. 5
( 7)


on directly, because the South African of the future would be a physical
mix of Boer and Briton. Art, however, is African, not Afrikaner, and so
cannot be inherited by the white South African: One of Schreiner™s
biggest fears for South Africa, expressed in ˜˜The Problem of Slavery,™™ is
miscegenation, the social problem presented by the ˜˜Half-caste™™
(Thoughts ±). Thus art, or spirituality, must move into the realm of the
Schreiner links the non-African artist with indigenous Africans by
virtue of their respective ties to nature. Although she grants the Boers no
artistic abilities, Schreiner does see the Boers as having the special
appreciation for the land that comes from having ˜˜possessed it as no
white man ever had possessed it.™™ In the Boer ˜˜the intellectual faculties
are more or less dormant through non-cultivation™™ (Thoughts ±·), but
the Boer appreciates nature. Handicapped by the Taal, the Boer ˜˜has
no language in which to re-express what he learns from nature, but he
knows her™™ (Thoughts ±·). The Boer cannot be a poet, but ˜˜[n]o one
with keen perception can have lived among the Boers without perceiv-
ing how close, though unconscious, is their union with the world around
them, and how real the nourishment they draw from it™™ (Thoughts ±).
Schreiner™s language, of the ˜˜unconscious™™ connection to nature, is the
language of western writing about ˜˜savages.™™ The Boers are not yet
civilized enough to understand their own connection to the land. Their
aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual limitations meant that the Boers
were not the ideal inheritors of the land of South Africa. But their love
for the land and their strong religious faith, Schreiner proposed, were
elements worth absorbing into the South African of the future.

Because Schreiner traces the artistic impulse in South Africa to Bush-
men and not Boers, it cannot be passed on to future South Africans
through intermarriage, as the Boer love for the land would be inherited.
Schreiner sees no Bushman blood in the veins of her ˜˜blended™™ South
African. Any miscegenation is seen as a social evil, but on a scale of
civilization, the Bushman ranks at the bottom. Art is thus doubly
removed from white South Africa “ Bushmen cannot be allowed to
Interpreting South Africa to Britain
interbreed with Boers or British, and, in any case, the Bushmen are all
gone. Art, or spirituality, must move into the realm of the mystical
because miscegenation cannot be permitted.
Miscegenation was perhaps the most di¬cult racial issue for
Schreiner, as it was for many liberal white South Africans. The issue
cropped up again and again in Schreiner™s political journalism and her
¬ction “ for her, it was one of the greatest evils of South Africa. Her
essay on ˜˜The Problem of Slavery,™™ originally printed in ±, declared
that the ¬rst social duty of South Africa was to ˜˜Keep your breeds pure!™™
(Thoughts ±). Interbreeding of Europeans and Africans in South Africa,
she declared, had produced a huge social problem “ the mixed-race
South African.¹⁸ Schreiner™s faith in Victorian science appeared to be at
odds with her progressive politics in her assessment of the position of the
˜˜Half-caste.™™ She eventually concluded that ˜˜there do exist in the social
conditions of the Half-caste™s existence, in almost every country in
which he is found, causes adequate, and more than adequate, to
account for all, and more than all, the retrograde and anti-social
qualities with which he is credited™™ (Thoughts ±). Therefore, despite the
existence of ˜˜certain circumstances which suggest the possibility of the
crossing of widely discovered varieties producing a tendency to revert to
the most primitive ancestral forms of both™™ (Thoughts ±), not enough
evidence existed to prove that this would produce a biological reason for
the problems of the mixed-race South African. ˜˜Half-castes™™ were as
likely to be ˜˜anti-social™™ (criminal, amoral) because of the discrimina-
tion they su¬ered at the hands of both white and black communities.
Schreiner™s impulses to look for evolutionary reasons for the position of
the ˜˜Half-caste™™ clashed with her impulse to look for political reasons
for that position, but she eventually acknowledged the large role of
social factors. Rather than call for improvements in the status of mixed-
race South Africans, however, Schreiner simply advocates racial ˜˜pu-
rity™™ as a solution.
In her writing on miscegenation Schreiner™s feminism and her racial
politics come together in an uneasy alliance, for Schreiner had good
feminist reason to deplore miscegenation: the white man™s sexual exploi-
tation of the black woman. It is on this topic that Schreiner develops
most clearly the connections between her feminism and her anti-racism,
both in her polemical non-¬ction and in her ¬ction. One of the strongest
features of Schreiner™s anti-imperialist allegory, Trooper Peter Halket of
Mashonaland, is its treatment of white men™s sexual exploitation of black
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
The plot of Trooper Peter has the eponymous hero, a soldier in the
employ of Rhodes™ Chartered Company, accidentally stranded in the
veldt for a night. He is visited by a mysterious stranger, a linen-garbed
Jew with wounds in his hands and feet, and the two talk all night.
Inspired by the memory of his mother at home in England, Peter
decides to spread the stranger™s message of love. His new resolve is tested
the next day back in camp, when he is ordered to shoot an African
captured by his troop. Freeing the man instead, he is shot by his
commanding o¬cer.
One of the most startling passages in Trooper Peter is Peter™s description
of the domestic life of the British adventurer in southern Africa:
˜˜I had two huts to myself, and a couple of nigger girls. It™s better fun,™™ said
Peter, after a while, ˜˜having these black women than whites. The whites you™ve
got to support, but the niggers support you! And when you™re done with them
you can just get rid of them. I™m all for the nigger gals . . . One girl was only
¬fteen; I got her cheap from a policeman who was living with her, and she
wasn™t much. But the other . . . belonged to the chap I was with. He got her up
north. There was a devil of a row about his getting her, too; she™d got a nigger
husband and two children; didn™t want to leave them, or some nonsense of that
sort.™™ (µµ, µ·“µ)
Like Rebekah™s husband, Frank, in Schreiner™s un¬nished novel From
Man to Man, Peter takes for granted the white man™s sexual privilege. In
From Man to Man, Rebekah takes in her husband™s mixed-race child and
raises the girl, Sartje, with her own children. As Anne McClintock has
pointed out, black women are granted no agency in Schreiner™s ¬ctional
portraits, and, indeed, black mothers are bad mothers (Imperial Leather
·“·). Schreiner devotes little ¬ctional attention to African women “
Trooper Peter and From Man to Man focus on criticizing white male
privilege rather than exploring the condition of being an African
woman. But they reveal the connections Schreiner saw between racial
and sexual exploitation. Unable to write as directly about black South
Africans as she had about the Boers, Schreiner was nevertheless able to
write sympathetically about the exploitation of African women as
women. Schreiner does not, however, discuss the oppression of African
women as just another example of sexism; she is careful to discuss black
women™s oppression as double jeopardy “ as racial as well as sexual
Schreiner resigned from the South African Women™s Enfranchise-
ment League over that organization™s refusal to call for the vote for
African women, although she did advocate an education quali¬cation
Interpreting South Africa to Britain
that would have disenfranchised most blacks and some whites (First and
Scott Olive Schreiner ±“). She called for whites to ˜˜raise™™ Africans in
the ˜˜scale of existence,™™ but she also believed in a certain amount of
determinism. In Woman and Labour, she explained that ˜˜the development
of distinct branches of humanity has already brought about . . . a
severance between races and classes which are in totally di¬erent stages
of evolution™™ (). This is the classic conversion of Darwinism to social
Darwinism: separations between races and even between classes are
determined by evolution. The resulting gaps are so wide that some
groups simply could not intermix sexually:
Were it possible to place a company of the most highly evolved human females
“ George Sands, Sophia Kovalevskys, or even the average cultured female of a
highly evolved race “ on an island where the only males were savages of the
Fugean type, who should meet them on the shores with matted hair and
prognathous jaws . . . so great would be the horror felt by the females towards
them, that not only would the race become extinct, but if it depended for its
continuance on any approach to sex a¬ection on the part of the women, that
death would certainly be accepted by all, as the lesser of two evils . . . A Darwin,
a Schiller, a Keats . . . would probably be untouched by any emotion but
horror, cast into the company of a circle of Bushman females with greased
bodies and twinkling eyes, devouring the raw entrails of slaughtered beasts.
(Woman and Labour “)

It is di¬cult to reconcile these Bushman women with Schreiner™s earlier
image of the Bushman as a romantic, solitary painter, prototype for the
modern artist and poet. But to establish the Bushman™s sexual incom-
patibility with modern Europeans was essential to Schreiner™s project of
locating artistic spirituality in that people. Schreiner reinforces the
prohibition against sexual contact between white South Africans and
Bushmen by asserting an almost physical incompatibility between them
that lies within the aesthetic sense of the white man.
Honest hard work and strong family ties come from the Boers, while
the bene¬ts of European civilization come from the English. These two
can blend sexually. But the mystical, spiritual, artistic feeling that must
also contribute to the new South Africa cannot be found in either the
plodding Afrikaner or the sophisticated Briton.

