‘An angel satyr walks these hills’
Imperial Fantasies for a Post-Colonial World
in Gothic Studies
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In an age of Imperial confidence, the social rhetoric of Victorian Britain frequently manifested a perceptible unease when considering cultural problems within the home nation. The imagery of ‘darkest England’, dependant as it was upon a powerful colonialist discourse, authorised and transmitted a register of language whereby an internal Other might be configured as uncivilised, and thus capable of being subject to the explorer and the missionary. Much, of course, has already been written upon the Gothic possibilities of this phenomena which characterised an Imperial age which allegedly declined with the nineteenth century. No similar consideration, however, has yet been made of its continuation into the twentieth century, a progressively post-colonial era in which the Imperial (or Imperialised) Other, in consequence, functions differently. This article considers two Gothic short stories, one in a reprinted Edwardian collection, the other a component of an original collection, both of which were issued in volume form in the late 1940s. The two narratives examine classic ‘cultures-within-cultures’, pockets of resistance within the fabric of the Imperial nation, though in a cultural context radically different from their Victorian predecessors. Algernon Blackwood‘s ‘Ancient Sorceries’ (1908), published in the 1947 reprint of his John Silence, and L.T.C. Rolt‘s ‘Cwm Garon’ published in Sleep No More (1948) share a preoccupation with the casual, localised, travelling which has replaced Imperial adventure, and with the decline of identifiable Christian institutions and landmarks themselves the products of earlier missionary activity in a familiar, though threatening, European landscape. In both short stories a form of devil worship is enacted before the eyes of the traveller, and in a landscape which fascinates and somehow holds him. In ‘Ancient Sorceries’, where the Devil does attend the bacchanal, the protagonist is almost seduced into willing participation but, on evading the sexual lure of the sabbat, vows never to return. Rolt, writing after the recent horrors of the Second World War, discards the presiding Devil in favour of a mortal substitute, but still leaves open the possibility that, in Kilvert‘s words, ‘an angel satyr walks these hills’. Neither welcomed nor seduced by the satanic community, Rolts protagonist finds himself fascinated by the land, and thus drawn into unwilling participation. In colonial terms, these two narratives explore the frequently rehearsed dangers of ‘going native’ that lie at the core of, among other works, Kipling‘s ‘The Mark of the Beast’, Rider Haggard‘s She and Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. A subject people is identified, but their strength either supernatural or merely cultural, the ability to preserve a distinctive and resistant way of life tests the limits of the perceiving power. These are, in a sense, Imperial fantasies for a post-colonial world, a reflexing of colonised culture back in upon the formerly colonising nation.

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