined, symbolic narratives. Any attempt to understand imperial allegories has to take into account allegory's "other" nature---the persistent irony, endless deferral, permanent parabasis, that marks its utterances when it "speaks otherwise." By viewing the performance of turn-of-the-century British imperialism through an "allegorical" lens, and mining especially allegory's disruptive potential to "speak otherwise," I am able to pose anew questions about the status of the "other" in colonialist and nationalist discourses, the relation between narrative, history and historiography, and finally, and most crucially, the implications of political and geographical territorialization for an ethical, postcolonial aesthetics of (re)reading and (re)writing. This study will prove to be not so much a definitive view of allegory, but rather a highly selective, creative, and varied engagement with both hegemonic and anti-hegemonic, oppositional, and resistant allegories of nationalism, imperialism, militarism, sexuality, and domesticity in the fin-de-siecle.
European history; Modern history; English literature