   ¬ µ  ©  ®  ® ¤ ¦  © ® ©  
Just as Schreiner™s projected ideal South African society needs the idea
of Africans in order to function, but cannot directly include the African,
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
so her writing on feminism exploits images of African women without
allowing feminism to be available to African women. In ˜˜The Boer
Woman and the Modern Woman™s Question,™™ one of her pre-Boer
War essays on South Africa, and later in Woman and Labour, Schreiner
recounted a conversation she had had with a ˜˜Ka¬r woman still in her
untouched primitive condition.™™ Although the woman lamented the
condition of the women of her ˜˜race,™™ she o¬ered, Schreiner said, ˜˜not
one word of bitterness against the individual man, nor any will or
intention to revolt; rather, there was a stern and almost majestic attitude
of acceptance of the inevitable; life and the conditions of her race being
what they were™™ (Woman and Labour ±). This conversation, Schreiner
recalled, was her ¬rst encounter with the idea she later came to regard as
˜˜almost axiomatic,™™ that ˜˜the women of no race or class will ever rise in
revolt or attempt to bring about a revolutionary readjustment of their
relation to their society, however intense their su¬ering and however
clear their perception of it, while the welfare and persistence of their
society requires their submission™™ (Woman and Labour ±). The account of
the conversation is one of the few instances in Schreiner™s writing of a
direct exchange between a white and a black person. Schreiner™s ap-
proach is distinctly anthropological, but it is nonetheless signi¬cant that
it is in a discussion of gender issues that she is ¬nally able to write about a
black person. Very real boundaries prevented Schreiner from writing
sympathetically about individual black Africans in her essays on South
African politics, but those boundaries do not appear to have posed as
much of a problem in her writing about women. The problem occurs
because the African woman can be only an object lesson to the Euro-
pean; feminism cannot help the African woman because her race is not
ready for it, but European races have evolved to the point at which
feminism is possible and, indeed, necessary.
In her article on Boer women, Schreiner referred to ˜˜The Woman™s
Movement of the nineteenth century™™ as ˜˜in its ultimate essence . . . The
Movement of a Vast Unemployed™™ (Thoughts °). The problem with modern
European women™s social position was both social and economic:
In primitive societies woman performed the major part of the labours necessary
for the sustenance of her community, as she still does in Africa and elsewhere,
where primitive conditions exist . . . Undoubtedly woman su¬ered, and often
su¬ered heavily, in those primitive societies, but she must always have been
clearly conscious, as was the Bantu woman quoted, of the inevitableness of her
position . . . Her labour formed the solid superstructure on which her society
rested. (°“±°)
Interpreting South Africa to Britain
With industrialization, however, men took over the production of most
goods, and now, for example, ˜˜beer, the right brewing of which was
our grandmother™s pride, is exclusively the manufacture of machinery
and males, who, for absorbing this branch of the female™s work, are
often rewarded with knighthoods and peerages™™ (±). In addition,
women were no longer required to spend the better part of their lives
bearing children. As Schreiner constructed her argument, the out-
comes of this new social ordering could be either ˜˜sex parasitism,™™ in
which women remained entirely dependent on male labor and lost any
social and economic function except as sexual servicers of men, or
˜˜the Woman™s Movement,™™ ˜˜essentially a movement based on
woman™s determination to stand where she has always stood beside
man as his co-labourer . . . bene¬ting not herself only, but humanity™™
The European women™s movement, Schreiner argued, was ˜˜impossi-
ble in the past and inevitable in the present to women within whom the
virility and activity of the Northern Aryan races is couched™™ (±·). Thus
Schreiner relied on distinguishing her own stock, the ˜˜Northern Aryan
races,™™ from other white peoples as well as from Africans in order to
assert the inevitability of the women™s movement. She went on to assert
that the movement was as yet unnecessary for Boer women, even
though they belonged ˜˜by descent to the most virile portions of the
Northern Aryan peoples™™ (±·). For the Boer woman, ˜˜the conditions of
woman™s life and work have not changed; she still has her full share of
the labours and duties of life™™ (±·). Feminism, for these simple econ-
omic reasons, was not yet on the cards for the back-country Boer, as it
was not for African women. But while Schreiner asserted that it was only
a matter of time before the South African economy would change and
Boer women would initiate a movement of their own, she never made
such a claim for African women.
To argue on evolutionary grounds for a white women™s movement,
Schreiner had to be able to compare the African woman to the new
European woman. The African woman not only still worked beside her
man; she also su¬ered under his rule. To show that the European
woman was ready to rise to equality with her man, Schreiner required
the example of the African woman, who was not ˜˜ready,™™ in terms of
social evolution, to challenge the authority of her man because her
submission was necessary for the survival of her ˜˜race.™™ At the time of
the Boer War, Schreiner was still working out her relationship to social
Darwinism. In her twentieth-century writings she would move closer
±° Gender, race, and the writing of empire
toward a view of total equality among the races in South Africa. But as
of the war, she remained limited by social Darwinist frameworks of the
hierarchy of races¹⁹ and so was, for the most part, unable to look at
African women™s situation except as a justi¬cation for the white
women™s movement. While she did not romanticize the oppression of
the African woman, neither did she believe it could be redressed.

Schreiner saw her writing as part of a strategy for social change “ her
novels and allegories as well as her journalism and polemic. The Political
Situation was delivered as a speech aimed at forming a political party,
and she intended the essays of Thoughts on South Africa and the pamphlet
An English-South African™s View of the Situation to help prevent the Boer War.
Woman and Labor, The Story of an African Farm, and Schreiner™s idiosyn-
cratic ˜˜dreams™™ meant much to British feminism. To be sure,
Schreiner™s brief references to racial interaction in her ¬ction had, as
Richard Rive characterized them, ˜˜an air of condescension, patroniz-
ation, [and] custodianship™™ that de¬nes the word ˜˜liberal™™ (Birbalsingh
˜˜Interview with Richard Rive™™ ). But her non-¬ction about race, both
in the context of the Boer War and afterwards, reveals a position that
demands a more complex evaluation.
While Schreiner™s writings about women are now taking their place
in a feminist canon, the time has come to recognize also her complicated
analysis of race and ethnicity. Schreiner™s writing has been broken down
into two bodies: her political, anti-imperialist and ˜˜pro-native™™ work,
including her journalism and Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland; and her
feminist writing, including her allegories and her novels as well as
Woman and Labour. But Schreiner™s analysis of the position of African
women reveals that she recognized the connections between sexism and
racism. Although her inclination to rely on evolutionary theory some-
times skews her analysis of racial oppression, that very theory enables
her to formulate one of the ¬rst thorough critiques of white patriarchy. If
we want to arrive at an assessment of the value and in¬‚uence of
Schreiner™s writing, we must forget neither its limitations nor its insights.
As she interpreted South Africa to Britain, Schreiner presented a picture
of a white country divided by its very nature, with a future, she felt, that
could only lie with unity. Boers could not exist without Africans, nor
English without Boers.
To try to tease out turn-of-the-century British or English South
Africans™ views of Africans from their views of Afrikaners is to misunder-
stand the meaning of race in the late-Victorian context. Schreiner “ a
Interpreting South Africa to Britain
British intellectual who lived only a few years in Britain, a rural South
African who called Britain ˜˜home™™ “ was a product of the British
Empire at the end of the century. Her journalism about race and
Empire was some of the ¬rst writing from South Africa to be taken
seriously in Britain, as a threat by some and as a vision by others. Her
complicated readings of the roles of the English, African, and Afrikaner
in a new South Africa are among the most nuanced of the ±°s. In
positing a future united nation of South Africa rather than a collection
of Boer republics and British colonies, Schreiner had to create that
nation on a racial basis. The ˜˜blended™™ white race of the united South
Africa would evolve from the union of the two distinct white racial
elements of nineteenth-century South Africa. The language that dis-
cusses race in terms of nation and vice versa allows Schreiner to envision
her twentieth-century South Africa without strife between Briton and
Boer: the two races simply evolve into one race.
This same racial thinking, however, with its emphasis on biologism
and its concurrent fears of miscegenation, prevented Schreiner from
positing a new South Africa that would blend the groups twentieth-
century readers most readily think of as races “ that is, blacks and
whites. In Schreiner™s future South Africa, black and white groups are
linked by economics, while white and white groups become linked by
evolution. Schreiner™s vision of the fusion of Boer and Briton relies on
evolutionary discourse about race and ethnicity when it discusses the
social identity of the nation, while it relies on political de¬nitions of race
as class when it discusses the political and economic future of the
nation. Schreiner carefully threaded her way through the complexities
of racial de¬nition at the turn of the century to arrive at a position that
allowed her to advocate for the Boer, excusing Boer crimes against
Africans while still calling for the rights of Africans in a new South
Africa. This paradoxical position was possible because for Schreiner the
evolution of Boer and Briton would create a South African who was not
a Boer, who had evolved beyond the limitations of the Boer, be they
spiritual, aesthetic, or political. Evolution allowed her to be rid of the
Boer and politics allowed her to keep the African. Schreiner™s progress-
ive political agenda meant that she could use the period™s unstable
de¬nitions of race to make the Boers a race, make Africans a class, and
see a future for South Africa in which a blended white people worked to
replace African civilizations with copies of European ones. The limita-
tions of Schreiner™s position on race or class are evident; nevertheless,
her vision of a bloody future for her nation if it did not take her advice
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
proved all too accurate. Instead of de-emphasizing racial separations, as
Schreiner advocated, South Africa under segregation and then apart-
heid reinforced racial divisions. Whether or not de¬nitions of race are
ever clear-cut, separation according to such de¬nitions has proved, as
Schreiner warned, ultimately destructive.
° 

The imperial imaginary “ the press, empire,
and the literary ¬gure

Although Olive Schreiner was the South African writer most famous in
Britain, the novels of South Africa that England loved best were
H. Rider Haggard™s. Through Schreiner and Haggard, ±°s and ±°s
Britons derived a sense of southern Africa, and two more di¬erent
versions of the region would be di¬cult to imagine. Schreiner used
essays, allegory, polemic, and ¬ction to try to paint a portrait of a South
Africa that Britons would respect for its di¬erences yet want as a
somewhat autonomous member of the empire, perhaps equivalent to
Canada. The Story of an African Farm, for all of its spirituality and
experimentation, is at heart a Victorian realist novel, set in an Africa
about which Britons were increasingly eager to learn. The novels of
Rider Haggard, however, treated the reading public to a very di¬erent
southern Africa. ˜˜King Romance™™ ¬lled his southern Africa with adven-
ture, passion, guns, and spears. But with the coming of the Boer War,
Britons looked beyond these writers associated with southern Africa.
For an imperial war, the services of the laureate of empire were needed.
This chapter moves from the African expert Haggard to the imperial
bard himself, Rudyard Kipling, and explores the e¬ects of the British
public™s desire for a single, Kipling-shaped, sense of empire.
Both Olive Schreiner and Arthur Conan Doyle were able to contrib-
ute to public debate about the Boer War because of their positions as
prominent literary ¬gures. Doyle had made his name through Sherlock
Holmes and historical romances; he had no direct connection to empire
before the war. Schreiner was a South African, but beyond that, she had
no particular political or economic expertise to allow her to command
respect for her views on what she called ˜˜The Political Situation.™™ And,
of course, Doyle and Schreiner were only two among many literary
¬gures who wrote in the periodical press about the war. The new
journalism of the late-Victorian period o¬ered new political platforms
for authors, both those associated with high culture and those who were
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
more mass-market. The period at the end of the ¬‚ourishing Victorian
era of reviews and magazines was perhaps the height of literary ¬gures™
involvement in public debate on political issues in Britain, and imperial-
ism was a topic that became linked especially with writers of popular
¬ction, such as Haggard, Doyle, and especially Kipling. In this period,
jingoism came to be associated with the working classes, especially the
jingoism of popular culture, such as the music halls. A similar connec-
tion between popular ¬ction and those same groups played a part in the
attribution of authority on the topic of imperialism to popular literary
¬gures. Consequently, later historians and cultural critics have not been
shy about apportioning blame for Victorian jingoism to such ¬gures as
Haggard and Kipling, based on what is seen as a glori¬cation of empire
in their ¬ction and poetry. This chapter will explore how such literary
¬gures contributed in various, sometimes contradictory ways, to the
public exchange of ideas on imperialism and the Boer War, through
poetry, ¬ction, propaganda, and speechmaking. The historical and
cultural reasons why they should have been o¬ered such exposure for
their views, and the consequences of those views, make for a compli-
cated picture of the place of the literary ¬gure in public discourse on
imperialism. The late-century linking of authors and empire was not a
simple question of the inclusion of imperial themes in ¬ction. Empire, at
the turn of the century, was not simply a setting, a way of providing an
adventure plot. Instead, the link between author and empire during the
Boer War arose very directly in the context of the popular press, as the
public face of imperialism came to depend more and more on a
connection to the imagination.
Fiction had long included empire in its material, ˜˜imaginatively
collaborat[ing] with structures of civil and military power,™™ as Deirdre
David has explained (Rule Britannia ±). In according authority to im-
aginative writers on questions of empire, the Victorian press and read-
ing publics were acknowledging the importance of ¬ction to the fact of
empire “ the necessity of cultural support for the political/economic/
military venture of war. Imagination was of necessity an important
ingredient in British public perceptions of imperialism. As Laura Chris-
man has pointed out in her analysis of Rider Haggard™s adventure
¬ction, ˜˜For a community whose experience of actual imperialism was
profound and asymmetrical (people were both British subjects and
objects of the political and economic complex), the fantasies produced
by this popular form may well have seemed to promise more ˜knowl-
edge™ of the race™s destiny than journalistic reports from the Boer War
The imperial imaginary
front™™ (µ). What would be more natural than to trust such adventure-
authors, to read not only their ¬ction but their own ˜˜journalistic re-
ports™™ in search of the (imaginative) truth about empire? No public
policy issue of the time relied so heavily as did imperialism on the British
public imagining both faraway places and a prosperous future. To that
necessity for imagining, we may add the urgency of war, and of the Boer
War in particular: the impact of the late-nineteenth-century news tech-
nologies meant that British readers eagerly awaited news from the
imperial front every day.
The Boer War, the ¬rst major imperial war against a white settler
population, required that the British people be able to imagine the value
to Britain of a strange landscape most of them would never see, positing
a future of wealth and ˜˜freedom™™ for white British-descended people in
that land. Perhaps more than any other imperial con¬‚ict, this war relied
on an imperial imaginary “ the myths of British imperialism as they
interacted with its material conditions. As Edward Said notes, ˜˜Neither
imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisi-
tion. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive
ideological formations™™ (Culture ). In that imperial imaginary, created
and sustained by the literature of imperialism in conjunction with the
press, the literary ¬gure is key. The Boer War brought imperialism into
the public eye in a new way, as the British fought with a white settler
nation for lands where the indigenous population was African. The
˜˜impressive ideological formations™™ that supported such a war included
the popular press, of course, but they also included the literary “ and in a
much more direct way than in the imperial allusions to which Said refers
in, say, Mans¬eld Park. The conjunction of popular press power and the
increased visibility within popular culture of the imperial project by the
end of the nineteenth century meant that literary ¬gures who were by
then directly addressing empire in their ¬ction were called upon to
address imperial questions in the press as well. We have inherited a
picture of jingoism as a working-class phenomenon, but after the success
of the imperial romance adventures of Rider Haggard, and with the
advent of the cross-class phenomenon of Rudyard Kipling, the popular
press and jingoism reached wider audiences. Imperial enthusiasm, as
shown on Mafeking Night, could include all social classes. Although
literary ¬gures certainly had been accorded authority in the press on
political and social issues before the turn of the century, the literary
¬gures who became associated with imperialism during the Boer War
held a new authority that came from the powerful combination of the
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
new literacy of the lower classes, the new penny and halfpenny news-
papers, the imperial experience of the individual writers, and the new
controversies associated with imperial policy as a result of the concen-
tration camps and other unsettling aspects of this particular war.
Early- and mid-Victorian literary ¬gures had published in many
di¬erent kinds of periodicals, prestigious and popular, conservative and
radical, on political controversies of many sorts, from the woman
question to the Jamaica Rebellion to copyright law.¹ As Joanne Shattock
and Michael Wol¬ have observed, the periodical press ¬‚ourished to an
unprecedented extent in the Victorian age, and ˜˜[t]he press, in all its
manifestations, became during the Victorian period the context within
which people lived and worked and thought, and from which they
derived their (in most cases quite new) sense of the outside world™™
(Victorian Periodical Press xiv“xv). This became even more the case as
literacy rates increased and newspaper prices fell, until the turn of the
century™s burgeoning of the halfpenny newspapers. Imperialism™s pres-
ence in popular culture, outlined by such cultural historians as John
MacKenzie and Anne McClintock, was bolstered by the association of
popular literary ¬gures with empire. In most cases, the literary ¬gures
were able to provide the authority of experience alongside the romance
of the imaginative.
When the author in question had credibility through experience of
empire, the combination of credit for the authority of the imagination
(this author is worth reading) and the authority of experience (this
person has lived in that mythical place, the empire) was formidable.
Kipling, of course, had his Indian experience; on the basis of his
popularity and his journalistic experience he was asked by Lord Roberts
to edit a troop newspaper in Bloemfontein and even allowed to partici-
pate in a battle against the Boers. Arthur Conan Doyle served as a
physician in a ¬eld hospital during the war and was knighted for his
pro-British propaganda. H. Rider Haggard had been an imperial ad-
ministrator in southern Africa during the ¬rst Boer War in ±±, and
Olive Schreiner was South African and came to be treated in the press
as representative of a particular strand of South African thinking.
Any author who would be known to the general public as an author
can be seen as a ˜˜literary ¬gure,™™ and such a de¬nition allows for a
broad group to be included. As Regenia Gagnier points out, although
authorship was being institutionalized and professionalized in the late
nineteenth century, ˜˜literary hegemony, or a powerful literary bloc that
prevented or limited ˜Other™ discursive blocs, did not operate by way of
The imperial imaginary
the institutional infrastructure, rules, and procedures of the ancient
professions of law, medicine, and clergy™™ (Subjectivities ±). Instead, mar-
ket conditions alone seemed to determine who counted as an author,
and status as an author often conveyed a right to write about the war, in
one™s usual genre (such as Algernon Swinburne™s ¬erce anti-Boer po-
etry), or in propaganda publications or essays (such as the romance
novelist Ouida™s essay attacking the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Cham-

