Spinning yarns of imperial (Ad)venture: G.A. Henty's promotion of British imperial ideology in African adventure novels/Emperyalist seruvenin orulen ipleri: G.A. Henty'nin Afrika macera romanlarinda ingiliz emperyalist ideolojilerini desteklemesi.
Keywords: G.A. Henty, imperial adventure novel, New Imperialism, imperialism in literature, popular literaure
... the values expressed or implied in popular literature are more relevant to the study of social and political history than those of 'great books.' (Eby 9) ... the adventure tales that formed the light reading of Englishmen for two hundred years and more after Robinson Crusoe, were, in fact, the energizing myth of English imperialism. They were collectively, the story England told itself as it went to sleep at night; and, in the form of its dreams, they charged England's will with the energy to go out into the world and explore, conquer, and rule. (Green 3)
As the epigraphs suggest, this article is about books which were not 'great' in terms of their literary quality, but which were certainly 'great' with regard to their influence on the promotion and popularisation of British imperialism in the late nineteenth century. In the past three decades, for its specific concerns which need not be repeated here, post-colonial literary criticism has already exhausted some of the 'great books' of English literary canon "as [...] insignia of colonial authority and a signifier of colonial desire" (Bhabha 102). It appears, however, that in what may be called the 'frenzy' of the rush for the post-colonial deconstruction of the 'great books,' some other 'minor books' of the English novel-writing tradition, which are in fact far richer as discourses on British imperialism and more functional as disseminators of ideologies due to their popularity, have gone unnoticed and not received adequate attention. More specifically, popular imperial adventure novels, which flourished within the political, social and cultural context of the age of New Imperialism roughly between 1870s and 1910s, were hardly given any credit in the literary and critical canon until recently, because they were believed to lack any literary merit whatsoever. Therefore, this article is an attempt to turn the torchlight on these 'minor books' of late Victorian British novel in the particular example of the African adventure novels of George Alfred Henty (1832-1902), who has been credited by specialists as the most eminent representative of the imperial adventure genre, and the imperialist discourse that defines the majority of the novels written in the same vein.
Henty's significance in the tradition of adventure writing has been noted by Mawuena Kossi Logan, according to whom "Henty's African novels [are] a prototype of the literature that emerged with the rise of British imperialism--the literature that legitimized the deeds of the British empire, better known today as the 'fiction of empire'" (Narrating Africa xiv). In fact, Henty's novels were also the most popular examples of the literature that emerged with the rise of British New Imperialism in the 1870s, with Africa as the target territory of expansion. As a writer, he was so popular that millions of copies of his novels were sold on both sides of the Atlantic during and after his lifetime, and consequently the term 'Henty Hero' was coined to articulate the prototypical features of the boy protagonists of imperial adventure novels written by himself and other Victorian and Edwardian novelists. Read and situated in the late Victorian social, political and cultural contexts, Henty's novels repeatedly stressed the popular Victorian assumptions about the Empire and about the kind of the British colonizer who was prepared to sacrifice himself for the Empire and maintain it.
Notwithstanding the author's significance, this article will not be engaged in an introduction of Henty's biography or his literary productions. (1) Instead, the main concern will be to explain and illustrate the main stylistic and discursive strategies Henty used in writing his imperial adventure novels set in Africa; and to show how these adventure stories functioned as indoctrination tools promoting and popularizing the British imperial venture taken in Africa in the age of New Imperialism. Historical studies have established that imperialist sentiment in Britain was heightened in this age, and reached the peak point especially during the Ashanti, Zulu and Boer Wars as well as the Mahdist rebellion in Sudan (Knight 40-50). It is by no means surprising that Henty made use of these eruptions of pro-imperialist sentiment and wrote By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War (1884), The Young Colonists: A Story of the Zulu and Boer Wars (1885), The Dash for Khartoum: A Tale of the Nile Expedition (1891), and With Kitchener in the Soudan: A Story of Atbara and Omdurman (1903). Therefore, the main textual evidence supporting the argument of this article will be drawn from these four African adventure novels by Henty.
Among the stylistic strategies Henty deployed in--to use the Victorian term--spinning his yarns of imperial adventure, the first feature that meets the eye is the formulaic structure characterising his novels; because by "using his formula of 'the boy who was there,' [Henty] was a conscious booster of empire, each of his titles [being] an invitation to the heroics of the Island story" (MacDonald 209). The most striking examples of the formulaic titles, which in turn reflected the formulaic pattern of the stories and also contained a "potent whiff of Victorian imperial verve and muscular Christianity" (Allen 20), are not only those of the novels with which this article deals. Other examples of this pattern include Under Wellington's Command: A Tale of the Peninsular War, With Clive in India: Or, The Beginnings of an Empire, and The Bravest of the Brave: Or, With Peterborough in Spain. Apparently, Henty was aware of the most common reader habit, that is, selecting books by their titles; and he used this knowledge to his and his publishers' advantage. These titles were attractive because they were promising heroic adventures in distant parts of the British Empire in the company of the great figures of English history.
