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And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from afar ancestral voices prophesying war!

  • 1 English or British armies fought against Muslim nations during the crusades or, more recently, the (...)
  • 2 On account of the name Tommy Atkins, used as an example in the enlistment papers of the army.

1These lines from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan (1797) epitomize the everlasting presence of war in British culture. Is there such a thing as a warrior nation, one is entitled to wonder. The fact that so many violent confrontations involving subjects of an English monarch took place on British soil or abroad before the end of the 19th century would indeed tend to lead to such a conclusion. Michael Paris nicely captures this line of thought when he states: “[. . .] the British, like most of the nations they have decried, have themselves resorted to war on the slightest of pretexts when it was believed that conflict could secure their goals, and have deliberately immersed their children in a culture that promotes the martial spirit, elevates the warrior to heroic status and romanticizes war”, adding by way of conclusion: “In much of the popular entertainment created for the nation’s youth, the overriding national image is of an aggressively militant warrior nation” (Paris 11). From early times, peoples waged wars for possession of the British Isles: Celts, Romans, Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Welsh, Irish and Scottish. Many civil wars took place between 1088 and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and innumerable “English” or “British” armies were shipped to locations around the world.1 The Victorians acknowledged this violent heritage and also contributed to its subsequent development with major confrontations such as the Crimean War (1854–1856), the Indian Mutiny (1857) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902). But Victorian war legacy was also brought about by what became known as “Victoria’s Little Wars” linked to the building of the Empire, some of them being fought several times: Afghan Wars, Opium Wars (China), Sikh Wars, New Zealand Wars (Maori), Burmese Wars, Boer Wars, etc. The period ranging from the battle of Waterloo till the opening of the first world conflict is often referred to as Pax Britannica, and this reference to an illustrious Latin model underlines the predominance of a specific representation of “Greater Britain”, in John Robert Seeley’s own words, as a dominant civilizing nation, which had a nearly divine mission to fulfil. It meant bringing peace to all mankind as advocated by Prince Albert during his inaugural speech at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Thus, during Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain underwent a substantial series of campaigns which allowed its regiments to set foot on nearly all the continents. Whether Britain was confronted to European types of war as in Crimea, the alliance of Western armies against native troops (the Boxer Rebellion), colonial campaigns, the clashes with fellow colonial nations (France at Fashoda) or the trauma of a mutiny, seldom had a decade gone by without its share of reports of glorious, or not so glorious deeds being performed somewhere in the world by Victoria’s “Tommies”, as the British soldier was then nicknamed.2

  • 3 The song “Rule Britannia” was written in 1740. The chorus is “Rule Britannia, Britannia, rule the w (...)
  • 4 Army in Zulu.

2The “exportation” of armed conflicts to other shores reassured British people that war was waged far away and not on a huge scale, hence it was only after the 1st World War that they became more averse to war. The Acts of Unions with Scotland and Ireland gave a sense of confidence to the nation which hoped thus to annihilate any attempt at invading Britain from the North. The Jacobite uprising had traumatised English people and the fear of a foreign alliance with either Ireland or Scotland and a subsequent landing of foreign troops had been a constant preoccupation to insular mentalities. The risk of sea invasions was also a source of concern, as the memory of the successful landing of William the Conqueror’s ost on the shores of Pevensey as well as the aborted attempt of the Invincible Armada and Napoleon’s invasion projects, were constant reminders of the vulnerability of the British Isles. The building of a fleet to secure the seas had therefore been a constant preoccupation of the government, which was so successful, thanks to the advanced technological improvements (such as steam power), that some people could boast by the end of the 19th century: “Britannia rules the waves.”3 Victorian wars were therefore “foreign wars” which cannot be separated from the Imperialist process, as so-called “gunboat diplomacy” was very often used to secure free trade. If the term “War”, is both conventional and convenient, the expression “armed conflicts” would probably better suit the clashes between British and foreign troops. The Crimean War is generally accepted as a “war”, for conventional European armies faced each other in the battlefield. The Indian Mutiny is interestingly not called a war on the British side, yet the military operations that took place are tactics used during a war. At the same time many a “colonial war” should more accurately be seen as a colonial campaign. One may notice that if the foe was formidable and inflicted great reverses upon the British army, then the denomination of “war” is used. After the annihilation of the 24th Regiment of Foot, South Wales Borderers, on January 23rd 1879 at Isandhlwana, by the impis4 of the Zulu King Cetshwayo, and the subsequent several months’ campaign in Zululand, the British public became familiar with “the (Anglo-) Zulu War”. The second clash between the might of the British army and Boer Republicans in South Africa was then called the Boer Rebellion but also the Transvaal War, the South African War, the Boer War or Anglo-Boer War by the time it ended in 1902.

