Imperial romance

Robert Lawrence Caserio, Jr.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Versions of “imperial romance”: Walter Scott and Edward Said The idea that the history of the English novel includes a Victorian and Edwardian sub-genre called “imperial romance” has emerged forcibly in literary studies since the 1980s. “In romance, ” Wendy Katz writes, in contrast to the “realist and naturalist fiction of the period, ” there is “a logical congeniality with messianic interpretations of Empire[, ] … ruling class stability, ” and racism. Patrick Brantlinger, designating the temporal span of the sub-genre between Captain Marryat’s novels and Conrad’s, argues that the “impressionism of Conrad’s novels and their romance features are identical … and … both threaten to submerge or ‘derealize’ the critique of empire.” Indeed, because “the romance conventions that Conrad reshapes carry with them the polarizations of racial thought” (265) characteristic of imperialism, his fiction “suggests the moral bankruptcy of his own literary project” (275). But is imperial romance a sub-genre, or the novel itself? Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism (1993) diagnoses a “tragic limitation” in Conrad: “though he could see clearly that on one level imperialism was essentially pure dominance and land-grabbing, he could not then conclude that imperialism had to end.” Conrad’s tragedy inheres in his medium. For, according to Said, the novel, whether realistic or romantic, amounts to a perpetual imperial romance. “Without empire, ” Said writes, “there is no European novel … [I]f we study the impulses giving rise to it, we shall see the far from accidental convergence between the patterns of narrative authority constitutive of the novel … and … a complex ideological configuration underlying the tendency to imperialism” (69–70).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the English Novel
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139013796
ISBN (Print)9780521194952
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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