Apart from the alluring titles, Henty's recurrent use in his novels of a discourse embodying the British imperial ideology was made most effective through his adoption of an omniscient point of view. This critical point has also been privileged elsewhere:
it is worth remarking that he was not so much a writer as a teller of tales; his art was the art of speaking a story. [...] "orality" is strong in all his work. Like most people who have a facility with spinning yarns, he seems not so much to be writing as speaking directly to the reader, and, in the course of telling the tale dramatically, fact and fiction get all mixed up. (Ashley 77)
The sense of orality and the omniscient narrative obviously enabled Henty to capture the attention of his boy readers with a tone of friendliness. To this effect, he invariably began his novels with short prefaces in which, through his friendly tone, he would seem to be addressing the young reader directly. His usual address "My Dear Lads" obviously bridged the aesthetic gap between himself as the writer and his readers. Then, he would give an explanation in a nutshell of the matter of the story and its moral, political, and historical significance. By making explicit in the preface the moral didactics, he would naturally be able not only to arouse the curiosity of his readers, but also give them some guidelines for an epistemic and ideological appreciation of history. In other words, the preface would function as a moral prolegomenon for a discursive narration of the story. In this respect, one also agrees with Joseph Bristow, who suggests that Henty's pro-Empire novels,
if inculcatory in intention, do not read like moral tracts. Instead, imperial history of this kind, reported daily in the Tory newspapers, lent itself to an exciting episodic structure. Since the moral mission of empire formed the most basic of all assumptions in this kind of adventure, it remained very much in the background of the narrative. Emphasis fell on the complexities of action: reconnoitring enemy territory; planning the logistics of battle; carrying out a successful raid; and so on. (Bristow 147)
Therefore, for a didactic purpose Henty invariably used a boy or a group of boys as the protagonist(s) of his novels and, thus, expected his boy audience to identify with and even partake in the story imaginatively. Certainly, such an interaction, made even more intensive through the gaps left in the story for the imagination of the boy reader, smoothed out the process of ideological internalisation without any enforcement. Accordingly, as Brooke Allen has reiterated, "far from administering a simpleminded dose of imperialist rhetoric, Henty's books do indeed prompt young readers to draw their own conclusions rather than simply parrot received opinion" (22). Nevertheless, Henty himself explicitly stated the didactic purpose of his novels: "To endeavour to inculcate patriotism in my books has been one of my main objects [....] Officers of the Army and Volunteers have assured me that my books have been influential in bringing young fellows into the Army" (Eby 74).
With the young fellows as the target audience, the ultimate agents of Henty's didactics in his novels are his boy heroes, namely the 'Henty Heroes.' Indeed, the boy hero in Henty's novels is of so essential significance for the novelist's transmission of the imperial ideology that this Henty type has been regarded as his major contribution to Empire (Ashley 335). An evaluation of the 'Henty Hero' in terms of literary characterisation, however, presents a picture with lesser qualities. In the first place, representing the formulaic nature of most adventure narratives, Henty's characters are stock types who very seldom undergo psychological transformation; as one critic suggested, they are "as cardboard as the figures children moved about the stages of their paper theatres" (Ashley 116). In By Sheer Pluck, for instance, the boy hero Frank Hargate is a frank boy throughout and his mentor Mr. Goodenough is good enough to set a model for the young fellow. Likewise, in her concise evaluation of Henty's technique of characterisation Kimberley Reynolds has pointed out that
Henty's heroes have lives which are remarkably clear cut from start to finish. [...] Virtue and industry are instantly and publicly recognized and rewarded, and Henty's heroes never have to overcome emotional problems in order to gain their objectives. Their lives are free from moral conflict; difficulties always take the form of physical hardships which can be overcome and/or endured. Significantly, these young men have no problems in communicating with people of any age, sex, or station. Beardless youths who have never seen a battle advise admirals and generals, who invariably listen carefully and act upon what they have heard. (71)
Yet, another critical emphasis has been on the ordinariness of Henty's boy heroes who are "heroic but 'ordinary'" as well as being "familiar and even 'normal' to readers of popular literature" (Phillips 66). For example, the commonality of the names of Henty's heroes in The Young Colonists, Dick and Tom, immediately brings into mind the English expression 'Tom and Dick and Harry,' meaning any common man. In the case of Henty's novel too, such commonality of names would signify that his story was not about some fictionalized distant character, but about as many Toms and Dicks among his real boy readers. By the same token, the message he intended to transmit was that what was achieved by the boys in the story could be achieved by any average English boy. As Ashley has also pointed out, in his attempt to popularize pro-imperialism among the literate juvenile audiences "Henty did make a wise choice in selecting heroes with whom the average Victorian boy could identify" (116).