  • 5 See Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)

3As for the philosophical conception of war, it is obviously linked to the way the Victorians reacted to the economic, cultural and scientific developments they witnessed. Hence, throughout the 19th century, “Nation” and “State” were exalted in Europe. Both notions were central to the ideas of influential philosophers such as Fichte or Hegel. They both believed (as did Nietzsche) that war was necessary for civilisations as it fulfilled a function of regulation, it was ethically good for human groups and represented the quintessence of humanity.5 As a consequence war was magnified, for people imagined it enabled the individual to fulfil his human nature, according to the Plautian perspective (Homo Omini Lupus) which inspired the theory, expressed by Hobbes in his Leviathan, that despite their physical and intellectual differences, all men were equal as all men could kill other men. The interpretation of Darwinism and social-Darwinist theories contributed to this idea that war was necessary for the “fittest” to “survive”, and Galton’s eugenist theories were also extremely influential in this way, leading J. A. Hobson to wonder: “is the maintenance of physical conflict essential to the ‘natural selection’ of nations?” (Hobson 172). In Social Statics, published in 1850, Herbert Spencer had already explained the importance of the pre-eminence of the strongest men on the weakest. Hegel developed the idea that animals did not know war, as they fought to obtain something but had no desire to change the nature of things. Man, on the contrary, in order to be free and devoid of “animalism”, had to reject instinctual violence linked to primeval desires, and turn to war for other (more “human”) means such as fighting for abstract concepts (honour, religion, civilisation, values etc.). Imposing one’s values on a rival therefore became the “noble” task of war for humans, the “unwritten law of war” (Hobson 167). But if Fichte and Hegel regarded the State as above all contingencies, Nietzsche rejected this vision as it led to the exaltation of war with aesthetic motivations. He thought that war was the manifestation of a dominant instinct which enabled humanity to be separated into two categories: the warrior, who is supposed to be a good man since he enables the energy of life to flow, and the slave who is not. His ideas would be shared by the proponents of the superiority of the German warrior over the Roman soldier, as a justification of the superiority of one “race” over another, as advocated by Arthur, count Gobineau and would also be used later in the 20th century by Nazi ideologists.

  • 6 See Machiavelli, The Art of War, 1520.

