The ludic and the strategic : games, war, and the conduct of character in the literature of British imperialism
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This dissertation examines the language of games in the literature of British imperialism, paying special attention to turn-of-the-century and Edwardian works of Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad. Where critics have called attention to the centrality of terms and concepts derived from games in this literature, it has been to show a conformance with the ideological intrusion of ludic play into rationales for British imperialism. By likening the British Empire to a “Great Game,” popular adventure literature aimed at male British readers not only made imperialism seem a form a play, it also helped to install a shame-inducing agonal mindset, which was itself in conformance with the aggressive expansionist policies of Disraeli and the New Imperialists. As this dissertation shows, Kipling, Wells, and Conrad drew their interests in games both from British Edwardian political discourse and the bearing of strategy on war, geopolitics, and human sociality. Studying such texts as Stalky & Co. (1899-1927) and Kim (1901), The War of the Worlds (1897) and Little Wars (1913), and Nostromo (1904) and Chance (1913) reveals that attentiveness to strategic dynamics tends to undercut the racialist and classist logics subtending British imperialist discourse. Preachers of the “games ethos” argued that Britain’s imperial supremacy testified to the quality of English character. For Kipling, Wells, and Conrad, by contrast, individual persons are moral agents that are also caught up in overlapping contests occurring on scales as large as international finance and as local as particular mental processes. These texts associate moral authority with strategic insightfulness. While Kipling restricts his interest in strategy to the criticism of British political discourse, Wells and Conrad explore the strategic bases of laws and morality. Supplying the significance of game-strategy to these and other works by Kipling, Wells, and Conrad, adds to their legibility and contributes to critical conversance with the meaning of games in the literature of British imperialism.