However, there also seems to be a paradox in the identification of the average working-class or lower-middle-class Victorian boy with the typical Henty Hero, who most of the time has, either an upper middle class, like Henty himself, or an aristocratic background. The social status of his heroes does in fact point to his strict sense of class consciousness which was common in his own time. As a matter of fact, Henty was a classist himself. Yet, he has also made sure that his argument for blood-determinism has not caused a distraction or an alienation effect for his target audience, the average Victorian boy. What Henty did to solve this paradox was to include the average boy into the world of his novels and he did it through implication. That is to say, in many of his plot designs Henty would make use of devices like mistaken identities of babies from different class backgrounds or the social status retrogression of middle or upper class characters. His implied message was that in spite of his economic circumstances the average Victorian boy could achieve the same success in life as his characters in his novels do. Indeed, as Ashley has also demonstrated, in The Dash for Khartoum
Henty has two central "dear lads" who are "alike as two peas." One is the son of Capt. Clinton and one is the son of a lower class: his father was a sergeant. [...] Of Henty's two lads, "it can never be known which is the lawful heir of the estates," [...] there is nothing to choose between the two for admirable character and conspicuous bravery. In other words, "blood tells" is contradicted. Henty is putting into the minds of his readers with some subtlety the suggestion that breeding is not as significant as British snobbery had long said. (119)
To the same effect, at other times Henty used the prefaces of his novels to point out the possibilities of social mobility to appeal to the working- and lower-middle-class readers. His preface to Sturdy and Strong (1888) for example, reads as follows:
Whatever may be said as to distinctions of classes in England, it is certain that in no country in the world is the upward path more open to those who brace themselves to climb it than in our own [....] We are all living on a hillside and we must either go up or down. It is easier to descend than to ascend; but he who fixes his eyes upwards, nerves himself for the climb and determines with all his might and power to win his way towards the top, is sure to find himself at the end of the day at a far higher level than when he started upon his journey [...] (Richards 55)
Still, that 'higher level' was the status of the upper classes in Henty's worldview, but he also skilfully avoided distracting his audience from the other classes by mentioning the possibilities of social mobility.
Another characteristic of many of Henty's boy heroes was their public school background. However, in Henty's novels public school education does not signify the importance of academic education. Rather, the public school is seen as a place for the acquisition of moral values and physical development, in other words, the features needed by the future governor-soldier of the Empire. As Reynolds has pointed out,
Henty's boys-who-will-be-heroes are generally introduced on the point of leaving school, where their academic careers have been less than brilliant. Sport and the great outdoors have been their training grounds, for it quickly becomes clear that the books are grounded in the belief that it is through achieving physical prowess and exercising his courage that a boy becomes a man. Skills such as boxing, shooting and sailing are understood to sharpen the wits more effectively than studying the subjects likely to make up the syllabus for most middle-class boys. (70)
Of course, in his characterisation of his heroes Henty was reflecting the ideas he himself had acquired during his public school education in the 1840s and 1850s. By these decades the famous reforms of Dr. Thomas Arnold introduced at Rugby during the 1830s, prioritising religious and moral principle and gentlemanly conduct over intellectual ability, had been applied in most public schools (Eby 92). As a result of such an approach to education in the public schools,
the majority scorned learning, derided the clever and enthusiastically supported the emphasis on games-playing. Anti-intellectualism, anti-industrialism, and anti-commercialism were commonplace. The schools' secular trinity was imperialism, militarism, and athleticism [and] an educational ideology which upheld the efficacy of the games field for the development of certain instrumental and pragmatic qualities, in particular physical courage, team spirit, and the ability to command. (Mangan 324)
Accordingly, even before the mid-nineteenth century "preference for the man of action over the intellectual was basic" in the British public school tradition (Ashley 20). As regards the reflection of this view in Henty's novels, one may argue that the typical Henty Hero, from public school or not, was a boy of action and an embodiment of the above mentioned public school values. In fact, the typical Henty Hero already has the basic moral and physical qualities before his adventures in some distant corner of the world. For instance, in both By Sheer Pluck and The Young Colonists the boy heroes display heroic action before their real adventures begin by saving their friends' lives under harsh circumstances. So, what is achieved by the Henty Hero through adventure is a full passage to manhood.