4For the Victorians the issue of war and society had a bearing on the religious sphere. Early Christians had tried to conciliate a message of peace and love and the need to fight, even for a living, as some of them had joined the Roman legions. Later, Thomas Aquinas’ theory of “Just war” (jus ad bellum), as developed in his Somma Theologica (1266–1273), led to the idea that a defensive war was always “just”. The justification of war as a form of protection for British citizens against aggressive enemies, whether true (the Mutiny) or imagined (the Anglo-Zulu War) became the norm at the War Office in the 19th century. The notion of “just war” had steadily declined since the 16th century because the Reformation had divided Christendom and had advocated a return to the pacifism of the primitive Church. In 1899, this attitude had induced the leading British chocolate manufacturers of the time, Joseph Rowntree, Joseph Fry and George Cadbury, all of them Quakers, to refrain from making any profit on the order of the Queen to send chocolate to her soldiers fighting in South Africa. This decision enabled them to obey Her Majesty’s wish, and by providing the goods at cost price, they felt they did not participate in the war effort (see Teulié What is the good). What’s more, the just cause theory was further rejected on the ground that a State did not have to justify a war,6 each State having its own rules on the legitimacy of starting a conflict. The last element to explain the dwindling interest in the just cause theory appeared with the century of Enlightenment which saw the progress of reason against a theological discourse based on faith (Le Bras-Chopard 22). Therefore the ideas of “Just War” and of “Crusade” were debated in the 19th century and dissident voices could be heard stating that God could not support warmongers. All Christian churches had to deal with the paradox of supporting a nation at war and obey the biblical message of loving all human beings. Many non conformist churches were often divided on this issue, as were members of the Established Church. Yet the concept of the “muscular Christian” as portrayed by Charles Kingsley, shows that, very often, clergymen sided with the nation’s mood for war, sharing Kant’s pessimistic vision of men who had always waged war or who, when at peace, got ready for the following one. The Protestant ethic as once defined by Max Weber encouraged individuals to fight a good war against all evil forms, personal ones (the inner struggle) and social ones. For many, the enemy “outside” could therefore easily become part of that Manichean struggle: the civilising mission (blended with the Christian ethos to evangelise) justified war, accounting thus for the famous imperial triptych of the three Cs (Civilisation, Christianity, Commerce). Paradoxically some Victorians thought that the Industrial Revolution would bring a new order from which war would be banned. According to Walter E. Houghton, people believed that the old aristocratic-military “cast” would be taken over by industrialists from the middle class who would be more interested in doing business than waging war (an idea developed by Mill in The Principles of Political Economy, 1848, and Spencer in The Principles of Sociology, 1876–1896). The capitalist developments had not yet shown that war could get a nation back on its feet as would be demonstrated decades later with Roosevelt’s New Deal. When the Crimean War came as a counter-example to that theory, as this conflict was waged by Britain which, by then, was the most industrialized country in the world, defenders of the peaceful industrial country concept (such as Henry Thomas Buckle), or Liberal Economic Pacifism (Manchester School) as it is better known, advocated that the responsibility actually lay with the uncivilised Russians and Turks and not with Britain and France (Houghton 41–2). Turning the enemy into a scapegoat as defined by René Girard, using Manichean patterns (“us” associated with the “civilised” and “them” with the “savages” or “beasts”), became the dominant imperialist mood and discourse after the 1880s and intellectuals seemed to have participated in the conception of such representations:

Plainly it is not the Malays and the Dyaks who have put on “the image of the beast” but Canon Charles Kingsley. Sadistic brutality of this kind is pathological, and no doubt the desire to “smash ‘em good” in Carlyle and Froude as well as Kingsley had personal origins. But nationalism and racism, sanctioned by Old Testament Puritanism and social Darwinism, created an atmosphere in which the normal control of the beast in man could be seriously weakened (Houghton 213).

5These words would probably have been understood by the authors of the Picture of Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde, two examples of the Victorian topos of the inner struggle, the war waged by any individual in order to become a better man.

  • 7 The following list based on Oostuizen’s chapters and photographed objects gives credit to the idea (...)
  • 8 Letter written by an unknown sergeant from A. Squadron, 1st Royal Dragoons, archived in the Nationa (...)

