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- The British
Empire, with its notion of a Pax Britannica,
had its conceptual roots in the Roman Empire,
which had conquered and ruled much of the
island of Britain.
- How does the analogy with the Roman Empire operate in Conrad's Heart
of Darkness (NAEL 2.1958–2017) and other texts of the imperial
era? What are the attractions of the analogy, and what might be its
- How was the analogy with Rome and Empire used in the era of the first
British Empire by the abolitionist poets Hannah
More and Richard Savage?
What echoes of their perspective do you find in the literature of the
second British Empire and of the postcolonial period?
- It has been
suggested that the oppression of the colonized
by the colonizers is not the only form of
hegemony inscribed in the "literature
- To what extent do imperialist texts reinforce the disempowment of women?
How are issues of gender linked to those of empire?
- To what extent do these texts reinforce, transform, or disrupt class
divisions within Britain?
- Rudyard Kipling's
stories and poems have become infamous for
their racist and imperialist content, yet
they are enduringly popular. Do we read them
today for the qualities that were admired
by Kipling's contemporaries? How, if
at all, should we approach and appreciate
- Compare Ruskin's
lecture on "Imperial
Duty" with his views on the conditions
of industrial laborers in England expressed
in The Stones of Venice (NAEL 2.1432–42).
Do you find an underlying consistency in
Ruskin's views, or does he seem hypocritical?
- In "Shooting
an Elephant," George Orwell describes
an incident which, he suggests, demonstrates "the
real nature of imperialism" (NAEL 2.
- What is this "real nature," according to Orwell? What signs
of it do you find in "the literature of empire," for instance
in Ruskin's lecture and the poetry of
Kipling (NAEL 2.1888–93)
- Do you find Orwell's essay persuasive as an account of why "despotic
governments" act as they do?
- Among the
nations to win independence from the British
Empire in the twentieth century was the Republic
- What implications does Ireland's history in the twentieth century
have for our way of thinking about "English" and "postcolonial" literature?
- What are the arguments for and against including Yeats (NAEL 2.2085–2130),
Joyce (NAEL 2.2231–2312), and Seamus Heaney (NAEL 2.2818–28)
within the category and canon of "English Literature"?
- Chinua Achebe
sees Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (NAEL
2.1957–2017) as a novel which "celebrates
[the] dehumanization" of Africans.
- To what extent was Conrad reflecting the views of his era? Is Achebe's
polemic aimed against Conrad, or against an entire system of thought?
Is Conrad an exemplar in this account, or a scapegoat?
- To what extent is Achebe reading Marlow as Conrad's mouthpiece?
Do you agree with his assessment?
from around Britain's former empire is
sometimes grouped together as "Commonwealth
- Is "Commonwealth literature," incorporating writers such
as Nigeria's Achebe, South Africa's
Nadine Gordimer (NAEL 2.2572–2576), the West Indian Derek Walcott
(NAEL 2.2580–86), and New Zealand's Fleur Adcock (NAEL 2.2759–2763) a coherent category. What makes it useful? What are
- In what ways does the "empire write back" in the works of
Achebe, Walcott, and others?
- One of the
dominant subjects of postcolonial literature
is the search for a lost national, cultural,
and linguistic identity. Yet for that identity
to be represented as reclaimable in a "pure," uncontaminated,
and homogenous form would be for the texts
to fall into the kind of essentialism for
which they criticize the literature of empire.
How do postcolonial writers attempt to deal
with this problem? In what ways do the forms
and language of postcolonial literature celebrate
or enact cultural diversity, hybridity, and
- At the close
of the twentieth century, the British Empire
comprised 11 million square miles. In the
twenty-first century, it is not certain that
even the whole island of Britain will be
governed from Westminster. In 1997, majorities
in Scotland and Wales voted
for devolution, leading to the establishment
of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly.
National Party and the Welsh nationalist
Cymru, are calling for full independence. Jan
Morris, who described the last days of
British rule in India, is now a leading advocate
of Welsh separatism.
- To what extent can devolution and potential independence for Scotland
and Wales be seen as the final phase of the break-up of the British Empire?
- Hugh MacDiarmid (NAEL 2.2433–37) was a leading figure in the
revival of Scots as a literary language. How significant is the Scots
language to the sense of a distinctive Scottish identity? What is at
stake in the question of whether Scots is a language in itself or a dialect
- Cornwall is part of England, but the county has a distinct heritage
and, historically, its own language, as Tony Harrison reminds us in "National
Trust" (NAEL 2.2764). How does Harrison make the death of Cornish
a metaphor for questions of class, knowledge, and speech? Is there a
sense in which Harrison's use of Cornish as a symbol is itself colonial?