With regard to the discursive strategies Henty made use of in order to indoctrinate his young audience with an ideology imbued in imperialism, one may argue that they are embodied and further elaborated through the interplay of discursive elements such as racism, militarism, masculinism and pro-imperialism. In fact, if we take into account the statement that Henty was the writer "who transform[ed] the nationalism of earlier writers into [...] imperialism" (Knowles and Malmkjaer 106), it becomes more obvious that a self-conscious and deliberate glorification of the Empire in adventure novels was initiated by Henty himself. Knowles and Malmkjaer point out that "with the earlier writers, the message of imperialism [was] not so developed and action [was] often realised through verbal processes on behalf of the main participants" (94). However, in the period when Henty was writing, and when New Imperialism and competition for territorial gains in Africa were in the forefront of imperial policies and public expectations, a modest sense of nationalism would never suffice. By the 1880s a new morality emphasising improvement, self-help and aggressive individualism had emerged; and it was fused with patriotic, racial and militarist elements to create a new popular imperialism for the age of New Imperialism (MacKenzie 199). Henty's adventure novels have been both formed by and reflecting this new popular imperialist worldview, and thus, "it goes without saying that each story makes empire into an adventure. Fiction serves as an alibi for relating the precise movements of the army. Henty's writings fed a widespread interest in the African 'scramble' for new lands" (Bristow 147).
With the avid colonisation process concerning Africa, representations of race instantly became a major discursive element in Henty's novels. Racial stereotypes abound in his African adventure novels, reflecting an order at the top of which was the English officer, with Africans always rating low (Carpenter and Prichard 246). In Henty's world the concept of race was strictly connected to the concept of the Empire to the point that "the existence of the British Empire, the seed of which had been an insignificant island, was for Henty proof of the racial superiority of the English" (Eby 74). However, there is also an interesting aspect of Henty's general racist attitude towards Africans, which has been recapitulated elsewhere as follows:
The stories Henty sets in Africa leave the reader with a far less positive impression of the natives of the "dark continent." [...] Henty gives a description of the black African that contains all the classic racist elements. [...] Within the context of these general assertions, Henty does differentiate among African tribes. Henty describes the natives of Sierra Leone as indolent, worthless and insolent; the Houssas as the best fighters; and the Kroomen as strong, willing, and faithful, but notorious cowards. As one moves to the north or south in Henty's Africa, the moral fiber of the native peoples seems to improve. In The Young Colonists, set in South Africa, the Zulus appear as a warlike people, proud and brave. They contrast rather favorably with the insolent, pig-headed and ignorant Boers. In North Africa the black Sudanese love to fight, are never afraid, never grumble, and are always merry and tireless. As soldiers, they prefer to fight under the command of a white officer. The Egyptians, a strong and handy people, have a peaceful nature but can fight bravely. (Clark 45)
Such differentiation made by Henty regarding the traits of different races within Africa, in fact, reflects the influence of the Darwinian theory of species on his view of the concept of race. Certainly Henty makes a distinction between the North African Arab tribes and the sub-Saharan communities, in which the former, also due to their being members of the Islamic faith, are depicted with a more modest racist attitude and the latter as primitive pagans and savages. In line with this argument, Logan also suggests that
the assumption that, because the people of [sub-Saharan] Africa were neither Christians nor Muslims, they had no religion is indicative of Henty's racist views toward the people of [sub-Saharan] Africa. It also reveals the myopic Victorian view that anything that is not monotheistic is 'no religion at all.' (Narrating Africa 100)
One may also argue that the West African tribes of the former slave-trading posts along the Atlantic coast, which had lost their initial commercial importance by the nineteenth century, are treated by the author with a more racist attitude than the tribes populating the north-eastern and eastern fringes of the continent, such as Sudan and Egypt, which gained more strategic importance after the opening of the Suez Canal.
For instance, in The Dash for Khartoum set in Sudan, one of the boy heroes, Rupert Clinton, disguises himself as an Arab to go into the desert to look for his lost brother. All he needs to cover up his whiteness is some amount of dye: "I shall want to lay in a stock of dye. Fortunately, the exact colour is not material, for natives are any shade between yellow and black" (275). (2) Similarly, in With Kitchener in the Soudan, the protagonist Gregory needs to cover his whiteness for a trip into the desert full of hostile native groups. For that purpose, "at four in the afternoon Gregory was stained from head to foot, two coats of the dye being applied. This used but a small quantity of the liquor, and the rest was poured into a gourd for future use" (103). (3) Gregory knows that dying his skin will work, because, as he explains to General Hunter whose permission he needs for the trip, "there is no great difference between Arab features and European, and I think that when I am stained brown and have my head partly shaved, according to their fashion, there will be little fear of my being detected" (95). All these imply that the northern and north-eastern tribes of Africa were perceived by Henty as being closer to the Europeans in terms of their racial traits.
