The British Empire 
                                                              1815-1914


At the time of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 fiction played an important role in developing and strengthening people's support for the Empire. Writers such as Henty produced stories in which the British adventurer was superior to the native and was portrayed  as strong, courageous, imbued with a sense of duty and a strong Christian faith. Writers like Henty, Rudyard Kipling, Rider Haggard and the mass circulation newspapers like the Daily Mail all helped to develop a strong sense of patriotism which occasionally produced outbursts of patriotic fervour as was seen following the relief of Mafeking. As the Empire declined in the second part of the 20th century the writing associated with empire was seen as racist in content  and increasingly difficult to read. The literature became unfashionable and even Kipling, who was regarded as the Imperial Laureate, was read less and less.


If we are to understand the feelings and attitudes of the British at the height of the British Empire then we should read what they read. Good historical fiction can teach what a standard work of history cannot. It can introduce us to the sights, sounds and smells of the Empire and can give some of the characters a voice. I have included below contemporary historical fiction and also historical fiction that has been written in more recent times. Some might regard contemporary fiction as just propaganda. In some cases the author might have set out to persuade the reader of the justness of empire or have just written what is thought to have appealed to the reader and therefore reflected the times.


Much of the contemporary fiction that I have listed is adventure stories. They introduced a newly educated audience to far away exotic places and were a type of fantasy. As well as contemporary novels I have also included more recent fiction which has been written in a more enlightened time when racism is unacceptable and the author may be highlighting the exploitative and racist nature of Imperialism.


The list below is by no means complete and I would welcome suggestions of further reading that you can recommend.


General

C.S.Forester, Mr Midshipman Hornblower

B. Cornwall, Sharpe series

P. O’Brian, Master and Commander, 1969

J Gardam, Old Filth, 2004: The Man with the Wooden Hat, 2009: Last Friends, 2013


Africa

Achebe, C, Things Fall Apart, 1958

Schreiner, O, An African Farm

Foden G, Ladysmith

Conrad, C,  Heart of Darkness

Greene G, Heart of the Matter, 1948

Harries A, No Place like a Lady 2005; Manly Pursuits 1999,

Louis Leipoldt, The Valley, 2001

Haggard R, King Soloman's Mines,

Saul David, Zulu Hart,2009

J.M.Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians,

Jennifer McVeigh, The Fever Tree, 2012


Asia

Forster EM, Passage to India, 1924

Scott P, Raj Quartet, 1971

Ghosh A, River of Smoke, 2012; Sea of Poppies, 2009

Farrell, JG, Seige of Krishnapur; The Troubles; The Hill Station, 1981

John Masters, Nightrunners of Bengal, 1951; Bhowani Junction,1954, The Deceivers, 1952, The Lotus and the Wind, 1953;

M.M.Kaye, The Far Pavilions,1978: The Shadow of the Moon,

Saul David, Hart of Empire, 2010

Kipling R, Kim; The Man who would be King

Orwell, Burmese Days, 1934

R.P. Jhabvala, Heat and Dust, 1975

RK Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 1976

MJ Carter, The Strangler Vine, 2014


Australia

M Boyd, The Cardboard Crown, 1952; A Difficult Young Man, 1955; Outbreak of Love, 1957; When Blackbirds Sing, 1962

M Kneale, English Passengers, 2000

K Grenville, The Secret River, Sarah Thornhill

T Keneally, Bring Larks and Heroes, 1988

M Kneale, English Passengers, 2000


New Zealand

M Shadbolt, Season of the Jew, 1986; Monday’s Warriors, 1990; The House of Strife, 1993

E Braithwaite, The Flying Fish, 1964; The Needle's Eye, 1965; The Evil Day, 1967

Fiona Kidman, The Book of Secrets, 1987

Deborah Challinor, Isle of Tears, 2009

Barbara Ewing, The Trespass, 2002

Jenny Howarth, Lost Souls, 2005

CK Stead, The Singing Whakapapa, 1994


Americas

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, 1966

Imperial Historical Fiction


How did a small army of farmers defeat the might of the British Empire?

How did the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir transform Britain’s position in the Middle East?

What did Victoria think of her Empire?

How was Flora Shaw one of the most influential women in the making of Empire?


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