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date: 17 June 2024

Afghanistan in Victorian Literaturelocked

Afghanistan in Victorian Literaturelocked

  • Zarena AslamiZarena AslamiDepartment of English, Michigan Stage University


Afghanistan appears infrequently in Victorian literature. However, when it does appear, whether as detail or as the setting of stories that characters tell within the framing story, it is highly charged with affect and meaning. For Victorian writers, references to Afghanistan had to be carefully managed because of the conflicted feelings the public had toward two wars that the British empire conducted in Afghanistan, wars that were unprovoked, traumatic, and did not definitively gain their stated objectives. The ideological necessity of viewing Afghans as both sovereign allies, preventing the incursions of other empires on British holdings in India, and savage others, to be dominated, led not only to powerfully charged references to this country in Victorian literature. It also finds expression in 20th- and 21st-century postcolonial scholarship, including the formidable work of Edward Said. Within this field, scholarship also tends to reference Afghanistan as mere detail and to evacuate it of historical content. Returning to Victorian literature allows us to fill in the content, that is, to understand this generic quality of Afghanistan—detail or narrated, but not direct, setting—as the result not of historical insignificance but of powerful Victorian ambivalence.


  • South Asia

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