6British people had access to representations of these conflicts through a variety of sources: the press, juvenile literature, paintings, postcards, posters, illustrated magazines, collectables, the cinema, the music hall, toys and of course literature (prose and poetry). The emergence of means of culture and communication, such as the invention of photography, the developments of the printing press, the repealing of the stamp duties (1855), of the paper duty (1861), along with the promotion of education (Education Act (1870) and the Free Libraries Act (1850)), contributed to reinforce national identity (Gat 497). As a tribute to Asa Briggs, one could consider that British people were submitted to “Victorian War Things”, as shown by Pieter Oosthuizen’s interesting collection of Boer War Memorabilia. Over a thousand items reminded people of the Anglo-Boer War in their everyday life.7 Bernard Porter argues that Imperialism was imposed on Victorians, and that culture could impact on imperialism: “not by giving rise to it, but—occasionally—by influencing its character” (Porter 320). Although contested (see Dane Kennedy’s review on “H-NET Reviews”), Porter’s thesis raises an important question concerning Victorian representations: were Victorians keen on imperial wars and did they therefore create a market, or were they subjected to a subliminal warlike message spread in most classes through popular culture? Azar Gat ably demonstrates that “[. . .], contrary to a prevailing view, popular agitation should not be attributed one-sidedly to ‘provocation’ and ‘manipulation’ by leaders. Just as much, the leaders catered to a strong public demand. Demand was met by suppliers. Often it was the masses who swept with them cautious and peacefully inclined leaders, and all the more so in liberal/democratic countries” (Gat 582–3). Hence, one of the key issues for the understanding of how war representations are shaped in a society is to analyse the reception of propaganda by a population in times of war. As advocated by Sun Tzu in the Vth century B.C. in his Art of War, a leader should never wage a war without properly getting his subjects ready for it by means of communication. This aspect of British Imperialism is well documented (see Mackenzie and Paris for example). Kipling complains in The Light That Failed (1891) that the public’s tastes induce misrepresentations of the reality of war, for if an artist wants to sell his work to a newspaper, he must submit to the editor’s wish and comply even though it does not correspond to reality: it is (ironically) “in the interests of sacred home-bred art and Dickenson’s Weekly” (Kipling 40–1). This attitude is confirmed by soldiers’ accounts who see a different war from that the Victorian public was subjected to, such as expressed in a letter to his family by an unknown soldier of the 1st Royal Dragoons, during the Anglo-Boer War: “I sincerely trust you never look at the illustrated papers, as the pictures there are too blood curdling and make me shiver, they no more represent what really happens. Swords are never drawn, bugles never blown, and seldom do you get within a thousand yards of the enemy, and then either you get away as quick as you can or they do.”8

7The question historians interested in wars regularly debate is whether wars bring drastic changes in societies partaking in the conflict or if they are part of a social continuum (Rope 9). Were the wars waged by Victorians part of their conception of life, just like their keen interest in death, or did they bring “no end of a lesson” as Kipling once put it? According to recent studies, war was central in modern societies during the last decades of the 19th century, as European societies were evolving on account of industrialisation and economies which deeply influenced them; consequently war became a central feature after the 1870s: “Those wars were fought using more powerful and deadly weapons, which required new tactics and strategies. They used new forms of communication. They also involved the public more. The societies fighting the wars were changing. They were becoming industrial, class-based and literate, materialistic, secular and nationalistic” (Browning 91). The modernisation of war changed the way battles were fought in what Azar Gat calls “the changing pattern of war in the industrial-technological age” (Gat 542). The enemy was seldom seen, as he could shoot with far-ranging smokeless firearms and kill without being seen. The battles of Omdurman (1898) and Elandslaagte (1899) were among the last cavalry charges which were performed as a fit of remembrance of the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava (1854). Most battle scenes were not up to the standard of what 18th and early 19th century military painters had depicted, involving hand to hand fights, mêlées, etc. Gaston Bouthoul explained that people needed war (and death) to be aestheticised (Bouthoul, 347), probably to alleviate its inherent horrors. Hence models such as ancient Greece contributed to the shaping of Victorians’ representations of war, in what was maybe a tribute to less technological conflicts and therefore less bloody wars. If comparison with Athens’ golden age was seen by most Victorians as favourable to their society, others, such as Walter Pater, favoured the Spartan model, with its warlike attitude to life and its glorification of self-sacrifice (Coates). Hence, Allan Quatermain, H. Rider Haggard’s hero/narrator in the famous King Solomon’s Mines (1885), depicts a somewhat Homeric encounter between fierce African warriors who re-enact the battle of the Thermopylae, where the Laecedemonian phalanx challenged the might of the Persian army. This image of brothers in arms, fighting shoulder to shoulder, contributed to the elaboration of the myth of the “thin red line”, British soldiers in their “red coat” facing the odds to protect their country. In the same spirit, the “square” of Waterloo fame, which was still used by British troops facing a vast number of enemies, became a favourite topos of Late Victorians, glorifying the British soldiers whose defensive attitude subsequently led to another topos: “the Last Stand.” Walter Scott’s novels and Arthurian medieval legends revived the glorious English military past, along with plays which reminded Victorians that a handful of “happy few” men could break the charge of powerful French knights on a memorable Saint Crespin’s day. Finally other wars were also observed by British people as topics to reflect on how other nations behaved in times of crisis. Yet, though these writings had an influence on the general public, they are also revealing as regards the motivations which lead some to base their analysis on stereotypes, and therefore provide a “personal” representation of war (Heyrendt).

