vol. 4 No. 2 Dec. 2020

Swinburne, Africa, and the Lash
Author:Mark Scroggins    Time:2021-02-20    Click:

Abstract: Algernon Charles Swinburne’s late poems encouraging Britain’s aggression against the Boer States are exercises in imperialist jingoism, and seem at odds with the poet’s longstanding Republicanism and advocacy of individual rights. A close examination of Swinburne’s notorious involvement in practices of sado-masochist flagellation, however, casts some light on how these poems can be read as congruent with his earlier ideological investments. The rhetoric of his Boer War poems is precisely aligned with his earlier responses to the Bulgarian Crisis of 1876 and the Eyre Affair of 1865; in both of these moments, Swinburne’s political reaction is keyed to his aversion to the use of the lash (by the Russians in the former, by the British colonial Jamaican regime in the latter). While Swinburne was something of a connoiseur of passive flagellation—to the extent that birching becomes sometimes a metaphor for poetry itself—the act of deploying the lash against an unwilling subject (as the Boers did to their African workers) is for him the epitome of tyranny and dehumanization.

Keywords: Algernon Charles Swinburne, Victorian poetry, Boer War Literature, Flagellation

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