Imperial Infrastructure and Spatial Resistance in Colonial Literature, 1880–1930

by Dominic Davies (Author)
Monographs XII, 298 Pages


Between 1880 and 1930, the British Empire’s vast infrastructural developments facilitated the incorporation of large parts of the globe into not only its imperial rule, but also the capitalist world-system. Throughout this period, colonial literary fiction, in recording this vast expansion, repeatedly cited these imperial infrastructures to make sense of the various colonial landscapes in which they were set. Physical embodiments of empire proliferate in this writing. Railways and trains, telegraph wires and telegrams, roads and bridges, steamships and shipping lines, canals and other forms of irrigation, cantonments, the colonial bungalow, and other kinds of colonial urban infrastructure – all of these infrastructural lines broke up the landscape and gave shape to the literary depiction and production of colonial space.
By developing a methodology called «infrastructural reading», the author shows how a focus on the infrastructural networks that circulate through colonial fiction are almost always related to some form of anti-imperial resistance that manifests spatially within their literary, narrative and formal elements. This subversive reading strategy – which is applied in turn to writers as varied as H. Rider Haggard, Olive Schreiner and John Buchan in South Africa, and Flora Annie Steel, E.M. Forster and Edward Thompson in India – demonstrates that these mostly pro-imperial writings can reveal an array of ideological anxieties, limitations and silences as well as more direct objections to and acts of violent defiance against imperial control and capitalist accumulation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Infrastructure, Resistance, Literature
  • Infrastructure and the Networked World-System
  • ‘The Colonial Present’: Criticism as Resistance
  • Infrastructural Reading: The Infrastructures in and of Colonial Literature
  • Hobson, Luxemburg, Lenin: Why 1880 to 1930?
  • Spatial ‘Resistance’: The Politics of a Term
  • Colonial Literature: Why These Texts?
  • Chapter 1: Mapping Humanitarianism: Flora Annie Steel and the Contradictions of Colonial Capitalism
  • Introduction: From Contradiction to Resistance
  • The ‘Gaps’ of Colonial Capitalism in On the Face of the Waters (1896)
  • Consolidating Ideology: Flags, Telegraphs and Governmental Reports
  • The Silences of Steel’s Short Fiction
  • Perspectival Shifts: Resisting Infra-Structural Violence
  • Chapter 2: Mapping Segregation: Literary Geographies of South Africa
  • Introduction: Industrialisation, Urbanisation, Segregation
  • The Infrastructure of the Imperial Romance: King Solomon’s Mines
  • Racial Segregation and the Cape to Cairo Railway
  • Grounding Meta-Narrative: Olive Schreiner’s Geographies of Resistance
  • Rewriting the Imperial Romance: The Revolutionary Trajectories of ‘Ula Masondo’ (1927)
  • Chapter 3: Mapping Frontiers: John Buchan and the Topographies of Imperial Ideology
  • Introduction: Frontiers and Borderlands
  • The Infrastructure of the Frontier
  • The Symbolic Cartographies of Prester John
  • Encoding Narrative: Landscape and Ideology in The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • ‘Double Flight’: The Oscillations of the Frontier
  • Chapter 4: Mapping Nationalism: Allegories of Uneven Development
  • Introduction: Geographies of Division, Unity and Uneven Development
  • From Forster to Candler and Thompson: Biographical Symmetries
  • The Uneven Topographies of Nationalist Ideology
  • Meteorological Metaphors and Violent Resistance
  • ‘Palliative Imperialism’: Producing India’s Rural Space
  • Resistance in the Imperial Capital: Producing Urban Space
  • Conclusion: Towards an Infrastructural Reading of the Present
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Texts
  • Secondary Texts
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 0.1: Sketch map of Southern Africa’s railway system, commissioned and produced by the War Office and reproduced as an inset for the Daily Mail in 1899. Colonial Office Archives, 700/SouthAfrica39, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 0.2: Map produced by the Imperial Institute in 1918 charting the ‘Chief Sources of Metals in the British Empire’ and accompanied by ‘Diagrams of Production for 1918’. Colonial Office Archives, 1047/1045, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 0.3: Photograph of the statue of Cecil Rhodes being removed by crane from the University of Cape Town’s campus on 9 April 2015, a symbolic culmination of ongoing decolonial protests by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

Figure 1.1: Map produced for the Anglo-Mediterranean Telegraph Company showing the existing and proposed telegraph lines connecting Britain to India, Australia and China. Lithographed by Metchim and Son, 32 Clement’s Lane, in 1868. MPD 1/207, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 1.2: Plan included in the 1901 edition of Colonel G. B. Malleson’s The Indian Mutiny of 1857, with Portraits and Plans, illustrating the spatial movements of the British Army during the siege of Lucknow in March 1858.

Figure 1.3: A late nineteenth-century map of north-eastern India, showing the strategic development of railways to connect the coal fields and iron ore reserves to the port city of Calcutta and to other parts of the British Empire. Colonial Office Archives, 1047/1054, National Archives at Kew. ← vii | viii →

Figure 1.4: Photograph showing the architectural layout of the Delhi durbar of King George V in 1911.

Figure 2.1: Map of Central and South Africa, including insets of the African continent as a whole and of the major colonial port cities and their environs. Printed at 125 miles to an inch for the newspaper, South Africa, in 1921. Colonial Office, 1047/203, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 2.2: The map included in the opening pages of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines.

Figure 2.3: The map of the South African Republic, particularly Pretoria and the Transvaal as well as surrounding territories, by Friedrich Jeppe, produced for the Royal Geographical Society in 1877. MPG 1/1119/3, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 2.4: The bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes at the centre of the University of Cape Town’s campus with Kipling’s words inscribed in the stone beneath, removed in 2015 in response to protests led by the Rhodes Must Fall movement. Photo by the author.