  • 9 See Keith A. Sandiford & Brian Stoddart, Roger Hutchinson, or Allen Guttman.

8If one may wonder whether Wellington ever said that the battle of Waterloo had been won on the playing-fields of Eton, one may not undermine the structuralising importance of collective sports in Victorian representations of war, whether they were practiced at Harrow, Eton or elsewhere.9 Thomas Hughes’s eponymous character Tom Brown (Tom Brown’s Schooldays, 1857) plays football and cricket and consequently develops a good capacity to fight negative feelings such as discouragement and selfishness, but also an esprit de corps, which will help when confronted with enemies. This representation of sport as the proper practice device to prepare for more martial encounters led to the spreading of a war/sport culture which prompted British soldiers to play football sometimes under the very nose of the enemy (South Africa), or even in some instances, as an act of bravado, kicking the football to the enemy as if starting a (deadly) game. This attitude became part of the romantic image of First World War sporting spirit, but was actually true: the 1st Battalion of the 18th London Regiment kicked the football at Loos in 1915, as did the British troops at Beersheeba on the Turkish front in 1917, and one ball was kicked by each of the four platoons of the 8th East Surrey Regiment, at the battle of the Somme (Fussel 27). One could wonder at what might be seen as a childish attitude. Maybe the influence of British School Novels is to be credited for such representations, as books read in youth are determinant for the adult’s conception of life. Paul Fussel defends this theory as he argues that 1st World War Tommies’ representations of war were moulded by their early readings: “The language is that which two generations of readers had been accustomed to associate with the quiet action of personal control and Christian self-abnegation (“sacrifice”), as well as with more violent actions of aggression and defence. The tutors in this special diction have been the boys’ books of George Alfred Henty; the male-romances of Rider Haggard; the poems of Robert Bridges; and especially the Arthurian poems of Tennyson and the pseudo-medieval romances of William Morris” (Fussel, 21). Young Victorians who became the men who fought the First World War were educated into believing that war was “all glory”, as United-States General William T. Sherman once said, adding that in fact it was “all Hell”. They were submitted to the general mood of the notion of the “good fight” advocated by Thomas Carlyle in Past & Present and Heroes. Force and heroism became predominant attitudes and the numerous conflicts could thus be exalted. Yet, we know that, according to the famous military theoretician, Carl Von Clausewitz, War is proteiform (he calls it a chameleon) as no war looks like another, with the result that pre-defined plans are useless. One may wonder whether there was also a diversity of Victorian representations of war, not based on the object which embodies the representation (iconography, three dimensional objects, books etc. . .), but rather on the modes of shaping the mental process. Many questions come to mind when one evokes the topic. Were all the artists attuned or were there significant divergences? How were all these martial events supplemented to the public? What was the aim of the artists and writers when choosing war as the main feature, or as the background, to their work? Can a pattern be drawn with any degree of precision as far as mental representations are concerned? Where does the native hero of the ‘Gunga Din’ type stand in the process? What happened between Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854) and Kipling’s The Last of the Light Brigade (1891) in terms of social representations? Was there any evolution in the way these conflicts were staged throughout Queen Victoria’s reign? Were all classes of British society as well as all parts of Great Britain and the Empire equally receptive to these martial images? The cardinal objective of this issue of the Cahiers Victoriens et Edouradiens is to examine these questions and others; it is to go beyond the mere hagiography of Victorian heroes; to delineate the principal characteristics of the production of these representations, to analyse the expedients which were employed by artists and authors, and to define the concept(s) of war in Victorian ideology. Assessing the period as a whole, one cannot but notice that increased emphasis was placed upon the stock of the heroic British soldier, which could be traced back to Waterloo, when Wellington would call his own men “the Scum of the Earth” (1815) to Kipling’s positive portrayal of the Tommy as an Absent Minded Beggar (1899). But the staging of war by Victorian artists and writers may also be understood as depicting the conflicts which took place on British soil in previous centuries (or were to take place in the future, such as the invasion literature genre of William Le Queux or the science fiction novels of H. G. Wells), reminding the public of the troublesome years their country had gone through (or was likely to face).

