Academic journal article Style

The Method Is Unsound: The Aesthetic Dissonance of Colonial Justification in Kipling, Conrad, and Greene

Academic journal article Style

The Method Is Unsound: The Aesthetic Dissonance of Colonial Justification in Kipling, Conrad, and Greene

Article excerpt

In his 1970 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures published as Sincerity and Authenticity, Lionel Trilling contends of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

Today it is scarcely possible to read Marlow's celebration of England without irony; to many, especially among the English themselves, it is bound to seem patently absurd. The present state of opinion does not countenance the making of discriminations among imperialisms, present or past, and the idea that more virtue might be claimed for one nation than another is given scant credence. But this was not always the case. Having the choice to make, Conrad himself elected to become English exactly because he believed England to be a good nation. (110)

Trilling's notion that one can discriminate among imperialisms, claiming virtue for some and not for others, is a perfect starting point for a discussion of the imperial justifications of Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and Graham Greene, all of whom saw in Britain's empire a justifiable endeavor. In their three fictions, Kipling's Plain Tales From the Hills, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Greene's The Heart of the Matter, these authors discriminate among possible motivations for the colonial project, critiquing their predecessors' justifications and offering their own. Further, having inherited a fictional tradition from Kipling, Conrad and Greene also link what they consider to be of value in the colonies to what they consider to be of value in their predecessors' texts, believing as well that more virtue might be claimed for some fictional techniques than for others. In this essay, I will present Kipling's, Conrad's, and Greene's valuations, both cultural and aesthetic, as they are presented in these colonial fictions.

Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling's first collection of stories, brought colonial India home to England: those individuals who went out to India were for the British reading public suddenly endowed with faces, vices, virtues, and love affairs and disappointments, their administrative, military, and patriotic roles constituted as full lives. At one stroke, Kipling created for the English reading public the culture of Anglo-India: what the British in India do for leisure; what they value; where the best and where the worst posts are; how love and friendship differ in Anglo-India as compared to at home.(1) Though introducing a new culture is no small task, for the Victorians it could never be a solitary one. True to his Victorian fellows, Kipling sought, in capturing that culture, to justify its existence as well. Faced with such a task, where better to turn than Matthew Arnold, who had done the same for England itself nearly 20 years earlier. Thus Kipling invokes the famous Arnoldian binary from Culture and Anarchy:

We may regard this energy driving at practice, this paramount sense of the obligation of duty, self-control, and work, this earnestness in going manfully with the best light we have, as one force. And we may regard the intelligence driving at those ideas which are, after all, the basis of right practice, the ardent sense for all the new and changing combinations of them which man's development brings with it, the indomitable impulse to know and adjust them perfectly, as another force. And these two forces we may regard as in some sense rivals. (107)

Between the "intelligence driving at . . . ideas" and "the obligation of duty," Kipling situates Indian colonial culture. Not content with Arnold's pendulum swinging back and forth between the two, however, he adds to the binary a middle term. In the last story of his collection, Kipling brings Arnold's two forces together in the figure of McIntosh Jellaludin.(2) Mcintosh is a Hellenist:

He was, when sober, a scholar and a gentleman. When drunk, he was rather more of the first than the second. . . . On those occasions the native woman tended him while he raved in all tongues except his own. One day, indeed, he began reciting Atalanta in Calydon, and went through it to the end, beating time to the swing of the verse with a bedstead-leg. …

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