However, no such race-crossing is seen in By Sheer Pluck, a novel set in West Africa. On the contrary, "stereotypes about Africans begin to emerge as the setting shifts from England to the west coast of Africa" (Logan, "The Myth" 130-131). When Frank and Mr. Goodenough disembark from the ship on the coast of West Africa, the latter immediately warns the boy that "the negroes of Sierra Leone are the most indolent, the most worthless, and the most insolent in all Africa" (113). (4) This racist view is further reiterated and broadened through the boy hero Frank's observation of a troop of baboons:
in the distance Frank could hear the shouts of some natives, and supposed that the monkeys had been plundering their plantations, and that they were driving them away. The baboons passed without paying any attention to him, but Frank observed that the last of the troop was carrying a little one in one of its forearms. Frank glanced at the baby-monkey and saw that it had round its waist a string of blue beads. As a string of beads is the only attire which a negro child wears until it reaches the age of ten or eleven years old, the truth at once flashed upon Frank that the baboons were carrying off a native baby. (153-154)
The direct implication of this incident is that Henty's hero, even though he is knowledgeable about species, cannot really see a physical difference between a black baby and a monkey. (5) Therefore, the incident stands out as a striking expression of Henty's racialist perception of the Africans. As a result, early in the novel Henty establishes in the minds of his readers where he believes the natives of West Africa stand in the biological evolutionary chain. Furthermore, as statements about the intellectual capabilities and character and moral traits of the Africans come into play, the culturally-constructed racial stereotypes are also added into the picture. For example, with reference to the Africans,
"They are just like children," Mr. Goodenough said. "They are always either laughing or quarrelling. They are good-natured and passionate, indolent, but will work hard for a time; clever up to a certain point, densely stupid beyond. The intelligence of an average negro is about equal to that of a European child of ten years old. A few, a very few, go beyond this, but these are exceptions, just as Shakespeare was an exception to the ordinary intellect of an Englishmen. They are fluent talkers, but their ideas are borrowed. They are absolutely without originality, absolutely without inventive power. Living among white men, their imitative faculties enable them to attain considerable amount of civilization. Left alone to their own devices they retrograde into a state little above their native savagery. (118)
Not surprisingly, the core idea in Mr. Goodenough's statement was in line with a declaration made by the Anthropological Society in 1864 "that black children develop only up to the age of twelve" (Green 233).
Obviously, Henty did not become a racist on his own. In a sense, in his novels, he was responding to the public sensitivity about the Empire, colonisation overseas and the discourses accompanying these concerns. In other words, his novels were both the reflections and the reinforcements of popular assumptions held by the majority of the British people in his own time. As Ashley remarks:
in Henty's day [...] the British as a whole believed sincerely that "one Englishman is equal to ten Frenchmen." That was a patriotic perspective that put inestimable burdens upon the Briton to "play the game" and rise to the challenges of life and be true to the ideals of a superior race. It called upon Britons to regard all other nations not as equals but as allies, enemies, or real or potential subjects. (55)
Such a perception of other nations as allies or enemies was itself an effect of the military and political tensions caused by the emergence of other European colonial powers who challenged the British hegemony of the world from 1870s onwards.
Not only due to the dynamics of the age of New Imperialism, but also as a result of both his brief military career in the army and his professional background as a war correspondent, a sense of militarism evidently permeates Henty's novels as a discursive element. Accordingly, in many of his novels, "passages of his prose read like instructions for the cadet corps. Correct handling of weapons; proper execution of commands; attention to codes of conduct: all these points insist on conformity, obedience and respect" (Bristow 147). For Henty, the principles and pragmatics of British militarism were also related to the imperial ideology. In this respect one agrees with Logan points out that:
Henty believed that war was a training ground for character and a necessary step for future colonists. [...] For Henty's heroes, war is a rite of passage: the colony in Henty's works serves as a training ground for manly activities which the hero will need when he returns home. (Narrating Africa 116)
Accordingly, the reader sees Frank displaying heroism in the Second Ashanti War in By Sheer Pluck; Tom and Dick helping the war effort of British troops in the Zulu War and the First Boer War in The Young Colonists; and Easton of The Dash for Khartoum and Gregory of With Kitchener in the Soudan proving their military skills and manliness in the two British campaigns in Sudan respectively.
The idea of 'manly activities' in the quotation above leads immediately to the privileging of masculinism, which is another major discursive element in Henty's novels. Partly stemming from the patriarchal values of Victorian society and partly in conformity with the imperial ideology, narrations of the superiority of the muscular masculine constitute the essence of Henty's stories of imperial adventure. As Reynolds aptly describes:
Henty, who adheres firmly to the dictates and conventions of the adventure story, invariably relies on the heightened presentation of masculinity that such stories seem to require. [...] By working within the adventure convention, Henty was able legitimately to exclude [emotional problems and affective relationships] from his work and to concentrate instead on detailing the characteristics which make his heroes embodiments of the masculine ideal. (75)
Similarly, Ashley relates Henty's masculinism to his misogynistic attitude: "His is simply a man's world, or at least one in which the men of the tribe educate the boys and hand on the patriarchal torch" (272). As a matter of fact, with regard to his masculinist discourse, Henty does not always use direct statements making explicit his personal views. At times, his masculinist views are placed under the cover of a criticism of feminist ones. In By Sheer Pluck Henty's mouthpiece Mr. Goodenough explains to Frank that:
in countries where women are dependent upon men, leaving to them the work of providing for the family and home, while they employ themselves in domestic duties and in brightening the lives of the men, they are treated with respect. [...] When women leave their proper sphere and put themselves forward to do man's work they must expect man's treatment; and the foolish women at home who clamour for women's rights, that is to say for an equality of work, would, if they had their way, inflict enormous damage upon their sex. (212)
His reference here is most probably to the Suffragette Movement of the late Victorian period, which asked for enfranchisement and rights for women. In order to rationalise his own argument for those who might be offended in Britain, Henty puts forward, in the conversation leading up to the statement given in above quotation, again by using Goodenough as his mouthpiece, the images of African women who "till the soil" and fight as soldiers, and perform all the offices of men" (211). Frank's immediate response to the idea of women soldiers is: "But it will seem dreadful to fire at women!" (211). Goodenough's further explanation is also the point where Henty renders, what today would be called, his 'sexist' view more acceptable and rational: "That is merely an idea of civilization, Frank" (212). Notwithstanding, Henty believed that the Empire was a masculine institution and needed only strong and dominant male characters for its maintenance. By Sheer Pluck is strong evidence of this view due to the complete absence of female characters.