 © ¤   § §  ¤ ™  µ    ¦ © 
Certainly the writer who ¬rst comes to mind as spokesperson for empire
at the turn of the century is Kipling. But Kipling was not the ¬rst literary
¬gure to build a reputation on the empire: H. Rider Haggard, who
would be eclipsed by Kipling shortly after the younger man arrived on
the literary scene, had already made a reputation for himself as the
premier African adventure writer by the early ±°s.³ Martin Green has
pointed out that ˜˜the adventure tales that formed the light reading of
Englishmen for two hundred years and more after Robinson Crusoe were,
in fact, the emerging myth of English imperialism. They were, collec-
tively, the story England told itself as it went to sleep at night™™ (Dreams of
Adventure ). The adventure stories of Rider Haggard, many of them set
in the southern Africa he knew from his days as a colonial administrator,
were part of the myth of English imperialism, to be sure. But Haggard
himself became part of that myth as well, part of the public discourse of
imperialism that helped to sustain it as both an ideological and a
material phenomenon. As Patrick Brantlinger points out, British literary
¬gures had been writing about empire throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury, both in ¬ction and in non-¬ction. Brantlinger cites Trollope™s
travelogues of his visits to the British colonies in the ±·°s, and his letters
to the Liverpool Mercury on colonial issues (Rule of Darkness “), for
example. But as the myth (or myths, for certainly India and Africa and
the Far East generated di¬erent myths) of imperialism grew, peaking
with the New Imperialism of the latter part of the century, the involve-
ment of literary ¬gures in the public discourse of imperialism likewise
grew. Kipling™s poetry, Doyle™s propaganda, Haggard™s history, all
worked in support of imperial ideology during the Boer War, while
Olive Schreiner™s essays and letters attempted to intervene against the
war. The presence of these speci¬cally literary celebrities marks the
need for turn-of-the-century imperialism to invoke the imaginary in
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
support of a project that needed public support. The work of the
pro-empire literary ¬gures could not be enough, however, to secure
imperial hegemony, and an examination of the roles of Haggard and
Kipling in the public discourse of imperialism during the Boer War
reveals the faultlines in their own presentations of the imperial ideal.
H. Rider Haggard went to South Africa in ±·µ as a nineteen-year-
old attached to the service of his father™s acquaintance Sir Henry
Bulwer, the new Lieutenant-Governor of Natal. The young Haggard
worked at Pietermaritzburg for Bulwer, in charge of entertaining, set-
ting up household sta¬, and other secretarial duties. When Sir
Theophilus Shepstone o¬ered Haggard the chance to accompany him
on his mission to annex the Boer territory of the Transvaal in ±·, the
young man eagerly accepted. Shepstone was charged with convincing
the Boers to accept annexation so they would be under British protec-
tion from possible Zulu invasion, and Haggard was thrilled to be the one
to raise the Union Jack over Pretoria once the annexation was com-
pleted. The annexation was never popular with the Boers, who felt that
they had been tricked into it by Shepstone, whose promises of self-
government proved false. Boer resistance mounted, and by the end of
±°, full-scale rebellion had broken out. The British, still smarting from
the ±· Zulu War, fared even worse against the Boers, whose military
skills they mightily underestimated. The peace settlement negotiated
through the spring and summer of ±± was humiliating for the British,
who granted Boer self-government under British suzerainty. Haggard,
disillusioned, left for Britain with his wife and small son.
Haggard™s years in South Africa, ¬rst as a colonial administrator and
then as an ostrich farmer, were also his ¬rst years as a writer. His ¬rst
published articles were descriptions of the politics and history of ˜˜The
Transvaal,™™ (Macmillan™s Magazine May ±··) and the spectacle of ˜˜The
Zulu War Dance™™ (The Gentleman™s Magazine August ±··). In ± he
paid £µ° to Trubner™s to publish his Cetywayo and his White Neighbours, the
book about southern Africa from which he would in ± excerpt The
Last Boer War. The book received mixed reviews but resulted in Haggard
being established as an authority on southern African matters. He
contributed a series of articles to the South African and wrote letters to
newspapers about African a¬airs (Ellis H. Rider Haggard ). But Hag-
gard™s ¬rst real success on an African theme was, of course, King Solomon™s
Mines, which catapulted him to fame in ±µ. His tales of African
adventure included Allan Quatermain (±·), She (±·), Nada the Lily (±),
and many others. Most of Haggard™s African ¬ction is concerned with
The imperial imaginary
white people™s interactions with African peoples, but white explorers
rather than settlers “ ±·°s southern Africa rather than turn-of-the-
century South Africa. Haggard™s popularity contributed to new interest
in the empire, as Wendy Katz notes, citing a ± review of Haggard™s
autobiography that declared that Haggard™s ˜˜South African romances
¬lled many a young fellow with longing to go into the wide spaces of
those lands and see their marvels for himself™™ (quoted in Katz Rider
Haggard ±), as, presumably, did the works of other, lesser, imperial
adventure novelists.⁴ Imperial adventure ¬ction was part of the cultural
milieu described by John MacKenzie in Propaganda and Empire “ a non-
stop cultural undercurrent of empire in advertisements, ¬ction, art, and
other artifacts of everyday life. Haggard™s ¬ction has been seen as
contributing to the ideological hegemony of imperialism at the end of
the century (Katz Rider Haggard, Low White Skins/Black Masks, David Rule
Britannia, McClintock Imperial Leather, Chrisman ˜˜Imperial Uncon-
scious?™™, Bristow Empire Boys, Gilbert and Gubar No Man™s Land), but his
contribution went beyond King Solomon™s Mines and She. Haggard was
also active in the Anglo-African Writers™ Club, edited the economic
journal African Review, and published non-¬ction about African a¬airs.
Haggard™s success as an imperial adventure-writer was what gave
him a platform from which to preach, and Haggard had his say on
many di¬erent topics, including the Salvation Army and agricultural
reform. By the Boer War, having made his name creating an imagin-
ary Africa, Haggard had earned the right to write about the real Africa.
Rider Haggard™s role in the creation of late-Victorian Britain™s image
of southern Africa is akin to Kipling™s role in the creation of an image
of India. Young Haggard had pleaded the case for the empire in the
early ±°s, when it seemed that few at home supported the goals of
How common it is to hear men whose fathers emigrated when young, and who
have never been out of the colony, talking of England with a¬ectionate
remembrance as ˜˜home™™!
It would, however, be too much to suppose that a corresponding a¬ection for
colonies and colonists exists in the bosom of the home public. The ideas of the
ordinary well-educated person in England about the existence and a¬airs of
these dependencies of the Empire are of the vaguest kind . . . there are few
subjects so dreary and devoid of meaning to nine-tenths of the British public as
any allusion to the Colonies or their a¬airs.µ
Haggard himself would soon be a major factor in remedying that
situation. King Solomon™s Mines (±µ) sold ±,°°° copies in its ¬rst twelve
±µ° Gender, race, and the writing of empire
months alone, garnering rave reviews (Ellis H. Rider Haggard ±°±). She
(±·) was an even bigger sensation and made its author™s reputation as
a master of the imperial romance. Peter Berresford Ellis quotes W. E.
Henley™s assessment of the impact of Haggard™s African romances, after
almost a century of the realist novel: ˜˜Just as it was thoroughly accepted
that there were no more stories to be told, that romance was utterly
dried up, and that analysis of character . . . was the only thing in ¬ction
attractive to the public, down there came upon us a whole horde of Zulu
divinities and sempiternal queens of beauty in the Caves of Kor™™ (H.ˆ
Rider Haggard ±±). The genre of romance was resurrected via Africa;
colorful battles, tortures, wild animals as the setting for human relation-
ships that operated on a strictly surface level. The appeal was certainly
the exotic “ as one American reviewer noted, ˜˜Not very many of one™s
personal friends, it must be admitted, belong to a Zulu ˜impi™™™ (K.
Woods ˜˜Evolution™™ µ±).
Haggard™s position as king of imperial literature was taken by Kipling
in the mid-±°s, but Haggard continued to write and to sell. When the
second Boer War loomed in summer of ±, Haggard felt he could
make a real contribution to the war e¬ort by lending some historical
analysis. This conviction came from his knowledge and experience of
southern Africa, not from his adventure-writing. Haggard had written
Cetywayo and his White Neighbours in ±, immediately upon his return to
England. Thinking about his analysis of the ±± con¬‚ict must have
frustrated him as he watched the build-up to war in ±, and Haggard™s
publication of the relevant portions of Cetywayo and his White Neighbours as
The Last Boer War is an ˜˜I told you so™™ aimed at the British colonial
administrators who failed to learn from the experience of Haggard™s
southern African chief Sir Theophilus Shepstone.
The ˜˜Author™s Note™™ to Haggard™s The Last Boer War explains the
value in ± of reading a history of the Boer War of ±±. Haggard
asserts that ˜˜any who are interested in the matter may read and ¬nd in
the tale of ±± the true causes of the war of ±™™ (vi). Haggard™s aim in
republishing the book is to justify the second Boer War while blaming
the British government for not learning the lessons of the ¬rst. The
message is this: had Britain taken a tough line with the Boers in and after
±±, there would have been no need to do so in ±. The problem in
South Africa, says this romance-writer and former colonial functionary,
is one of character. The Boer is lazy, corrupt, sneaky, and wants most of
all ˜˜to live in a land where the necessary expenses of administration are
paid by somebody else™™ (ix). The Briton, however, has di¬erent priori-
The imperial imaginary
ties in ruling southern Africa: ˜˜a redistribution of the burden of tax-
ation, the abolition of monopolies, the punishment of corruption, the
just treatment of the native races, [and] the absolute purity of the
courts™™ (x). It is a list reminiscent of Ignosi™s promises that he will rule
Kukuanaland justly and fairly in King Solomon™s Mines: ˜˜When I sit upon
the seat of my fathers, bloodshed shall cease in the land. No longer shall
ye cry for justice to ¬nd slaughter . . . No man shall die save he who
o¬endeth against the laws. The ˜˜eating up™™ of your kraals [taxation]
shall cease; each shall sleep secure in his own hut and fear not, and
justice shall walk blind throughout the land™™ (±). What Ignosi learned
from his years of living with white men in southern Africa was the best of
the values of the white man, that is, the Briton. Restored to his throne in
Kukuanaland, he is, as Deirdre David notes, ˜˜a leader uncannily
schooled in the ideals of new imperialism, which he will implement
without the presence of white Europeans™™ (Rule Britannia ±±). This
vision of African self-rule in King Solomon™s Mines exists strictly in ¬ction
for Haggard, however. The real question for southern Africa, as The Last
Boer War testi¬es, is this: which white race should control South Africa,
its land and its (black) people “ the lazy, backward whites or the
progressive, fair-minded whites?
Haggard believed in the importance of the literary ¬gure in the e¬ort
to sustain public enthusiasm for empire. In introducing Kipling to the
Anglo-African Writers™ Club in May ±, Haggard predicted the
importance of the younger writer to an imperial war:
Wait till a great war breaks upon us “ and I wish that I could say that such an
event was improbable “ and then it is when wheat is a hundred shillings a
quarter, and you have tens of thousands of hungry working men, every one of
them with a vote and every one of them clamouring to force the Government of
the day to a peace, however disgraceful, which will relieve their immediate
necessities, then it is, I say, that you will appreciate the value of your Kiplings.⁶
Haggard understood the signi¬cance of the literary ¬gure in the ideol-
ogy of imperialism. Who but a Kipling could convince hungry working
men that the empire was more important than the price of bread?
Nevertheless, when Haggard claimed authority for himself in imperial
debates, it was not as a writer of imperial ¬ction “ it was primarily as an
expert on African a¬airs. In a letter he wrote to The Times on ± July ±,
he identi¬ed himself thus:
As one of the survivors . . . of those who were concerned in the annexation of
the South African Republic in ±··, as a person who in the observant day of
±µ Gender, race, and the writing of empire
youth was for six or seven years intimately connected with the Transvaal Boers,
and who, for reasons both professional and private, has since that time made
their history and proceedings a special study, I venture through your columns
at this crisis in African a¬airs, perhaps the gravest I remember, to make an
earnest appeal to my fellow-countrymen.·
Haggard invokes his experience in South Africa as well as his ˜˜special
study™™ of the Boers to back up his claims to the attention of readers. But
it is not only as an African veteran that he appeals; he also makes a
modest allusion to his ˜˜profession,™™ with which, he can assume, every
Times reader will be familiar.
In a later letter about the war, Haggard is more direct about the
authority of literature; he states, ˜˜Within the last year I have addressed
the public thrice upon matters connected with the Transvaal.™™⁸ Those
three occasions, he notes, were a letter to The Times, a speech to the
Anglo-African Writers™ Club, and the publication of his latest novel,
Swallow, a Tale of the Great Trek. The three genres work together to
in¬‚uence ˜˜the public™™ to whom Haggard refers, and he weights the
novel equally with the others. Perhaps ¬ction would be taken seriously
as a form of public address on political matters of other sorts “ certainly
literature had intervened in public matters before the Boer War “ but
the conjunction of speechwriting, history-writing, journalism, and
novel-writing we ¬nd in Rider Haggard was a combination in which the
imaginary and the empirical reinforced each other. Haggard™s presenta-
tion of himself as an Africanist depends, in the end, as much on his
¬ction as on his historical and political knowledge. What is curious,
however, is the very di¬erent versions of the Transvaal presented in
Haggard™s Boer War ¬ction and non-¬ction.

