Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class

By John Kucich | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
SADOMASOCHISM AND THE MAGICAL GROUP
KIPLING'S MIDDLE-CLASS IMPERIALISM

There we met with famous men
Set in office o'er us;
And they beat on us with rods—
Faithfully with many rods—
Daily beat us on with rods,
For the love they bore us.
—FROM “A SCHOOL SONG,” PRELUDE TO
Stalky & Co.

RECENT Kipling criticism always begins by addressing his political multivalence. The most redemptive leftist readings have tried to valorize this multivalence as an instance of Kipling's “hybridity,” casting him as an avatar of Homi Bhabha.1 Sympathetic readings of another kind see Kipling as self-divided by his alienation from both metropolitan and colonial society.2 More commonly, though, readers inscribe his apparent ambivalence about the politics of empire within the inevitable contradictions of colonial experience, weighing his competing loyalties to British authority and to resisting colonial subjects in a great variety of ways.3 The most

1 Good examples are Don Randall, Kipling's Imperial Boy: Adolescence and Cultural Hy-
bridity
(New York: Palgrave, 2000); Satya P. Mohanty, “Drawing the Color Line: Kipling
and the Culture of Colonial Rule,” The Bounds of Race: Perspectives on Hegemony and Resis-
tance
, ed. Dominick LaCapra (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 311–43; and
Abdul R. JanMohamed, “The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial
Difference in Colonialist Literature,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985), 59–87. John McBratney,
Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space: Rudyard Kipling's Fiction of the Native-Born (Columbus:
Ohio State University Press, 2002), explicitly calls Kipling a precursor of Bhabha (167–69)
on account of his fascination with a particular figure of Anglo-Indian hybridity, the native-
born colonizer.

2 See Ali Behdad, Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution (Dur-
ham: Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 73–91; and Inderpal Grewal, Home and Harem:
Nation, Gender, Empire, and the Cultures of Travel
(Durham: Duke University Press, 1996).

3 Thomas Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, The New Cambridge History of India, vol. 3, part
4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 161, cites Kipling as an instance of
“coping with contradiction.” Zohreh T. Sullivan, Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rud-

-136-

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