’Scaping the Body: Of Cannibal Mothers and Colonial Landscapes

  • Rebecca Stott


The New Woman flourished in the 1880s and 90s, a period also dominated by the Scramble for Africa and the high point of what Patrick Brantlinger has termed the production of the myth of the Dark Continent. Just as the periodical press was full of articles on the Woman Question so they were also full of articles on the Africa Question, articles from explorers and colonial administrators about its exploration and its political management. Both subjects of public interest were mediated through discourses of evolutionary progress: what marks out the ‘civilized’ from the ‘barbaric’, the natural from the unnatural? In this essay I want to explore some of these connections between the myth of Africa as monstrous woman, intensifying and consolidating in the 1880s and 90s, and the myth and fears about the New Woman growing in the same period, and finally to show how both are determined and shaped by evolutionary debates about the ‘nature’ of the natural world. I will try to suggest ways in which the two myths leak into each other.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Patrick Brantlinger, ‘Victorians and Africans: The Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent’ Critical Inquiry 12 (Autumn 1985), 166.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Rebecca Stott, The Fabrication of the Late Victorian Femme Fatale ( London: Macmillan, 1992 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Peter Hulme, The Colonial Encounter: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492–1797 ( London: Methuen, 1986 ), 2.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (Opus, 1996), 50.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    H. Waller, ‘The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa’, Quarterly Review CLXVIII (1889), 229–30.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Quoted in General William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out ( London: Salvation Army, 1890 ), 9.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    F. Galton, ‘Stanley’s Discoveries and the Future of Africa’, Edinburgh Review, CXLVII (1878), 167 and 171.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Writing and Transculturation ( London and New York: Routledge: 1992 ), 213.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines ( 1885; rpt London, Paris and Melbourne: Cassell, 1898 ), 38.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness ( 1902), (Harmondsworth: Penguin Modern Classics, 1981 ), 12.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Cited in Patrick Brantlinger, ‘Victorians and Africans: the Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent’, Critical Inquiry 12 (Autumn 1985), 184.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Nigel Rigby, ‘Sober Cannibals and Drunken Christians: Colonial Encounters of the Cannibal Kind’, in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 27: 1 (1992), 178.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Peter Hulme, The Colonial Encounter: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492–1797 ( London: Methuen, 1986 ), 86.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    James Eli Adams, ‘Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Nature and the Feminine in Tennyson and Darwin’, in Victorian Studies 33:1 (Autumn 1989), 7–27.Google Scholar
  15. Reprinted in Rebecca Stott, ed., Tennyson ( Harlow: Longman, 1996 ), 87–111.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    See Sally Ledger, The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle ( Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1997 ), 64.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History ( London: Verso, 1992 ), 43.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    S. C. Cronwright-Schreiner, ed., The Letters of Olive Schreiner, London: Unwin, 1924, 113.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (1883), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 ), 35.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth Century Women Writers ( Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1985 ), 27.Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    Gerald Monsman, Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power ( New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991 ), 56.Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    Olive Schreiner, ‘Three Dreams in a Desert’, in Elaine Showalter, ed., Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siècle ( London: Virago, 1993 ), 314.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca Stott

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations