“Rather a Geographical Expression Than a Country”

Zarena Aslami

in The Dream Life of Citizens

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780823241996
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823242030 | DOI:
“Rather a Geographical Expression Than a Country”

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This chapter argues that Afghanistan's status in the nineteenth century as imperialized but not colonized enabled the flourishing of fantasies that compensated for British subjects' anxieties about changes in their own state. The chapter defines “Victorian Afghanistan” as a complex cluster of images, ideas, and affects that crystallized across the nineteenth century. It examines William Gladstone's Midlothian Speeches (1879), Sir Walter Scott's “Culloden Papers” (1816), Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone's An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul (1816), G. A. Henty's For Name and Fame, or Through Afghan Passes (1886), and Arthur Conan Doyle's detective novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887). In these texts, Afghans appear savage, primitive, and undisciplined, the antithesis of liberal selfhood. However, they also appear individualistic, freedom loving, and hospitable—qualities belonging to British ideals of liberal selfhood and civility. This ambivalent treatment indicates how racial stereotypes rationalized imperial practices. The British were not motivated to colonize Afghanistan, yet they wished to control its foreign policy. The imperative to cast Afghans as civilizable is thus absent. Instead, the texts romanticize Afghans, casting them, like the Scots Highlanders, as stand-ins for England's own pre-liberal individual selves.

Keywords: Afghanistan; State power; William Gladstone; Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone; G. A. Henty; Arthur Conan Doyle; Scots Highlanders; Liberalism; Imperialism; Victorian Afghanistan

Chapter.  17438 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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