· ¬ ¬ ·
Swallow, a Tale of the Great Trek is not at all a tale of the Great Trek,
although it does focus on Boers. Only a tiny part of its action-packed
plot hinges on the Trek, but, amidst the trials and tribulations of the
rather characterless main character, the novel does in fact reinforce a
message about Boer resentment of English arrogance. The driving
force behind the action is the sexual threat posed by a mixed-race
Boer farmer (˜˜Swart Piet™™) toward a pure Boer girl who is in love with
her foster-brother, a shipwrecked Scottish boy raised by her parents
after being rescued. The complicated plot involves four generations of
the family (including three di¬erent women named Suzanne), hair-
The imperial imaginary
breadth escapes on horseback, Zulu wars, the Great Trek of the ±°s,
and a fair bit of the supernatural. The novel includes sympathetic
portraits not only of individual Boers but also of the Boers as a people
who had su¬ered at the hands of the English. The narrator is an old
Boer vrouw, who tells us the story of her daughter, who was nick-
named ˜˜Swallow™™ by Africans. The sharp-tongued narrator is a strong
character but, as Katharine Pearson Woods noted in her Bookman
review, the story features only one other ˜˜sharply outlined™™ character
“ Sihamba, the African ˜˜doctoress™™ who is saved by Swallow and then
in turn repeatedly rescues Swallow and her lover, then husband,
Ralph Kenzie.
Swallow gives a sense of Haggard™s understanding of various peoples
of southern Africa: Boers, Zulu, ˜˜Red Ka¬rs,™™ as well as other African
peoples. Whereas, as we shall see, Kipling never really got a feel for
either Boers or Africans, Haggard, who lived much longer in southern
Africa, was adept at sketching the national character attributed to
di¬erent groups as well as adding variations. The beginning of the novel
sympathetically outlines the Boer reactions to the early-nineteenth-
century Slagter™s Nek incident, when Boer rebels were hanged and then
re-hanged by the English after their ropes broke: ˜˜Petitions for mercy
availed nothing, and these ¬ve were tied to a beam like Ka¬r dogs
yonder at Slagter™s Nek, they who had shed the blood of no man™™ (µ).
Later the story explains the motives of the trekboers, who left behind
British rule and set o¬ beyond the Vaal River to establish a new
homeland: ˜˜in those times there was no security for us Boers “ we were
robbed, we were slandered, we were deserted. Our goods were taken
and we were not compensated; the Ka¬rs stole our herds, and if we
resisted them we were tried as murderers; our slaves were freed, and we
were cheated of their value, and the word of a black man was accepted
before our solemn oath upon the Bible™™ (). Such sympathy towards
the Boers seems far a¬eld from the sentiments Haggard had expressed
in the South African on µ October ±: ˜˜[I]f a Boer were asked to de¬ne
his idea of a perfect Government, he would reply, ˜˜A Government to
which it is not necessary to pay taxes™ . . . Where then is the money to
come from? Ask the Boer again, and his response will be a ready one “
from the natives.™™⁹ With hostilities with the Boers already building in
early ±, a novel sympathetic to them was not particularly well timed;
it was published in the same year as Haggard™s The Last Boer War, which
was much less sympathetic. But behind Swallow™s romance plot and
likeable Boer narrator, the book leaves the reader feeling that British
±µ Gender, race, and the writing of empire
control of southern Africa is inevitable, if perhaps sad for old-style
Afrikaners. Vrouw Botmar says,
to this day I am very angry with my daughter Suzanne, who, for some reason or
other, would never say a hard word of the accursed British Government “ or
listen to one if she could help it.
Yet, to be just, that same Government has ruled us well and fairly, though I
could never agree with their manner of dealing with the natives, and our family
has grown rich under its shadow. (µ)
The more sensible and liberal-minded Suzanne was more pro-British
than her mother and her father (whose own father had died at Slagter™s
Nek). And even Vrouw Botmar herself has to admit that the British have
been fair to the Boers, even while being excessively generous to Africans.
In its sentiments about the Boers, Swallow is not far from what Olive
Schreiner was saying in her essays on the Boers earlier in the ±°s. Both
writers romanticized old-fashioned, rural Boers while projecting that
the future of southern Africa would be more English. Schreiner tended
to make excuses for Boer maltreatment of Africans, while Haggard does
not let the Boers o¬ the hook so easily “ Haggard™s Boers resent that the
fair and progressive English government is so extreme that it wants to be
fair to ˜˜the natives™™ as well. Schreiner focuses on the South African
situation of her day, while Haggard™s southern African ¬ction is set
¬rmly in the past. He resisted The Times™s e¬orts to get him to serve as a
war correspondent and decided against writing a series for the Daily
Express on South Africa after the war, after initially agreeing to do it (Ellis
H. Rider Haggard ±µ). Haggard was not going to be drawn into direct
analysis of the war itself.
Haggard set his views on the politics of the South African situation
before the British public and left it for them to decide. But those views
were not simplistic, and the message of Swallow is somewhat di¬cult to
reconcile with his non-¬ctional writings on Boer War South Africa. The
Boers of Swallow bear little resemblance, for example, to those in the
letter Haggard wrote to The Times on ± July ±: ˜˜The average up-
country Transvaal Boer . . . is more ignorant than the average ante-
Board-school English peasant. But to his ignorance he adds much ¬erce
prejudice and a conceit that is colossal.™™¹° Again we are reminded of
Schreiner, who expresses sympathy for the Boers in one place while
describing them as backward, prejudiced peasants in another. Both
writers would like to see more understanding of South Africa by the
British public, but Haggard™s view is that only with tight British control
can South Africa become an economically and politically successful
The imperial imaginary
region. Haggard blames the British government for ˜˜many blunders™™¹¹
committed in the administration of areas of southern Africa, and it is
there that we can reconcile the politics of Swallow with Haggard™s other
writings. From Slagter™s Nek on, British misunderstanding of the Boers
had caused resentment and alienation, and resulted in needless confron-
tation in a region that, in Haggard™s view, should have been under
strong but humane British control all along. Haggard refuses to go along
with the pro-Boers who attribute the move toward war to a defense of
mining capitalists, but asserts instead that the war is also important to
˜˜our national repute amidst the natives of South Africa,™™ who are
˜˜watching very keenly.™™¹² In his sense of the history of African-imperial
relations Haggard was well beyond any other literary ¬gure of the
period, and well beyond many political ¬gures as well. As Norman
Etherington points out, Haggard understood the nuances of many kinds
of relations in the region “ Swallow, Etherington notes, gives a detailed
portrait of the chaos that resulted for small tribes caught in ˜˜the
crushing™™ that followed the rise of the Zulu monarchy (Rider Haggard ).
This detailed description of the history of Africans in the region, for
Etherington, ˜˜rather than the fragmentary references to the Great Boer
Trek, makes Swallow one of the best historical romances to come out of
South Africa™™ (Rider Haggard ). Nevertheless, it is the Boer story that
frames all in Swallow, and it is unlikely that the forced migration of
smaller African tribes was the aspect of the novel to which Haggard was
referring when he called The Times readers™ attention to the story.
Haggard presented the story in terms of its relevance to Boer-British
relations, with African history relevant insofar as it helped to motivate
Boer and British actions.
Swallow ends in the ±°s, with a postscript from the transcriber of the
tale, the narrator™s great-granddaughter, Suzanne Kenzie. The basic
romance of the story has been a South African one, the obstacles to the
happiness of a Boer girl and her Scottish lover, but we ¬nish the tale in a
castle in Scotland. Suzanne has fallen in love with an English o¬cer
called Lord Glenthirsk, who turns out to be descended from the noble-
man who wrongfully inherited Ralph Kenzie™s title when it was believed
that he had died in the Transkei. Together the lovers discover that
Suzanne is the rightful heir, and all ends happily with Lord Glenthirsk
becoming plain old Ralph Mackenzie and Suzanne Baroness Glen-
thirsk. This Suzanne and Ralph relive the love of three generations
before, although this time it is the woman who ends up with the title and
the riches. All is righted, as the title is returned to the correct line, and
±µ Gender, race, and the writing of empire
Vrouw and Heer Botmar™s ˜˜sin™™ in not forcing the ¬rst Ralph to return
to Scotland to claim his title is erased.
Swallow™s conclusion in Scotland does not detract from the South
Africanness of the main tale, but it does remind readers of the import-
ant, indisputable links between Britain and South Africa “ even Afri-
kaner South Africa. Never is this ˜˜Tale of the Great Trek™™ far away
from a Briton or British interests. The ¬nal reconciliation is hardly a
straightforward one of Boer and Briton: it links a Scotsman with a
woman who is more British than Boer, born to the second-generation,
half-Scottish Ralph Kenzie and ˜˜an Englishwoman of good blood™™
(Swallow µ). Vrouw Botmar herself is a remnant of the past, and her
great-granddaughter turns out to be no Boer but a Scottish Baroness.
Ultimately Haggard and Schreiner appear to agree that the old Boer,
while admirable in many respects, must give way to a new, Anglicized
South African if South Africa is to progress.

