Livingstone’s ‘Lives’

A metabiography of a Victorian icon

Dr. David Livingstone, the Victorian ‘missionary-explorer’, has attracted more written commentary than nearly any other heroic figure of the nineteenth century. In the years following his death, he rapidly became the subject of a major biographical tradition and indeed he continues to sustain an academic trade as well. Yet, out of the extensive discourse that has installed itself around him, no single unified image of Livingstone emerges. Rather, he has been represented in diverse ways and put to work in a variety of socio-political contexts. This book interrogates the heterogeneous nature of Livingstone’s legacy and explores the plurality of identities that he has posthumously acquired. Investigating Livingstone’s own self-staging, his Victorian commemoration, his imperialist and Scottish reputations, and his afterlife in postcolonial fiction and drama, it offers the first full exploration of his many incarnations over a lengthy chronological period. In approaching Livingstone’s ‘lives’ this book adopts a metabiographical methodology, namely, a biography of biographies. This framework, which weds the insights of reception theory and postmodern historical enquiry, does not aim to uncover the true nature of the subject but is rather concerned with the malleability and ideological embeddedness of biographical representation. Instead of staking yet another claim to Livingstone’s ‘real’ identity, in the manner of his many biographers, this study in metabiography reveals the political motivations of his many recreations and focuses on what he has been made to mean.

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‘Justin, for his part, has done a first-rate job in tackling the Livingstone literature and scoring a try with this major contribution to studies in imperialism.'
Nicolaas Rupke Washington and Lee University, USA
Journal of Historical Geography 51 (2016) 103e114
January 2015

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