In Henty's novels, pro-imperialism constitutes the ideological base on which other discursive elements operate. However, one does not always get overt statements as regards pro-imperialism in his novels. To see through, one should rather concentrate on the implications and evaluate the total effect of the interaction between the individual discursive elements. In this sense, one may observe Henty's pro-imperialist attitude cropping up not as overt 'pro-imperialism,' but in the form of an 'anti-liberal' discourse. To put it differently, Henty was not only propagating and disseminating his pro-imperialist views into the society, but he was also involved in an anti-anti-imperialist propaganda. For instance, since Gladstone's Liberal government was in office at the time of the Second Ashanti War, Henty makes a pro-imperialist point of criticising the 'reluctant imperialists' in By Sheer Pluck by stating that
the English government had been loath to embark upon such an expedition, but a petition which had been sent home by the English and native traders at Sierra Leone and Elmina had shown how great was the peril which threatened the colony, and it had been felt that unless an effort was made the British would be driven altogether from their hold of the coast. (271)
Historically, Gladstone was afraid of the possible consequences of a campaign in a part of the world which was difficult for the British troops due to its climate and topography. As Vandervort has asserted, "the Liberal government of William Ewart Gladstone, in addition to the prime minister's usual reservations about imperial wars, feared the expense both in blood and money of a serious campaign in the tropics" (88), and thus Henty's criticism of Liberal reluctance was not altogether baseless. However, even though a later British campaign in the region had achieved some form of order and British domination of the Gold Coast at the time of Henty's writing of his novel, he tended to ignore that part for his own version of the story. In other words, Henty always found a way of criticising the 'reluctant imperialism' of Liberal governments. In With Kitchener in the Soudan, for example, he openly criticises the Liberal government in office at the time of the death of General Charles Gordon while trying to defend Khartoum against Mahdist rebels:
[Gordon's] requests for aid were slighted. He had asked that two regiments should be sent from Suakim to keep open the route to Berber, but Mr. Gladstone's government refused even this slight assistance to the man they had sent out, and it was not until May that public indignation at this base desertion of one of the noblest spirits that Britain ever produced caused preparations for his rescue to be made.... (42)
However, as described in The Dash for Khartoum, the rescue operation had failed; General Gordon had already been killed by the time the rescue team arrived in Khartoum. According to Henty's narrator in this novel,
it was grievous to think that the expedition had been made in vain, and that, owing to those in authority at home delaying for months before making up their minds to rescue Gordon, it had failed in its object, and that the noblest of Englishmen had been left to die, unaided by those who had sent him out. (217)
The tone of Henty's criticism of the policy of the Liberal government, whose inefficiency in the Sudan case was not the only one in its record of political mistakes, grows harsher as Easton, the protagonist of The Dash for Khartoum, says: "Our fathers used to be proud to call themselves Englishmen, but, by Jove, there is very little reason for us to be. That Boer business was shameful and humiliating enough, but this is worse still" (279). However, Henty's main worry about the event was different; as Logan has suggested, "in fact, according to Henty, Gordon was sent by the British government to 'restore peace and order to the Soudan.' It could be argued that whatever disorder there was in Sudan, it prevented and threatened British trade in commodities such as ivory" (Narrating Africa 98), a point which cannot be easily contradicted in the light of other similar evidence in Henty's works.
