Huysmans (1848–1907) was a French novelist and art critic and one of the early supporters of Impressionism. While he supported himself financially as a member of France’s civil service, living in Paris, he was able to retire in 1898 on the back of the success of his novel La Cathedral. As a novelist, Huysmans had a close association with Emile Zola and the “naturalists,” but later gravitated toward the “decadent” school of French literature, as illustrated by his novel Against the Grain. Huysmans’ discontent with modern life led him to search for a spiritual solution, culminating with his conversion to Catholicism. Against the Grain became his best-known work, its depiction of homosexuality making it a favorite of gay literature, but infamous in more conservative society. Both its style and is themes had an influence on the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, and it was used as an exhibit in that writer’s trial. In this excerpt the protagonist, Des Esseintes, goes on an olfactory odyssey, mixing and experimenting with different aromas in a private perfumery.
From Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature. Trans. Margaret Mauldon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101–2.
The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
This proclamation was published in the Delhi Gazette in the midst of the “Great Mutiny” of 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–1857), whose restoration to full power was a main aim of the rebels. General disillusionment with the pace of change and the fear that British missionaries were, with government connivance, attempting to Christianize India came to a head among the British East India Company’s sepoy troops. A rumor started that the grease used in the paper cartridges of the Enfield rifle contained both cow and pig fat, an affront to the sensibilities of both Hindus and Muslims. The resulting mutiny (known to Indians as the Great Rebellion or the First War of Independence) resulted in a civil war dominated by mass atrocities—and ultimately in the imposition of the British “Raj,” or direct rule.
A new wave of antiforeign sentiment in China, triggered by a “race for concessions” among the Western powers in the late 1890s, was increasingly centered on a group called the Society of the Harmonious Fists. The foreign community referred to this organization, due to their ritual exercises and resistance to both Qing and foreign control, as the Boxers. By late 1899, the Boxers were regularly provoking the foreign and Christian communities throughout China, and the assassination of the German ambassador in 1900 launched a brutal civil war. Western countries united to oppose the Boxers, now allied with Empress Dowager Cixi, and the foreign diplomatic quarter in Beijing was besieged between June and August 1900. Nevertheless, the groups most frequently targeted by the Boxers were Western missionaries and Chinese people who had converted to Christianity. Among those killed was the entire family of G. B. Farthing, an English Baptist missionary in Shanxi province, whose are shown in the photograph below.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Karl Marx (1818–1883) is one of the least understood men in history. His philosophy, commonly known as Marxism, is frequently associated with the creation of a harsh totalitarian state and a rigidly organized society, where people toil like robots without personal incentives, wealth, or freedom. But although Marx called for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system as described and advocated by Adam Smith, his vision was more utopian than draconian. Marx envisioned a better world, where work, wealth, and power would be returned to the people, where individuals would be able to find true happiness and fulfillment, and where workers would toil not merely for self-interest and individual profit but for the welfare of all, guided by the simple maxim, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
The Communist Manifesto was originally written to express the views of and generate support for the “Communist League,” a small organization of discontented workers and intellectuals. It contains three basic parts: first, Marx’s critique of the flaws and injustices of capitalism, focusing on the struggle between the bourgeoisie (middle class) and proletariat (working class); second, his alternative Communist vision for human society; and lastly, his views on the misleading doctrines of competing socialist ideologies. Marx’s theory is ultimately imbedded in a theory of history known as dialectical materialism, which asserts that economic inequality and class conflict have been the prime engines of historical change. Like Adam Smith before him, Marx believed that certain immutable laws governed history and human society. These laws must be rationally examined in order to comprehend the past and to predict and shape the future. It is for these reasons that Marxism is often called “scientific socialism,” for it is based on a systematic study of economic relations and the forces of production. Yet Marx’s model is also based on certain key assumptions about human nature and the most appropriate definitions and strategies for human progress, fulfillment, and happiness. Although he did not live long enough to witness the implementation of his vision, his ideas have inspired millions of followers in the twentieth century.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Birth of the Communist Manifesto, ed. Dirk Struik, 87, 89–92, 96–97, 103–04, 106–07, 109, 110–12. Copyright © 1971 International Publishers.
Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner
Two wives of British colonial agents in India compiled their experiences in this practical guide for new “memsahibs” (Indian term of respect for married, upper-class white women) in British-controlled India. Flora Annie Steel (1847–1929) and Grace Gardiner share advice that is often humorous or outrageous as well as sophisticated. The work, called the “Mrs. Beeton of British India” (Document 18.4), attempts to maintain “British standards” in a country of unfamiliar food products, extreme heat, and different cultural expectations. This selection guides a wife through what may seem like shocking changes—occasionally revealing a rather haughty tinge of colonialist superiority.
From Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 6, 11–5, 55–62.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
Although William Huskisson (1770–1830) was a prominent member of the British Parliament and a cabinet member in several governments, he is more famous for the circumstances of his death in a rapidly industrializing Great Britain. While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in northern England, on September 15, 1830, Huskisson rode in a carriage with the Duke of Wellington, a political figure and venerated hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Exiting the train during a stop, he was attempting to shake hands with the duke when he failed to notice another locomotive, George Stephenson’s Rocket, traveling down an adjacent track. Huskisson attempted to swing into the carriage but fell on the tracks in front of the Rocket. With his leg horribly mangled by the train, Huskisson was rushed to a hospital (in a train driven by George Stephenson), but he died of his injuries a few hours later. He is, therefore, the world’s first reported railway casualty.
Letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord., available online at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/accident.html.
The British activist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), mother of author Mary Shelley and the bearer of a tainted reputation, wrote a letter called “Vindication of the Rights of Man” (1790) to Edmund Burke criticizing his Reflections on the Revolution in France (Document 16.1) for its support of the aristocracy. Two years later, she altered the title for a feminist letter that argues for education and respect for women as valuable and contributing members of society. Now considered a founder of feminism, Wollstonecraft advocated on behalf of her fellow women in her dedication to a fellow pamphleteer, the enigmatic diplomat Talleyrand (1754–1838). Here, she outlines her main quest for education and provides a glimpse into her charm and energy.
From Mary Wollenstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women. London: J. Johnson, 1792.
Jakob Walter (1788–1864), who fought in Napoleon’s Grande Armée for two stints, records the experiences of the average foot soldier. The poorly organized nature of early 19th-century armies meant that little besides bread was supplied by the state; even housing had to be provided by local communities. Walter’s goal was to record the details of his campaigns as objectively as possible, not to lay out moral commentary on his lot as a lowly soldier. He mailed his diary to his son; it fell out of view only to be rediscovered and published some eighty years later. Consider the stripped-down nature of Walter’s language and his hesitation to outwardly lament the difficulties he and his fellow foot soldiers endured. In the following passage Walter describes the political upheavals that marked France from the start of the July Monarchy, in 1830 to the revolutions of 1848.
From Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections. Trans. Alexander Teixeria de Mattos. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1896, pp. 85–7, 145–6, 149–54, 163–5, 180–3, 187–8, 230–1.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
Before Caroline Norton wrote the activist letters in Document 18.1 with the aim of improving the legal status of women in Britain, she wrote a detailed account of her own losses in her English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century. She tells her side of the mental and physical abuses she endured during her life with Mr. George Norton, a lawyer she married at the age of nineteen in 1827. Consider how revelations from her private experience may have affected a Victorian audience as well as fueling Norton’s political quests.
From C. Norton, English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc., 1981, pp. 22–, 31–3, 49–50, 54–7, 147–8, 150, 154, 158–9, 175.
Karl Marx (1818–1883), the German socialist philosopher, worked alongside Engels to shape the Communist Party, which Marx outlined in his seminal text The Communist Manifesto (1848). The German Ideology, also coauthored by Engels, explains Marx’s theory of history as defined by relationships based on material conditions. This work responds to contemporary philosophers—such as Hegel and Feuerbach—while leading the reader step by step through Marx’s materialist ideology.
From Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, The German Ideology. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968, Vol I. ch. 1, section A.
The wife of a publisher, Isabella Beeton (1836–1865) translated her cooking talent into printed how-to guides for the women of London. Her grand guide, Mrs. Beetons’ Book of Household Management, provides nearly a thousand recipes as well as helpful tips for running a proper Victorian household. Mrs. Beeton was only twenty-one years old when she began compiling the project, which sold over fifty thousand copies its first year. Consider the wide scope of skills Mrs. Beeton thinks a proper mistress should possess.
From Isabella Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Ed. Nicola Humble. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 7, 11–2, 18–9, 21–4, 27, 29, 569–70.
As the end of the nineteenth century approached, German nationalism became much more virulent and overheated. Many Germans began to think that the eighteenth century had been France’s century of greatness, the nineteenth century the era of the British Empire, and that the twentieth century would belong to Germany. Across Europe, more aggressive social Darwinist and antirational movements were developing. This was the great age of European imperialism, when European nations scrambled to divide up Africa and Southeast Asia, and the United States acquired imperial possessions from the Caribbean to the Philippines. So the Germans were not alone in this movement toward a militaristic nationalism. On the whole, however, nationalism took a more virulent form in Germany than it did in France and Britain.
