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1.1. Imperialism vs. Colonialism.

It is quite relevant to differentiate between the concepts ‘imperialism’ and

‘colonialism’ so as to better understand the imperial expansion of the Great

Britain. Although they may look similar, they establish different concepts. For

instance, whereas the term ‘imperialism’ refers to the principle, spirit, or system

of empire, and is driven by ideology, the term ‘colonialism’ refers to the

principle, spirit, or system of establishing colonies, which is driven by



2.1. The beginning of the British Empire.

During the 16th c. England established some colonies in North America and the

Northern Atlantic, but British Navy was not much concerned in establishing

commercial bases in other countries. They were especially devoted to acts of

piracy against colonial nations.

A special interest in the Atlantic territories of North America raised during the

17th c. Groups of Puritans founded some colonies, which were good commercial

and strategic bases in the proximity of the tropical America. By the end of this

century, some British trade companies settled in India. India manufacture was

controlled by the State.

2.2. The middle-class revolution.

The political results of the Glorious Revolution (1688), which led William of

Orange to obtain the crown, made the Parliament the overall power of State.


Within the Parliament, the House of Commons imposed over the House of Lords,

mainly due to their growing economical power.

As business middle class resulted benefited of the revolution, they promoted

colonial expansion. This expansion was based on a number of factors: control of

raw materials (wood, cotton); promotion of the iron industries inside the country

and naval supremacy in order to protect their own trade routes and take over

Spanish and French trading posts.

The wars against Spain and France (The Succession War (1701-1714) and The

Seven Years War (1756-1763)) resulted in the obtaining of Gibraltar, Menorca

and Hudson Bay, the French territories to the Northeast of the Mississippi river,

Florida, some Antilles isles and the trading post in Senegal.

New colonies were found in India and the East India Company gained control

over most of India. Many people travelled to the East colonies to make their

fortune. However, they were not much interested in the development of the

Indian colonies, as in the development of their own wealth.

The first crisis of colonisation began in the first western colonies: hostile feelings

towards colonisation began to spread out; thirteen colonies became

independent in North America; the Versailles Treaty made Great Britain give

some territories back to France and Spain.

Although some more colonies were established yet: sailors from the colonies in

India conquered Penang in 1786, Sierra Leone, on the African coast, and

Southern New Wales , in the South East of the Australian Continent were

founded in 1788. In 1815 England had a great Empire.


During the 19th c., England saw the raising of an ideological movement:

Liberalism. Liberal ideas led to economic, social and moral changes; interest in

humanitarian matters and the abolition of slavery in 1833.

2.3. The Victorian Age.

The Victorian Era goes from 1830 to 1880. This period is characterised by the

extension of the British Empire, which implied its political and economical

superiority over the rest of the nations, and by the social effects of the industrial


New territories were colonised: Gold Coast (1821), Falkland Isles (1833), New

Zealand (1840), Hong Kong (1841), some new territories in India… However,

liberals criticise the maintenance costs of the colonies. The main reasons were

the cost of the American Revolution; economic crisis in the West Indies and lack

of commercial interest in the colonies. It was a period of social agitation:

First, middle class economical growth came together with the rise of population,

and population increase brought about emigration to the new territories of the


Secondly, he Industrial Revolution had provoked that the country became more

urban and the population more mobile, mass production and division of labour

were introduced in the economical system, the smoke and debris invaded the

countryside and a non-ideological and with trades manlike qualities middle class


Finally, the social transition was a peaceful process due to fear of spread of

revolution from the Continent and the Utilitarian ideology, whose main feature

was the tendency to mingle business with moralism.


Utilitarians were philosophical radicals whose main aim was the improvement of

the nation. Their proposal was the defence of property based on stopping

government interfering with trade; leaving capital to find its most lucrative

course and leaving industries and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and

folly their natural punishment.

Late Victorian period was characterised by the debate about the content of

English culture, habits of resistance to the standardising effects of machines,

the second Reform Bill of 1867: enfranchised working classes in the towns, and

the Trade Union Act of 1871: shifts the centre of power.

