Rudyard Kipling, Edward Morgan Forster, William Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad: The British Imperial Tradition and the Individual Talent
This thesis studied the dialectic of imperial tradition and individual talent in the non-fictional and fictional works of Rudyard Kipling, Edward Morgan Forster, William Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad. Taking its bearings from the postcolonial theory and critical categories elaborated by Edward Said, it argued the point that variation on the theme of commitment to Empire is close to “degree zero” in the four writers’ works in spite of their significantly different ideologies. “Authorial ideology” is superseded by the “general ideology” of Empire as each and every author invests his “talent” in enhancing that imperial tradition that Said calls Orientalism. In their texts, it is the “textual attitude” that prevails in their perception of the Other in the opposition of the Oriental man’s primitiveness and the Western man’s progress. I also argued that if the authors wrote in support of Empire, it was because it was the imperial ideology that enabled them to circulate their “talents”. One of my assumptions in developing the argument is that literature is just like money or currency. Writing at a time of high imperialism, the four authors could not have coined their artistic talents and put them into circulation without confirming to the general culture of empire that percolated to their respective audiences. It is the numismatic mark of empire on their talent that enabled them to be listened to and read by the public and this numismatic mark as I tried to demonstrate throughout the dissertation is characterized by monologism. The intertextuality between the four authors at the level of content is of the domain of pastiche as there is no significant “clash of referent” of the Empire. The Other voice in the writers’ intertexts remains the same in spite of individual attempts to differentiate their style. The four of them are preoccupied with the maintenance of empire through the proposition of solutions and strategies to that shared goal. In short, I attempted to illustrate the ideology of difference in the four writers’ works in the opposition they establish between narrative and vision in the representation of the Other (the Orientals) versus the Same (the Westerners) and the association of the Oriental space with the demonic, the abnormal, the diseased and the marginal, and the Western space with the norm and the centre. This binary aesthetics is underpinned by the assumption that the Orient and the Oriental man are there to be studied, to be controlled and restored to the Western rational norms. The writers’ allegiance to art and the development of individual talent comes second to the allegiance to the country and its imperial interests. Thus, whether their personal style is classified as realist or modernist, it does not question the existence of empire, and as such their works read as allegories of empire. In this sense, the dialectic of imperial tradition and individual talent turns short.