Figure 2.5: A drawing of the interior view of the Kimberley Diamond Mine between 1886 and 1887, first published in Volume 30 of the journal Popular Science Monthly.

Figure 3.1: The frontispiece map included in the first editions of Prester John, published in 1910 and 1912.

Figure 3.2: The frontispiece map included in two later editions of Prester John, published in 1918 and 1920.

Figure 3.3: The frontispiece to William Booth’s In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890).

Figure 3.4: The north-western section of Charles Booth’s ‘Descriptive Map of London Poverty’, reproduced in his Life and Labour of the People in London (1889). ← viii | ix →

Figure 4.1: The north-western segment of a map of India produced by the geographer John Walker in 1863, showing planned arterial trunk lines and other infrastructural developments along the subcontinent’s North-West Frontier with Afghanistan and grouping together at Delhi. WO 78/5504, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 4.2: The north-eastern segment of a map of India produced by the geographer John Walker in 1863, showing planned arterial trunk lines and other infrastructural developments around the Bay of Bengal and Calcutta. WO 78/5504, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 4.3: Map from the Survey of India undertaken in 1922, which details imperial infrastructural development across the subcontinent, and includes insets detailing the infrastructural layouts of the Raj’s key urban areas. Colonial Office 1047/1094, National Archives at Kew.

Figure 4.4: Photograph of the Rajpath, or King’s Way, in 2016, the arterial infrastructural route at the centre of New Delhi designed by the British architect Edward Lutyens to provide a panoramic view of the city from the Viceroy’s palace.

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As a thesis-turned-book, this project has been long in the making, and I am indebted to the many friends, colleagues, mentors and institutions who have contributed in myriad ways throughout the years. The Arts and Humanities Research Council generously funded much of my DPhil as well as research trips to India and South Africa, without which the book would have been impossible. St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, generously provided me with two Domus Scholarships in the project’s early years, and just as importantly, Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor’s Fund removed financial strain from the crucial final year of the thesis. Particular thanks must go to Leverhulme, who funded the Network, ‘Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature’, giving me the opportunity to return once more to India and South Africa and to hone ideas about the relationship between infrastructure and literature in no less than four intellectually vibrant international workshops. Finally, the British Academy’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme privileged me with the time not only to explore new research areas, but to make those crucial edits and revisions that transform a PhD thesis into a critical monograph.

Oxford’s intellectual and academic communities have been fundamental to my growth as a scholar, without which this book could not exist. In particular, Jan-Georg Deutsch, who generously invited me to join his African Research Seminar, is warmly remembered as a tutor and a friend. Similarly, the Postcolonial Writing and Theory seminar provided a fundamental platform where I cut my teeth as an active participant in critical discussion, and through which I made many long-lasting friendships, both academic and personal. I am indebted to the seminar’s organisers, Elleke Boehmer and Ankhi Mukherjee, and particularly to Asha Rogers, Ed Dodson and Louisa Layne, who productively blurred the lines between the seminar room and the pub.

Elleke deserves an extra special mention for being such a diligent, tireless and supportive supervisor and mentor, for giving me the opportunity to ← xi | xii → run the ‘Planned Violence’ Network with her, and in more recent years for becoming such a wonderful friend, colleague and co-author. Alex Tickell and Pablo Mukherjee have also been terrific mentors, variously sharing ideas and opportunities, showing interest in my research, and welcoming me into an academic community outside of Oxford. The editors at Peter Lang have been similarly helpful with their time, and I’m grateful, too, for the valuable insights of the external reviewers who read the early drafts of this manuscript.

My parents’ unwavering love and support has been invaluable. Mum, who has listened to me ramble endlessly over the years, still had the stomach to proofread so much of what is included in this book. Meanwhile, Dad affirmed the validity of my project by accepting my critical re-evaluations of some of his childhood bedtime stories and seeking out introductory books to postcolonialism. Thank you both for so much, but especially your faith in me.

Lastly, but just as importantly, I am indebted to Maja Založnik, Edward Still and Caroline Corke, for many evenings at Sunningwell and in the pub; to Ruth Davies, my incredible sister and friend; to Dave Lawrence and Chris Williams, for welcoming me to Brighton when I needed to let off steam; and to Joseph Macmillan, for organising things when I couldn’t. My final love and thanks go to Emma Parker, who has been all of the above – critic, mentor, friend – and so much more, the best partner in crime.

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Infrastructure, Resistance, Literature

Infrastructure and the Networked World-System

Month by month the Earth shrinks actually, and, what is more important, in imagination. We know it by the slide and crash of unstable material all around us. For the moment, but only for the moment, the new machines are outstripping mankind. We have cut down enormously – we shall cut down inconceivably – the world-conception of time and space, which is the big flywheel of the world’s progress. What wonder that the great world-engine, which we call Civilisation, should race and heat a little; or that the onlookers who see it take charge should be a little excited, and, therefore, inclined to scold. […] For the moment the machines are developing more power than has been required for their duties. But just as soon as humanity can get its breath, the machines’ load will be increased and they will settle smoothly to their load and most marvellous output.

KIPLING (2010: 241)


XII, 298
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
imperialism imperial infrastructure anti-imperial resistance spatial resistance colonial literature imperial literature
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XII, 298 pp., 5 coloured ill., 15 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Dominic Davies (Author)

Dominic Davies is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford, where he also obtained his DPhil in Post/Colonial Literature. He is the author of a range of publications on colonial and postcolonial literature and history and the co-editor of two forthcoming volumes related to infrastructure and resistance in literature. His current research focuses on the way in which comics and graphic novels resist violent urban infrastructures in twenty-first-century cities.


Title: Imperial Infrastructure and Spatial Resistance in Colonial Literature, 1880–1930