2.4. Development and organization of the colonies.

Liberals wanted to avoid conflicts in the colonies due to lack of political

organisation. They granted a representative government where it was needed.

For instance: Canada was granted one in 1848, and then Australia and New

Zealand in 1855; the rebellion of the “sepoys” in India resulted in administrative

reforms. These led to the establishment of a civil service that guaranteed some

social services, i.e.: the first railway system in Asia was built.

Moreover, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 modified the trade routes all

over the world and consequently a new colonial movement flourished, in spite of

the strong liberal opposition; Imperialism became a solid doctrine and

Imperialist literature spread out (R. Kipling); Great Britain took an active part in

the distribution of Africa; and some new territories were added to the Empire:

Cyprus, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and some archipelagos in the Antarctic Ocean.

The cities acquire more and more importance: people moved to the cities in

Britain as in other parts of the Empire and the growth of the industrial city

produced new and hardened social stratification everywhere.


2.5. The administration of the colonies.

Colonial State formation was characterised by the use of force in order to

establish political stability, the importance of economic objectives in order to

increase profitability and the continuity must be secured.

The main features of the administration of the Colonial States were.

1. There was an International political dimension. The State was ruled by an

important International Power: Great Britain.

2. The existence of bureaucratic elitism and authoritarianism: agents of the

British Government occupied posts specially reserved for them, civil servants

were chosen from native population, all the important decisions were taken

in London.

3. Statism. This means that the command over the economy was exerted by

the State – in this case a foreign State.

4. Use of traditional figures. These figures were taken from the tradition of the

colony and rely for political support and legitimacy. This was a two-staged

process: to make allies and to provoke disruptions of the state structure.

5. Use of force. Military force was used in order to initiate colonial war and

control active resistance. Colonial police was characterised by the extensive

use of violence, unequal treatment to colonised people and colonisers an

self-identification in some fields.

6. Technological advantage in some fields such as arms, medicine or railroads.

7. Hegemonic ideology. The main aim was to support the continuation of the

existing political regime. This could be achieved by means of emphasizing on

positive features of colonisation and positive statements about British rulers´



2.6. The final organization of the colonies.

The Indian colonies were called the Indian Empire in 1877. There was a rise of

the nationalist feeling in 1885 and they reached some concessions on

independence in 1935. The Independent States of New Zealand and the

Australian Federation were founded in 1900. The South African Union was

founded in 1910. British rule in India ended in 1947.

The British Empire showed a great solidity during the 1WW but the Westminster

Statute of 1931 let the most developed countries acquire independence

resulting in the beginning of the Commonwealth.


Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), who were

profoundly preoccupied with the consequences of imperialism and the British

empire expansion, namely in Africa and India, respectively. Let us examine their

life, style and main works in detail.

3.1. JOSEPH CONRAD (1857-1924)

Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born in Southern Poland. At the age of 17

he sailed to Marseille to become an apprentice in the merchant marine. Sailed

on a variety of British ships to the Orient and many exotic places. At the age of

32 began to write his first novel Almayer´s Folly (1895) being the first of a series

of sea novels based on his experience as a sailor.

Although Conrad is known as a novelist, he tried his hand also as a playwright.

His first one-act play was not success and the audience rejected it. But after

finishing the text he learned the existence of the Censor of the Plays, which

inspired his satirical essay about the obscure civil servant. Conrad was an

Anglophile who regarded Britain as a land which respected individual liberties.


Following Alfred: “Conrad’s prose style is one of the most individual and readily

recognizable in English, not, as might be expected in a Pole, for its

eccentricities, but for its full use of the musical potentialities of the language.

His careful attention to grouping and rhythm and to such technical devices as

alliteration enables him, at his best, to achieve a prose that is akin to poetry.

When he writes below his best he can become over-ornamental, self-conscious,

and artificially stylized”.

