Jamaica, Genealogy, George Eliot:
Inheriting the Empire After Morant Bay


Tim Watson

Columbia University

Copyright (c) 1997 by Tim Watson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author and the notification of the editors.

  1. When we reflect on the nineteenth century, the mid-1860s does not immediately spring to mind as a moment of great crisis in British domestic and imperial affairs. The mobilization that led up to the Second Reform Bill in 1867 lacks the revolutionary drama of the first round of Reform agitation and the great Chartist movement in the 1830s and 40s; the Morant Bay uprising in Jamaica in late 1865 was hardly on the same scale as the Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857 or the Anglo-Boer War that brought the Victorian age to an end. Nevertheless, social commentators and cultural critics of the 1860s believed themselves to be living through a period of major upheaval. And although some anticipated a positive outcome from the winds of change they sensed blowing through musty old Britain, others saw only threats and possible catastrophe. Thomas Carlyle, for instance, blustery as ever in his old age, fired off a letter in August 1866 promising support for the Eyre Testimonial and Defence Fund, set up to defend the governor of Jamaica against criticism of his methods in suppressing the Morant Bay rebellion:

    The clamour raised against Governor Eyre appears to me to be disgraceful to the good sense of England; and if it rested on any depth of conviction . . . I should consider it of evil omen to the country, and to its highest interests, in these times. . . . The English nation never loved anarchy; nor was wont to spend its sympathy on miserable mad seditions, especially of this inhuman and half-brutish type; but always loved order and prompt suppression of seditions. (Workman 91-2)
    The shift to the past tense in the second of Carlyle's sentences here nicely conveys the sense that anarchy may actually be the new order of the day, and the disturbing fact that the opposition to Eyre not only rested on strongly held convictions but also had mass appeal. This second sentence also recalls (anachronistically, as it turns out) that most famous statement of the troubles of the 1860s, Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy , first published as a series of magazine essays in 1867-68 and printed in book form in 1869.

  2. In the conclusion to that work, writing about the disorder in Hyde Park in 1866 during a massive rally for Reform, Arnold demonstrates his firm conviction that seditions of any kind must be put down forcefully:

    For us the framework of society, that theatre on which this august drama has to unroll, is sacred; and whoever administers it . . . we steadily and with undivided heart support them in repressing anarchy and disorder; because without order there can be no society, and without society there can be no human perfection. (180-1)
    In the original magazine version of this essay, and in the first edition of Culture and Anarchy , this passage is immediately followed by these notorious lines:

    With me, indeed, this rule of conduct is hereditary. I remember my father, in one of his unpublished letters of more than forty years ago, when the political and social state of the country was gloomy and troubled and there were riots in many places, goes on, after strongly insisting on the badness and foolishness of the government, and on the harm and dangerousness of our feudal and aristocratical constitution of society, and ends thus: "As for rioting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right one; flog the rank and file and fling the ringleaders from the Tarpeian Rock!" (qtd. in Super 526)
    In later editions of the book, Arnold deleted this passage, for reasons that have never been entirely clear[1]. Perhaps the country seemed less gloomy and troubled by the time of the second edition (1875), and thus less in need of Thomas Arnold's lawgiving. Or perhaps Matthew revised his text in response to the answer, now lost, that his mother gave to this letter that he sent to her on July 25, 1868:

    In the passage quoted from Papa, [Arthur Penrhyn] Stanley's impression is that Papa's words were "Crucify all the slaves" instead of "Flog the rank & file"--but as the latter expression is the milder, and I have certainly got it in my memory as what he said, I have retained it. Do you remember which the words were, and in what letter they occur? (qtd. in Super 455)[2]
    Buried deep within Arnold's text, we find a connection between the unrest in the Caribbean--"Crucify all the slaves"--and the sometimes unruly agitation for working-class enfranchisement and parliamentary reform--"Flog the rank and file." [3] It is this conjuncture, this alchemy of race and rights, that forms the subject of this essay. I argue that what has come to be known, rather misleadingly, as the Governor Eyre controversy enabled the articulation of the discourses of class, race, and empire in Britain, discourses that were all in a state of major transition. It was these connections, more or less explicitly made, that gave the Jamaica uprising such a disproportionate significance at the time, and produced the sense of crisis that Arnold and Carlyle felt compelled to respond to. And it is out of this sense of crisis, I argue, after the Morant Bay rebellion, that the modern notion of the British Empire as a single conceptual, territorial, and political unit emerges.

  3. Jamaica in the 1860s had been in serious economic decline for half a century; the days when ownership of a Jamaican sugar plantation was virtually a licence to print money were a distant memory. The Afro-Jamaican labouring classes, however, were beginning to leave behind the legacies of chattel slavery, establishing an internal island economy based on foodstuffs grown on small plots of land (often the same fields cultivated during slavery days, known as provision grounds). A combination of drought and ruling-class attempts to push squatters and poor tenants from abandoned estate lands led, in the southeast of the island in the mid-1860s, to a volatile situation. In October 1865, a group of Afro-Jamaicans, led by Paul Bogle, rescued one of their friends from punishment before the hated magistrates in the nearby town of Morant Bay; then they overwhelmed the police sent to arrest them the following day; finally, several hundred of them marched on the town to demand justice. The local worthies, expecting trouble, had called out the volunteer militia; shots were fired, and several rebels were killed; then the rebels laid siege to the courthouse and took over the town, killing eighteen and wounding dozens, predominately whites. The insurgents, however, were never well organized, and they were no match for the might of the colonial military machine once it rolled into action. The British governor of the island, Edward Eyre, declared martial law in the district, and in the month-long suppression of the abortive uprising that followed, upwards of 400 people were killed, most without trial, hundreds were flogged, and a thousand houses were burned. Bogle, along with the other leaders of the rebellion, was quickly captured and executed.[4]

  4. The response to the Jamaica events in England was initially predictable: the governor was generally praised for saving the island from destruction. It seemed unlikely that much controversy would ensue; this was just another in a long line of colonial rebellions put down with brutal force and then conveniently forgotten--except by its victims. But as more details began to emerge, opposition from liberals in England began to grow against Eyre's handling of the crisis, and by the end of 1865 the "Governor Eyre Case" had become the hottest topic of national debate. A coalition of antislavery activists, radical politicians, and lawyers formed the Jamaica Committee, chaired by John Stuart Mill; public pressure led to the government sending a Royal Commission of inquiry to Jamaica to gather evidence on the uprising and its suppression. It delivered its report in April 1866, and while it broadly exonerated Eyre, it concluded that British and Jamaican troops had often used excessive force. The controversy raged throughout 1866, coinciding with the intense debates over parliamentary reform and the enfrancisement of the working classes in England--indeed, this was a connection that was frequently made at the time. [5]

  5. I argue in this essay that the relationship between national and imperial histories needs to be rethought. With "Britain"--or, still worse, "England"--no longer the unexamined organizing principle of cultural and historical studies, events in "the colonies" will have a relevance beyond their traditional marginal locations. Affairs in the colonies will no longer be relegated to the discrete field of "imperial history" and to those rare moments in British national history when they happen to illuminate English questions. Thus, reversing the usual polarity of such comparisons, I suggest below that debate over the Second Reform Bill was so intense because it represented the entrance, however surreptitiously, of a new discourse of racial formation into the social fabric of England.

  6. The 1860s were a time when constructions of race and class were undergoing substantial changes. A new scientific interest in race and descent combined with renewed political emphasis on equality of birth and the "rights of man" to produce a highly contradictory, unstable situation. An older discourse of "blood" and "breeding," associated with the "feudal and aristocratical constitution of society," as Arnold put it, was being replaced by a newer rhetoric of "citizenship" and "rights," a rhetoric which, nevertheless, incorporated elements of the older discourse in its emphasis on the "natural" disposition of particular groups, especially those which could be marked as racially other. Thus, by a circuitous route, "blood" made its reappearance in the new science of anthropology at precisely the moment it appeared to have lost its explanatory value in descriptions of English society: to quote Arnold again, "science has now made visible to everybody the great and pregnant elements of difference which lie in race" (135). [6] The career of George Eliot exemplifies this transition, I might suggest, as she moved from the early novels' engagement with the domestic inheritance plot to the emphasis in her last novel, Daniel Deronda , on international and racial questions in which, paradoxically, individual destiny is more a question of blood and breeding than it ever was in Silas Marner . In the penultimate section of this essay I analyze her 1866 novel, Felix Holt , as enacting this transition from one literary and intellectual mode to the other.

  7. This is also the movement that Etienne Balibar charts so accurately in an essay on the complex relationship between race and class in modern Europe:

    The "bourgeois revolutions" . . . had raised the question of the political rights of the masses in an irreversible manner. . . . The idea of a difference in nature between individuals had become juridically and morally contradictory, if not inconceivable. It was, however, politically indispensable, so long as the "dangerous classes". . . had to be excluded by force and by legal means from political "competence" and confined to the margins of the polity--as long, that is, as it was important to deny them citizenship by showing . . . that they constitutionally "lacked" the qualities of fully fledged or normal humanity. Two anthropologies clashed here: that of equality of birth and that of a hereditary inequality which made it possible to re-naturalize social antagonisms. ("Class Racism" 209-10, emphasis in the original)
    A quick glance at the pages of the Anthropological Review (founded 1863) will confirm that forcefully racist arguments were being made that people of African descent in particular "lacked the qualities of fully fledged or normal humanity." One effect of these arguments was to produce a racialized white Englishness, which allowed the white working class to be enfranchised at the expense of the black working class: citizenship and its concomitant rights were defined by racial (as well as national and class) demarcation. This is what Balibar means when he goes on to say that "the introduction of universal suffrage is moving the boundary line between 'citizens' and 'subjects' to the frontiers of nationality" (210). The Morant Bay rebellion, occurring at a moment of intense debate over the status and characteristics of "the negro," ensured the subjection of the Afro-Jamaican labouring classes; I hope to show that this is intimately connected to the granting of citizenship to English working-class men.[7]

    Morant Bay and the Emergence of "Hereditarian Racialism"

  8. The revolt of October 1865 in and around the town of Morant Bay, on the southeastern coast of Jamaica, has garnered increasing attention from cultural critics and historians. Belatedly, critics have begun to move away from earlier polemics that hinged on the actions and character of the governor, Edward Eyre, in the suppression of the revolt. Philip Curtin, Bernard Semmel, and, more recently, Catherine Hall and Gad Heuman have laid the groundwork for a more careful analysis of the events in Jamaica and their aftermath that situates them in the context of contemporary debates over race, slavery, labour, and empire--debates in which Eyre himself appears more as symptom than as cause. [8] Such analyses, while avoiding the histrionics of earlier readings of "the Governor Eyre controversy," tend to agree that Morant Bay was an extremely significant event in British imperial history, despite being relatively minor in terms of numbers of casualties. Although the Sepoy Rebellion (the so-called Indian Mutiny) of 1857 and the New Zealand Land Wars (once called the Maori Wars) of the mid-1860s were far bloodier, it was Morant Bay that crystallized debate in Britain about the imperial mission itself.

