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December 28, 2009


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"Kipling was always a bit of an asshole, and he got much worse as he aged. A fair chunk of this, of course, was simply that he was an upper middle class late Victorian Englishman. But that didn't compel him to (for instance) give large sums of money to the Ulster Unionists, a bunch of bigots and religious fanatics who were actively engaged in treason against the United Kingdom. And if you're going to be a bard of Empire, it really behooves you to try to think clearly about what Empire is, and does, and who really bears the brunt of it. If you're reading his stuff while sitting in a hotel room in Lubumbashi, looking out over the utter ruin of imperialism, then it's going to have a fairly hollow ring.

And yet. Kipling managed to take half a step out of himself. He couldn't ever quite see natives, negroes, Irish or Jews as real, fully rounded human beings. But he could see them as sympathetic, clever, honest and honorable, hard-working and worthy. That's a long step further than most of his generation ever got."

Would you mind terribly if I quoted this in my LJ?


David Allen

"Who got all the way, and managed to cast a cold eye on their own place and era? Joseph Conrad comes to mind."

Um. Would you care to expand on this? I haven't read Conrad in years, but this isn't what I remember.

Doug M.

Royce, please go right ahead.

David, you want to distinguish between Conrad's characters and the man himself. The omniscient-narrative voice in Heart of Darkness, Nostromo and The Secret Agent is very detached indeed. To give Heart of Darkness as a particular example, young Marlow naively swallows most of the assumptions he's handed, middle-aged Marlow is much more detached and skeptical, and Conrad (insofar as we can find him there) is even more so.

There's the Chinua Achebe critique of Conrad, but I find this underwhelming. (In fact, Achebe fits exactly into what we're talking about; in retrospect, that essay seems very much a product of an educated African who came of age just before independence.)

Doug M.

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