Among other features of this writing style, we may mention his subjects, namely

about adventure in an unusual or exotic setting due to his experiences in the

sea and the exploration of Africa and East Indies; his characters, both men and

women, are presented in brief, illuminating flashes and who are vital individuals.

They are rarely commonplace and some of his best are villains as Kurtz in The

Heart of Darkness; his view of life, out of which Conrad had a profound sense of

the tragedy of life and the man’s struggle against hostile forces; finally, he had

a traditional direct narrative method, and the oblique method, by means of

which he presents his material in an easy, conversational manner through the

medium of a spectator, and gradually he builds up a picture of the situation by

brief sense impressions.

Primarily seen in his own time as a writer of sea stories, Conrad is now highly

regarded as a novelist whose work displays a deep moral consciousness and

masterful narrative technique. Among his early novels, we find that the two first

works were based on his experiences of Malaya, thus Almayer’s Folly (1895); An

Outcast of the Islands (1896), where he presents a vivid tropical background

and a study of a white man whose moral stamina was sapped by the insidious

influence of the tropics; his third early work was The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’


(1897), a moving story of life on board ship, remarkable for a full of romantic

description in a powerful atmosphere of mystery and brooding.

His next work was Tales of Unrest (1898), which contains five stories, and was

followed by Lord Jim: a Tale (1900). This is one of the best of Conrad’s studies of

men whose strength fails them in a moment of crisis, and is again a story of the

sea. It is in this work that Conrad introduces for the first time his technique of

oblique narrative, the story being told through the ironical Marlow, a character

who frequently appears in later novels. Then he wrote Youth: A Narrative; and

two other Stories (1902) and Typhoon, and Other Stories (1903), which contain

seven tales which include some of Conrad’s most powerful work. In the former

collection it is remarkable The Heart of Darkness (1899) for an overwhelming

sense of evil and corruption and for its excellent tropical background.

Influenced by Henry James, another Conrad’s finest work is Nostromo – A Tale of

the Seaboard (1904), which shifts the scene to the coastline of Central America.

It is a story of revolution and has many well-drawn portraits. Throughout his

fiction Conrad is concerned with moral dilemmas, the isolation of the individual

to be tested by experience, and the psychology of inner urges in both groups

and individuals. This is reflected in his semi-autobiographical The Mirror of The

Sea (1906), which is a series of essays based on his experiences in the oceans

of the world and contains excellent pictures.

This work was followed by the popular detective story The Secret Agent – A

Simple Tale (1907), which, though it contains some one or two well-drawn

figures and suggests quite powerfully the atmosphere of the Underworld, is not

one of his best.


Then came Chance- A Tale in Two Parts (1914), written in the oblique method of

story-telling. Here Marlow appears again as a narrator, but the story is also told

from several other points of view. After Victory- An Island Tale (1915) and a

further collection of four short stories, Within the Tides – Tales (1915), Conrad

wrote The Shadow line- A Confession (1917), a short novel in which the

suggestion of the supernatural is present. Other novels followed, such as The

Rescue – A Romance of the Shallows (1920), which is long but with moments of

high excitement, and shows and excellent picture of primitive men. The Arrow

of Gold – A Story between Two Notes (1919) and The Rover (1923) are both set

in a background of European history, and were not very successful.

In his late years, he wrote Suspense- A Napoleonic Novel (1925), which was

unfinished at his death. Other works were published posthumously, such as

Tales of Hearsay (1925), four stories, and Last Essays (1926). We shall finally

mention in this group his autobiographical novels since they show the real

Conrad and his own experiences. Thus, A Personal Record (1912) and Notes on

Life and Letters (1921), relevant for Conrad’s views on his own art, and of two

novels, The Inheritors- An Extravagant Story (1901) and Romance- A Novel

(1903), in which he collaborated with Ford Maddox Hueffer.

3.2. RUDYARD KIPLING (1865-1936)

Born in Bombay, he was sent to England in 1871 to be brought up at the United

Services College –an educational institution for the public officials´ children,

which was a sad and lonely experience for him, as he would reflect in Stalky &

Co. (1899). Then, he returned to Lahore, India, in 1882 and worked as a

journalist for the daily Civil and Military Gazette.