  9. Thus postcolonial scholars are coming to accept that Morant Bay was as important as people believed it to be at the time. The journalist and historian Justin McCarthy remembered in the 1870s that back in 1866, "for some weeks there was hardly anything talked of, we might almost say hardly anything thought of, in England, but the story of the rebellion that had taken place in the island of Jamaica, and the manner in which it had been suppressed and punished" (qtd. in Semmel 13). This was not mere journalistic hyperbole: it is indeed remarkable the extent to which a local rebellion in a British colony that had long ceased to be of the highest economic significance galvanized most of the major public figures of the day to take a stand on one side or the other. Defending the governor's methods on the executive committee of the Eyre Testimonial and Defence Fund were Ruskin and Carlyle, with Dickens offering vocal but more passive support.[9] On the other side, the chairman of the Jamaica Committee, set up to condemn the slaughter by British and Jamaican troops that followed the initial rebellion, was John Stuart Mill, who spent much of the next two years trying unsuccessfully to bring Eyre to trial on murder charges for the execution under martial law of the Jamaican politician George William Gordon. Supporting Mill were Huxley, Darwin, and Goldwin Smith, among others. [10]

  10. The events in Jamaica generated such an intense response, I would suggest, because they connected a longstanding concern in English middle-class society over the consequences of the abolition of slavery with newer debates around working-class enfranchisement and citizenship. Of course, these issues had never been entirely separable, as the ubiquity of the rhetoric of slavery and freedom in Chartist texts of the 1840s amply demonstrates. Indeed, the period of agitation leading up to the first Reform Bill of 1832 exactly coincided with the movement towards the abolition of slavery in all British territories (which itself followed a major slave revolt in the west of Jamaica). [11] This connection was sharpened by English responses to the U.S. Civil War, which was all too easily coded as a struggle between a modern, industrialized North and an antiquated, paternalistic South, in which the abolition of chattel slavery came to represent the triumph of all the forces of Progress, that imaginary Victorian behemoth.

  11. But beyond this historical link between abolition and liberal progress, what was new in the conjuncture of the mid-1860s was a widespread interest in questions of race, heredity, and breeding, which were then, after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, being transformed into scientific questions. However, this was a moment of transition, and these scientific concerns continued to be marked by their former prominence in the realm of the literary romance genre, their realization in the tropes of inheritance, bloodlines, and genealogy. And it could even be argued that these new theories were doubly literary, because, as Gillian Beer argues in her magisterial analysis of the Darwinian revolution:

    Most major scientific theories rebuff common sense. They call on evidence beyond the reach of our senses or overturn the observable world. They disturb assumed relationships and shift what has been substantial into metaphor. . . . When it is first advanced, theory is at its most fictive. The awkwardness of fit between the natural world as it is currently perceived and as it is hypothetically imagined holds the theory itself for a time within a provisional scope akin to that of fiction. (Darwin's Plots 3)
    It is this instability in meaning that allows us to locate and analyze these discourses of descent--of species, races, nations, families, individuals--in a whole range of mid-Victorian texts, from novels and cultural criticism to popular journalism and scientific articles. Such an analysis will serve as a kind of cross-section of a crucial moment in modern British history.

  12. Morant Bay occurred at a moment when what we might call the "romantic" and the "scientific" understandings, to risk a convenient shorthand, of blood, race, and inheritance still overlapped. And at their point of intersection in the mid-1860s stood the figure of "the negro." Africans--especially those Africans who laboured under the legacies of chattel slavery--occupied a particular place in the emergence at this moment of what George Stocking has aptly called "hereditarian racialism" (Victorian Anthropology 142): that is, the notion that difference is hereditary (and therefore more or less fixed) and that the name for that difference is "race." In 1863, a group of scientists led by James Hunt founded the Anthropological Society of London, bringing into the open a split within the older Ethnological Society of London, a division explicitly based on the status of "the negro," in particular, and on the importance of "race" in general. Hunt's inaugural address to the new body was at pains to stress the scientificity of the new discipline of anthropology, its adherence to a Gradgrindian positivism that sought only the facts and resisted the charms of non-scientific prejudices. Hunt's speech staked a claim for a huge field of inquiry: "Anthropology is . . . the science of the whole nature of Man," he declared ("Introductory Address" 2). But within this field, the position of "the negro" is closed off before the inquiry has even begun:

    Whatever may be the conclusion to which our scientific inquiries may lead us, we should always remember, that by whatever means the Negro, for instance, acquired his present physical, mental, and moral character, whether he has risen from an ape or descended from a perfect man, we still know that the Races of Europe have now much in their mental and moral nature which the races of Africa have not got. (3)
    As Hunt continued his address, he made it clear that when it came to "negroes" his fellow scientists were at liberty to disregard the conclusions to which their scientific inquiries might lead them--in particular, he wanted to avoid the "vulgar error that the Negro only differs from the European in the colour of his skin and peculiar hair" (3). Quickly, the disingenuousness of that "for instance"--as in "the Negro, for instance"--becomes clear. The "negro" (and, as we shall see, the Jamaican "negro" in particular) was not merely one example among many in this new science; "he" became the very foundation of the science itself, in his exclusion from the project of civilization.[12]

  13. The political goals of the Anthropological Society were thus explicit from the start: the society claimed the mantle of science in an overt rejection of an older discipline linked to the antislavery movement. The Ethnological Society from which Hunt and his followers felt compelled to distance themselves had been founded back in the 1840s as an offshoot of the Aborigines Protection Society, one of the abolitionist and philanthropic organizations that formed the backbone of middle-class dissenting culture from the late eighteenth century onwards. The motto of the APS was "ab uno sanguine " (of one blood), a reference to the biblical emphasis on the essential unity of humankind. There is obviously much common ground between this sentiment and the better known slogan of the abolitionist movement in Britain: "Am I not a man and a brother?" (inscribed on images of an African man kneeling in chains). But by the time of Morant Bay in the mid-1860s a new idea of race had arrived to disrupt the Victorian antislavery consensus; the founding of the Anthropological Society was one example of this cultural shift. Homilies on the oneness of the human race were out of fashion. The Morning Herald , finding the time for analysis of the events in Jamaica as early as November 1865, discovered that a great change had taken place in English attitudes, because "the world-renowned question, once thought so convincing, of 'Am I not a man and brother?' would nowadays be answered with some hesitation by many--with a flat negative to its latter half by those who regard the blacks as an inferior race" (qtd. in Lorimer 198-9).

  14. Delivering his annual presidential address to the Anthropological Society of London shortly after the outbreak at Morant Bay, James Hunt declared that:

    We anthropologists have looked on, with intense admiration, at the conduct of Governor Eyre. . . . The merest novice in the study of race-characteristics ought to know that we English can only successfully rule either Jamaica, New Zealand, the Cape, China, or India, by such men as Governor Eyre.

    Such revolutions will occur wherever the Negro is placed in unnatural relations with Europeans. Statesmen have yet to be taught the true practical value of race-distinctions, and the absolute impossibility of applying the civilisation and laws of one race to another race of man essentially distinct. Statesmen may ignore the existence of race-antagonism; but it exists nevertheless. ("Presidential Address" lxxviii)

    This period witnessed the re-emergence of the long discredited theory of polygenism, which held that the various races of humankind had separate origins, and had developed as separate species which, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, were not fertile with one another. The ASL expended a great deal of intellectual energy on proving that races--especially the black and white races--were "essentially distinct." The irony, however, was that the hereditarian racialism peddled by the likes of Hunt relied heavily on the romantic concept of blood so central to the abolitionist movement they despised, and to the ethnologists they had split from. [13]

    A cartoon from Punch, contemporary with the Morant Bay controversy, conflating race, class, affiliation and national duty.

