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Literary Criticism  19th Century

Penetrating Critiques

Emasculated Empire and Victorian Identity in Africa

by (author) Leslie Allin

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2020
19th Century, Gender Studies, Victorian Era (1837-1901)
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Tracing the intersections between archival documents and immensely popular adventure fiction set in Africa, Penetrating Critiques highlights the anxieties surrounding the vulnerability of the white male body by assessing the destabilization of narrative itself. The author considers texts ranging from private letters, governmental correspondence, periodicals, and archival documents to the popular works of H. Rider Haggard, Richard Marsh, and Joseph Conrad. These texts trouble the notions of bounded male bodies, impermeable histories, and solid virtues while underscoring the grotesqueness of male forms, narratives, and moralities.


Although dominant representations of martial bodies frequently emphasized boundaries, containment, and solidity, the fiction and imperial archives explored in this book expose problems of stability through tropes, images, and material evidence of perforation, penetration, and dissolution. In emphasizing the relationship between institutional imperial writing and popular discourse, Penetrating Critiques reveals that more complex, fraught, and critical approaches to imperialism and masculinity were circulating throughout Victorian culture than previously recognized.

About the author

Leslie Allin is an independent scholar with affiliations with the University of Guelph.

Leslie Allin's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"In an analysis that straddles [...] the binary critical history of Heart of Darkness, Allin evokes the complexity and complicity of Conrad’s narrative. An epilogue on representations of empire after 9/11 brings the argument into the 21st century."


"In her well-researched and well-written study, Leslie Allin traces signs of anxiety in a range of texts about Africa from the last quarter of the nineteenth century, including archival documents, newspaper reports, and popular fiction."

<i>Victorian Periodicals Review</i>