9This publication, which derives from a will to participate in the renewed debate on the function of war and its representations as generator of identity, is divided into five sections. The first one, entitled Mythifying War, endeavours to reassess the process which prompted a glorified representation of war, focusing on how some Victorians, through different means, tried to stage a portrayal of the war which conformed to British tastes of the time, but was remote from the soldiers’ reality. Tri Tran, in the first article, shows the discrepancy between the different representations of the Crimean War, and how these representations evolved throughout the conflict, particularly because of the government’s attempt at covering up blunders and incompetence. Michael A. Budd analyses the hagiographic representations of the famed General Gordon “Pacha”, and his links to a technological society which questioned the violence it was able to release on native populations. In the same trend and geographical sphere and through the topos of the breaking of the square during the Anglo-Sudanese Wars, Luisa Villa further depicts the way Victorians reflected on manhood and violence in that ever more technological society which produced the first weapons of “massive destruction”. To conclude this first chapter, Dorothea Flothow examines, from a broad perspective, some less frequently studied aspects of adventure novels which aimed at “civilising” war and presenting it as a harmless activity, as demonstrated through the analysis of these novels’ rhetorical devices.

10Chapter Two then focuses on Eye Witnessing Wars, that is to say how British people who had witnessed war related their experience, in accounts which they presented as accurate reports by individuals who had been “on the spot”, but which were obviously subject to the natural distortion inherent in people’s stereotyped vision of things. To start with, Alison Fletcher demonstrates that the Victorians’ desire to have a thorough understanding of what was going on in a war they had agreed to wage, led them to turn some accounts into best-sellers, as in the case of the Crimean War memoirs of an atypical and lesser known nurse than Florence Nightingale, namely Mary Seacole, from Jamaica. Other Victorian women gave their point of view on the wars they were confronted with, and some travel narratives included analysis or at least depictions of conflicts. Ludmilla Omundsen brings to the fore the voices of two women writing during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 in South Africa. Determined to describe their vision of the situation, which contradicted the established depiction of a threatening Zulu nation, they thus expressed their will to be distinguished from male imperialist standards. Eyewitnesses were also professionals who recorded a war for commercial purposes, as shown by Claire Bowen. Her article singles out Felice Beato’s photographic representations of the Crimean War as an important development in bringing the theatre of war to the public, as that was the first conflict to be widely photographed and misrepresented, as the reality of the conflict is questioned here. More famous actors of Victorian Wars conjured up their experience as combatants or non-combatants. Laïli Dor opposes Winston Churchill’s and Rudyard Kipling’s evocation of the Anglo-Boer War, arguing that though they witnessed the same war, their views diverged on account of their situation and the readership they wrote for. The confrontation of two points of view gives an insight into the way ideologies are elaborated and implemented through the diversity of accounts. Antoine Capet delves down into Winston Churchill’s inner motivations to use the war so as to reach higher social summits, showing that the act of magnifying war was not just a tribute to a general mood, but could also be explained as partaking in a more personal (political) project.

11As wars were “outside wars” they brought forward the opportunity to oppose the “centre” to the “margin”, just as the dichotomy “them” and “us” is in constant confrontation, foreshadowing the identity questions that were to shake the Empire in the 20th century. The third chapter, Opposing Centre to Periphery, aims at showing the tensions that wars brought to the relations between the “Mother country” and its “colonial daughters”. Flaminia Nicora delineates the gap that appeared after the Indian Mutiny between metropolitans on the one hand, who used the war as a means of unifying British citizens under imperialism, and Anglo-Indians who, on the other, manifested their difficulty at taking sides, wondering what sort of identity they could claim. Martine Piquet shows that the same phenomenon took place in Australia during the trial and execution, by British authorities, of the Australian volunteer Harry “Breaker” Morant and one of his brothers in arms, during the Anglo-Boer War, an event which became a milestone in the nationalist process launched in 1901 in Australia. The debate then moves to Canada, as Françoise Lejeune underlines the importance of the representations of the North American colony by metropolitan journalists in terms of denomination of the conflict, the same year Queen Victoria acceded to her throne. Finally, Tamara Wagner draws our attention to the vitality of Victorian representations of European wars in literature. Given the proximity of the continent to Great Britain, the wars that took place there, such as the Italian revolution, became relevant objects of studies for British authors reflecting on their own country’s imperial heritage.