 ®   «© ° ¬© ® §
Rider Haggard stepped away from writing about the political situation
in South Africa once the war started, perhaps feeling that he had set
before the public all that he could contribute on the topic. His friend
Rudyard Kipling, no authority on South Africa but an authority of sorts
on ˜˜empire,™™ took a much di¬erent approach. The Boer War™s intersec-
tion with the New Journalism produced a natural place for Kipling. The
Daily Mail published his sketches from a hospital train and the shame-
lessly sentimental ˜˜The Absent-Minded Beggar,™™ The Times published
his polemical articles on South Africa, the Daily Express his Boer War
¬ction, and the army his contributions to the Bloemfontein Friend. The
imperial imaginary demanded the participation of empire™s prime
spokesperson in this troubling imperial war. But while Kipling produced
much poetry, ¬ction, and polemic about the war, he was unable to
produce what was in e¬ect being demanded of him from all sides “ a
coherent, uni¬ed empire.
Edward Said focuses on imperialism™s place in the works of ˜˜Ruskin,
Tennyson, Meredith, Dickens, Arnold, Thackeray, George Eliot, Car-
lyle, Mill “ in short, the full roster of signi¬cant Victorian writers™™
(Culture ±), and on the ways the British imperial identity a¬ected the
world view of such ¬gures as they came to ˜˜identify themselves with this
power™™ (±·) that was imperialism. Signi¬cant writers, for Said, are not
the writers being read by the masses in the circulating libraries, such as
The imperial imaginary
the sensation novelists, or in the newspapers and cheap periodicals. Of
course, Kipling is included in Said™s analysis, for he is the primary
cultural ¬gure associated with imperialism. Said notes that ˜˜high or
o¬cial culture,™™ represented by the major writers he lists, nevertheless
˜˜managed to escape scrutiny for its role in shaping the imperial dynamic
and was mysteriously exempted from analysis whenever the causes,
bene¬ts, or evils of imperialism were discussed™™; ˜˜culture participates in
imperialism yet is somehow excused for its role™™ (±).
Said™s assertion that ˜˜culture™™ gets away without blame for British
imperialism is evidence of the ways in which both critiques of imperial-
ism and analyses of literature have been severely limited by their
working de¬nitions of the relevant terms. As early as ±, J. A. Hobson
explicitly cites the importance of cultural factors for the maintenance of
an ideology of imperialism and jingoism, but Said does not consider the
critique of Hobson to be a valid critique of ˜˜culture™™ because the culture
Hobson analyzes includes the press, the church, and the schools rather
than high literature. A focus on culture that means only high culture or
only literature can look at Haggard or Kipling or Schreiner or Doyle
only in terms of their ¬ction. But to look at the public discourse of
imperialism more broadly is to take in these ¬gures™ journalism,
speeches, and essays as well as their literature, and to consider their
writings as part of an overall cultural support for the imperial project.
Public debate about the war relies on a host of discourses of militarism,
morality, gender roles, patriotism, and racial categories “ discourses that
are in use in imperial ideology but that also exist beyond its borders.
Unlike Olive Schreiner, who was his public counterpart on the other
side of the Boer War question, Kipling published little non-¬ction about
the war: just two Times articles for the Imperial South Africa Association
and a series of four newspaper articles about a hospital train. He did
produce ¬ction and poetry during the war (most notably Kim, which he
¬nished early in ±°°), yet Kipling, the most important public spokes-
person for empire at the turn of the century, was considered to have
failed in literature when it came to South Africa. His stories and poems
throughout the ±°s had chronicled the empire, stirring British interest
and pride in (mostly Eastern) places to which the average Briton would
never travel. Because of his association with empire, Kipling™s public
seems to have felt that he should have been an authority on all aspects of
the empire, and in this ¬rst large imperial war, Kipling seems to feel an
obligation beyond any other literary ¬gure (save perhaps Doyle) to
support the war and the troops ¬ghting it.
±µ Gender, race, and the writing of empire
Eric Stokes, in ˜˜Kipling™s Imperialism,™™ outlines the varying theories
about the ˜˜rabid imperialist™™ phase in Kipling™s writing “ most critics
locate it smack in the middle of the Boer War. Some exempt Kim (±°±)
from the charges, but many agree that Kipling™s Boer War ¬ction and
poetry mark the triumph of Kipling the ideologue over Kipling the
artist. Kipling™s writing on the Boer War, however, cannot be seen
strictly in terms of either his own political positions or the ˜˜quality™™ of
his literature. His Boer War output must be seen in relation both to the
earlier part of his career and to the careers of other writers during that
war. While Kipling™s writing about the Boer War certainly supports the
British side, especially the soldiers who were doing the ¬ghting, most of
the writing appears to have been done not out of rabid imperialist
sentiment but out of a sense of obligation to the British public and to
Tommy Atkins “ an obligation that arose from Kipling™s place in the
public eye. Kipling had become a symbol not of the British Empire but
of Britons out in the empire. He was therefore the logical chronicler of
the Boer War and of this new South African part of the empire, where
he already had a summer home. Given the historical conditions¹³ that
had produced a Kipling-crazy public at the time of the mass-market
newspaper and the climax of the New Imperialism, where else could
Kipling have been during the Boer War than writing for newspapers
about and in South Africa?
This moment of the popular press and popular imperialism is a
moment when new and newly divided publics replaced a more uni¬ed
concept of the Great British Public. The new halfpenny press reached
a di¬erent public than that reached by The Times, although informa-
tion was shared between the types of newspapers. The halfpennies
arose at the same time as the new spirit governing the book-publishing
industry, with the rise of the literary agent and authors™ associations,
the drive to protect copyright internationally (a movement spear-
headed by Kipling), and a new emphasis on advertising. During the
Boer War, many aspects of the popular newspapers were drawn into
the metaphor of the war: advertisements boasted that Lord Roberts
had spelled out ˜˜Bovril™™ (a brand of beef extract) in the British army™s
troop movements across South Africa; tobacco ads featured British
soldiers, the newspapers pro¬led leading military ¬gures in their new
˜˜soft news,™™ or feature sections. The literary world supported the
imperialism of the Boer War primarily through the newspapers, the
most timely place for publication. Literary ¬gures such as Kipling and
Haggard, who had both published in the daily press in the past, were
The imperial imaginary
naturally called on to do so again during the war. But where Haggard
was seen as a chronicler of South Africa, it was a South Africa of the
past. More important would be the support of the present-day chron-
icler of empire, Kipling. The di¬erence in the roles of Haggard and
Kipling during the war is a di¬erence in positioning “ Haggard refused
requests to write about the war; despite his support of imperial acquisi-
tion of the Boer republics, he did not write in service of the war.
Kipling, on the other hand, was not seen as a regional writer, a writer
of tales of India. Instead he was a writer of empire “ perhaps this was
so because, unlike Haggard, he did not write exotic romance but
poetry and a kind of witty realist ¬ction (mixed, of course, with ro-
mance). At any rate, it was Kipling more than Haggard of whom
imperalist ¬ction in the service of the war was expected, and what
Kipling produced must be seen in that context.
Kipling™s ±· ˜˜Recessional,™™ sung by ±°,°°° British soldiers outside
the Boer parliament building, the Volksrad, in a victory celebration
during the war (Parry Poetry of Kipling ·), had reminded Britons, ˜˜Lest
we forget “ lest we forget!™™¹⁴, of the moral duty behind imperialism. But
that Jubilee poem had disapproved of the very sentiment that Kipling is
most often charged with stirring up in his most famous Boer War poem,
˜˜The Absent-Minded Beggar.™™ The most unpoetic of Kipling™s Boer
War verse, by the poet™s own admission, ˜˜The Absent-Minded Beggar™™
raised a quarter of a million pounds for the families of soldiers through a
fund set up by the Daily Mail, which published the poem in October
±. Kipling admitted to selling his name ˜˜for every blessed cent it
would fetch™™ (quoted in Pinney Letters ±±) by writing the sentimental
ballad, which Arthur Sullivan set to music ˜˜guaranteed to pull teeth out
of barrel organs™™ (Kipling Something of Myself ±), and the poem™s
music-hall popularity came to symbolize Victorian jingoism:
He™s an absent-minded beggar, but he heard his country call,
And his reg™ment didn™t need to send to ¬nd him!
He chucked his job and joined it “ so the job before us all
Is to help the home that Tommy™s left behind him! (µ)

