Abundant evidence suggests that Victorian writers perceived clear distinctions between themselves and those dark-skinned subjects they presumed to govern in distant colonies. In an 1848 Examiner article, for example, Charles Dickens asserts that “between the civilized European and the barbarous African, there is a great gulf set,” adding for good measure that there is “a broad dark sea between the Strand in London, and the Niger” (533). In British Rule in India (1857), Harriet Martineau gestures to the “bottomless chasm which yawns between the interior nature of the Asiatic and the European races” (296). Significantly, both comments arise in the context of challenges to British imperial authority. Dickens writes in response to the disastrous Niger expedition of 1841, on which malarial fever defeated an attempt to found a civilizing colony on the upper reaches of the river. Martineau writes in the midst of the Indian uprising of 1857, the “present calamity,” as she phrases it, facing “the English people” (2). Imperial crisis leads both writers to smooth over differences at home — to be English is also to be British and European — and accentuate them in relation to colonial otherness. Both writers intimate a vague connection between cultural and biological differences. For Martineau, it is the “interior nature” of the opposed “races” that counts.


Social Critic East India Company Original Italic English Subject Colonial Locale 
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  1. 21.
    See the first two chapters of T. O. Lloyd’s The British Empire 1558–1983 (1984) for a more detailed overview of early colonial ventures.Google Scholar

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© Timothy L. Carens 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy L. Carens
    • 1
  1. 1.English DepartmentCollege of CharlestonUSA

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