  15. So analysis of the Jamaica events often had more in common with the inheritance plot of the romance novel than with the science of anthropology. The Times declared on November 18, 1865 that "though a fleabite compared with the Indian mutiny, it [Morant Bay] touches our pride more and is more in the nature of a disappointment. . . . Jamaica is our pet institution, and its inhabitants are our spoilt children" (qtd. in Bolt 77). A fortnight earlier, on November 4, 1865, as the first sketchy reports of the events in Jamaica were arriving in Britain, The Times recoiled at the ingratitude of the "negro":

    He, who has come in as the favoured heir of a civilization in which he had no previous share--he, petted by philanthropists and statesmen and preachers into the precocious enjoyment of rights and immunities which other races have been too glad to acquire by centuries of struggles, of repulses, and of endurance--he, dandled into legislative and official grandeur by the commiseration of England,--that he should have chosen . . . to revolt . . . this is a thing so incredible that we will not venture to believe it now. (qtd. in Bolt 87)
    A great deal is condensed in this quotation. Since Carlyle's now notorious "Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question" (1849) had popularized the figure of "Quashee" eating pumpkins and refusing to work, the myth of the lazy freedman had rapidly gained ground in Britain, carrying with it the literally incredible notion that Africans in the Caribbean had been "favoured" by emancipation. Included in this potent myth was the false perception that Africans had been given the vote in large numbers in those Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, where some form of representative government was in operation ("dandled into legislative and official grandeur").[14] This motif of favouritism also refers to the idea that British abolitionism and philanthropy had concerned themselves with the poor and dispossessed overseas while ignoring British poverty "at home" (the ridiculous figure of Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens' Bleak House being the perfect example of this). Here the whole question of Caribbean wage labour in the post-emancipation period is displaced onto the discourse of family inheritance, with Afro-Jamaicans as the "favoured heirs" of British middle-class culture who fail to recognize their privilege. Their "precocious" access to the "rights and immunities" of civilization is explicitly contrasted with the hard labour ("struggles . . . repulses . . . endurance") of other, white races. Here the language of filiation and inheritance sits uneasily with the language of citizenship and rights; the romance novel vies with the science of political economy.

  16. Thus we can begin to see how complicated is the relationship between the discourses of racial difference and working-class enfranchisement. The debate over the decline of the Jamaican economy, which was engaged once again after Morant Bay, concerned itself fundamentally with questions of capital and labour: after emancipation, did sugar plantations continue to fail because Afro-Jamaicans were unused to the discipline of wage labour, or because the planters failed to pay wages regularly and failed to invest capital in modernizing agricultural and industrial practices? When the black population withdrew its labour from the estates, were they working against their own economic interests or were they establishing themselves as an independent peasantry by saving money to buy small parcels of land and growing their own crops to sell in the Jamaican internal market? However, these economic questions were constantly being supplemented by questions of race--did the Afro-Jamaican "character" disprove the fundamental tenet of political economy, that men would work to further their economic self-interest?[15] And the emergence of the dogmatic physical anthropology of writers like James Hunt meant that this "character" could now be scientifically explained as a question of unmodifiable racial inheritance--Stocking's "hereditarian racialism." Such theories left "the negro" doomed by bloodlines to remain at the bottom of a static taxonomy of racial "types."

  17. It is important to recognize that such a taxonomy implies the racialization of the white English also, and that the intersection of Reform and Jamaica only makes sense when viewed in this light. Edward Beesly, a prominent figure both on the Jamaica Committee and in the labour movement (and a close associate of Marx's in the First International), wrote to the labour newspaper The Bee-Hive in November 1865 the following response to the uprising in Morant Bay:

    I protest I am no negro-worshipper. I don't consider a black man a beautiful object, and I daresay he sings psalms more than is good for him. Some negroes may be men of ability and elevated character, but there can be no doubt that they belong to a lower type of the human race than we do, and I should not really like to live in a country where they formed a considerable part of the population. But there is no reason why the negro should work cheaper for us because he is ugly. If the white labourer has a right to put a price on his labour, so has the black labourer. (qtd. in Lorimer 191)
    The identity of the white and black labourers--the fact that capital treats them both as labour power from which value can be extracted--is riven by the assumption that black labourers "work for us," where "we" includes the white labourers whom Beesly claimed to represent. Thus Beesly can consider himself fortunate that he lives in a country where white labourers form a considerable part of the population. Here we might recall Etienne Balibar's contention that the extension of the franchise was "moving the boundary line between 'citizens' and 'subjects' to the frontiers of nationality" ("Class Racism" 210); the subjection of the Jamaican workers, who are of a lower racial "type," ensures the fantasmatic stability of the frontier of the country of England (from which blacks are happily absent). And inside these racial and national frontiers there opens up the possibility of citizenship for "white labourers."[16]

    Genealogy, Anthropology, and Hybridity

  18. Ten years after Edward Beesly's comments in The Bee-Hive , George Eliot published Daniel Deronda , in which the following passage occurs, with its odd echoes of Beesly's letter:

    The talk turned on the rinderpest and Jamaica. . . . Grandcourt held that the Jamaican negro was a beastly sort of baptist Caliban; Deronda said he had always felt a little with Caliban, who naturally had his own point of view and could sing a good song; Mrs Davilow observed that her father had an estate in Barbadoes, but that she herself had never been in the West Indies; Mrs Torrington was sure she could never sleep in her bed if she lived among blacks; her husband corrected her by saying that the blacks would be manageable enough if it were not for the half-breeds; and Deronda remarked that the whites had to thank themselves for the half-breeds. (376) [17]
    This passage provides striking evidence of the prominence of the debate over Morant Bay at the time: ten years after the controversy had died down, Eliot could be reasonably sure that a brief allusion to Jamaica would allow her readers to date the conversation at Grandcourt's estate as late 1865 or early 1866, the last time that Jamaica had taken centre stage in British culture. Many of the issues addressed in this essay are contained within this intellectually allusive piece of narrative. It is especially important here to trace the discourse of the inheritance of the "estate" in the debates over Jamaica, since this connects with my earlier claim that this older language of a caste privileged by blood returns in descriptions of racial formation in the 1860s. I think this language can be glimpsed in Beesly's patrician assumption that Afro-Jamaicans should be working "for us." And in Eliot's passing reference to Morant Bay in Daniel Deronda we can clearly see how the polite chatter at Grandcourt's estate connects plantation life in the West Indies with the world of the English aristocracy (and lesser gentry), in which the question of breeding and pedigree intersects with the question of miscegenation ("the whites had to thank themselves for the half-breeds").

  19. This George Eliot passage bears striking witness to the mid-Victorian fascination with hybridity, in all its forms. In his book Colonial Desire , Robert Young has assembled a mass of cultural and historical evidence as proof that across a wide range of discourses, from the biological sciences to Victorian poetry, the spectre of the "hybrid" haunted the mid-nineteenth-century imagination in Britain. In particular, the new scientific racism dwelt at length on the troubling figure of the "mulatto." Paul Broca's influential work on human hybridity laboured mightily to show that the offspring of unions between Europeans and Africans were infertile with each other, although they were said to be fertile with either "parent race" (Broca 28-39). This was a variant on the popular theory that hybrid human forms "reverted" to pure races after two or three generations, a theory invoked in an attempt to prove the permanence of racial "types," or, in extreme versions of this argument, to prove that different human "races" were in fact different species (the theory of polygenism). James Hunt, who modelled the Anthropological Society of London on Broca's Société anthropologique de Paris, argued torturously that it was not yet proven that "the offspring of all the mixtures of the so-called races of man are prolific. . . . At present it is only proved that the descendants of some of the different races of man are temporarily prolific; but there is the best evidence to believe that the offspring of the Negro and the European are not indefinitely prolific" (Negro's Place 24-5).

  20. For Hunt, however, this desire to wish away the offspring of mixed race unions clashed with his belief in the improving powers of European blood. He explained the intelligence of Africans in the United States (which he "fully admit[ted]") as "owing to the mixture of European and Negro blood" rather than being explicable by environmental factors (Negro's Place 33), since the theory that human racial groups developed because of the social and climatic conditions they lived in was associated with the liberal abolitionist movement he so strenuously opposed. The debate between these two positions on racial formation was engaged most frequently and most explicitly at this time in writings on the Caribbean; we can see both sides of the argument conflated in Anthony Trollope's travelogue The West Indies and the Spanish Main (1859), which provides further evidence of this mid-Victorian obsession with the mulatto:

    My theory . . . is this: that Providence has sent white men and black men to these regions in order that from them may spring a race fitted by intellect for civilization; and fitted also by physical organization for tropical labour. . . .

    When civilization, commerce, and education shall have been spread; when sufficient of our blood shall have been infused into the veins of those children of the sun; then, I think, we may be ready, without stain to our patriotism, to take off our hats and bid farewell to the West Indies. (84)

    Trollope, in his outlandish celebration of the Jamaican "coloured" class, seems unable to decide between explanations based on environmental factors (civilization, commerce, education) and those based on mixing of blood. He is unsure whether to adopt an analytic framework based on the English class system, in which the "coloureds" would play the heroic role of a rising bourgeoisie, and one based on the new science of race, in which blood determines character and destiny.

  21. Trollope's position may have appeared idiosyncratic, but in fact it was essentially the same as the Jamaica policy followed by the Colonial Office after emancipation was completed in 1838, although the ultimate goal of the British government was undoubtedly not Jamaican decolonization, as Trollope here suggests. Tired of the West India lobby's power in Parliament, and of the constant clashes between the Jamaican planters (who dominated the local House of Assembly) and the governor about who should have day-to-day control over the island's affairs, the Colonial Office tried to promote the interests of the island's merchant and professional class, the majority of whom were "coloureds," as a counterweight to the anachronistic power of the white planters. This involved a delicate balancing act, since extending the franchise, for instance, to include more "coloureds" also risked empowering those elements in Jamaican society more sympathetic to the interests of the black peasantry. Thus there developed the anomalous situation that while the property qualifications for voting rights were gradually reduced (although the percentage of the population eligible to vote in Assembly elections remained minuscule at the time of Morant Bay), the restrictions on who could stand as candidates remained as onerous as ever. The number of African and multiracial Jamaicans holding Assembly seats never rose above fifteen out of 45; at the time of the 1865 rebellion, that number had been reduced still further, to twelve.

