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  1. 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.
    1. 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 unsettling implications?
    2. 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?
  2. It has been suggested that the oppression of the colonized by the colonizers is not the only form of hegemony inscribed in the "literature of empire."
    1. To what extent do imperialist texts reinforce the disempowment of women? How are issues of gender linked to those of empire?
    2. To what extent do these texts reinforce, transform, or disrupt class divisions within Britain?
  3. 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 Kipling today?
  4. 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?
  5. In "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell describes an incident which, he suggests, demonstrates "the real nature of imperialism" (NAEL 2. 2458).
    1. 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)
    2. Do you find Orwell's essay persuasive as an account of why "despotic governments" act as they do?
  6. Among the nations to win independence from the British Empire in the twentieth century was the Republic of Ireland.
    1. What implications does Ireland's history in the twentieth century have for our way of thinking about "English" and "postcolonial" literature?
    2. 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"?
  7. Chinua Achebe sees Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (NAEL 2.1957–2017) as a novel which "celebrates [the] dehumanization" of Africans.
    1. 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?
    2. To what extent is Achebe reading Marlow as Conrad's mouthpiece? Do you agree with his assessment?
  8. Literature from around Britain's former empire is sometimes grouped together as "Commonwealth literature."
    1. 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 its drawbacks?
    2. In what ways does the "empire write back" in the works of Achebe, Walcott, and others?
  9. 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 pluralism?
  10. 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. The Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid 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.
    1. 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?
    2. 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 of English?
    3. 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?

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