The poem is that a¬ectionate chiding Kipling does so well; Tommy
Atkins has gone o¬ to war for the sake of his country, but he is ˜˜an
absent-minded beggar™™ and can™t look after both his country and his
family, with ˜˜the house-rent falling due™™ and no wage to pay it. As Ann
Parry reminds us in The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling, ˜˜The Absent-Minded
Beggar™™ was not the simplistic jingoism it is often seen to be (); it
±° Gender, race, and the writing of empire
attempts to cross social classes in its appeal for every citizen, rather than
simply ˜˜killing Kruger with your mouth,™™ to act responsibly and ˜˜Pass
the hat for your credit™s sake,/and pay-pay-pay™™ (µ·).
The Boer War, according to Kipling, was poorly directed, and the
British soldier was treated badly, both in South Africa and on his return
home. Kipling rapped the knuckles of the nation after the peace was
signed with ˜˜The Lesson,™™ in which he declared:
It was our fault, and our very great fault, and not the judgment of Heaven.
We made an Army in our own image, on an island nine by seven,
Which faithfully mirrored its makers™ ideals, equipment, and mental
attitude “
And so we got our lesson: and we ought to accept it with gratitude. (·)
˜˜The Lesson™™ addresses a serious topic, making something useful out of
a long, expensive, and ultimately unrewarding war. Kipling does not
make the Boers into the kind of romantic, worthy opponents that Arthur
Conan Doyle had constructed; the lesson bestowed by the war is not
attributed to the Boers directly. Indeed, the Boers do not appear in the
poem at all, although readers knew that it was Boer commando tactics
that had stretched the war out for so long. The Boers fought a tenacious
guerrilla war, often attacking in small groups and then escaping to
attack another day rather than staying around for more standardized,
European-style battles. Military critics spent much of the early part of
the war trying to convince the War O¬ce to copy the Boer tactic of
mounting their ri¬‚emen rather than using cavalry with swords and
pistols, and footsoldiers with ri¬‚es:
We have spent two hundred million pounds to prove the fact once more,
That horses are quicker than men afoot, since two and two make four;
And horses have four legs, and men have two legs, and two into four goes
And nothing over except our lesson “ and very cheap at the price. ()
We must learn this lesson as we learned our lessons in school: by rote, by
repeating it to ourselves in singsong. ˜˜The Lesson™™ seems simple
enough after you have learned it: ˜˜two and two make four.™™ But until it
is taught, by the Boers or by Kipling, it cannot be learned.
In ±, the newspapers were the place for teaching lessons to the
Great British Public. As Ann Parry notes, ˜˜When The Times received
from Kipling a poem with the note that he required no payment, it was
understood that in his view he was speaking on an issue of national
importance and an editorial on the same subject usually followed. No
The imperial imaginary
other political poet has ever had the means, or su¬cient reputation, to
appeal to the nation in this way™™ (Poetry of Kipling °). Kipling™s access to
the press, and not just to The Times, was certainly extreme, but it was by
no means unique. Haggard, Doyle, Schreiner, Swinburne, Hardy, and
other Victorian literary ¬gures were also publishing letters, articles, and
poetry about the Boer War in the dailies.
Certainly, Kipling took his role as public spokesperson for imperial-
ism seriously. As did Doyle and Haggard, he wrote for the daily press
and gave pro-empire speeches. And just as his fellow adventure-writers
gently chided the nation to take military preparedness more seriously,
Kipling, too, berated Britons for insu¬cient enthusiasm about imperial
defense. While Doyle and Haggard wrote letters to the papers and
created relatively little stir, however, Kipling put his suggestions in
poetry, riling his readers mightily. Many members of the Great British
Public felt a bit annoyed, for example, by Kipling™s ˜˜The Islanders,™™
published in The Times on  January ±° (p. ). It hardly seemed fair to
be told by your beloved imperial poet that you were ˜˜Idle “ openly
idle™™ and that, when it came to soldiers, ˜˜Ye set your leisure before
their toil and your lusts above their need,™™ valuing ˜˜the ¬‚annelled fools
at the wicket or the muddied oafs at the goals™™ above those who were
willing to die in the service of their country. ˜˜The Islanders,™™ an
argument for compulsory military service, appeared in The Times when
Kipling was already on his way back to the Cape for the South African
summer (Durbach Kipling™s South Africa ). The Times leader that accom-
panied the poem called it a ˜˜thrilling trumpet-call™™ but acknowledged
that it was ˜˜merciless™™ and tried to temper its message: ˜˜Beneath the
poetic ¬‚ight “ and, perhaps, we may say, indeed, the rhetorical exagger-
ation “ of this powerful appeal there is an accent of grave sincerity
which harmonizes with the feelings that have, silently but strongly,
grown up in the minds of the British people during the past two years™™
(). ˜˜There is much that touches the conscience of us all,™™ asserted The
Times, ˜˜in the stern and stinging rebuke addressed to his ˜Islanders™™™ ().
The newspaper stopped short of endorsing compulsory military service,
however, and argued simply for drilling and training in shooting in the
The poem charged the British public with a number of crimes,
including being mindless ma¬ckers unworthy of the men ¬ghting for
them (˜˜your strong men cheered in their millions while your striplings
went to the war™™). The upper-class British scorned the army that
defended them, the poem asserts:
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
Because of your witless learning and your beasts of warren and chase,
Ye grudged your sons to their service and your ¬elds for their camping-place.
Ye forced them glean in the highways the straw for the bricks they brought;
Ye forced them follow in byways the craft that ye never taught.
Ye hampered and hindered and crippled; ye thrust out of sight and away
Those that would serve you for honour and those that served you for pay.

Two letters protesting the sentiments in the poem appeared in the very
next issue of The Times. Herbert Stephen, while agreeing that ˜˜compul-
sory military service would be an excellent thing,™™ nevertheless felt that
the poem™s rebuke is ˜˜so little deserved that it is more likely to do harm
than good.™™ Stephen rendered the poem into prose as ˜˜That until the
South African War began we, the English, were sunk in sloth, and took
no pains to secure military e¬ciency; that we consequently came near
to failure in the war, and should have failed if we had not been able, by
˜fawning on™ the colonies, to get better men than ourselves to ¬ght for
us, whereby we were just saved; that we then turned our attention
exclusively to cricket and football.™™¹µ The assessment would accord
with much in ˜˜The Lesson™™ and ˜˜The Absent-Minded Beggar™™: all
Britons need to take responsibility for the defense of the realm and the
empire; preparedness, and perhaps a sense of national duty, is sorely
lacking amongst the manhood of England. And Kipling did not reply
to such critics as Stephen or W. J. Ford, who wrote to The Times, ˜˜I,
for one, wish to protest most strongly against such an expression as
˜¬‚annelled fools,™ which has been applied by Mr. Kipling in his poem
˜The Islanders™ to those who happen to play cricket.™™ Ford went on to
cite valorous military o¬cers who were cricketers. Seven letters about
the poem followed in the next day™s paper, most of them taking up the
concept of compulsory military service rather than the language of
the poem itself, although ˜˜A.A.™™ registered a protest at ˜˜the tone and
the drift™™ of the poem. Letters about the poem continued, and on 
January, football fans came to the rescue of the ˜˜muddied oafs.™™ The
controversy extended through the entire week™s letters columns and
into the next week™s, with The Times on ±µ January again addressing the
poem and the controversy it had stirred and reiterating its support for
Kipling. Clearly ˜˜The Islanders™™ had touched a nerve, and a fair
proportion of correspondents expressed a feeling of having been be-
trayed by their pet poet: ˜˜I cannot but think that not a few of his
genuine admirers, like myself, will feel sadly that this last cannot, in a
healthy state of opinion, add to his reputation.™™¹⁶ But Kipling had
never been a fan of organized sport “ the biggest fools and villains in
The imperial imaginary
his school stories in Stalky & Co. are those associated with football and
English South Africans and Britons concerned with South African
a¬airs expected more of Kipling than poems chiding the British public.
The members of the Anglo-African Writers™ Club, whom Kipling ad-
dressed in May ±, at the behest of his friend Rider Haggard, wanted
the genius of imperialism to be able to create the entire empire in ¬ction,
not just the Indian portions. ˜˜Kipling™s South African book is yet to
come,™™ said the African Review, which reported on the speech.
[T]he sooner it comes the better pleased we shall be. He has been to South
Africa twice and he must realise “ nay, he does realise “ that here is a great
country to his hand, waiting to be written about as only he can write. It wants to
be written about and it needs a strong writer. There is a ¬ne opening for a
young man, and Mr. Kipling is fully quali¬ed to take it.
There are a few South African allusions scattered through [Kipling™s] vol-
umes, not many, but quite enough to make us so many Oliver Twists, and make
us glad that he has recently been up at Johannesburg and Bulawayo, taking
voluminous notes in that wonderful mental note-book of his.¹·
The South African book was never to be; as fond as he was of South
Africa, Kipling did not produce literature that addressed the people who
lived there. Kipling™s South African and British public had to settle, for
the most part, for some scattered poetry, a bit of non-¬ction, and a few
short stories.
By ± Kipling was synonymous with empire, thanks to his huge
sales, including many cheap railway editions of his works, as well as his
public visibility in the newspapers. As Robert H. MacDonald points
out, Kipling imitators were everywhere, and ˜˜[t]his phenomenon . . . is
more than a tribute to Kipling™s widespread fame; it is evidence of the
process by which he became a product of his audience™™ (Language of
Empire ±). In ±°, the Canadian Magazine noted that Kipling appeared
when modernity did “ mass education, factories, cities (MacDonald
Language ±). I would argue, however, that Kipling™s modern literary
celebrity was not simply literary celebrity, arising from such factors
alone; it arose also from the commercialization of publishing and the
changes in daily journalism in conjunction with the rise of imperialism.
Other popular writers bene¬ted from the new ways of publishing and
the new working-class access to literature, not the least of them Conan
Doyle. But it was Kipling™s association with the promotion of the aims
of empire that raised him to such celebrity, with its attendant demands.
And it was Kipling™s responses to those demands that resulted in his
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
name becoming linked in the twentieth century to an embarrassing
working-class jingoism that is traced back to just this particular war,
with its Mafeking Night, its Absent-Minded Beggar Fund, and its
screaming tabloid headlines.
While Kipling was in South Africa, he responded to the requests for
him to write about the war by publishing in the Daily Mail in April ±°°
a series of four impressionistic articles about his experience on a hospi-
tal train; this was the closest he came to acting as a war correspondent
for a British paper. The articles are moving, occasionally sentimental,
and full of Kipling™s trademark ¬nely observed detail about the
wounded soldiers and their talk (˜˜He argues impersonally on the ad-
vantages of retaining the fore¬nger of the right hand. Not his fore¬nger
by name, but abstract fore-¬nger.™™).¹⁸ The articles describe daily life in
the hospital train, including grisly detail about wounds, but they only
once venture outside the train itself. That occasion is in the ¬rst instal-
ment of the series, in which Kipling reminds his readers of who he
really is:
Suddenly we overhauled a train-load of horses, Bhownagar™s and Jamnagar™s
gifts to the war; stolid saices and a sowar or two in charge.
˜˜Whence dost thou come?™™
˜˜From Bombay, with a Sahib.™™ He looked like a Hyderabadi, but he had
taken o¬ most of his clothes.
˜˜Dost thou know the name of this land?™™
˜˜Does thou know whither thou goest?™™
˜˜I do not know.™™
˜˜What, then, dost thou do?™™
˜˜I go with my Sahib.™™
Great is the East, serene and immutable. We left them feeding and watering
as the order was.¹⁹

The encounter is completely spurious, and its account of a loyal Indian
servant is the only mention of non-whites in this series of articles about
life in a country peopled mainly by Africans. It is as if Kipling is
reminding his readers, ˜˜I am of India, and those are the people about
whom I can write.™™ This imperial encounter may be emblematic “
perhaps, for Kipling, the di¬culty of the South African situation is its
dissimilarity from the Indian. The peoples of South Africa can have no
such strong connection to the English, no ¬erce, unquestioning loyalty.
Empire is not immutable; the East is. Kipling could not produce, for the
British or South African readers who seemed desperately to want him
The imperial imaginary
to, a single, uni¬ed empire in which he could be equally at home in
Lahore and Johannesburg.