  22. The controversy surrounding the events in Jamaica in October 1865 hinged on the execution of George William Gordon, a wealthy merchant and landowner renowned in Jamaica for his outspoken support for the black masses. Gordon was the representative in the House of Assembly of the district of St. Thomas-in-the-East where the uprising took place, an ardent and vocal opponent of the governor, Edward Eyre, and, significantly enough, a "coloured." After the governor had imposed martial law in the east of the island on hearing of the uprising, he had Gordon arrested in Kingston (where martial law was not in place) and transported by boat to Morant Bay where he stood trial before a court martial, with the flimsiest of evidence against him, was sentenced to hang, and then duly executed on Eyre's personal orders. It was Eyre's scant regard for legal niceties, the perception that he had taken advantage of a chaotic situation to rid himself of a troublesome adversary, that outraged liberals and radicals in England and Jamaica. Thus the debate tended to focus on the character, and especially the family history, of George William Gordon, son of a planter father and a slave mother, who had been cast out of his father's house, had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made his fortune at an early age, and then rescued his father from ruin when his sugar estate fell into bankruptcy. The uprising, about which Gordon apparently knew nothing in advance, was characterized crudely as a kind of personal feud between the governor and the radical politician. [18] The real story of the rebellion remained all but untold: the severe drought that had brought St. Thomas-in-the-East to the brink of famine; local dissatisfaction with the magistrates, who all represented planter interests, and punished petty crimes like crop theft severely (crimes that had increased as poverty grew); the desire of poor smallholders to maintain their tenuous hold on land to which they often held no legal title, versus wealthy landowners' attempts to extract rent from them and evict them if rent was not forthcoming.

  23. All of this was lost in the polemics over Gordon's execution. His final letter to his wife (a highly respectable white woman) was a major propaganda coup for Eyre's critics in England; in it he declared his allegiance to the Queen, demonstrated Christian forgiveness for his persecutors, and generally behaved himself like a gentleman. The Baptist minister Wriothesley Noel felt "compelled to conclude that the hatred which hunted him to death was like that which crucified the Lord of glory as a blasphemer and a traitor" (8-9). In only marginally more prosaic terms, Noel quotes Gordon's mother-in-law: "The late Mr. Gordon was bold as a lion in the cause of truth, but in domestic life, few, if any, could surpass him in urbanity of manner and kindness of disposition" (7-8). Rev. David King cites a fellow Presbyterian minister, Rev. H. Renton, as saying, "I never knew a man who seemed to me actuated by more honourable and unselfish and purer motives. He had an enthusiastic admiration of the British Constitution, and an exalted estimate of the dignity, rights, and privileges of British citizenship" (qtd. in King 8). Men such as these had no doubt, as an anonymous member of the Jamaican Assembly put it in a letter to the Daily News on February 5, 1866, that "Jamaica had a worthy and faithful son in him" (qtd. in Noel 6).

  24. The language of filiation and inheritance seemed inescapable in the furor over Gordon's death. In particular, opinion was sharply divided over Gordon's relationship with his father. On one hand, there were accounts of Gordon's filial devotion, despite his father's alleged hostility to his non-white children (which some claimed included banishment from his house). David King asserted that: "Through the reverses of the colony the father, from being very rich, came to lose all; and the coloured son bought his estate: not, however, to deprive him of it, but to leave him in occupancy, surrounded by the comforts he had been accustomed to enjoy. He always spoke to me with deferential regard for his father" (qtd. in Noel 3-4).[19] On the other hand, in an anonymous letter to The Times , "one who knew him for 21 years" claimed that "Mr. G.W. Gordon was a singular compound of opposites, a great pretender in religion, but one who altogether ignored the claims of truth and honesty. One who could expatiate eloquently on the sins of the people, and at the same time beat his own father and defraud all those who were so unfortunate as to place confidence in him" (Great Britain 245). And, as if to demonstrate that Gordon's dubious lineage had its corollary in his willingness to disinherit a child, Governor Eyre included among the 170 pages of documents vilifying Gordon that he gave to the Royal Commissioners a copy of an anonymous letter to the Jamaican Colonial Standard , claiming that Gordon had purchased half of "a thrown-up sugar estate," the other half of which was being held in trust "on behalf of an infant." The letter maintained, moreover, that Gordon had proceeded to dismantle the sugar works and everything else "that was convertible into money" without even informing the trustees of his actions. The letter writer narrated this story to "expose what is really known of this said-to-be martyr." He concluded: "All feelings of delicacy towards Gordon's family must subside" (Great Britain 174).

  25. This letter, showing by negation at least that the Gordon family romance was a story in the public domain, was published in Kingston on January 13, 1866. Three days later, on January 16, the gentlemen of the Anthropological Society of London held their fortnightly meeting (ladies were not allowed to become members of the ASL; in fact, the proposal that the Ethnological Society permit women to join had been one of the reasons for the split that had produced the ASL in 1863). There President Hunt informed the gathering that ASL stalwart William Pritchard "had been appointed special commissioner from the Anthropological Society of London, to inquire into the causes of the recent negro insurrection in Jamaica" ("Minutes" lxxxii). Reassured that their views on the rebellion would be made known in official circles, therefore, the members sat back to listen to a scholarly paper entitled "Remarks on Genealogy in Connexion with Anthropology," by George Marshall. In his paper, later published in the Memoirs of the society, Marshall claimed that: "Genealogy, or the tracing of descent of individuals, and through them of nations, from some common progenitor, is a subject of vital importance to a society which includes among its various objects that of investigating the laws of man's origins and progress" (Marshall 68). It is no coincidence, I would maintain, that the public fascination with George William Gordon's "pedigree" is mirrored in this exactly contemporaneous debate on the uses of genealogy, as mid-Victorians attempted to work through the connection between the "descent of individuals" and of races and nations.

  26. Balibar argues in his essay "The Nation-Form" that one of the striking features of a modern national culture is that, "except for a few genealogy 'fanatics' and a few who are 'nostalgic' for the days of the aristocracy, genealogy is no longer either a body of theoretical knowledge or an object of oral memory. . . . Today it is the state which draws up and keeps the archive of filiations and alliances " (101; emphasis in original). While this statement seems more persuasive in the French than the British context, as a general description of an historical shift it is unarguable. What are we to make, therefore, of Marshall's assertion that "a taste for genealogy is a passion inherent in the whole human race. In all nations, civilised and uncivilised, in all times, ancient as well as modern, we find mankind carefully preserving the names and relationship of those from whom they claim descent" (68)? In fact, it seems clear that Marshall's paper is an attempt to graft a discipline in decline onto the new science of anthropology--another indication that the new scientific racism buttressed itself with the narratives of a passing hereditary aristocracy (which we can properly call "nostalgic"):

    It is admitted that ethnology is an important part of anthropology; and are not ethnology and genealogy essentially the same? Have not the ethnologist and the genealogist the same object in view? If they differ, is it not only in this, that the ethnologist studies man by grouping him into different large races; whilst the genealogist seeks to know him more completely by studying him in individual families? The genealogist is, in fact, the architect who builds up the structure of the science of man, stone upon stone, and story upon story. He is the author who compiles the history of man, of which the ethnologist, like a reviewer, presents to the public a general sketch of the contents. (69)
    The literary metaphors ("author," "reviewer") and the emphasis on "story" demonstrate once more the superimposition of the "romantic" and "scientific" accounts of human descent.

  27. The responses to Marshall's paper--as recorded in the minutes of the ASL--make fascinating reading. "Dr. Beigel observed that genealogy . . . was in reality anthropology. What had hitherto been considered genealogy was nothing more than the determination of what man was the ancestor of another; what relation, in short, Tom was to Harry. But when they proceeded to consider what the physical condition of Tom was, that subject of inquiry became anthropology" ("Minutes" lxxvi). Rev. Dunbar Heath disagreed: "In considering the question, they should view the influence of lineal descent, as well as other influences distinct from it. . . . The external life of the mother, independent of the father, had no doubt great influence, but was there not something more than that? Was there not something in the race?" (lxxxvi-lxxxvii). The role of the mother, so rarely even acknowledged in these discussions, is something I will return to in my analysis of Felix Holt ; here it serves momentarily to break apart the constellation of individual and "racial" descent, the bizarre assumption that heredity is a question of paternity only. [20] But other participants in the meeting failed to take up Heath's point, and continued to conflate the history of noble families with the make-up of human groups or "races." Augustus Goldsmid thought genealogy could usefully "show what influences that affect man's nature may be said to depend on external circumstances, and what are innate properties" (lxxxviii). The cases that he suggested might benefit from this genealogical analysis were, not surprisingly, those of noble families:

    One fact deserving of notice . . . he would mention, the thickness of the lip of the members of the House of Hapsburg . . . [which] was observable in almost every branch of the family. Another instance was that of a gentleman belonging to a great aristocratic family, who had one white lock of hair, though his hair was generally dark, which peculiarity had been transmitted to him from a distant ancestor. ("Minutes" lxxxviii)
    Goldsmid's suggestions were immediately taken up by William Pritchard (who had just been appointed to take charge of the ASL's special mission to examine the causes of the Morant Bay rebellion, of course), who executed an apparently seamless transition from great aristocratic families to "natives":

    Mr. Pritchard stated that among the natives of the Pacific he had met with individuals who had a white lock amongst the surrounding dark hair, which was said to be hereditary. With respect to the question of consanguinity, he stated that there are many of the small or atoll islands in the Pacific where the natives trace back their origin through three or four hundred years to the few persons who, drifting from their homes, originally landed there. (lxxxviii)
    Despite Dunbar Heath's note of caution, most of those present found no difficulty in marrying their brand of physical anthropology (based largely on questions of blood and breeding) to the protocols of genealogical research. The meeting then adjourned, with President Hunt calling the members' attention to a special meeting of the ASL, "at which Captain Bedford Pim would read a paper on the causes of the Negro insurrection in Jamaica" ("Minutes" lxxxix). Demand for tickets had been so great that a larger room would have to be obtained for the meeting, Hunt proudly declared. [21]

  28. This intersection of genealogy, anthropology, and responses to the Morant Bay rebellion, I am suggesting, rests on more than a temporal coincidence. The flood of pamphlets, letters, and speeches about Jamaica in late 1865 and throughout 1866 occurred in the context of existing debates about the relation between the descent of individuals and races/nations. As William Pritchard suggested, the "question of consanguinity" became critical at this moment, where inheritance through blood was perceived to explain human culture in all its variety. Thus, at the moment when the Reform movement and the opposition to Governor Eyre were giving public weight to the figure of the citizen-subject and the rights of man, others were falling back on the premodern discourse of bloodlines and inheritance, which, after Darwin, bore the modern stamp of scientific method and enabled the citizen and the subject to be prised apart on the basis of racial difference.[22] I want to turn now to an examination of George Eliot's novel Felix Holt , a text in which this constellation of genealogy, inheritance, political rights, and race is everywhere strikingly apparent without ever being resolved into the simple binary oppositions that marked the polemics of the pamphleteers and anthropologists with whom she shared the public sphere.