A good expression of the exaggerated, aggressive, and state-centered nationalism, occurs in the writings of Heinrich Treitschke (1834-1896). Treitschke and his fellow nationalists wanted Germany to rise to greatness as an imperial power, even if this meant conflict with existing imperial powers, such as Britain. For Treitschke, the situation involved nothing less than the encounter between the legitimate and historically determined ascent to domination of Germany and those powers and peoples who would deny Germany her “place in the sun.” The sources cited here come from his very popular German History in the Nineteenth Century and from a collection of his historical and political writings.
Heinrich Treitschke, German History in the Nineteenth Century [Deutsche Geschichte im neunzehnten Jahrhundert], 7 vols. (1915–1919). In Louis L. Snyder, ed., Documents of German History, 259–62. Copyright © 1975 Greenwood Press.
Although his novels are beloved as works of fiction today, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was also an acute observer of the ways in which industrialization fundamentally transformed economic conditions in England. Fully aware of the costs of economic dislocation (as a boy, Dickens had been confined in a debtors’ prison with his family), the novelist described the residents of a fictional “Coketown” in one of his lesser-known works, Hard Times, published in 1854. The main industry in this town is a factory, owned and operated by the blowhard (and, it is ultimately revealed, self-created) Josiah Bounderby, and the people who work in the “manufactory” are the “Hands.” The novel opens in a schoolroom, where children are being drilled, literally, in the acquisition of “facts, facts, facts.” Their teacher is Mr. “M’Choakumchild” (Dickens was never very subtle in his nomenclature), and the director of the school is Mr. Gradgrind. The Gradgrind method will ultimately be proved a failure within Gradgrind’s own family, but Hard Times reveals the actual “hardness” of conditions for so many in industrial Britain.
Charles Dickens, Hard Times, for These Times, ed. David Craig (New York: Penguin, 1969), 65–66.
The Egyptian scholar Rifa’a al-Tahtawi (1801–1873) sought to harmonize Islamic and Christian cultures by pushing mutual understanding and helping Egypt modernize. Al-Tahtawi spent five years (1826–1831) living in Paris; while immersed in the stimulating European capital city, he absorbed the Enlightenment theories that he then brought back to his homeland. Yet this work also expresses the tumult of being plunged into a foreign culture and the accompanying misconceptions about the “Other” that emerge from firsthand experiences abroad. Consider how Al-Tahtawi permits the reader to witness Paris “for the first time” through his eyes.
From Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, An Imam in Paris: Account of a Stay in Paris by an Egyptian Cleric. Trans. Daniel L. Newman. London: Saqi Books, 2012, pp. 154–7, 173–5, 177–9, 188–9, 278–9.
Gandhi wrote this book – called Hind Swaraj (1909) in his native language of Gujarati – on the steamer from London to South Africa, a voyage of ten days. The British banned its publication in India, but allowed Gandhi’s own English translation of the book (1910) to be published, on the assumption that few in India would be able to read it. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between a Reader, who represents the colonized in India, and an Editor, who represents Gandhi’s position.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Sir Charles Trevelyan
Sir Charles Trevelyan (1807–1886) spent fifteen years as a British colonial officer in India, where he pursued reform of living conditions; when he was recalled to England, he worked to combat the Irish potato famine. His account of the Great Famine (1845–1852) provides his thoughts on everything from the potato to relationships between social classes. This introductory portion of The Irish Crisis lays out contemporary viewpoints on the famine and frames the disaster as a failure of the “agrarian code” that drove Ireland into socioeconomic imbalance.
From C. E. Trevelyan, Esq., The Irish Crisis. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1919, pp. 2, 4–9.
A Jewish Austrian writer, Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) is the father of the ideology of Zionism, which sought to create a state of Israel (achieved in 1948) that would be a center of Jewish nationalism and security for persecuted Jewish populations. Though he was disinterested in his Jewish identity as a young man, Herzl was horrified by the reality of anti-Semitic outbursts connected to the Dreyfus Affair (in which a French Jew was wrongly accused of treason). Accordingly, Herzl became convinced that only a truly Jewish state would protect Jews from pervasive anti-Semitism; his work The Jewish State provides reasons and methods for potential émigrés, as well as describing the ideal of a communal Jewish identity.
From Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State. New York: Dover, 1968, pp. 85–96