Imperium of the soul

The political and aesthetic imagination of Edwardian imperialists

Some of the most compelling and enduring creative work of the late Victorian and Edwardian Era came from committed imperialists and conservatives. This book explores the relationship of the artists with conservatism and imperialism, movements that defy easy generalisations in 1899. It does so by examining the work of writers Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Rider Haggard and John Buchan along with the composer Edward Elgar and the architect Herbert Baker. The book presents an analysis of their mutual infatuation with T. E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, who represented all their dreams for the future British Empire. It also explores the reasons why Lawrence did not, could not, perform the role in which his elder admirers cast him, as creative artist and master statesman of British Empire. Haggard's intrusion into Sigmund Freud's dream world at a critical point in the development of psychoanalytic theory suggests a divergent approach to the novels of imperial adventure. Writing imaginative literature about India as an imperialist enabled Kipling to explore a whole universe of perverse and forbidden pleasures without blowing the top off the volcano. Elgar occupies a higher position in the world of classical music than anyone imagined even at the zenith of his popularity in the Edwardian era. John Buchan mixed art and politics to a greater extent than any British writer, especially with his 'The Loathly Opposite'. The real-life political counterparts of the imperial romance were Britain's experiments with indirect rule from Fiji and Zululand to Nigeria and Tanganyika.

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‘[…] Imperium of the Soul encourages readers to revisit the art of figures we too often caricature or take for granted, but about whom there is still much to learn.'
The Journal of Modern History
January 2020

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