    Reading Felix Holt after Morant Bay

  29. George Eliot's novel Felix Holt, the Radical was first published in May 1866, at the height of the controversy over the suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion. By turning to Felix Holt , we can shed light on some of these entangled problems of race, genealogy, and descent. We can also show that this complex tale of English Reform intersects in more than fleeting ways with the questions raised by the events in Jamaica, despite the fact that Eliot never refers to the Caribbean in the novel. Eliot's engagement with the debate over the extension of the franchise turns, I argue, on the racially hybrid figure of Harry Transome, who inherits the country estate in the novel but cannot be allowed to inherit that larger and more precious estate, England. Thus this essay will return to the relationship between "slaves" and the "rank and file" with which it began.

  30. Critics, if they have paid attention to Felix Holt at all, have tended to see it as a flawed, transitional novel of Eliot's, the subsidiary term in comparisons to the better novels which come before and after it. Thus the discovery that Esther is the true heir to the Transome estate, despite her humble station as Rev. Lyon's adopted child, is a recapitulation of Eppie's story in Silas Marner . Eliot's attempt to capture the web of relations in the provincial town of Treby Magna in the period of the First Reform Bill is seen as a precursor to the magnificence of Middlemarch . Raymond Williams expresses well the dissatisfaction most modern critics have felt in reading Felix Holt . He observes that the novel "is made to turn on the inheritance of an estate, and this is a crucial surrender to that typical interest which preoccupied the nineteenth-century middle-class imagination" (174). But this "surrender" is not the same as the easy, casual way that Trollope, for instance, handles the traditional settlements of the romance genre; rather it deforms the structure of the novel: "George Eliot, by contrast [with Trollope], questioning in a profoundly moral way the real and assumed relations between property and human quality, accepts the emphasis of inheritance as the central action, and then has to make it external, contradictory, and finally irrelevant" (175).

  31. The basic point here is that it is the very convolutedness of the inheritance plot that reveals its failure, in the 1860s, as symbol of the transmission of the national heritage. In Disraeli's Sybil, or the Two Nations , to which Felix Holt is often compared, the hidden aristocratic lineage of Sybil must lead to the restitution of the estate to her: blood eventually "tells." In Eliot's novel, by contrast, the relationship between property and virtue has been irrevocably severed, and the whole edifice of patrilineal inheritance appears to be crumbling. Not only does Esther ultimately reject her inheritance of the Transome estate, preferring the virtuous existence of an artisan's wife, but she is not even "really" a Transome, her legal claim stemming from her descent from the Bycliffe family, who have no "natural" claim to inherit the Transome estate. As Catherine Gallagher writes, in the best modern reading of the novel:

    Indeed, Frederic Harrison, who advised Eliot on the legal intricacies of the plot, implored her to make Esther a real Transome so that her claim would carry the weight of nature as well as that of legality, but Eliot insisted on grounding Esther's claim also in legal conventions. Thus, although Felix Holt resembles Sybil in that a young woman is discovered, in the aftermath of a popular uprising, to be the heir to an estate, it reverses Sybil by making that young woman no more the natural heir to the estate than is the family she has the power to dispossess. (262)
    Disraeli needed to bind the naturally virtuous status of Sybil and her Chartist father to the institutional structures of the hereditary aristocracy; twenty years later, by contrast, George Eliot felt no compunction in poking fun at the claims of good breeding. The last surviving real Transome, poor, mad Tommy Trounsem, claims that "'I allays felt it inside me as I was somebody, and I could see other chaps thought it on me too'" (378). However, this is patently false in the logic of the novel: although a certain pathos clings to Tommy, his fundamental role is to be trampled to death in the election-day riot so that Esther's non-natural right to the estate can be established.

  32. Thus Eliot disregarded the advice of Frederic Harrison, a young barrister whom she met while working on the novel, and who advised her, as Gallagher notes, on the law of entail (that branch of inheritance law on which the plot of Felix Holt depends). The extended correspondence between the two is well known: not only does it provide rare insights into Eliot's thoughts during the composition of a novel, it also engages some key intellectual concerns of both Eliot's and Harrison's, especially the question of Comtism. But critics have failed to notice the fact that at exactly the same time as Harrison was providing legal counsel to George Eliot, he was also serving on the executive committee of the Jamaica Committee, the body led by John Stuart Mill that protested the suppression of the Morant Bay uprising. Soon after Felix Holt was published, Harrison began his series of essays on martial law--a key question in the Jamaica events--later published as number 5 in the Jamaica Papers series: Martial Law: Six Letters to the "Daily News" (1867).[23] So although Eliot and Harrison do not refer to the Jamaica rebellion in their letters, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the inheritance of the Transome estate in Felix Holt and the troubles in Jamaica must be connected.[24]

  33. The novel opens with Mrs Transome nervously awaiting the return from "the East" of her son Harold to take over the running of the Transome estate, now that her wild, "savage" older son Durfey has finally died and Harold is the heir apparent. (Harold has spent the last fifteen years acquiring a fortune in Smyrna, technically part of the Ottoman Empire but under de facto British control.) Mrs Transome's anxiety is magnified because Harold has only recently informed her "that he had been married, that his Greek wife was no longer living, but that he should bring home a little boy, the finest and most desirable of heirs and grandsons"; his mother's response to Harold's revelation of this long-kept secret was to tear up the letter "in a rage" (100). Mrs Transome's anger at this suppression of the place of women in questions of descent is in fact bitterly appropriate, since the reader eventually discovers that the arriviste lawyer Jermyn is Harold's biological father, and thus Harold's (and Harry's) descent and inheritance are entirely dependent on Mrs Transome.[25] Thus right at the outset the novel undermines the traditional claims of patrilineal inheritance--Harold's belief that his mother was "a good elderly lady, who would necessarily be delighted with the possession on any terms of a healthy grandchild" (100). The return of the prodigal son to take over the estate and save the nation is made possible by the relegation of Mrs Transome, who has been managing the estate up to this point, to the role of domestic ornament. Harold says to his mother, "'Ah, you've had to worry yourself about things that don't properly belong to a woman .... We'll set that right. You shall have nothing to do now but to be grandmamma on satin cushions'"(95). Behind this suppression is the silent (and convenient) death of Harold's Oriental wife.[26]

  34. Harold returns from the Orient darker, wealthier, with a taste for spicy food, and with new ideas about politics and the role of women. These threads are all entangled in Eliot's Orientalism: Harold's decision to become a Radical shocks his Tory mother "as if her son had said that he had been converted to Mahometanism at Smyrna, and had four wives, instead of one son" (92). Similarly, Harold's corruptibility, the fact that his Radicalism (unlike Felix Holt's) is veneer rather than a deeply held commitment, is signalled by his seduction by the delights of Oriental women: "Western women were not to his taste. . . . Harold preferred a slow-witted, large-eyed woman, silent and affectionate, with a load of black hair, weighing more heavily than her brains. He had seen no such women in England, except one whom he had brought with him from the East" (454-5). The narrator makes this observation at the moment when the possibility arises of Harold and Esther getting married, thus resolving the problem of the inheritance plot with a union straight out of the romance genre. But Eliot refuses the easy way out: Harold's Orientalism is utterly incompatible with Esther's independence of spirit. She is tempted, "but it was a fact that Harold's previous married life had entered strongly into her impressions about him. The presence of Harry made it inevitable" (540). Harold tries to woo her: "'You don't suppose, I hope, that any other woman has ever held the place that you could hold in my life?'"; as proof of this sentiment he delivers the revelation that opens up Felix Holt to the debates over Morant Bay: "'Harry's mother had been a slave--was bought, in fact'" (541).[27]

  35. The careful use of the pluperfect tense--"had been"--and the passive voice--"was bought"--leaves nicely ambiguous Harold's proprietary relationship to his wife. On the one hand, Harold is aligned squarely with the slaveholding planters of the Caribbean who kept, and indeed owned, black mistresses but eventually married respectable white women of their own class. On the other hand, the syntax allows the reader to interpret Harold's relationship with his wife as an act of abolitionist philanthropy, a white man saving a native woman from Oriental despotism. Although slavery is displaced from the Caribbean to Turkey in Eliot's novel, the "presence of Harry" in the novel comes from the same source as the controversy over George William Gordon and the Jamaica uprising. In February 1866, while George Eliot was finishing Felix Holt and England was convulsed by the Governor Eyre case, Dr. Hyde Clarke delivered a paper at the Anthropological Society of London entitled "On Anthropological Investigations in Smyrna," where he was the ASL's local secretary and where Harold Transome made his fortune and met his wife:

    Many examples of mixed races are found here, particularly of Negro mulattoes and Levantines, or the mixture of Europeans with the natives of the country. The latter afford the most beautiful women in the first, and occasionally in the second, generation; but there is undoubted evidence that neither of the mixed races is permanent. . . . It is curious that, though the Levantine is a cross-breed chiefly among the Indo-Europeans, the third and fourth generations produce many of the phenomena of Negro cross-breeds, as seen in the West Indies and South America. (ci)
    Unwittingly, no doubt, George Eliot finds herself sharing the same field as the new physical anthropologists, with their heavy-handed Orientalism and their fascination with the figure of "the negro." In other words, the trouble with Harry is that he is a mulatto.

