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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2008

5 - Empire


At the conclusion of Matthew Phipps Shiel's 1898 work The Yellow Danger - an adventure in which protagonist John Hardy stymies an invasion of Europe by Asian 'hordes' headed by Dr Yen How, a 'fiendish' composite of East and West - the novel's narrator steps back to assess his country's position at the end of the nineteenth century. Contrasting the evil cosmopolitanism of the Far Eastern mastermind with the provincialism of his British heroes, Shiel writes 'England, no doubt, will, in truth, absorb the world: the Loadstone [sic] is within us. But we must change. If the world is to become English, the English must first become worldly.' This warning and prophecy reiterates the novel's opening, in which Victorian Britain's imperial expansion is seen as concomitant with her potentially disastrous retraction from Europe: 'Europe had receded from Britain, and Britain, in her pride, had drawn back from Europe. From the curl of the moustache, to the colour and cut of the evening-dress, to the manner in which women held up their skirts, there was similarity between French and German, between German and Russian and Austrian, and dissimilarity between all these and English' (p. 2).

From its title to its conclusion, The Yellow Danger thus dramatises the double helix of fin de siècle representations of Empire: on the one hand, the promise of continued expansion, new 'spheres of influence', and the success of the 'civilising mission' and, on the other, the fear of collapse, degeneration and reverse colonisation that Shiel's narrative works so well to conjure up and then dispel.