Reforming Empire: Protestant Colonialism and Conscience in British Literature

Hardback
The strength of Empire, wrote Ben Jonson, is in religion. Hodgkins takes Jonson's dictum as his point of departure, showing how for more than four centuries the Protestant imagination gave the British Empire its mains paradigms for dominion and also, ironically, its chief languages of anti-imperial dissent. From Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen to Rudyard Kiplings The Man Who Would Be King , English literature about empire has turned with strange consistancy to themes of worship and idolatry, atrocity and deliverance, slavery and service, conversion, prophecy, apostacy and doom. Hodgkins organizes his study around three kinds of religious binding - unification, subjugation and self restraint. He details how early modern Prostestants like Hakluy and Spenser reformed the Arthurian chronicles and claimed to inhereit Rome's empire from the Caesars; how Ralegh and later Cromwell imagined a counterconquest of Spanish America and how Milton's Satan came to resemble Cortes; how Drake and the fictional Crusoe established their statues as worthy colonial masters by refusing to be worshiped as gods; and how 17th century preachers, poets and colonists moved haltingly toward a racist metaphysics - as Virginia began by celebrating the mixed marriage of Pocahontas but soon imposed the draconian separation of the Color Line. Yet Hodgkins reveals that Tudor-Stuart times also saw the revival of Augustinian anti-expansionism and the genesis of Protestant imperial guilt. From the start, British Protestant colonialism contained its own opposite: a religion of self-restraint. Though this conscience was often co-opted or conscripted to legitimize conquests and pacify the conquered, it frequently found memorable and even fierce literary expression in writers such as Shakespeare, Daniel, Herbert, Swift, Johnson, Burke, Blake, Austen, Browning, Tennyson, Conrad, Forster, and finally the anti-protestant Waugh.