Empire
Imperial afterlives
in Livingstone’s ‘Lives’
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Livingstone’s imperialist reputation, the hegemonic dimension of his afterlife, is the subject of the fourth chapter. Most of the texts that use Livingstone in this way can be described as ‘exemplary lives’ or idealised ‘hagiography’. While this saintly writing was predominantly a Victorian preoccupation, such practices broke the confines of the nineteenth century. Primarily, the chapter focuses on the way in which Livingstone was shaped by his biographers to meet the changing demands of empire. Expanding on John MacKenzie’s sketch of Livingstone’s legacy, I argue that he was routinely remoulded with each major shift in colonial policy. Yet Livingstone was not presented homogenously at any one chronological moment. Shifts in colonial attitude were certainly decisive, but he was used by his biographers to dialogue with their environment. While he was continually found to speak to contemporary politics, Livingstone was actually constructed according to a range of imperialisms. This chapter also explores a less prevalent dimension of Livingstone’s legacy that resisted the hegemonic colonialist representation. Certain authors worked against the grain by using him to offer a limited critique of imperialism. For several biographers, dating from the mid-twentieth century, Livingstone foreshadowed sensitive intercultural engagement and even cultural relativism.

Livingstone’s ‘Lives’

A metabiography of a Victorian icon

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