When he got back to England in 1889 he was an acknowledged writer. Travelled

to South Africa as a chronicler to cover the events of the Boers War. Was

granted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. Died in London.

Since Kipling wrote during the period known as the Victorian Age, his writings

show the main topics of the English and Western Literature of the time, thus

conservatism, optimism and self assurance both in prose and poetry. Though

Kipling’s works achieved literary fame during his early years, as he grew older

his works faced enormous amount of literary criticism. His works dealt with

racial and imperialistic topics which attracted a lot of critics, who condemned

the fact that unlike the popular model of poetry, Kipling’ works did not have an

underlying meaning to it and that interpreting it required no more than one


As Kipling grew older his works, his popularity among the masses persisted

without change. In fact, due to his ability to relate to the layman as well as the

literary elite through his works, he joined a select group of authors who reached

a worldwide audience of considerable diversity. Kipling’s reputation started a

revival course after T.S. Eliot’s essay on his works where Eliot describes the

most salient feature of Kipling style: the “great verse” that sometimes

unintentionally changes into poetry. In his lifetime Kipling went from the

unofficial Poet Laureate of Great Britain to one of the most denounced poet in

English Literary History. In contrast to the path his reputation took, Rudyard

Kipling improved as a poet as his career matured and by the time of his death

Kipling had compiled one of the most diverse collections of poetry in English



Since Kipling was an Imperialist, his main themes read about attitudes towards

British rule in India. Kipling believed it was right and proper for Britain to “own”

India and rule its people, and the possibility that this position might be

questionable never seems to have crossed his mind. At the time he was writing

there was a considerable ferment of revolt among Indians against British rule,

and yet, he has shown, at points in Kim (1901) when in Chapter 3 he has an old

soldier comment on the Great Mutiny of 1857, dismissing it as “madness”.

He was a prolific and versatile writer whose journalistic experience served him

to great extent throughout this career. His prose works, which include stories of

Indian life, of children, and of animals are told with great vitality. He had an

inventive faculty, a romantic taste for the adventurous and the supernatural,

and an apparently careless, very colloquial style, which ensured for his work a

popular reception. He also dealt with the superiority of the white race, of

Britain’s undoubted mission to extend through her imperial policy the benefits of

civilization to the rest of the world. He believed in the progress and value of the

machine, found and echo in the hearts of many of his readers since they lived

the late consequences of the industrial revolution.

He presented a really good picture of Anglo-Indian and of native life. His

portraits of soldiers, natives and of children were vivid and real, with a soft

characterization. His background is clearly visualized and realistically presented

since he had a great ability to create an atmosphere of mystery. The apparent

carelessness of his style was a deliberate and skilfully cultivated technique.

Kipling’s works span over five decades both as poetry and prose. Regarding the

former, in 1886 he published his first volume of poetry, Departmental Ditties

and other poems followed, such as Barrack-room Balladas (1892), The Seven


Seas (1896), The Five Nations (1903), Inclusive Verse 1885-1918 (1919) and

Poems, 1886-1929 (1930). Over the immediately following years he published

some of his most exquisite works including his most acclaimed poem

Recessional. Regarding prose works, between 1887 and 1889 he published six

volumes of short stories set in and concerned with the India he had come to

know and love so well. When he returned to England he found himself already

recognized and acclaimed as a brilliant writer. Earlier prose works include Plain

Tales from the Hills (1888), Soldiers Three (1888), The Phantom Rickshaw

(1888), Wee Willie Winkie (1888), Life’s Handicap (1891), Many Inventions

(1893), The Jungle Book (1894), Captains Courageous (1897), The Days’s Work

(1898), and his most famed novel, Kim (1901). Other works followed, thus Just-

so Stories for Little Children (1910), Debits and Credits (1926), and Limits and

Renewals (1932).


Alexander, M. 2000. A History of English Literature. Macmillan Press. London.