¦ ©®¤ ¦      ° 
In late March ±°° Kipling traveled up to Bloemfontein to answer a
request from the South African Commander-in-Chief, his special friend
Lord Roberts. ˜˜Bobs™™ had asked Kipling to put in some editorial time
on the recently captured Friend of the Free State, now become a troop
newspaper renamed the Bloemfontein Friend. During his two weeks at the
Friend, Kipling was under no pressure to please a British public other
than his beloved troops. He was content to write in-jokes and to talk
soldier-talk, producing some short pieces of ¬ction and a couple of
poems. Despite the fact that in the Boer War he got his only glimpse of
hostile military action, Kipling was unable to achieve what the editors of
the Friend hoped for when they welcomed him to the paper on ± March:
To-day we expect to welcome here in our camp the great poet and writer, who
has contributed more than anyone perhaps towards the consolidation of the
British Empire . . . He will ¬nd encamped round the town not only his friend
Tommy Atkins, but the Australian, the Canadian, the New Zealander . . . He
will see the man of the soil “ the South African Britisher “ side by side with his
fellow colonist from over the seas. In fact, Bloemfontein will present to him the
actual physical ful¬llment of what must be one of his dearest hopes “ the close
union of the various parts of the greatest Empire in the world. His visit,
therefore, will have in it something of the triumph of the conqueror “ a
conqueror who with the force of genius has swept away barriers of distance and
boundary, and made a ¬fth of the globe British, not only in title, but in real
We . . . feel, all of us [the correspondents], that his brush alone can do
complete justice to the wonderful pictures of war which we have been privi-
leged to see . . . [W]e are hopeful that this fresh meeting of Tommy Atkins and
perhaps the only man who rightly understands him will be productive of fresh
pictures of the British soldier. (Bloemfontein Friend )
It was a natural aspiration, that the imperial storyteller would see in
South Africa the ultimate imperial story. But Kipling did not produce a
body of work on South Africa equivalent to Soldiers Three, Plain Tales from
the Hills, or Barrack-Room Ballads.
Although Kipling™s Boer War writings are not among his most in-
spired, the stories directed to soldiers are the most interesting of the
lot. The ˜˜Fables for the Sta¬™™ are glib object-lesson tales that rein-
force the troops™ sense of their own good judgment and of the incom-
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
petence of certain of their leaders, especially the ever-maligned Intelli-
gence. After watching the Intelligence O¬cer make ˜˜an unnecessary
Omelette™™ out of ˜˜a Nestfull of valuable and informing Eggs™™ laid by
a Boer, a Disinterested Observer observes, ˜˜Had you approached this
matter in another spirit you might have obtained Valuable Informa-
tion.™™ The Intelligence O¬cer pooh-poohs the suggestion. ˜˜˜But am I
not an Intelligent O¬cer?™ said the Intelligence O¬cer. ˜Of that there
can be no two opinions,™ said the Disinterested Observer. Whereupon
he was sent down.™™²° The sentiment is familiar: the savvy soldier
knows better than the pompous o¬cer. And the medium is perfect.
Kipling re-adjusted easily to the task of writing ¬ction to ¬ll a set
number of column inches; after all, it was the method with which he
began his career, back in his days on The Civil and Military Gazette and
The Pioneer.

« © ° ¬ © ® § ,  ¦  ©   ® , ®¤  ¦  © «®  
The non-British characters who stand out in Kipling™s Boer War ¬ction
are never Boers or Africans “ an Indian servant narrates ˜˜A Sahib™s
War,™™ an American gun-maker charms the narrator of ˜˜The Captive.™™
The poet who praised ˜˜Fuzzy-Wuzzy™™ and Gunga Din and created
such memorable characters as Mahbub Ali, the Muslim horse-dealing
spy in Kim, was unable to create African characters. The most speci¬c
references to Africans in Kipling™s South African writings appear in ˜˜A
Sahib™s War™™ and are spoken by Umr Singh, the digni¬ed, wise Sikh
servant who accompanies ˜˜Kurban Sahib,™™ a British o¬cer in the
Indian Army, in search of some ¬ghting in South Africa. Umr Singh™s
attitude toward Africans is the only one to which we are treated in
Kipling™s Boer War writings: ˜˜Kurban Sahib appointed me to the
command (what a command for me!) of certain woolly ones “ Hubshis “
whose touch and shadow are pollution. They were enormous eaters;
sleeping on their bellies; laughing without cause; wholly like animals.
Some were called Fingoes, and some, I think, Red Ka¬rs, but they were
all Ka¬rs “ ¬lth unspeakable™™ (). Kipling™s use of an Indian mouth-
piece for ideas about Africans points to a discomfort with the topic.
While Kipling™s Indian works certainly acknowledge ambiguities in
colonial rule, they also assume a certain recognizable connection be-
tween the British and the Indians. This was not the case in the South
Africa Kipling knew “ imperial rule had been, as Haggard pointed out,
fraught with mistakes in the handling of the Boers, and Africans were a
The imperial imaginary
constant source of con¬‚ict, as the British worked out the extent to which
they were willing to support various African grievances and political and
economic aspirations. There were no parallels for the Indian situation,
and Kipling did not have Haggard™s points of reference or sense of the
history of the region.
While Africans appear to have had no culture with which Kipling
could engage, neither had Afrikaners. The only Boer presence in Kip-
ling™s writing is his particularly nasty portraits of Cape Colony Afri-
kaners in a speech to the Anglo-African Writers™ Club and two articles
that appeared in The Times and were issued as pamphlets for the
Imperial South Africa Association. One of the pamphlets, The Sin of
Witchcraft, opens with the image of a South African statesman who wore
a bright ¬‚ower in his buttonhole on the day of the Queen™s death.
Kipling™s South African poetry and ¬ction center on the experience of
the Englishman in South Africa. The Boer soldier captured by Private
Copper in ˜˜The Comprehension of Private Copper™™ is not even an
Afrikaner; he is a disa¬ected English settler. And despite Kipling™s
professed love for the landscape of South Africa, many of his South
African stories could have been set anywhere. Renee Durbach™s thor-
ough study of Kipling in South Africa asserts that Kipling ˜˜did not have
su¬cient understanding of or sympathy for either [South Africa™s] Boer
or its black inhabitants, nor for their past, to be able to draw inspiration
from the country™™ (Kipling™s South Africa ) “ Kipling could not see South
Africa as a country with a history, or histories, as were India and
England (or as Haggard was able to do with southern Africa). Durbach
notes that ˜˜Kipling himself admitted to his young journalist protege ´´
Stephen Black that he had failed to make literature out of South Africa,
though it was his view that a man could not write anything of value
about a country unless he had been born there™™ (). Of the Boer War
stories Kipling published in the Daily Express in June and July of ±°°,
Durbach points out, Kipling himself reprinted only one, ˜˜The Way that
He Took,™™ in a later collection (µ).
Stephen Arata notes that Kipling™s Indian literature makes few con-
cessions to the English reader, using untranslated phrases and unex-
plained local references. ˜˜Unlike most male romance texts of the ¬n de
siecle, Kipling™s ¬ctions tend not to represent the exotic as imaginatively
available for the domestic reader. Instead, what his stories repeatedly
show are the circumstances under which the exotic might become
available, but only for a select coterie of Anglo-Indians™™ (Fictions of Loss
±µµ). Kipling™s South African ¬ction is not aimed at such a coterie and
± Gender, race, and the writing of empire
employs few local references beyond landscape. The only insider refer-
ences are military ones “ it is almost as if the stories could have been set
in an imperial war anywhere.
˜˜The Comprehension of Private Copper™™ is the closest Kipling
comes to writing about South Africans themselves. The story attempts
to sketch the disgruntled attitude of a British colonial who has gone over
to the Boers after feeling betrayed when the British granted control of
the Orange Free State to the Boers after the ¬rst Boer War. While the
story gives the political and economic reasons for the colonial™s defec-
tion, it does not succeed in making the character believable; the story
simply makes a case against British leniency with the Boers. In Kipling,
the history of South Africa is simply a history of British-Boer political
squabbling. Durbach implies that Kipling™s Indian ¬ction attributes a
value to Indian civilization, while Kipling™s writing on South Africa
¬nds no comparable civilization. But Kipling™s ¬ction about the Boer
War is not about South Africa or South Africans; it is about war, and,
even then, not about battles but about soldiers.
Edward Said, disputing assessments of Kipling that declare him to be
in touch with a timeless or essential Indianness, says that ˜˜we do not
assume that Kipling™s late stories about England or his Boer War tales
are about an essential England or an essential South Africa; rather, we
surmise correctly that Kipling was responding to and in e¬ect imagin-
atively reformulating his sense of these places at particular moments in
their histories™™ (Culture ±). I would argue, however, that in fact Kip-
ling™s Boer War tales di¬er more signi¬cantly from his Indian stories
than Said asserts. It is true that Kipling constructs an ˜˜immutable™™
India even in his South African writing, as he does in his Daily Mail
article about the hospital train. Kipling may, as Said says, deliberately
construct an ˜˜essential and unchanging™™ India. But while, essentialist or
no, Kipling™s India was a very detailed, evocative place, his South Africa
was not. Kipling™s South Africa is indeed historically speci¬c, but it is
speci¬c to only the Boer War; Kipling did not imaginatively reformulate
his sense of the land and people of South Africa in his Boer War stories,
for the stories contain almost no sense of South Africa. ˜˜A Sahib™s War™™
or ˜˜The Captive™™ could be taking place anywhere, except that they


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