Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Imagining and Living the Exotic: A Context for Early Rhodesian Novels (1)

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Imagining and Living the Exotic: A Context for Early Rhodesian Novels (1)

Article excerpt

Summary

The paper discusses some early Rhodesian novels within the context of nineteenth-century debates about the exotic and recent theories about exoticism. The exotic has various temporal and spatial locations that are always sites of desire constructed from what is perceived to be absent in the present. Technological developments and radical social changes created different and competing absences in Victorian England and the paper compares responses to these by Tennyson and Ruskin. Pater, by contrast, rejects social contingency and celebrates instead the power of the individual imagination to create alternative and pleasurable realities. The competing demands of the lived and the imagined exotic can be seen in early Rhodesian writing. In Haggard's novels, written before Rhodes's occupation of Mashonaland, the interior of Africa is a landscape of romance. After Haggard had met Rhodes the interior is written as a potential colony and the colony denies the exotic its discrete existence. Early settler writers often claim that Rhodesia has given their characters a liberating individuality but this claim is never sustained within the novels as the expectations of the settler collective are given precedence over the individual. Invariably the novels turn away from the esoteric in favour of realist negotiations of public and private meanings.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel handel oor enkele vroee Rhodesiese romans binne die konteks van negentiende-eeuse debatte oor die eksotiese, sowel as van hedendaagse teoriee oor eksotisme. Die eksotiese het verskeie tyd- en ruimteplasings wat altyd dien as setels van begeerte, gekonstrueer uit die wat waargeneem word as afwesig in die hede. Tegnologiese ontwikkeling en ingrypende maatskaplike veranderings het verskillende mededingende afwesighede in Victoriaanse Engeland laat onstaan, en die artikel tref vergelykings tussen Tennyson en Ruskin se onderskeie response tot hierdie afwesighede. Pater, daarteenoor, verwerp die eise van die samelewing en vier eerder die mag van die individuele verbeelding om alternatiewe en aangename werklikhede te skep. Die mededingende aansprake van die self-beleefde eksotiese aan die een kant en die verbeelde of denkbeeldige eksotiese aan die ander, kan in die vroee Rhodesiese letterkunde waargeneem word. In die romans wat Haggard voor Rhodes se besetting van Mashonaland geskryf het, is die Afrika-landskap 'n landskap van romantiek. Nadat Haggard Rhodes ontmoet het, beskryf hy die binneland eerder as'n potensiele kolonie, en die kolonie ontken die afsonderlike bestaan van die eksotiese. Vroee setlaarskrywers het dikwels beweer dat Rhodesie hulle karakters 'n bevrydende individualiteit geskenk het, maar hierdie aanspraak word nooit in die romans self bevestig nie, aangesien die setlaargemeenskap altyd voorrang bo die enkeling geniet. Sonder uitsondering draai die romans die rug op die esoteriese ten gunste van 'n realistiese verhandeling van openbare en private betekenis.

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Many early Rhodesian novels reveal the influence on their authors of the writings of contemporary European decadence which is unexpected since decadence privileges the intuitive and the private over the rational and the public. The acquisition of the British South Africa Company's territories had observed legalities that were a matter of public record: concessions whose dubious legality or indeed authenticity was known to few, a royal charter, capital raised from trading stocks in the City, an advanced column of paramilitary settlers, wars in which the Company defended its lands from aggression or repressed rebellions against legally constituted authority and the successful settlement of immigrants who, by the turn of the century, called themselves Rhodesians. These episodes form a purposeful imperial narrative and as they combine frontier thrills with the rhetorical and more practical necessities of colonial expansion, Rhodesian authors should have felt no need to reach beyond the conventions of nineteenth-century realism in reproducing Rhodesian experiences that were both typical and personal. …

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