Henty's anti-Liberalism or his criticism of the so-called 'reluctant imperialism' of the Liberal government, is another evidence of his pro-imperialism also in The Young Colonists. Not surprisingly, Henty's criticism of the English strategy in the Zulu War, during which a Conservative government was in office, is limited to the military strategy, not the political one. Henty would not argue against the imperialist policies of Benjamin Disraeli's Conservative government. On the contrary, a supportive tone can be observed when Mr. Jackson informs Mr. Humphreys that "the government have determined on moving the troops down to the Zulu frontier; [because] the attitude of Cetewayo is very threatening" (49). (6) Thus, Henty's criticism of policies in the novel concentrates on the Boer War, which had been managed poorly in Britain by Gladstone's Liberal government. Typically, in the preface to the novel Henty gives the summary of the First Boer War and its consequences for Britain in the following:
In the Boer War we also suffered two defeats,--one at Laing's Neck, the other at Majuba Hill,--and when at last a British force was assembled capable of retrieving these misfortunes, the English government decided not to fight, but to leave the Boers in possession of the Transvaal. This unfortunate surrender has, assuredly, brought about the troubled state in things now existing in South Africa. (iii)
Similar statements accusing the Liberal government of the time abound in the novel. On the eve of the war, it is explained that
there [wa]s a mere handful of British troops in Transvaal, and only a regiment or so in Natal. Those wretched duffers at home hurried every soldier out of the country the instant the fighting was over, and if the Boers really mean business we shall have no end of trouble. (236)
In other accusations of the government by the narrator, the lack of energy and initiative on the part of the government is shown as evidence of its failure: "Of course if we had a government which worked with energy and decision it would be a different matter altogether" (238-239). The didactic tone of Henty in this statement, guiding his readers as to what would be the proper method of action in possible future cases, is also explicit. It may also be argued that it is typical of Henty, when he is criticising a bad or wrong policy or strategy, to insert into the narrative such recommendations about the alternative ways which were possible but not considered at the time of the events. In The Dash for Khartoum too, after criticising Liberal government policies in Sudan, Henty's narrator suggests that
the policy was a short-sighted one. Had a protectorate been established over the country to the foot of the hills, and a force sufficient to maintain it left there, the great bulk of the tribesmen would have willingly given in their allegiance [to their leaders] [...]; but the fact that we hastened away after fighting, and afforded no protection whatever to the friendly natives, effectually deterred others from throwing in their lot with us, and enabled Osman Digma [their leader] gradually to restore his power and influence among them. (141-142)
His recommendations for future imperialists put aside, at times, Henty's criticism expands to include the supporters of the Liberal government in Britain by the assertion of the implications of the events for English settlers in the region. In The Young Colonists the narrator complains that
Englishmen living at home in the happy conviction that their own is the greatest of nations can form little idea of the feelings of men in a colony like the Cape, where our rule is but half-consolidated, and where a Dutch population, equal in numbers, are sullenly hostile, or openly insolent. The love of the old flag and the pride of nationality are there very different feelings from the dull and languid sentiment at home [...] (272)
At other instances in The Young Colonists, the same Henty who promotes colonisation in southern Africa by bringing to the fore the diamond and gold reserves early in the novel, uses the protection of the indigenous people from Boer cruelty as the rationale for the establishment of British rule in the region:
To the unhappy natives the taking over of the Transvaal by England had been a blessing of the highest kind. For the first time the shooting of them in cold blood had come to be considered a crime, and ordinances had been issued against slavery, which, although generally evaded by the Boers, still promised a happy state of things in the future. At the native kraals the travellers were always welcomed when it was known that they were English. The natives looked to Queen Victoria as a sort of guardian angel, and not a thought entered their heads that they would ere long be cruelly and basely abandoned to the mercies of the Dutch by the government of England. (157)
Overall, whatever the reasons may be, at the end of this novel, Henty does not hesitate to express that "a more disgraceful and humiliating chapter in English history than the war in the Transvaal, and the treaty which concluded it, is not to be found" (301). Knowing Henty's command of British history (7) and trusting his judgements concerning the same, his readers would easily be persuaded about the weakness of the 'reluctant imperialists,' thereby aligning to a more aggressively pro-imperialist position.
To conclude, in his imperial adventure novels, Henty was propagating an ideology, which was a pro-imperialist one, disseminated to the target audience through the identifiable image of the Henty Hero. With their use of history as setting, their emphasis on the concept of the hero, their depiction of the colony as a geography of adventure, their deployment of an omniscient narration style constructing an ideologically-informed subject position, their systematic depiction of Britain and the British as 'civilized,' 'advanced,' 'masculine' and 'superior' as opposed to the depiction of the indigenous populations in the colonies as 'savage,' 'backward,' 'feminine' and 'inferior,' which are linked to each other through the interaction between discourses of racism, militarism and masculinism in their universe, these novels were both influenced by and contributed to the promotion of British imperialism in the late Victorian period. Apart from his deployment of efficient stylistic and discursive strategies in spinning his yarns of imperial adventure, it may also be suggested that Henty had an audience awareness which "made him [...] the kind of artist who embodies the spirit of his age, speaks to its condition, and has historical insights to offer the careful analyst" (Ashley 4). With this audience awareness at the back of his mind, Henty's statements of his views concerning pro-imperialism, social class, and masculinism, on the one hand, have often been hidden under some kind of disguise or have been softened or rationalized by additional explanation. In airing his racist and militarist views, on the other hand, he was quite straightforward and overt. None of these would possibly offend the British public of the late Victorian age. The reason for his careful treatment of the issues of imperialism as state policy, class stratification and masculine superiority was that on each of these issues there were debates in the late Victorian British society. There was an anti-imperialist line of thought against also which he was writing; there were still the resonances of the Chartist Movement asking for further rights for the working-class; and the Suffragette Movement was pushing for political and social rights for British women. If Henty had not taken these realities into consideration he would not have been able to sell and communicate his pro-imperialist views to a wider public. What he did was to mould his views on imperialism as a political option, class and gender into 'acceptable' and 'politically correct' forms, which would not offend and distract the working-classes, and the increasingly influential women's rights activists, so as to be able to transmit his main message to as many people as possible.