  36. Eliot gives very little narrative time to the ultimate heir of the Transome estate, but in Harry's irregular appearances he is consistently portrayed as violent and wild. We see him first through the eyes of the Debarrys (sole representatives of the old aristocracy in Felix Holt ): Lady Debarry initially mistakes him for "'a charming little fellow. . .[a] round-cheeked cherub'" (178). But she is soon disabused, as Harry sinks his teeth into Mrs Transome's arm: "'What a little savage!'", Lady Debarry quickly corrects herself; and then, when she has had time to reflect a little: "'That savage boy--he doesn't look like a lady's child'" (178-9). Lady Debarry is right the second time around. It may no longer be possible, in the age of Reform and industrialization, to be sure what a lady's child looks like; we cannot rely on genealogy to tell the truth about good breeding any more. But there can be no doubt, in the age of anthropology, as to the characteristics of the savage.

  37. The problem this poses for the novel, however, is insuperable. Although Harry's filiation is almost the only line of descent in the book that is not in doubt, there is such uneasiness about Harry that he and his father almost never appear together. When Harold first arrives back at Transome Court and his mother asks him about his son, Harold replies casually, "'O, I left him behind in town. . . . My man Dominic will bring him, with the rest of the luggage'" (92). In this narrative distancing, I think we can read the trace of George William Gordon's expulsion from his father's house. The overelaborate inheritance plot that takes up so much of Felix Holt is ultimately resolved by the estate being passed on to Harry, but the novel makes so little of this denouement that the reader is forced to conclude that this half of the book's plot is finally irrelevant, as Raymond Williams put it. Once we recognize that Harry is the son of a slave, however, we are in a better position to read this narrative incoherence. In a climate in which The Times could write scathingly of Afro-Jamaicans as the "favoured heirs" of British middle-class culture, George Eliot shows the ultimate worthlessness of the country house as a symbol for the national heritage by having its heir be the son of a slave mother. Thus Felix Holt ends by proving the truism delivered by the coachman in the "Author's Introduction" to the novel, that "property didn't always get into the right hands" (82).[28]

  38. Such a reading would seem to divide the novel in two: first, the Transome Court plot, with its roots in the traditional inheritance narrative and its branches intersecting with contemporary race theory; second, the Felix and Esther plot, which concerns itself most directly with Reform and political rights for the English working classes. But, as I have argued throughout this essay, questions of class and citizenship in the mid-1860s cannot be kept separate from questions of race and breeding. Thus Felix applauds the Chartist speaker who gets up in front of the crowd at Treby Magna and denounces the "slave's share" the workers have at present, calling instead for a "freeman's share" of the nation's wealth (396). However, for Felix Holt, and for George Eliot, rights ought not to accrue to men simply on the basis of their being born free. Felix follows the Chartist speaker up on to the podium and proceeds to lecture the assembled masses on the dangers of premature democracy, exhorting them not to mistake the benefits of the vote--which he calls, in perfect Arnoldian language, a mere "engine" (400)--for the more lasting gifts of wisdom, education, and virtuous living. As he comments to Esther a little while earlier, "'I want to be a demagogue of a new sort; an honest one, if possible, who will tell the people they are blind and foolish, and neither flatter them nor fatten on them'" (366).

  39. Catherine Gallagher argues that Felix represents a vision of Matthew Arnold's "best self," the man of culture he idealizes in Culture and Anarchy (Gallagher 244). And this speech of Felix's sounds uncannily like the lecture Matthew Arnold delivered a year later at Oxford, entitled "Culture and Its Enemies," later to become the first chapter of Culture and Anarchy :

    Culture . . . does not try to teach down to the level of inferior classes; it does not try to win them for this or that sect of its own, with ready-made judgments and watchwords. It seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere. . . . This is the social idea; and the men of culture are the true apostles of equality. (79)
    However, Felix differs from Arnold's man of culture in that he does not become the déclassé "alien" of Culture and Anarchy . Instead, Felix continually insists on his class identity; his virtue lies in his determination to remain an artisan: "'I mean to stick to the class I belong to'" (144). His status as artisan is crucial here. The factory hands and agricultural labourers of Treby Magna represent the emergence into the public sphere of a new class, the proletariat; George Eliot's worker-hero represents an anachronistic understanding of caste that owes more to the outmoded language of blood and breeding than to the language of rights and citizenship that accompanies advanced capitalism. So that when Felix continues his speech to Esther about wanting to be a new type of demagogue by saying "'I have my heritage--an order I belong to. I have the blood of a line of handicraftsmen in my veins'" (366), we know that this is an anachronistic sentiment, a trace of nostalgia for a vanishing segment of the population. But I want to push this line of thinking one step further. The invocation of blood here, in the section of the novel primarily concerned with domestic Reform, is also a statement transposed from the new hereditarian discourses of race that I analyzed above. And so we can argue that the two halves of Felix Holt are not as distinct as they have seemed to most critics and readers. The "blood of a line of handicraftsmen" that Felix embodies is not so different from the wild blood that determines the character of young Harry, whose inheritance of the estate is eclipsed by the birth of "a young Felix" (606) on the last page of the novel.

  40. The new way of talking about race in the mid-1860s allows "blood" to resurface as a meaningful concept; it even reflects back onto those class distinctions it would seem unable to explain now that "family" and "breeding" are no longer self-evidently positive. Thus the narrator comments on Esther's anticipation of the problems she will encounter in talking to Harold Transome about Felix:

    She had a native capability for discerning that the sense of ranks and degrees has its repulsions corresponding to the repulsions dependent on differences of race and colour; and she remembered her own impressions too well not to foresee that it would come on Harold Transome as a shock, if he suspected that there had been any love-passages between her and this young man, who to him was of course no more than any other intelligent member of the working class. (522-3)
    The differences between Harold Transome, who represents the English gentry's inability to adjust to the changes associated with Reform, and Felix, the new symbol of honest, hard- working Englishness, can most easily be explained by comparison with "differences of race and colour"--and these distinctions, the narrator implies, are not open to question. This is the equivalent of Matthew Arnold's statement that "science has now made visible to everybody the great and pregnant elements of difference which lie in race" (135), a statement, we should recall, in the service of the author's classification of the English class system into Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace. Thus we have found, in the unlikely setting of Felix Holt 's study of provincial life, proof of the saturation of discourses of citizenship and Reform by questions of race, genealogy, and descent. We have traced the outlines of the debate over the Jamaica rebellion in George Eliot's novel, providing further evidence of the complex and interlocking relationship between "slaves" and "the rank and file" in the British Empire of the mid-1860s.

    Conclusion: Inheriting the Empire

  41. The third quarter of the nineteenth century often used to be characterized by historians as the period of "anti-imperialism," when prominent intellectual figures like John Bright and Goldwin Smith publicly called for the independence of "the Colonies," which were seen as a financial and military drain on the resources of England. This notion of anti-imperialism has more recently given way to an understanding of the continuities in British imperial policies, the fact that the empire expanded throughout the nineteenth century (in both its formal and informal incarnations), and a recognition that those who advocated the independence of the white settler colonies never even considered the possibility that British dependencies peopled predominately by non-whites ought to govern themselves. However, without wanting to endorse the idea of mid-Victorian anti-imperialism, I would suggest that this period needs to be rethought once more in the light of the Jamaica events and the responses to them. In short, it is my argument here that when the possibility emerges of the end of British rule over the declining colony of Jamaica, the spectre of the end of imperial hegemony arises. And the response to this threat is to conceive, for the first time, of the Empire as a whole, no longer insisting on the distinctions between the Colonial Empire, the Indian Empire, Crown Colonies, and other dependencies.

  42. It is only in the mid-1860s that Victorian writers began to talk of the British Empire in the sense that seems so familiar to us now.[29] Richard Koebner, in his meticulous study of the changing significance of the word "imperialism," notes that during the first 30 years of Queen Victoria's reign the term "British Empire," if it was used at all, "was governed by the interpretation which related the name to the United Kingdom of the British Isles and to England in particular" (Koebner and Schmidt 45). The common phrase "Imperial Parliament" referred primarily to England's hegemony over Scotland, Wales, and, more particularly, Ireland, which after the Act of Union of 1800 sent "representatives" to sit in the House of Commons in London. Thus, in a way which seems distinctly counterintuitive to those of us at the other end of the British Empire, "the Colonies and the Indian Empire were regarded as dependent on the British Empire rather than being parts of it" (Koebner and Schmidt 37). In 1865, Jamaica was in the anomalous position of being a colony not generally included in the phrase "the Colonies," which tended to encompass only the white settler territories (although administratively it was part of the domain of the Colonial Office). Paradoxically, therefore, the fact that Jamaica was unassimilable to the standard contemporary discourses of imperialism enabled it to become the locus of the construction of the Empire. The Morant Bay uprising, far more than the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 to which it was (and is) often compared, crystallized concern on questions of governance, citizenship, and rights, both "domestic" and "imperial," and in so doing inaugurated the new era of "the Empire."

  43. Perhaps we can read this awkward transition in the letter from Carlyle I alluded to in the opening paragraph of this essay. After opining that "penalty and clamour are not the thing this Governor merits from any of us, but honour and thanks, and wise imitation (I will farther say) should similar emergencies arise, on the great scale or on the small, in whatever we are governing!" (Workman 91-2), Carlyle goes on to pledge his active support for the campaign so that

    by wise effort and persistence, a blind and disgraceful act of public injustice may be prevented [i.e., the prosecution of Eyre brought by the Jamaica Committee]; and an egregious folly as well,--not to say, for none can say or compute, what a vital detriment throughout the British empire, in such an example set to all the colonies and governors the British Empire has. (92)
    Here, as Carlyle piles clause upon clause with his characteristic rhetorical abandon, we can detect the instability of meaning between the lower-case "empire"--which seems to approximate the more modern concept--and the capitalized "Empire"--which "has" colonies and governors that, nevertheless, do not seem to be a part of it.

  44. The solution that Carlyle proposes to this crisis of British imperialism is a throwback to the romance inheritance plot that George Eliot struggled to leave behind in Felix Holt . In Shooting Niagara: And After? (1867), his tirade against democratic government and the "knot of rabid Nigger-Philanthropists" (14) who made up the Jamaica Committee, Carlyle devotes several pages to the island of Dominica. ("Jamaica," he claims implausibly, "is an angry subject, and I am shy to speak of it" [19].) He elaborates a fantasy scenario, in which

    the Queen "in Council". . .[will] pick out some gallant-minded, stout, well-gifted Cadet, - younger son of a Duke, of an Earl, of a Queen herself . . . and say to him. . . ., "See, I have scores on scores of 'Colonies,' all ungoverned, and nine-tenths of them full of boa-constrictors, rattlesnakes, Parliamentary Eloquences, and Emancipated Niggers ripening towards nothing but destruction: one of them you shall have, you as Vice-King; on rational conditions, and ad vitam an culpam it shall be yours (and perhaps your posterity's if worthy)." (18-19)
    Carlyle suggests a model of governance based on the protocols of inheritance rooted in the structural power of the hereditary aristocracy in England; I have argued in this essay that this residual conception of society fueled the emergent discourses of anthropology and racial science. However, the new concept of Empire marks the beginning of the end of the inheritance plot as a trope for what we must now call governmentality. Joseph Howe, in a little pamphlet called The Organization of the Empire (1866), signals the end of this older discourse of empire, one which assimilates the relationship between "mother" country and colony to a family affair. Some people, he says, argue that colonies "grow up" and should therefore receive independence:

    The parental relationship is assumed to sanction this policy. Young men grow, and, when they are of age, marry and set up for themselves, and why should not colonies do the same. But the analogy is not perfect. One house would not hold all the married members of a large family, nor one estate maintain them. They scatter that they may live. They are kept in friendship by the domestic affections, and personal ties, which in respect of distant communities, do not exist, and at the death of the founder of the family there is an estate to divide.

    Not so with Colonies. Their life begins at a distance from the homestead. There are few personal attachments. There is no estate to divide, and no security that when they separate they may not drift into antagonism to each other, and to the parent colony. (4)

  45. The old metaphors are worn out, Howe is arguing. The inheritance of an estate, be it Transome Court, an "ungoverned colony" like Jamaica, or the estate of "the Empire," can no longer signify the mode of English power after the 1860s. Instead, the practice of imperialism, in its late Victorian manifestation of a mission to educate and civilize "backward peoples," emerges, paradoxically enough, in the writings of those mid-Victorian liberals who advocated equal rights for whites and blacks and the extension of the franchise and citizenship to the working classes in England. Frederic Harrison, for instance, George Eliot's collaborator on Felix Holt , can be heard bringing this new Empire into being in his treatise on martial law written to protest the suppression of the Jamaica revolt:

    In the name of the people, of the great family of citizens of the British empire, it again becomes vital to crush the pretensions of the executive abroad; it becomes necessary to vindicate beyond the seas the first principles of civil liberty. . . . This is why an association of Englishmen has undertaken to bring this cause to an issue [i.e., by prosecuting Eyre] . . . simply to hear from the lips of an English judge what is the right to civil justice of English citizens, what are the safeguards of life throughout the breadth of our vast empire. (3)
    The repetition of Englishness here (Englishmen, English judge, English citizens) appears to be in opposition to the principle of formal equality that Harrison celebrates. The "people," the "family of citizens"--the genealogical term persists as a link to the discourses Harrison was ostensibly refuting--for whom these "Englishmen" speak are marked as subjects as well as citizens in this unstable equation. Defended against the unlawful force of the executive power, they become subject to a new kind of discipline, one formed through education, church missions, public health policies, and the apparatus of civil law: "The precise issue we raise is this--that throughout our empire the British rule shall be the rule of law; that every British citizen, white, brown, or black in skin, shall be subject to definite, and not to indefinite powers" (4).

  46. In this strategy for managing what he calls "our vast unresting empire" (4), Harrison is taking up the definition of empire of his fellow executive committee member of the Jamaica Committee, Goldwin Smith. Back in 1863, Smith had written in the foreword to a collection of his pieces from the Daily News , given the title The Empire for its book publication:

    The term Empire is here taken in a wide sense, as including all that the nation holds beyond its own shores and waters by arms or in the way of dominion, as opposed to that natural influence which a great power, though confining itself to its own territories, always exercises in the world. In the case of our Empire this definition will embrace a motley mass of British Colonies, conquered Colonies of other European nations, conquered territories in India, military and maritime stations, and protectorates, including our practical protectorate of Turkey [where Harold Transome struck it rich, of course], as well as our legal protectorate of the Ioanian islands. These various dependencies stand in the most various relations to the Imperial country. (viii)
    Koebner and Schmidt comment on the novelty of this definition, arguing that "by making the name of Empire the comprehensive headline of a critical survey of colonial, Indian, and certain external affairs, the author [Smith] was not so much referring to an established terminology as intending to create such usage on his own account" (32). I would argue that the better known beginnings of the imperial federation movement in the late 1860s--for instance the founding of the Colonial Society in 1868, with its motto "United Empire"--are made possible by the efforts of liberal thinkers such as Smith and Harrison; that the call for an integrated empire begins with the invocation of formal equality before the law. This gesture may even be explicitly anti-imperialist, as when Goldwin Smith argues for the independence of Canada, but covertly the expansion of English law around the empire works to consolidate the very inequalities that English rule works by at the same time as it establishes a formal discourse of equality, rights, and citizenship.

  47. That this new imperial apparatus of discipline and surveillance emerges in the aftermath of the controversy over Morant Bay can be seen clearly in the writing of Charles Roundell, who had acted as secretary to the Royal Commission of inquiry while it collected its thousands of pages of evidence in Jamaica in 1866. Later that same year, he published a pamphlet of his own, England and Her Subject Races, with Special Reference to Jamaica , in which he extrapolated from the Jamaica situation to provide a blueprint for the organization of the Empire as a whole. The rebellion of 1865, he concluded, showed the need for "an impartial and trusted administration of justice" (31) and a system of "regulating native settlements" (32):

    The principal agents for effecting these primary requirements will be an efficient police, the enactment of a bastardy law, a systematic registration of births and deaths, the establishment of hospitals and a well-organized system of medical supervision, the construction of roads, the instruction of the people in improved methods of agriculture, and, above all, a system of industrial, compulsory, unsectarian education. (32-3)
    The problem of descent, inheritance, and miscegenation will be handled by a bastardy law, the state will take over the genealogical enterprise of recording births and deaths, and the emphasis on compulsory state education is in line with the thinking of Matthew Arnold; here we can see the outlines of a theory of late Victorian high imperialism. From the minor rebellion at Morant Bay, via the agitation for parliamentary reform, there emerges this checklist for the constitution of a new (but to us familiar) figure: the citizen-subject of the British Empire.


Earlier versions of this essay were presented at New York University and North Carolina State University; I am grateful to Sarah Cole, Neville Hoad, and Qadri Ismail for their comments and questions at that time, which helped this piece to develop into its current form. I have been fortunate in having several fine readers as this essay inched towards publication: here I extend hearty thanks to David Kazanjian, Amy Martin, Rob Nixon, Kate Ramsey, Gauri Viswanathan, and Deborah Wyrick.

  1. This act of textual suppression was singularly unsuccessful, because J. Dover Wilson restored the excised lines in the edition of Culture and Anarchy that has remained the most popular since its publication in 1932.Back

  2. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley was Thomas Arnold's biographer. The letter in question does not appear in Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold .Back

  3. Robert Young, in his compelling analysis of Matthew Arnold, also hears the trace of rebellion in Jamaica in these lines: "Though Arnold refused to take sides in the bitter controversy about Governor Eyre's conduct, his comments in Culture and Anarchy about the correct way to deal with rioting ('flog the rank and file and fling the ringleaders from the Tarpeian Rock!') more or less describes what happened to those in Jamaica after the Morant Bay uprising four years previously" (87). The connection between Jamaica and Reform is reinforced by the passage in Culture and Anarchy immediately following the deleted lines, in which Arnold declares that "monster-processions in the streets and forcible irruptions into the parks . . . ought to unflinchingly forbidden and repressed," even when they are in support of "undoubtedly precious" causes "such as the abolition of the slave-trade" (181). Matthew Arnold, like his father before him, was strongly opposed to slavery; the same could not be said of Thomas Carlyle.Back

  4. The best accounts of Morant Bay in the context of Jamaican history are Heuman and Holt; see also Curtin and Bakan. V.S. Reid's novel New Day is a fine fictionalized account of Morant Bay, celebrating the uprising as the awakening of Jamaican national resistance to British imperialism; New Day is often one of the set texts for Jamaican secondary school literature exams.Back

  5. The standard account of the Eyre case in England, although it now appears rather dated, remains Semmel. The best historiographical work on this intersection of Jamaican and British affairs in the 1860s is the writing of Catherine Hall, especially her essay "Rethinking Imperial Histories." Although our theoretical approaches are different, Hall's work has greatly influenced the development of my own.Back

  6. Robert Young has written the best account to date of the ways in which Arnold's classification of English social classes into Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace is heavily indebted to the racial (and racist) theories of Renan, Gobineau, and de Thierry--the same writers who are constantly cited by the British anthropologists of the 1860s I discuss below. See especially Chapter 3 of Young's Colonial Desire , "The Complicity of Culture: Arnold's Ethnographic Politics."Back

