Strange Relations: The Evangelical and Anthropological Roots of Imperial Anxiety

  • Timothy L. Carens


In their discussion of the ironies of Englishness, both Ian Baucom (1999) and Simon Gikandi (1996) trace a historical trajectory that culminates in the twentieth century. Granting that “it has never been clear where the identity between colonizer and colonized ends and the difference between them begins,” as Gikandi puts it, both critics characterize postcolonial culture as the moment in which the overlap reaches its clearest expression (2). Gikandi speculates that the “loss of empire has forced the imagined community [of Englishness] to unravel” in a particularly visible way (31). From this perspective, Victorian culture might be misunderstood as a prefatory moment during which the nation imagined itself as a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’ set in opposition to dark-skinned colonial othemess.1 The ‘Englishness of the past’, as Robert Young (1995) points out, “is often represented in terms of fixity, of certainty, centredness, homogeneity, as something unproblematically identical with itself” (2). Neither Gikandi nor Baucom promotes this misunderstanding, but the extent to which Victorian culture anxiously perceived forms of colonial “otherness” built into the framework of English identity requires further study.


Imperial Power Original Italic Marriage Ceremony Evolutionary Anthropologist English Subject 
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  1. 3.
    Christine Bolt’s Victorian Attitudes to Race (1971) remains an essential guide to the intricacies of the notion of race in the nineteenth century. Mr Earnshaw’s description of Heathcliff as “dark almost as if it came from the devil” begins to show how a pejorative rhetoric of racial difference casually associated biological features such as skin color with moral character. As Bolt points out, Victorian culture entirely confused biological and cultural attributes in the concept of race, which “came to be seen as the prime determinant of all the important traits of body and soul, character and personality, of human beings and nations. In other words, race became far more than a biological concept: race and culture were dangerously linked” (9).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Marianne Thormählen (1999) provides the most thorough and subtle analysis of the religious context of fictional works by the Brontë sisters. Her first chapter provides a fine overview of Evangelicalism, the creed that “was of such fundamental importance in Patrick Brontë’s home” (14). Also see Felicia Gordon (1989: 73–85) and Tom Winnifrith, The Brontës and Their Background: Romance and Reality (1973: 28–75).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Timothy L. Carens 2005

Authors and Affiliations

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

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