Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire

Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire

Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire

Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire

Excerpt

Perhaps some readers, standing on the steps of a fairly massive structure, may be encouraged by being given a floor plan. The first two chapters of this book are preparatory, Chapter I in matters of history, Chapter II in matters of literature. They define the concepts of the argument to follow, and describe usefully similar cases. Adventure, it is argued, is the energizing myth of empire; and empire is to be found everywhere in the modern world, disguised as development or improvement. The third and fourth chapters discuss two authors, perhaps the most important in the history of the adventure novel in English. Each one's work is characterized, and also the relation between the two in matters of form—the transformation undergone by Defoe's motifs when taken over by Scott. The third pair of chapters moves the discussion out away from England, to first America and then Russia. We see how the American and the Russian adventure novels, which derive from those cultural matrices, are like and unlike the English version. Chapter VII returns the reader to nineteenth- century England, but to the popular and the children's literature of the time, to study cultural images related to adventure. The next three chapters discuss individual authors again. One is English, one American, and one Polish, so they follow an already established pattern. (A master pattern is of course chronological; each writer is simply related to those before and after him in the nearly three hundred years from Defoe's birth to Kipling's death.) And Chapter XI presents contemporary cultural images.

This book is about a big subject; not only the adventure novels of nearly three hundred years, but the imperialist history of that time (in more than one country) and moreover the relation between the two. But I have addressed my argument, as always, to the general reader. (I keep hoping he exists, or can be conjured into existence by the sound of a voice.) That means that my argument is simplified; I have cut out many cases, qualifications, and general considerations, in order to make a readable book. But if the general reader does exist, I know he won't open his mouth—won't make any response to my argument. It is the specialists who will be scrutinizing and judging me. So I have relegated a lot of the material I cut to the back of the book, as notes. These are sizable paragraphs, in some cases miniature essays. The Defoe, Scott, and Kipling chapters, in particular, have each a kind of appendix on other books by that author— those three being the peaks in the mountain chain of adventure. In the main text I discuss only one or two books by each of them, so it behooved me to show that I knew some others.

This is the second of three volumes of a series to be called The Lust for Power. In the first I talk about Gandhi and Tolstoy. In this one I try to apply their teachings to literature and history. I try to find something to do, within my own field of activity, which will not betray the idea, the insight into the human situation, they entrusted to us. So this is a study of imperialism, shaped to satisfy the criteria of scholarly objectivity and free speculation, but also shaped to suit a practical purpose, to fit a social situation which I see as a moral and spiritual crisis. Its immediate reference is to England, but the argument applies to all the Western countries.

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