(1) For a comprehensive narrative about the life and works of Henty, see Leonard R.N Ashley, George Alfred Henty and the Victorian Mind, San Francisco: International Scholars, 1999.
(2) George Alfred Henty, The Dash for Khartoum: A Tale of the Nile Expedition, 1891, N.p.: Robinson, 2002. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited in the text.
(3) George Alfred Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan: A Story of Atbara and Omdurman, 1903, N.p.: Robinson, 2002. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited in the text.
(4) George Alfred Henty, By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War, 1884, N.p.: Robinson, 2002. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited in the text.
(5) This point has also been made in Mawuena Kossi Logan, Narrating Africa: George Alfred Henty and the Fiction of Empire, New York: Garland, 1999, p. 89.
(6) George Alfred Henty, The Young Colonists: A Story of the Zulu and Boer Wars, 1885, N.p.: Robinson, 2002. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited in the text.
(7) Henty made an intensive use of English and Anglo-Saxon history in his novels. Interestingly, his novels follow the diachronic pattern of the history of Britain and deal with situations, events, and persons in this history. Indeed, one may state that at the time of his death Henty's novels read like chapters in British history.
Allen, Brooke. "G.A. Henty and the Vision of Empire". The New Criterion 20.8 (April 2002): 20-24.
Ashley, Leonard R.N. George Alfred Henty and the Victorian Mind. San Francisco: International Scholars, 1999.
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Bristow, Joseph. Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man's World. London: Harper Collins, 1991.
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984.
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Henty, George Alfred. By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War, 1884, N.p.: Robinson, 2002.
--. The Dash for Khartoum: A Tale of the Nile Expedition. 1891. N.p.: Robinson, 2002.
--. With Kitchener in the Soudan: A Story of Atbara and Omdurman. 1903. N.p.: Robinson, 2002.
--. The Young Colonists: A Story of the Zulu and Boer Wars. 1885. N.p.: Robinson, 2002.
Knight, Patricia. "British Public Opinion and the Rise of Imperialist Sentiment in Relation to Expansion in Africa, 1880-1900". Diss. University of Warwick, 1968.
Knowles, Murray, and Kirsten Malmkjaer. Language and Control in Children's Literature. London: Routledge, 1996.
Logan, Mawuena Kossi. "The Myth of Postcolonial Africa and Juvenile Literature." Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora 3.1 (Spring/Summer 2001): 126-140.
--. Narrating Africa: George Alfred Henty and the Fiction of Empire. Children's Literature and Culture. New York: Garland, 1999.
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Phillips, Richard. Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure. London: Routledge, 1997.
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in Britain, 1880-1910. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990.
Richards, Jeffrey. "Spreading the Gospel of Self-Help: G.A. Henty and Samuel Smiles". Journal of Popular Culture 16.2 (Fall 1982): 52-65.
Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914. London: UCL P, 1998.
1870'lerden sonra Ingiliz Yeni Emperyalizmi'nin yukselise gecmesiyle birlikte populer emperyal macera romani turu de ortaya cikti ve cogunlukla Ingiliz emperyalist ideolojisinin ozellikle de ergenlik cagindaki erkek okuyucular arasinda yayilmasina katkida bulundu. George Alfred Henty, uzmanlar tarafindan emperyal macera romani turunun ve bu turde yazilmis romanlarin cogunun tanimlayici ozelligi olan emperyalist soylemin en onde gelen temsilcisi olarak gosterilmistir. Bu makalede Henty'nin Afrika kitasinda gecen olaylari anlatan romanlarini yazarken kullandigi temel uslup ve soylemsel stratejiler anlatilmakta ve orneklenmekte; ve bu macera anlatilarinin Ingiltere'nin Yeni Emperyalizm doneminde Afrika kitasinda baslattigi emperyalist projenin Ingiliz toplumunda propagandasinin yapilmasi ve populerlestirilmesine yonelik olarak nasil birer arac olarak kullanildigi gosterilmektedir.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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