12The fourth chapter of this issue is devoted to Voicing Wars, a title which may be understood in different ways. Unlike novels, magazines and newspapers which are meant to be read, or photographs and illustrations which one is supposed to look at, representations of war may also be heard. To start with, the theme of preaching war (or against war), a task generally allotted to priests in times of war, opens this sequence. Séphanie Prévost illustrates the debate that took place between the proponents of the idea of a Crusade, such as Dean Farrar, and those opposed to it. Religion was omnipresent in 19th century Britain, hence its inevitable implication in representations of war. Michael Snape goes one step further and takes a close look at the role of military Chaplains in India prior to the mutiny. His survey illustrates how important their representation of war was for the soldiers seeking moral comfort, either for their actions as well as for their fate. But the “voices prophesying war”, to quote Coleridge once again, can be seen also as the voices of actors who staged conflicts in theatres and music halls. Marty Gould emphasizes the need to focus on the way the technique for elaborating a national identity was mastered by playwrights who, through a Manichean process, associated Scots and English against a formless sepoy enemy. If Poetry may naturally be read, it can nonetheless be argued that it is written in order for its musicality to be heard, as demonstrated by Kipling’s poems being recited on stage. Matthew Bevis, in his general overview of Victorian war poetry, elicits reflection on the complexity and richness of the aspects of war depicted in war poems, recalling the impact that this genre had both on the Victorians but also on First World War soldiers.

13The last section of this volume, Waging War on Wars, examines opposition to conflicts involving the British nation. Although considered by historians as a minority in the last decades of the 19th century, the proponents of the anti-war ideal were nonetheless participants in the representations of war of their time. Marianne Camus exposes Thackeray’s personal treatment of the victory of Waterloo, which chose to undermine the heroic status of the participants to the battle through different means, including, she argues, a form of feminisation of war. At the other end of the 19th century, Françoise Orazi demonstrates how the Anglo-Boer War was at the root of what became New Liberalism as the “pro-Boers” had to find a means of devising new strategies to fight the imperialists who had won the “Khaki Elections”. Eleonora Sasso examines William Morris’s representation of violence, through his use of medievalism and his conception of civilization, showing his interest in primitive attitudes to violence from a Freudian perspective. Stéphane Guy demonstrates how Bernard Shaw used the stage as a battleground to counter Victorian misrepresentations of war. He too, like Thackeray and others, used irony to debunk the idealized vision of imperialists. Annie Escuret’s article concludes this chapter and the volume, showing how Thomas Hardy’s poetic treatment of war foreshadowed 20th century pacifism, through his analysis of the image of the spectre.

  • 10 Sung by Bok van Blerk.
  • 11 See Peter Warwick, Donal Lowry or Greg Cuthbertson.

14The Anglo-Boer War, which was the last Victorian War as it started under Queen Victoria and ended under King Edward VII, was symbolically called “the last of the gentlemen’s war”. It was the costliest and bloodiest conflict the War office had had to deal with. The anxiety triggered by the difficulties of winning what had been expected to be a quick campaign brought about a change in mentalities which, despite the “Khaki Elections” of 1900, led to the abandonment of the so called “splendid isolation” policy, and to the signing of the “Entente Cordiale” with France in 1905. Victorian representations have a present day legacy as there are ideological oppositions amongst historians and politicians over the naming of wars, which are often seen as part of the elaboration of a process of identity. While in South Africa some Afrikaners are still demanding that Britain apologize for the concentration camp policy and that a song “General De la Rey”10 which refers to the war became a hit in February 2007, historians debate about what to call the conflict (Anglo-Boer War or South African War, the latter including Black participation).11 The year 2007 also witnesses the 150th anniversary of the conflict which took place between sepoy regiments and the British Army in India. Interestingly enough, while a conference is organized at the University of Edinburgh on “Mutiny at the Margins: New perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857”, another, to be held at the University of Peshawar (Pakistan), is entitled “The War of Independence 1857”. Understanding Victorian Representations of War is therefore a step towards understanding the Victorians themselves, but also towards a better insight into modern geo-strategic attitudes in the world today. This issue endeavours to achieve such a goal, as well as to analyse the way governments propagandise the war they want to wage as they, in Shakespeare’s words, “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”.