  7. This connection, however, is not as clear cut as Balibar implies in his neat formula. The Second Reform Bill by no means instituted "universal suffrage," as Balibar seems carelessly to imply here. John Stuart Mill's amendment to the Bill replacing the word "man" with "person" was easily defeated in Parliament, and a property qualification remained in place, showing that women and the poor were still considered inherently incapable of exercising political responsibility.Back

  8. See Curtin; Hall, "Economy," "Imperial Man," and "Rethinking"; Heuman; Holt; and Semmel.Back

  9. The committee was later renamed the Eyre Defence and Aid Fund. Although accounts often assume that Carlyle was the driving force behind the group, in fact he left much of the day-to-day running of affairs to others, especially Ruskin and Hamilton Hume, Eyre's first biographer. See Workman; Hall, "Economy."Back

  10. On Mill's involvement see Hall, "Economy"; Semmel.Back

  11. On the connections between working-class and black emancipation, see Gallagher, especially Chapter 1, "Workers and Slaves: The Rhetoric of Freedom in the Debate over Industrialism." On abolitionism in Europe, see Blackburn.Back

  12. On the Anthropological Society of London, see below. Good historical accounts of the society can be found in Stocking, "What's in a Name?"; Rainger; and Young.Back

  13. Robert Young develops a similar argument in his analysis of Gobineau, whose Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (1853-5) was just becoming known to English audiences at this time. Gobineau's book, Young suggests, "rests on a clever fusion of the implications of the older and newer uses of the word 'race': the traditional meaning involves bloodlines, the 'lineage' of an ancient family, with an aristocratic pedigree like a thoroughbred horse. The line of such a family is distinguished by its breeding, by the blood that flows through its veins through the act of procreation from father to son. Gobineau adapts this aristocratic notion of race as ancient stock to the modern notion, derived from linguistic families, of families of races, and assumes that however large they too are distinguished by their 'breeding,' by a particular blood that flows through their veins, passed on through the act of reproduction from generation to generation" (105). Young's work, especially Colonial Desire , has been central to the articulation of the ideas in this essay.Back

  14. One of the consequences of the Jamaica rebellion was the abolition of the Jamaican House of Assembly and the imposition of direct rule from London (Jamaica became a Crown Colony after 1866), thus ending even the pretense of self-government in the British West Indies.Back

  15. "The old pre-emancipation claim that the Jamaican worker would not follow his own economic interest --would not behave like the 'economic man'--was brought out again. It was held that the Jamaican had such limited desires, that he would work only for a bare subsistence. When he had earned it he would stop. If this was generally true, it would reverse the traditional supply curve for labor--the higher the wages, the less labor would be offered" (Curtin 142).Back

  16. It should be noted here that these national and racial boundaries are in fact not stable at all, despite the apparent certainties of Beesly's racial typology. In particular, the question of Ireland disrupts any simple claims to national or racial purity. After the Act of Union of 1800, Ireland was juridically part of Britain, although on the ground it continued to be governed more like a colony than a regional entity. Persistent attempts to racialize the Irish might be read as responses to the dangerous incorporation of Ireland into the English nation. I would like to acknowledge the importance of fruitful conversations with Amy Martin on the question of Ireland.Back

  17. Space constraints preclude a detailed reading of Daniel Deronda here, although it should be noted that this reported conversation carries the weight of wider debates in the novel: for instance, we could trace the connection between Deronda's identification with the downtrodden Calibans of the world and his eventual discovery that he is Jewish and racially "pure." For a good reading of the novel, see Gillian Beer's analysis in her George Eliot .Back

  18. For a powerful analysis of the ways in which this debate turned on competing versions of middle-class masculinity, see Hall, "Economy." The real leader of the rebellion, Paul Bogle (who was a kind of political agent for Gordon in the district around Morant Bay), remained all but invisible in contemporary accounts of the uprising and its suppression. The status of Morant Bay as a founding event in Jamaican national history has ensured that Bogle's role is now more fully acknowledged: see especially Heuman.Back

  19. Such a narrative works as a kind of allegory of the parental model of British imperialism, in which the colonies figure as children who will be guided slowly towards maturity (i.e., self-government and capitalism) while retaining their sense of responsibility towards their British fathers. For more on this particular trope, see the final section of this essay.Back

  20. "When I speak of a man 'having a pedigree,' I mean to say that some two or three generations at least of his fathers have been in better circumstances than the generality of their fellow men" (Marshall 69).Back

  21. The meeting was held at St. James's Hall on February 1, 1866. Pim's paper was later published in the ASL's Popular Magazine of Anthropology and as a separate pamphlet, The Negro and Jamaica . Pim, a major landowner in the Caribbean and Central America, thanked "that vigorous and fearless body, the Anthropological Society of London" for giving him the opportunity to share with the public his collection of racial stereotypes. In amongst his scientific analysis of the unchanging degraded character of "the negro" since antiquity, he found space to make a connection to the Reform debates: "I make bold to say that 50 million of blacks have not been placed on this magnificent globe of ours for no purpose; it is therefore our duty, by wise legislation, to utilize this large mass of human beings. They must be dealt with from no sentimental standpoint, but from a knowledge of their nature and characteristics, discarding at once the theory of equality. We do not admit equality even amongst our own race, as is proved by the state of the franchise at this hour in England! and to suppose that two alien races can compose a political unity is simply ridiculous" (35).Back

  22. Darwin in fact says almost nothing about humankind, let alone about race, in On the Origin of Species , but of course he says a great deal about descent in general: "Propinquity of descent,--the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,--is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classification" (399). Although, as Beer points out in Darwin's Plots , this theory actually "muddied descent, and brought into question the privileged 'purity' of the 'great family'" (63), opening up the possibility of "an uncouth progenitor hard to acknowledge as kin" (9), many of the new race theorists adapted a crude version of natural selection to their notions of fixed racial "types" defined by blood relations. (See Young 13-14.)Back

  23. This series of pamphlets was published by the Jamaica Committee in an attempt to influence public opinion in Britain over Morant Bay. Other Executive Committee members included Mill, Huxley, Spencer, and E.B. Underhill, whose letter to Governor Eyre in early 1865 about the desperate condition of the island's population had led to the so-called Underhill meetings throughout the island, at which grievances were expressed and the beginnings of a resistance movement can be discerned.Back

  24. There is only one, fleeting, reference to Harrison's work with the Jamaica Committee in their correspondence: on February 5, 1867, Harrison wrote to Eliot, "I sent you as you asked the letters on Martial law. The Prosecution commences at once" (Haight 343). When Eliot replied a fortnight later, she did not even acknowledge receipt of Harrison's pamphlet (see Haight 343-5). The prosecution Harrison was referring to was the private case brought by the Jamaica Committee against Colonel Alexander Nelson and Lieutenant Herbert Brand, the presiding officers at George William Gordon's trial, on charges of wilful murder. Although the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, delivered a famous address to the grand jury virtually instructing them to proceed with the trial, the jury refused to indict the two officers. In March, the Committee began the first of its two unsuccessful attempts to secure a conviction of Edward Eyre, the first time on murder charges, the second time for "high crimes and misdemeanours" (see Semmel 142-70).Back

  25. Of course, this does not prevent Mrs Transome herself clinging to the very notion of breeding that the novel in general, and her own life in particular, renders obsolete: "Poor Mrs Transome, with her secret bitterness and dread, still found a flavour in this sort of pride [of family and blood]; none the less because certain deeds of her own life had been in fatal inconsistency with it. Besides, genealogies entered into her stock of ideas, and her talk on such subjects was as necessary as the notes of the linnet or the blackbird. She had no ultimate analysis of things that went beyond blood and family--the Herons of Fenshore or the Badgers of Hillbury" (494).Back

  26. Gillian Beer comments: "The book opens with the suppression of a woman's [Mrs Transome's] independence, a suppression which has been previously put at her [Eliot's] works' conclusion, and therefore out of reach of question" (George Eliot 136). Harold's deceased wife has attracted little or no attention from critics.Back

  27. This revelation also raises the intriguing possibility that the "woman from the East" whom Harold brings to Transome Court--who is mentioned nowhere else in the novel, and is certainly never seen--is in fact Harry's mother, and that the story about her death is a convenient fiction. This suppressed narrative of the "native" woman hidden in the country house would make Felix Holt an explicit reworking of Jane Eyre , and would consolidate the claims made here for the connections between George Eliot's novel and Jamaica. Unfortunately, pursuing this comparison is beyond the scope of this essay.Back

  28. The imaginary stagecoach of the Introduction makes its way through Treby Magna and on to the reader's first view, through the eyes of the coachman, of "Transome Court, a place there had been a fine sight of lawsuits about. Generations back, the heir of the Transome name had somehow bargained away the estate and it fell to the Durfeys, very distant connections, who only called themselves Transomes because they had got the estate. But the Durfeys' claim had been disputed again and again; and the coachman, if he had been asked, would have said, though he might have to fall down dead the next minute, that property didn't always get into the right hands" (82). Characteristically, this information is conveyed through an unnamed, minor character. Bruce Robbins' groundbreaking book The Servant's Hand , which analyzes the centrality of these apparently marginal figures in English fiction, contains a fine reading of Felix Holt : "Throughout the novel, the news that 'property doesn't always get into the right hands,' as the coachman of the introduction puts it, is specifically and almost obsessively placed in the hands of propertyless servants" (211).Back

  29. It would be more accurate, in fact, to say that writers began to use the term "British Empire" once again, since it had been current before the American Revolution in discussions about the possible loss to England of the thirteen colonies (see Koebner 105-237)--although it is doubtful whether the term encompassed all of England's dependencies overseas, including what was coming to be known as the Indian Empire. I believe that this point in fact strengthens my argument that it is only at the moment of possible loss of imperial hegemony that the Empire as such comes into being.Back

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