Date of Thesis

Spring 2018

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts

Major

English

First Advisor

Virginia Zimmerman

Second Advisor

Saundra Morris

Third Advisor

Jean Peterson

Keywords

british empire, children's literature, victorian, imperialism, neo-victorian

Abstract

My thesis explores the depiction of the British Empire in Victorian and Neo-Victorian children’s fiction. Though scholars may expect to find simplistic imperial triumphalism in texts written in the late Victorian period and incisive critiques of empire in contemporary texts, my work demonstrates that the ideology of empire is much more contradictory, unstable, and incohesive than one might assume. By looking at the instability of imperial ideology through the lens of children’s fiction, I examine the ways in which that ideology is contested in the text rather than a stable site of ideological transference from adult to child. Thus, my thesis is divided into two parts. Part I examines two giants of late-Victorian imperial fiction. Chapter 1 concerns H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, and how that texts reveals anxieties about British racial superiority through its depiction of African characters. Chapter 2 is centered on two works by Rudyard Kipling, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and Kim. In this chapter, I trace Kipling’s depiction of the ideal native subject as at once affectionate and undermined by notions of British racial superiority. Part II of my thesis examines two contemporary children’s novels set in the Victorian period, with characters who have connections to the British Empire. Chapter 3 examines Philip Pullman’s The Ruby and the Smoke and deconstructs Pullman’s critique of the British Empire by demonstrating how Pullman reifies imperialist aesthetics. In Chapter 4, I turn my attention to Libba Bray’s novel A Great and Terrible Beauty and its two sequels, to show that Bray’s more subversive depiction of a romance between an Anglo-Indian girl and an Indian boy is incapable of escaping from imperial ideology. My hope is that, by exploring these instabilities, I further our collective understanding of how imperial ideology is both reproduced and undermined.

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