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Beckett, Ian, F. W. Victorians at War. Hambledon & London, 2003.

Bouthoul, Gaston. Traité de Polémologie. 1951. Paris: Biblio. Scientifique Payot, 1991.

Briggs, Asa. Victorian Things. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Brothers, Caroline. War & Photography. A Cultural History. London: Routledge, 1997.

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1 English or British armies fought against Muslim nations during the crusades or, more recently, the French on many an occasion, but also Russians, Italians, Spaniards, Swedes, Portuguese, Austrians, Dutch, Turks, settlers from the American colonies, Indians from the North American continent, peoples in India (Sepoys, Sikhs etc.), Maoris, Zulus, Boers, Xhosas, Aborigines, Ashantis, Burmese, Afghans, Sudanese, Chinese, Nepalese etc.

2 On account of the name Tommy Atkins, used as an example in the enlistment papers of the army.

3 The song “Rule Britannia” was written in 1740. The chorus is “Rule Britannia, Britannia, rule the waves”. The message is an injunction to Britannia to do so (underlining that it has not yet been done). Jingoists in the Late Victorian period added an “s” to the verb “to rule”, thus transforming the meaning of the lyrics (as well as the intention of the author) by presenting the ruling as a fact: “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves”.

4 Army in Zulu.

5 See Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)

6 See Machiavelli, The Art of War, 1520.

7 The following list based on Oostuizen’s chapters and photographed objects gives credit to the idea that Victorian Society was among the first consumer societies and hints at the omnipresence of war in daily life. The following items evoked for the public well known references to the Anglo-Boer War such as dates, names, portraits, caricatures, representations of soldiers, etc. as they were seen in shops, bought, offered, and collected: ceramics (plates, services, tea-sets, loving cups, mugs, tumblers, tobacco jars); Busts and Statuettes (porcelain figures, Staffordshire figures, bisque figures, Gross and Parian ware figures); Miniature Model soldiers (lead soldiers); Glassware (Plates, glasses, paperweights, rolling-pins and busts); Stamps and covers (postage stamps, war covers, prisoners of war covers, postmarks and censors’ marks); Coins and notes; Gold and Silver Memorabilia and jewellery; Tin Pewter Memorabilia; textiles; Ephemera (Commemorative letters, photographs, maps, newspapers and magazines, cigarette cards, posters, music, postcards, tickets, etchings, caricatures, illustrations, games, sermons, advertisements, announcements, official documents); “general” (Books, medallions, trench souvenirs, knives, ashtrays, umbrella stands, tables, pipes, lapel pins, trivets, viewers etc.); one-of-kind collectibles (presentation caskets, paintings and watercolours, etc.)

8 Letter written by an unknown sergeant from A. Squadron, 1st Royal Dragoons, archived in the National Army Museum (London). Reference: Arch. no 7293–42.

9 See Keith A. Sandiford & Brian Stoddart, Roger Hutchinson, or Allen Guttman.

10 Sung by Bok van Blerk.

11 See Peter Warwick, Donal Lowry or Greg Cuthbertson.

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Gilles Teulié, « Victorian Representations of War »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 66 Automne | 2007, mis en ligne le 06 décembre 2021, consulté le 27 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Gilles Teulié

Gilles Teulié is Professor of British and Commonwealth History at the University of Provence (Aix-Marseille, France). He has written extensively on South African history and the Victorian period. He published a book on the Afrikaners and the South African War. He was the editor of “Ecritures et Histoires en Afrique du Sud” (writing history in South Africa, Palabres, University of Bayreuth Press, 2003), “Religious Writings and War” (Carnets du Cerpac no. 3, University of Montpellier III, 2006), and of two forthcoming volumes of essays on War Sermons, and one on Healing South Africans Wounds.

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